Prom is a rite of passage revered in popular culture. The simple tradition has taken on a larger than life importance after being held up in film and television as the capstone of the high school experience. It’s only one night out of four years of high school, but the movies tell us that it means much more.
Looking back at high school dances and graduation, I know now that these milestones were small and followed by far more exciting things. But I also remember the pressure, nerves, and anticipation I felt as a high school senior. It’s an exciting time, and soon-to-be graduates should appreciate it to the fullest.
Pop culture places as much importance on senior year as our high school selves did, something that’s evident in the plethora of films that celebrate prom. Here’s a comparison of classic and recent movies in three genres to watch when you’re getting ready for the big night or maybe just feeling nostalgic.
1. Classic Horror: Carrie (1976)
Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) being crowned Prom Queen before getting doused with pig’s blood is now an iconic horror movie moment. The film was actually the first Stephen King novel to be made into a movie. In the famous scene, Carrie’s beatific smile and white dress make the switch to her sinister stare and blood-soaked attire that much more shocking.
2. Recent Horror: Prom Night (2008)
Not nearly as scary as anything Stephen King, Prom Night follows horror flick rules to the letter, featuring plenty of scenes of pretty Brittany Snow screaming and the requisite death of the couple unfortunate enough to have sex, but the movie lacks any real plot twists.
3. Classic Romance: Pretty in Pink (1986)
In this quintessential 1980s flick, Molly Ringwald as Andie and Andrew McCarthy as Blane fall in love but don’t actually make it to prom together. Blane bails on Andie after they struggle with class differences — he’s a rich man’s son; she’s from the wrong side of the tracks.
Instead, best friend Duckie (Jon Cryer) escorts the beautiful Andie, who wears a pink dress she designed herself. Writer John Hughes and Ringwald clashed over the film’s final scene, disagreeing about which guy Andie should end up with. Watch it to find out.
4. Recent Romance: Twilight (2008)
While most girls dream about prom from the first day of high school (or so pop culture says), Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) couldn’t care less. But Bella’s vampire boyfriend, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), has decided she needs to have as many “human experiences” as possible and declares that prom is a rite of passage she can’t skip.
Prom is the background for Twilight’s final scene, which shows Edward and Bella dancing in a gazebo with Iron & Wine’s “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” playing in the background. Stewart actually requested the song be played while they were shooting the scene. “Flightless Bird” made it onto the Twilight soundtrack and was reprised for the wedding in Breaking Dawn.
5. Classic Musical: Grease (1978)
All right, the dance sequence might not specifically be called a prom in the film, but it’s seniors at a dance. Close enough. In this classic, so-bad-it’s-good musical, innocent Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) has an identity crisis during her senior year when she falls for greaser Danny (John Travolta). With the help of several musical numbers and a major makeover, Sandy gets her man. None of the actors were actually young enough to be in high school in real life, but it doesn’t matter.
6. Modern Musical: High School Musical 3: Senior Year (2008)
I grew up with the popular High School Musical films, and the third was actually released during my own senior year of high school. While the film’s plot is simple enough, the dance sequences are as detailed if not more so than in the first movie, which won an Emmy for Outstanding Choreography in 2006. During the “Night to Remember” number, the seniors daydream about the big dance, declaring that the evening will be one to last forever.