Badlands (1973)

10 Overall Score
Story: 10/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 10/10

Smart, influential movie


Movie Info

Movie Name:  Badlands

Studio:  Warner Bros.

Genre(s):  Drama/Romance

Release Date(s):  October 15, 1973

MPAA Rating:  PG


Hey…ever think of killing and running off into the woods?

Fifteen-year-old Holly (Sissy Spacek) has met someone who seems to do nothing but care for her.  Kit (Martin Sheen) is a garbage man with no direction and takes the future as it comes.  When Holly’s father separates her from Kit, Kit comes to take her back…and will murder to do it.  Now Kit and Holly are on the run…hiding in the forest, stealing cars, and Kit isn’t afraid to kill to keep running.  Kit and Holly, however, are living on borrowed time.  The law is catching up and the hopes of fleeing to the Badlands and into the mountains is beginning to seem unlikely.

Directed by Terrence Malick, Badlands was released to much acclaim and fanfare after its premiere at the New York Film Festival.  The movie was inducted by the Library of Congress into the Nation Film Registry.  Showing how much the ratings system has changed, Badlands despite its violence and subject matter was rated PG when it was released.  A special edition of the film has been released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Criterion (Criterion #651).


Oh how romantic…if it weren’t for all the booby-traps around.

Badlands is loosely based on the crime spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate in 1958 in Nebraska and Wyoming. Starkweather killed ten people with one other victim before the “crime spree”.  After a trial, Starkweather was sentenced to death and Fugate was sentenced to life (many debated her role in the crimes). Starkweather was executed on June 25, 1959, and Fugate was released from prison in 1976.

The film takes this Bonnie and Clyde type story and turns it into a rather whimsical romance…with little romance.  The story is narrated by Spacek’s character and takes on a fairy tale quality. The characters almost seem to be playing a game.  They live in the woods and have passwords, booby-traps, and secret passwords…it isn’t like they are murders, but little children.  This ties into Kit’s fantasies and dreams of being famous for his crimes (which like many criminals are somewhat true)…the James Dean wannabe Starkweather did have infamy.


I like what you’ve done with the place…

With the childlike feel, the romance also has a strange quality to it.  Kit and Holly sleep together, but Holly doesn’t seem to be entirely enamored with Kit (who is hopelessly in love with Holly).  While Kit seems like he would do anything for her, Holly seems indifferent.  She fantasizes about her future and who she’ll marry without even considering Kit.  Her casual approach to the crimes being committed are in stark contrast to someone who is “innocent”.  It almost seems opposite of what it should be, and it smartly questions how much Holly really knows about what is going on and what will occur if they are caught.


Even director Terrence Malick stops by to visit Kit and Holly…

The movie also looks great.  I love the style of the film and it is one of the most beautiful movies about murderers you’ll see.  The music is a perfect mix for the style and look of the film.  It plays pieces from Carl Orff’s Shulwerk which adds to the fairytale feel.  The movie blends these moments with some great cinematography and it can go from light dancing in the forest to shootings to impressive car chases.

Badlands is a great film that shouldn’t be missed.  The movie has had a lot of influence on other films, and most recently Badlands can be seen in Moonrise Kingdom.  Check out the nice new Criterion transfer and enjoy a great American film.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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