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25 Wild Truths Behind The Making Of Heathers

One of the enduring cinematic hits to come out of the 1980s is Michael Lehmann’s Heathers. The razor sharp black comedy stars Winona Ryder as Veronica, a high school student who plots the downfall of her school’s clique of popular girls with her twisted boyfriend, J.D. (played by Christian Slater).

Even though it wasn’t necessarily the most popular movie when it was first released back in 1988, Heathers has found a second life outside of the theaters.

Even decades later after its release, the movie continues to draw in fans to this very day. This has made Heathers one of the most memorable films to come out of the '80s.

Fans love the movie for its completely original, witty dialogue, career-making lead performances, and its commentary on high school clique culture and the consequences of things like bullying and homophobia.

Heathers may be nearly 30 years old, but it still continues to ring true amongst all its fans, both young and old.

Since its initial release, fans and interviewers have continued to ask director Michael Lehmann, screenwriter Daniel Waters, and stars Winona Ryder and Christian Slater to reveal all the behind the scenes secrets to making the '80s cult classic.

In the years since it was released into the world, they’ve all let slip some wild on set stories and pieces of production trivia that will change how fans view the movie.

From casting stories, to script secrets, to shooting dramas, this list has compiled the best facts and stories from the making of Heathers.  

Here are the 25 Wild Truths Behind The MFaking Of Heathers.

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25 The Ending Was Changed

Even decades after its release, Heathers is a movie that still stands out today for its punkish, off-beat humor and unique storyline.

So you can imagine how shocking the movie was to people back in the late '80s.

When producers first saw Daniel Waters’ initial script, they thought it was completely original – but also absolutely insane.

They actually insisted that Waters change the ending.

The script’s original ending had J.D. blowing up the high school, wiping out all of the students. There was even a prom scene in heaven.

It would’ve been interesting to see this version up on the big screen.

24 Winona Ryder Was Only 16 During Filming

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Heathers has both delighted and insulted many viewers for its supremely dark humor and profanity-laced script. These qualities may cause many parents to keep their children and young teens away from Heathers until they feel that it’s appropriate.

So it may surprise some that Winona was quite young when she took on the iconic role of Veronica. Ryder was only 15 when she first signed on and turned 16 while the movie was shooting.

However, her age didn't hold her back. “Winona was so smart. She was a prodigy,” one Heathers producer said about the young star.

Even though she was just a young teen, Winona knocked it out of the park with Heathers.

23 Brad Pitt Read For The Role Of J.D.

Before finalizing the cast of all of their characters, Lehmann and Waters did an early read-through of the Heathers script with some possible casting choices to see how the chemistry flowed amongst the actors.

Few know this, but the one and only Brad Pitt took part in these read-throughs in the role of J.D.

Pitt was a complete unknown at the time, an up-and-coming actor who was happy just to get the chance to be in the room with the likes of Lehmann and Waters.

J.D. could have been taken in a completely different direction if they had decided to go with Pitt instead of Slater.

22 The 7-11/Perrier Controversy

Brands typically welcome the chance to be included in feature films and often chase the opportunity for product placement to boost their profits.

With Heathers, however, this was an entirely different story.

Brands were completely averse to appearing in Heathers, with corporate bosses terrified of being associated with the black comedy and worried about people straying away from buying their product as a result.

Perrier and 7-11 were two companies in particular that spoke out against the movie.

The brands absolutely refused filmmakers permission to use their names, and Heathers had to go on without them as a result.

21 Christian Slater Threw Out The Script Because He Thought He Wouldn't Get The Role

Director Michael Lehmann and Daniel Waters knew that they needed a talented actor with a certain energy to compliment Winona Ryder’s Veronica.

They ended up choosing Christian Slater, and his performance as J.D. was both chilling and hilarious.

Slater remembers the part fondly these days, but back when he first auditioned, he thought he would never be a part of the Heathers crew.

The actor thought his first audition for J.D. went terribly and was convinced that he had blown his chance.

“I threw the script in the garbage angrily,” Slater recalled. The young 19 year-old actor had no idea that he was about to get one of the lead roles in the movie.

20 Winona Ryder Got The Role Because Of Beetlejuice

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Before starring as Veronica in Heathers, Winona Ryder was best known for entertaining audiences with her role as Lydia in Tim Burton’s wild and quirky Beetlejuice.

In fact, there’s an interesting connection between Heathers and Beetlejuice thanks to Ryder.

Once filming on Beetlejuice wrapped, Ryder was looking for new projects. The screenwriter of Beetlejuice, Michael McDowell, had read the script from Heathers and thought that Ryder would be a good fit.

He passed the script on to Ryder and insisted that she audition for the part of Veronica.

The actress took his advice, and the rest is history.

19 Winona Ryder Loved Playing Veronica

There are plenty of A-list stars who have regretted some of the roles they took early on in their careers. However, Winona Ryder isn’t one of them – at least, not when it comes to Heathers.

In fact, the famous actress has said that her character in Heathers, Veronica, keeps a very special place in her heart to this day.

“Veronica Sawyer is one of my favorite characters I’ve ever played,” Ryder once admitted. “And I never, ever felt finished with her.”

Ryder’s enjoyment of the character comes through in her quirky and lively performance as Veronica and remains one of the strongest aspects of the whole movie.

18 There Are Many Literary References

Heathers is a movie00 with a surprising amount of literary references. The main reference concerns the characters Betty Finn and Veronica Sawyer herself.

Betty and Veronica’s first names are references to two characters in the classic Archie comics.

Meanwhile, their last names Finn and Sawyer are, of course, in reference to Mark Twain’s iconic characters Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer from his famous novels.

In Heathers, Betty and Veronica’s friendship is ruined by the bullies in the movie. Interestingly, both Betty and Veronica and Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer are pairs of friends in their respective stories.

This is just one of the many small and amusing details that Daniel Waters put into his Heathers script.

17 Winona Ryder’s Agent Didn't Want Her To Take The Role

After starring in Beetlejuice, Winona Ryder was one of the most promising young actors of her generation.

Because she was close to becoming an A-lister so young, her agent wanted to make sure that Ryder made only the best movie choices going forward.

So when Ryder presented the script to Heathers to her agent, it caused a bit of an issue. Ryder insisted that she needed to do the movie, while her agent swore that the black comedy would ruin her career.

Ryder says that her agent literally got on her hands and knees and begged the actress not to do the role.

Of course, Ryder took the part. She says that she fired her agent shortly after.

16 Daniel Waters Wanted To Make An Alternative Teen Movie

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One of the main reasons why Daniel Waters wrote Heathers was to provide a twisted alternative to regular teen movies like The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Waters was tired of the conventional approach that these movies took and wanted to shake the genre up with something completely unexpected.

Winona Ryder has said that the entire cast and crew shared the same philosophy while making Heathers.

“We really wanted to make the teen film to end all teen films,” Ryder said.

One thing’s for sure: there certainly hasn't been anything like Heathers since.

15 Shannen Doherty Was An Outcast On Set

Before Heathers, Shannen Doherty was a well-established young actress. At 16, she had already starred in popular projects like Little House on the Prairie and Our House.

However, even though she knew the industry inside and out, it didn't help her much on the set of Heathers.

Shannen Doherty was actually a bit of an outcast amongst the set. Director Michael Lehmann has called Doherty a “bit of a handful,” while actress Carrie Lynn has said that “the only one in the cast who stuck out like a sore thumb was Shannen.”

Even all of these years later, the entire cast and crew still agree that Doherty wasn’t exactly the best to work with.

14 Jennifer Connelly Rejected The Role Of Veronica

By the late '80s, Jennifer Connelly had proven herself to be an extremely impressive young actor with her parts in movies like Once Upon a Time in America and Labyrinth.

She was in very high demand when the minds behind Heathers were casting the movie.

Connelly was actually one of the producers’ top choices for the part of Veronica because they believed that her high-profile name would help attract audiences to theaters.

However, Connelly rejected the role and had no interest in starring in Heathers.

It’s a good thing that she refused the part. Winona Ryder’s lead performance in Heathers continues to be one of the most compelling to come out of the '80s.

13 It Was A Box Office Bomb

While there are other ways to gauge a movie's success, the box office is a pretty important factor to making any movie.

Many studios shied away from producing Heathers because they thought that the movie would be a difficult product to market to audiences.

It may surprise Heathers’ many fans today, but they were sort of right. The movie was a complete box office bomb.

Heathers cost $3 million to make and only pulled one third of that in theaters.

Nevertheless, it gained a huge and passionate fan base following its theater release and has become a cult movie in the years since.

12 Daniel Waters Based The Script On Real Life

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Sharp, witty, and entirely unique, the dialogue in Heathers immediately makes an impression and is unlike any other movie.

Since the film’s release, screenwriter Daniel Waters has revealed the secret to how he made his dialogue sound so original and authentic.

Waters has said that the secret to his script of Heathers was that it was based in real life.

The screenwriter said he “stole” a good amount of the movie's one-liners from kids he knew in real life as a teen, especially from his coworkers and young campers when he worked as a summer camp counselor.

It may have been a bit of a shock to hear some of Heather's most famous lines come from young campers.

11 Heather Graham’s Parents Didn't Let Her Have A Role

A surprising amount of today’s A-list stars were nearly involved with Heathers. One such example is Heather Graham.

Producers wanted the young Graham as one of the “heathers” in the movie, but there was a snag in her casting process.

Graham was only 17 at the time, so her parents needed to approve the role in order for her to join the movie. However, they found the script way too offensive and refused their daughter to take part in such a movie.

Because of that, Graham never got the chance to star in Heathers.

10 Producers Originally Doubted Winona Ryder

Today, it’s impossible to imagine the role of Veronica embodied by anybody else but Winona Ryder – or that producers wouldn't want Ryder in their movie.

However, that’s exactly what happened when Heathers was in the pre-production stages.

Ryder was set on taking the role of Veronica and begged producers for the part. However, they were skeptical.

Producers didn't believe that the girl from Beetlejuice was in any way the right fit for the character of Veronica.

It’s a good thing that Ryder convinced them to change their minds, because her performance as Veronica remains one of the best female leads to come out of the '80s.

9 Veronica Was Originally A Lot More Twisted

There’s no doubting that Heathers is a pretty dark movie. However, Daniel Waters says that in its first drafts, it was even darker.

It all boils down to the character of Veronica. Apparently, she was much more twisted in the original drafts of Heathers.

She was so dark of a character, in fact, that Waters imagined her as a female version of Travis Bickle, Martin Scorsese’s chilling lead character in Taxi Driver.

Waters credits Winona Ryder for adding some warmth and empathy into the character during her auditions, which encouraged Waters to rewrite the character for the final movie.

8 Shannen Doherty Had Issues With The Script’s Foul Language

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Another entertaining aspect to Heathers is its bizarre and original insults and swearing. Some of Heathers’ foul lines are so good that people now use them in real life.

However, actress Shannen Doherty, who has some of the strongest-worded lines out of any other character, wasn't such a fan. She had huge issues with her lines.

Doherty had a conservative upbringing and had never been asked to use language like the kind found in Waters’ script.

Winona Ryder said that there were even moments where Doherty gave up mid-scene, unable to say her lines.

Director Michael Lehmann had his work cut out for him trying to get the actress to complete her scenes.

7 Winona Ryder Is a Fan of Daniel Waters

Few know that Winona Ryder doesn’t just act, but writes as well. She has a fine sense of literature and is extremely well read.

So it comes as a huge compliment when Ryder compliments your script. As it would turn out, Daniel Waters, the screenwriter of Heathers, received the ultimate stamp of approval from the A-list star.

Ryder has said that she considers the script of Heathers to be “among the great literature that I’ve ever read,” going on to compare it to novels from such greats as Philip Roth and Ezra Pound.

That’s the kind of feedback every writer hopes for.

6 Winona Ryder Got A Makeover To Convince Directors That She Was Right For The Role

Winona Ryder might be an A-lister these days, but back when her career was first starting, she often hit roadblocks.

One of her biggest obstacles that she remembers was auditioning for Heathers.

Producers were very close to passing on Ryder for the part of Veronica, and Ryder knew that she needed to pull out all of the stops to get their attention and convince the filmmakers that she was their lead.

Ryder said that she actually went to a local shopping mall and got an entire makeover at the makeup counter to convince Lehmann and Waters that she was “pretty enough.”

It must have made an impression, because she got the part shortly after.

5 Kim Walker’s Tragedy

One of the saddest ironies off of the set of Heathers has to do with Kim Walker.

Walker was Christian Slater’s girlfriend at the time and was offered the part of Heather Chandler when filmmakers had difficulty casting the role.

She had one of the movie's legendary quips when she said in one scene, “Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?”

In an unfortunate twist of fate, Kim Walker actually passed away due to a brain tumor in 2001 when she was only 32 years old.

Revisiting that scene nowadays makes the line seem tragic, not funny.

4 Christian Slater's Performance Was Inspired By Jack Nicholson

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Before his role in Heathers, the 19-year old Christian Slater had a good number of roles under his belt. However, by 1988, he wanted to take some creative risks.

He pursued the role of J.D. and committed himself to nailing the role. He even went so far as to lift some skills from one of his favorite actors – Jack Nicholson.

Slater has revealed that his performance in Heathers is a tribute to Nicholson, somebody he believes to be “the best actor around.”

If you rewatch Heathers, you can see the connection between Slater’s performance and Nicholson’s skills and mannerisms that he often has on screen.

3 Stanley Kubrick Was Daniel Water's First Pick For Director

Michael Lehmann certainly delivered as the director to Heathers, doing justice to Waters’ characters and making sure his that script was just as funny on screen as it was on paper.

However, he certainly wasn't Waters’ first choice for the director of Heathers.

While Waters was writing his first drafts of Heathers, he actually wrote the script specifically for the iconic filmmaker Stanley Kubrick to work behind the camera of his movie.

Clearly, this didn't work out. However, Kubrick’s influences are still there.

Lehmann said that he used Kubrick’s movie Full Metal Jacket as a reference while he shot Heathers and that the film’s first cafeteria scene pulls straight from this movie.

2 The Rebooted TV Show Was Scrapped

Heathers fans everywhere rejoiced when Paramount Network announced that it would be rebooting the movie into a television series.

The network wrote a full season, hired a full cast, and even filmed an entire season, with the series first set to premiere in March of 2018.

However, earlier this year, Paramount Network scrapped the series completely.

The network cited “challenging subjects” including gun violence as the reason for why the show couldn't make it on air. Paramount didn't want the show going out after the events of Parkland, Florida for risk of the show attracting controversy.

It seems as though fans will never be able to see Heathers each week on the small screen after all.

1 Winona Ryder Wants To Make A Sequel

After Heathers first premiered to less-than-promising box office numbers, nobody was really asking for a sequel.

However, after the movie's huge cult following in the years after, demand for a sequel to the dark comedy has risen substantially.

As it turns out, Winona Ryder is completely on-board. She says she’s been pitching a sequel for years.

Ryder says that she’d love to see a sequel with Veronica as a Washington DC politician, and she wants none other than Meryl Streep to play the part.

She said she even pitched to Streep herself and that the legendary actress was extremely supportive – but Ryder thinks she was just being polite.

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Do you know any other behind the scenes secrets about Heathers? Let us know in the comments!

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