Top 10 Bizarre Suburban Films

Living in the suburbs isn’t always about sharing cups of sugar and neighborly chats over the fence as Neal Damiano finds out in the Top 10 bizarre suburban movies list…

10. Pleasantville (Ross, 1998)

Pleasantville, Tobey Maguier, Reese Witherspoon,Two siblings played by Toby Maguire and Reese Witherspoon living in the 1990s, get mysteriously zapped back to the 1950s by way of a strange TV repairman. They must adapt and learn the ways of this very different time period. What makes Pleasantville so bizarre is the collision of decades. They’re trapped in this wholesome suburban nightmare in black & white, almost a “Father Knows Best” atmosphere.

9. Disturbia (Caruso, 2007)

DisturbiaA modern day take on the Alfred Hitchcock classic “Rear Window”, Shia LaBeouf plays a suburban teenager on house arrest. To avoid going crazy from boredom, he begins to spy and observe his neighborhood, seeing all sorts of interesting things. While this becomes a source of entertainment, he witnesses something very disturbing. All hell breaks lose as he tries to escape from his next door neighbor.

8. The Stepford Wives (Forbes, 1975)

Stepford Wives, Suburbia In Peril,A shrewd businessman and wife move to the quiet suburbs after he suffers from a nervous breakdown. Trying to free himself of the hustle and bustle of city life, he takes refuge in the slow moving town of Stepford. However, his wife notices something very different about the housewives in this strange community. Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of the film is the creepy submissive and robotic dreamlike state all the women seem to be in, each one’s behavior emulating the other.

7. Happiness (Solondz, 1998)

happiness_solondzTodd Solondz’s second film. A happily married shrink tries to suppress his fantasies of serial killing and pedophilia. He develops a thing for his son’s friend. There are plenty of moments here where you just have to turn your head and look away! Depravity and dysfunction ensue throughout the film, while the characters seem somewhat normal on the surface. Happiness is so over the top it tips over the bizarre scale.

6. Suburbia (Spheeris, 1984)

Suburbia, Penelope Spheeris, Teenage Rebellion,Suburbia is more like a documentary chronicling the lives in a group of punk rock kids that seem to be thrown out by modern society. Filmed on a very low budget the movie does a great job on capturing the carefree kids, as they shun authority on a regular basis. It’s is also Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers debut performance as an actor.

5. Edward Scissorhands (Burton, 1990)

Edward Scissorhands, Film, Johnny DeppTim Burton brought to life a fascinating character played by Johnny Depp. Edward Scissorhands has scissors for hands and falls in love with a human being, played by Winona Ryder, a pretty girl bored in middle suburbia with a misogynistic boyfriend (Anthony Michael Hall). Not one believes Edward has real feelings, but he does, just as any real human being. Depp’s performance is so brilliant in part because he doesn’t speak allowing his emotion to come through movement, expression and mannerism. And, he’s so convincing.

4. Over The Edge (Kaplan, 1979)

Over The Edge, 1979, Teenage Rebellion,The film reminded me somewhat of an after school special but far more fascinating. Set in the 1970s, a group of rebellious kids embark on a war with authority. One of the first films to really show kids with a complete anarchistic and out of control attitude, with little parental supervision in their bored-out-of-their-minds state. They unfortunately find self destructive ways to keep themselves entertained. One of Matt Dillon’s first leading roles and he provides an amazing performance.

3. Daydream Nation (Goldbach, 2011)

daydreamNation1Kat Dennings plays Coraline Drexler, a mature 17-year-old high school student from the big city who moves to an eerily quiet suburban town. Stricken from boredom in middle suburbia Caroline is unable to relate to her immature peers, developing a passionate relationship with her English teacher (Josh Peck). At the same time she leads on an eccentric classmate named Thurston (Reece Thompson). The love triangle creates intense jealousy leading to dangerous consequences. While all of this is happening, an industrial fire continues to burn just a few towns away, threatening to work its way toward Caroline’s home, and high school girls keep turning up dead, at the hands of a sociopath. Kat Dennings is so convincing, she really owns the role.

2. American Beauty (Mendes, 1999)

Annette Bening, Film, American BeautyKevin Spacey plays Lester Burnham, a married corporate drone in his mid-forties living in suburbia USA, fed up with the structured mundane existence of his everyday life. Lester, having a semi mid-life crisis, wakes one day with an epiphany – nothing really matters. While this new found perspective affects his family, Lester makes a few changes – he quits his job, begins exercising and lifting weights, starts smoking pot, and begins fantasizing about his daughter’s best friend (Mena Suvari). His wife (Annette Benning), frustrated beyond belief, becomes obsessed with self-motivation tapes. His daughter falls for the eccentric boy next door played by Wes Bentley, who films random things and has a homophobic military father. American Beauty is the near perfect portrait of suburban hell and won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1999.

1. Imaginary Heroes (Harris, 2004)

imginary-heroes-signourney-weaverImaginary Heroes is about a severely dysfunctional upper class suburban family. Sigourney Weaver plays Sandy Travis, who is estranged from her father and her marriage to Ben (Jeff Daniels) is crumbling. She has two kids Matt and Tim. Matt, a potential Olympic swimmer commits suicide in the beginning, we don’t know why? Tim feels distant from his father, who centered all his attention on Matt’s swimming. Kyle, a negative influence, is Matt’s best friend. Seen through flashbacks, Matt and Kyle get in trouble with the law and things come to a halt. Tim (Emile Hirsch) stricken by guilt spends his time mostly in a dream-like trance through the film. The layers are deep here; on the surface it seems like a happy loving family, but peeling away the surface we see an inner darkness that is slowly revealed throughout. I really enjoyed this film, good story and exceptional acting.

If you enjoyed this top 10 check out Neal Damiano’s other lists on Top 10 Films including the best of actors James Gandolfini, Christian Slater & Gary Oldman as well as the greatest slashers, drug-themed movies, and American Indie.

Written and compiled by Neal Damiano.

About the Author
Neal Damiano calls himself “an unhip film geek” who mixes his passion for movies with an enthusiasm for travel, music and journalism.

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  1. Rodney Reply

    I’m too scared to watch Happiness. I’ve heard it’s a tough watch, and I lack toughness right at the minute.

    Probably the reason I’m taking so long to get to watching 12 Years A Slave…..

    • Dan Reply

      …steel yourself, Rodney… a couple of powerful but very worthwhile films. I tip 12 Years A Slave for the Best Picture Oscar.

  2. Neal Damiano Reply

    I’ll give it a few days! 😉

  3. Mark Reply

    Nice list Neal –

    Not sure I fully agree with American Beauty being about suburban hell given Lester’s brief ephiphany at the end (and his closing comment that he wouldn’t have changed anything about his life) really turns out to be a celebration of his brief existence in his urban paradise; a recognition that perhaps he misunderstood quite a bit of it.

    The Coen brother’s A Serious Man might have been a serious contender for this list.

  4. Dan Reply

    I feel it is a crime if I do not mention one of my favourite films – The ‘Burbs. It would have fit perfectly in this list of “bizarre” suburban films. For me it is one of Tom Hanks’ most underrated films but then so much of his 1980s work gets forgotten about.

  5. Michael Scoates Reply

    Great list, I’m throwing Donnie Darko in as food for thought 🙂

    • Dan Reply

      Wonderful addition – Donnie Darko definitely has the “bizarre” about it!

  6. Courtney Small Reply

    Glad to see both The Stepford Wives and Happiness on the list. Neither are films that would instantly come to mind for most when talking about the suburbs.

  7. Pete Reply

    No The Burbs??? God I love that film!! Edward Scissorhands is probably my fave of this bunch though I haven’t seen the number one. Scissorhands really just shows how messed up suburbanitesd can be. I’d go live in that scary old castle by myself if I was Ed too.

    • Dan Reply

      The Burbs has been one of my favourite Tom Hanks films for as long as I can remember. Can’t believe it gets forgotten about in favour of Bachelor Party, Big and Splash from Hanks’ comedy 1980s years. Hanks is brilliant in it but he’s got the offbeat, quirky vision of director Joe Dante helping out big time!

  8. Neal Damiano Reply

    @Mark, thanks for the read, the reason American Beauty is on the list. And so high at #2 is that mere fact that Lester had to. Realize the life he was living was a regimented hell, this epiphany got him to change and it was not a tragedy ending. He found enlightment and died happy. That is the beauty of the film.

    @Dan & Michael yes, I have slipped and forgot about these two great films- Donnie Darko and The Burbs would have been a nice edition.

  9. ruth Reply

    Great idea for a list and nice picks Neal. I still need to see a lot of these, esp. Pleasantville.

    I actually thought Disturbia was decent, that was looong before Shia LaBeouf went off the deep end.

    • Dan Reply

      Ooh, Plessantville is well-worth seeing. Reese Witherspoon is usually very entertaining (I’m thinking about how she elevates the likes of Legally Blonde to levels such broad comedy has no right to attain) despite some of her movies being a bit hit and miss, and in this one she’s great. Good story; heartwarming, funny – add it to your to-see list.

      Disturbia on the other hand… One of my most hated movies. Not only can I not stand Shia LaBeouf, the film is a blatant rip-off of Hitchcock’s Rear Window. The worst kind of plagiarism dressed to look like new and make some money. It’s a film I can’t even give a second chance to.

      • Neal Damiano Reply

        Dan, I hear you it is a cheap sensationalized copy on a classic Hitchcock masterpiece but sometimes, but it is a suburban disaster. It’s cheesy fun a non thinking film.

        • Dan Reply

          It’s definitely right for this list Neal, no arguments there. But because I’m such a big fan of Hitchcock’s Rear Window I quickly fell out of favor with Disturbia while watching it though. Plus I find myself distancing myself from everything Shia LaBeouf has done more and more…

  10. Tony Copas Reply

    Great selection of movies! I love Over The Edge and Suburbia. How about Jennifer Aniston’s underrated The Good Girl?

    • Dan Reply

      …when I saw The Good Girl – which I enjoyed – I thought, “finally, a film in which Jennifer Aniston doesn’t play Rachel from Friends”. One of her best movie performances in my opinion.

  11. Rex Reply

    Great top 10! I think Kevin Spacey loves this stuff…I’d add Consenting Adults to the mix.

  12. Neal Damiano Reply

    When making this list, the word “bizarre” I intended as the nature of the characters in the film ……along side the storyline . I just wanted to clarify.

    Thanks for reading & commenting!
    Neal-

  13. DerekB Reply

    Nice top 10. Love Edward Scissorhands, Over The Edge and American Beauty. Burton’s film is just crazy while Over The Edge and American Beauty capture suburbia and its inhabitants in a state of flux.

    Arlington Road has that creepy, strange suburban character. I think it would work well for this topic.

  14. Evan Crean Reply

    I’ve always felt that Disturbia is underrated, so I’m glad to see it make your list. Normally I’m not a big fan of Shia, but I think his toolish-ness works in that film. American Beauty and Edward Scissorhands would definitely make my cut as well. Although I’ve never heard of Daydream Nation, your plot summary intrigues me. I’ll have to add that movie to my Netflix queue.

  15. thy critic man Reply

    Very well written list! I actually completely forgot about Disturbia. I thought it would have sent Shia into massive popularity considering his performance. It showed he was capable of more than just being the Transformers lead man.

  16. Ratnakar Reply

    Quite a good list, couple of additions from my side

    Ghost World- Two teen girls, trying to find their way in suburbia, one of my favorites, great performances by Thora Birch and Scarlett Johannson.

    Ice Storm- Ang Lee’s rather bleak look at suburbia set in 70’s America, with ample references to the scenario there.

  17. Dan Grant Reply

    Great read. American Beauty is a terrific film and glad to see you have it here. I’ve not seen 8 of these films. Guess I have some catching up to do.

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