Carrie frightened audiences because it told the truth. Not only truth about being a victim, but about the traditions of high school and rights of passage. The movie, which stars Sissy Spacek, uses the single, pivotal event of prom night to bring these truths to light. It’s uncomfortable to watch and leaves you with an unsettling feeling in the pit of your stomach. Carrie does not set out to sugar coat bullying, abuse, or revenge. Rather, the teen movie is an honest and beautiful rejection of these things — and it uses prom to do so.

There are reasons why teen movies focus on the negativity of prom. There is a reason why the prom queen is never a really nice person, and why Courtney Shane was humiliated at the end of Jawbreaker, however, it’s more than just a mean girl being put on her desired pedestal – it’s prom as a whole that’s a problem.


Hilary Faye awaits her inevitable crowning in Saved!

Teen movies often use prom night as a means of rejecting titles. Most often, the prom queens and kings of teen movies are shallow bullies who are the least deserving of what’s considered a privileged title. In movies like Jawbreaker and Saved!, it’s totally uncomfortable to watch the prom queens crumble in what appears to be the greatest moment of their lives. However, this is not meant to shame the prom queen themselves. Rather, it says how appalling it is to place someone at the top, leaving others questioning why they aren’t there instead. These movies make us question: what exactly qualifies being a prom queen?

These speeches are meant to embody the values of society and the idea that the title of the prom queen strips away the importance of every girl in the room. Rather than celebrate the student body as a whole, in what should be a fun celebration for everybody, the whole event is capped with a crowning that only leaves some people heartbroken and confused at to why they weren’t “chosen.”

Courtney Shane in Jawbreaker.

Courtney Shane in Jawbreaker.

This very idea of being chosen is brought to light more clearly in Carrie. Carrie is “chosen” on behalf of her student body as the outcast and later as the prom queen. But rather than humiliate herself, as many prom queens do, her bullies do the job for her. When the bullies pour blood on Carrie, it is a rejection of the things that they hate about themselves. The bullies target Carrie because they assume she won’t do anything to defend herself. But Carrie fights back, not only against the tradition of prom, but against those who have put herself and others in the position of feeling unwanted and undeserving.

However, not every prom experience is a terrible one. Other teen movies fight back against the sinister depictions of prom, which in some ways is considered a right of passage for teenagers. Never Been Kissed shows that the outcast can come out “on top” in spite of the fact that she wasn’t the prettiest or most popular. Cady Heron in Mean Girls even speaks out against the artificiality of the prom queen title, explicitly stating that it in no way belongs to one person. Cady, who understands that she has the power of the microphone, tries to speak on behalf of those that don’t get the chance to speak at all. She redefines the idea of the prom queen, and becomes a unique leader.