Party Monster: The best counterculture movies from the 90s and 00s
Counterculture is described as “a way of life and set of attitudes opposed to or at variance with the prevailing social norm.” In that sense, most of you reading this will find this term resonates with your way of life. Although it’s often associated with bohemianism and the beat generation of the 40s to the 60s, these days many alternative lifestyles fall under its umbrella, from skater punks to ravers to new-age hippies.
The subject of countercultures has cropped up in many beloved films over the years. As such, we’ve decided to take a trip down memory lane to look back at some of our fave flicks featuring singular takes on counterculture from the 90s and 00s.
The Doom Generation (1995)
Before her activist days, Rose McGowan (Planet Terror) was an absolute indie flick goddess. The height of her reign can be seen in Gregg Araki’s The Doom Generation, where she plays a punk on the run alongside her boyf (James Duval) and the endlessly sexy component to their ménage à trois (Johnathon Schaech). If you like campy dialogue, Tarantino settings, and lots of OTT gore, this is your bag.
Wassup Rockers (2005)
Wassup, rockers! Larry Clark, the pope of teen debauchery, triumphed with this film about a group of young Latino skaters who, instead of adhering to the norms of their South Central neighborhood, opt to model themselves on the Ramones. Skating, punk music, and sex – what’s not to like?
Party Monster (2003)
Macaulay Culkin (Home Alone), Seth Green (The Italian Job), and a buttload of drugs feature in this mind-bending journey into the life of the Club Kid King, Michael Alig. This film provides a colorful look into the New York rave counterculture and how the group’s leader spiraled from opulence and exclusivity to violent drug-fuelled mayhem (and an eventual murder sentence).
Human Traffic (1999)
Justin Kerrigan’s film gives a truly honest and realistic portrayal of the rave culture in 90s Britain. Anyone who’s “had it large” will resonate with every scene, from the shit-talking at the afterparty, to the post-club comedown, to the essential Spliff Politics.
“Take me to a world where the drugs are free, the clubs have no gravity and every shag guarantees an orgasm!”
Another offering from Gregg Araki, Nowhere is the second film from the director’s Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy. This glaring presentation of 90s mayhem follows a bisexual couple (James Duval and Rachel True) preparing for a party worthy of “Armageddon Day”. As you might imagine, there’s a faceful of sex, drugs, and apocalyptic fun, as well as a staggeringly huge supporting cast of young 90s hotties including Rose McGowan, Kathleen Robertson (Scary Movie 2), Ryan Phillippe (Crash), Heather Graham (From Hell), Jeremy Jordan (Never Been Kissed), Christina Applegate (Bad Moms), and Mena Suvari (American Beauty), among others.
Paranoid Park (2007)
Skaters, death, and unmentional guilt are the key themes in this 2007 flick from the one and only Gus Van Sant (Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot). If you ever feel like your life’s taken a dark path, just remember that it ain’t nothing compared to this poor tween (Gabe Nevins) who found himself (quite literally) on the wrong side of the tracks.
Class of 1984 (1982)
This absolute belter B-movie of the exploitation variety is the embodiment of the term “Well, that escalated quickly.” What starts out as a high-school music teacher (Perry King) hunting a hoodlum student (Timothy Van Patten) for attacking his wife (Merrie Lynn Ross) turns into an all-out classroom hall war.
Richard Linklater is a bit of a pro when it comes to teen angst, evident in this 1996 flick about a group of suburban young burnouts who hang out in a convenience-store parking lot (Clerks, anyone?). As you might imagine, the soundtrack is rad, featuring the likes of Sonic Youth, U.N.K.L.E., and the Flaming Lips. The film’s not so bad either, if you’re into watching wasters trying to make their way through kidulthood.
Dazed and Confused (1993)
While we’re on the topic of Linklater, you can’t do a list like this and not include Dazed and Confused. This coming-of-age slice of life offers a comedic take on a group of burnout hippies in Austin, Texas celebrating their last day of high school in 1976. An ovation should be handed to Matthew McConaughey’s ‘tache alone. “You just gotta keep livin’ man, L-I-V-I-N.”
Ghost World (2001)
The film’s protagonist – Enid (Thora Birch) – wasn’t part of a counterculture; she made the counterculture.
After getting herself caught up in a prank gone wrong (with a character played by Steve Buscemi, no less), Enid embarks on a journey of Blues discovery, ditching her ‘77 punk, Indian rockabilly, and “little old lady” phase, to discover the deeper sounds of the Mississippi Delta, all the while trying to navigate through that complicated phase between high school and the real world.