Most Memorable Movie Proms

In the Broadway hit The Prom, which opens at The Straz Feb. 15, a student faces hostility for wanting to bring her girlfriend to the big high school dance. That part of the plot is based on a real event, and while we admire those who stand up for equality and inclusiveness, we wonder why anyone wants to go to prom in the first place.

The National Touring Company of The Prom. (Photo: Deen van Meer)

If every former high school student had to name the one event that seemed monumentally important at the time and wound up not meaning squat, prom would win in a landslide.

Seriously. There is no good reason for a teenager to know the words boutonnière or cummerbund. No one too young to vote or legally drink should have to encounter a wrist corsage. Nor should they (or their parents) have to shell out for tuxes, gowns and limos. That oh-so-special, once-in-your-lifetime evening of magic will inevitably finish far outside your realm of expectations. There’s only so much magic the prom committee can conjure with cardboard, glitter and glue sticks. Add a DJ who hasn’t updated his selections in 20 years (“They’re playing ‘All Star’ again!”) and watery punch that gives both water and punch bad names, and you have, to paraphrase David Foster Wallace, a supposedly fun thing you’ll never do again.

Of course, if you are young and in love and willing to suspend disbelief for a few hours, it might be magic. Or not.

Either way, few if any real proms will be as memorable as the ones Hollywood stages. Compared to any real prom taking place this spring, movie proms have better lighting, prettier people, more suspenseful drama and neater resolutions. Kids, why not skip the prom and hold a prom-theme movie night instead? Cheaper than a tux rental.

Here are some of movieland’s most memorable proms (or prom-like high school dances).

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946): What’s Christmas without George Bailey’s suicidal depression? Before he starts talking to spirits and getting punched out in bars, Bailey attends a high school dance he’s clearly too old to be at. A prank sends the kids into a swimming pool located conveniently beneath the dancefloor. Was that standard for public schools in the ‘40s?

Carrie (1976): Remember, we said “memorable” scenes, not necessarily pleasant ones. When a group of high school twits humiliate shy, troubled classmate Carrie, she responds with an impressive display of telekinesis filtered through murderous rage.

Grease (1978): A far-more light-hearted affair than the two films above it, the big dance at Rydell High features frenetic choreography and Danny Zuko’s old flame showing up to spur Sandy into wearing leather and heels. Or something like that.

Footloose (1984): A small town repressed by stringent anti-everything laws. A newcomer who just wants to dance. A preacher’s daughter looking for trouble. Yep, it all adds up to the best prom ever, assuming you’re a big Kenny Loggins fan. And for those who don’t believe in miracles, explain how these children who have been forbidden to dance all their lives can so effortlessly tap into their inner Bob Fosses and move like they’ve had a year of tap, two years of jazz.

Back to the Future (1985): You know the drill: Marty McFly goes back in time to save his parents’ marriage (and himself), creating problematic issues along the way, such as being pursued romantically by his own mother and teaching African-American musicians how to play rock ‘n’ roll. But it did give us Rick and Morty, more or less.

Pretty in Pink (1986): Molly Ringwald, rocking the best prom dress ever, gets her guy. Jon Cryer gets a consolation prize. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark gets a Top 40 hit. Happy endings all around. Finally.

The Virgin Suicides (1999): Some of the lighter moments in director Sofia Coppola’s debut feature film occur at a homecoming (sorry) dance attended by Kirstin Dunst and her sisters. Dunst and her boyfriend making out to 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love” feels like the most ‘70s thing ever until she’s crowned Homecoming Queen to the strains of Styx’s “Come Sail Away,” which IS the most ‘70s thing ever.

Mean Girls (2004): Lindsay Lohan is named Spring Fling (sorry) Queen and celebrates by tearing up the crown and telling everyone how dumb they were to want it in the first place. Easy for you to say.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012): This scene makes our list for showing its three main characters dancing to “Come on Eileen” as if it were the most joyous sound ever heard. Which it is, at least for however long this scene lasts. Too-rye-ay, indeed.

Lady Bird (2017): The title character renews her friendship with someone she’d started to ignore. They go to prom together. It’s sweet. It’s simple. That’s why it’s on the list.

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