Panic! At The Movies: An Emo Top 10 Watchlist

Emos bled into popular culture in the early 2000s, drawing controversy, obsession and life-long commitment. Wearing tight jeans and too much eyeliner, the appointed leaders of the alternative movement demanded to express their innermost and darkest feelings through catchy rock music and elaborate hairstyles. Although the movement made some of the populous uncomfortable with its associations with depression and self-harm, the emo counterculture grew to be a celebration of self-expression, giving many an accessible route towards dealing with their emotions and making meaningful connections and friends.

It was the sweep of Pete Wentz’s dark fringe and the bright orange hues of Hayley Williams’ ever-changing hairstyles. It was the sharp, skin-tingling opening note of “Welcome to the Black Parade” and Gerard Way’s powerful, melodic voice. It was ruining your hair with every different colour of Manic Panic hair dye, wearing an exclusive uniform of black skinny jeans, converse and band t-shirts, and spending way too much time on Myspace. It was extremely over-eyelinered eyes and lip piercings we grew to regret. It was wallpapering our bedrooms with Kerrang band posters and crying actual tears when Fall Out Boy announced their split in 2010 (yeah, we got them back, but it’s not the same).

Although defined primarily through fashion and music, when the local venues were fresh out of touring bands, emo kids had to find alternative ways to entertain themselves. For many, this entertainment came in the form of movies – but not just any movies. To be accepted into the emo-canon, acceptable cinema had to meet specific criteria. Emo movies had to be dark and emotional while also supplying us with a rockin’ soundtrack. Pained, awkwardly misunderstood protagonists were a must, and mythical beings were a welcomed sight—as long as they were skinny, fashionable or members of the living dead.

Film is the lesser explored medium of the emo aesthetic. Still, given that we are currently living in a world without live music, there is no better time to journey back to the era of the emo kid and revisit the movies they all once loved. This is Panic! at the Movies – An Emo Top 10 Watchlist.

Fellow emos unite in the comments, and be sure to follow @thefilmagazine on X (Twitter) for more articles like this one.

1. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

The Nightmare Before Christmas Review

Becoming a The Nightmare Before Christmas super-fan was an unquestionable emo requirement. Due to the Pumpkin King’s flair for dramatics, fashionable attire and melancholic feelings of isolation, emo kids adopted Skellington as their unofficial mascot. His slender image was everywhere, appearing on almost every desirable emo accessory, including bags, clothes, shoes, make-up, note-pads and bed sheets.

Coming from the mind of Tim Burton, The Nightmare Before Christmas celebrates every theme the notoriously spooky director is famed for. Jack Skellington is the king of Halloween Town, a place dedicated to celebrating monsters and all things dark and creepy. After becoming disillusioned with the idea of existing to scare people, Skellington discovers Christmas Town, a place dedicated to bringing joy and celebrating the cosy happiness of Yuletide. Excited by his discovery, Skellington tries to share it with the residents of Halloween Town. However, they grossly misunderstand the festive holiday and do not share Skellington’s desire to celebrate it. Skellington kidnaps and steals the role of ‘Sandy Claus’ for himself, delivering monstrous presents to the children of Christmas Town. Their ensuing horror and fear reignite Skellington’s forgotten passion for Halloween and reminds him of who he is and why he adores all things spooky.

Burton packaged a hauntingly catchy score and eerily designed characters into an animated children’s movie while fusing the radically opposing genre tropes of horror and musicals and the mismatched themes of Halloween and Christmas. The conflicting nature of his subject matter created a whimsical journey of existential dread. It birthed an affinity for dark and drab aesthetics, twisted humour, and ironic performance in every emo kid who carried Jack’s slender image around with them.

*See also Coraline and The Corpse Bride

Recommended for you: Tim Burton Movies Ranked

2. Jennifer’s Body (2009)

Directed by Karyn Kusama and written by Diablo Cody, Jennifer’s Body was a delectable addition into the canon of teenage slasher movies.

It experiments with both horror and comedy, creating a narrative that is essentially Mean Girls meets Nightmare on Elm Street. The film seduced emo kids with its honest portrayal of puberty and high school worries alongside a sexy depiction of a teenage girl turned succubus, brutally murdering a slew of horny teenage boys. It also paid homage to the greatest emo bands of the time with its remarkable soundtrack, featuring such iconic bands as Panic! At the Disco, Cute Is What We Aim For and All Time Low. Plus, Jennifer has a poster of Fall Out Boy above her bed, so you know she gets it.

At the time of its release, Jennifer’s Body was marketed to straight teenage boys and rested heavily on Megan Fox’s undeniable attractiveness to lure in the lads. Yet, what exists underneath the sex appeal is far more exciting and intelligent than anybody cared to notice at the time.

Jennifer’s Body is a feminist revenge narrative which demonises rape culture and paints a scarily truthful depiction of the kind of threats facing girls in high school. Cody brilliantly captures the flavour of conversations teenage girls have with one another, which, although cheesy and endlessly quotable, are used to punch up rather than down. Both female protagonists were much more than their recognisable roles of the ‘pretty girl’ and the ‘nerdy girl’, and got the room to explore their layered personalities and developing sexualities. The world we live in now is yearning for engaging female-driven narratives, so it’s disappointing that Jennifer’s Body wasn’t given the recognition it deserved.

Megan Fox as Jennifer is perhaps one of the most spot-on examples of casting we have. Her character is used as a virginal sacrifice by a group of unsuccessful rockers to further their career, a narrative which is shockingly familiar to Fox’s own experiences with Transformers director, Michael Bay. Fox is beyond outstanding as Jennifer. She delivers brilliantly nuanced, airhead one-liners such as ‘I’m not killing people, I’m killing boys’ and chilling satanic horror in her portrayal of a stunning, murderous demon.

Jennifer’s Body is an essential rewatch and endlessly deserving of your reconsideration. 

Recommended for you: Nightmare on Elm Street Movies Ranked

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