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Badlands (1973)

tomatometer

98

Average Rating: 8.9/10
Reviews Counted: 49
Fresh: 48 | Rotten: 1

Terrence Malick's debut is a masterful slice of American cinema, rife with the visual poetry and measured performances that would characterize his work.

100

Average Rating: 8.9/10
Critic Reviews: 6
Fresh: 6 | Rotten: 0

Terrence Malick's debut is a masterful slice of American cinema, rife with the visual poetry and measured performances that would characterize his work.

audience

91

liked it
Average Rating: 4.1/5
User Ratings: 23,863

My Rating

Movie Info

"He wanted to die with me and I dreamed of being lost forever in his arms." A young couple goes on a Midwest crime spree in Terrence Malick's hypnotically assured debut feature, based on the 1950s Starkweather-Fugate murders. Fancying himself a rebel like James Dean, twentysomething Kit (Martin Sheen) takes off with teen baton-twirler Holly (Sissy Spacek) after shooting her father (Warren Oates) when he tries to split the pair up. Once bounty hunters discover their riverside hiding place, Kit

Apr 27, 1999

Warner Bros. Pictures

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All Critics (54) | Top Critics (8) | Fresh (48) | Rotten (1) | DVD (8)

In the fall of 1973, one could see signposts of cinema's future in Mean Streets and The Exorcist, yet with this youthful pair of proto-indie dreamers, Malick was paving a whole new road. It turned out to be the path most traveled.

May 7, 2013 Full Review Source: Time Out New York
Time Out New York
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Days of Heaven put Terrence Malick's intuitions into cogent form, but this is where his art begins.

February 8, 2010 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

This first, magnificent, outpouring of the sporadic genius of cinema's equivalent to JD Salinger, Terrence Malick, still seems terrifically modern.

August 29, 2008 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Written, produced and directed by Terrence Malick, pic is his first feature and it's an impressive debut.

May 16, 2008 Full Review Source: Variety
Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Among the great American crime movies, 1973's Badlands stands alone.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Chronicle
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Terrence Malick's self-penned feature debut is a haunting road movie pitched in '50s Americana. The film's razor-sharp tone of poetic irony is unique.

April 1, 2014 Full Review Source: ColeSmithey.com
ColeSmithey.com

The movie is just as free, experimental, and unsure of itself as its main characters are, and thus fits like a glove.

February 21, 2014 Full Review Source: Movie Mezzanine
Movie Mezzanine

This tender treatment does nothing to alleviate the horror of the atrocities committed.

May 22, 2013 Full Review Source: Movie Metropolis
Movie Metropolis

It's a testament to Bruce Greenwood's acting that Adan never becomes entirely as insufferable as the words that come out of his mouth.

May 5, 2013 Full Review Source: Slant Magazine
Slant Magazine

Malick has come to be known and revered as a cinematic poet and philosopher, as a filmmaker who explores big ideas, but in Badlands in particular he also shows a knack for off-kilter humor.

August 9, 2011 Full Review Source: Reel Times: Reflections on Cinema
Reel Times: Reflections on Cinema

In his debut, Terrence Malick is an uncanny creator of pearlescent forms, a very stark balladeer, Mark Twain's coolly ferocious heir

June 27, 2011 Full Review Source: CinePassion
CinePassion

Incredibly beautiful, of course (you may have heard that Malick movies are famous for their landscapes), but it's not "just" beautiful.

May 31, 2011 Full Review Source: Antagony & Ecstasy
Antagony & Ecstasy

...the first of Malick's many screen Edens, all of which inevitably come to a violent end.

May 13, 2011 Full Review Source: LarsenOnFilm
LarsenOnFilm

Malick's film, full of striking cutaways to the burning-sun horizon and the harsh landscape's solitary creatures, comes to operate at an overpoweringly chilling remove.

May 11, 2011 Full Review Source: Lessons of Darkness
Lessons of Darkness

The superb performances from Sheen and Spacek are as memorable as Malick's vision of something akin to hell.

August 29, 2008 Full Review Source: This is London
This is London

The unique, lilting music would subsequently crop up in True Romance, though Tarantino's generation has yet to dethrone Badlands as the most haunting of all couple-on-the-run movies.

August 29, 2008 Full Review Source: Total Film
Total Film

An unmissable reissue for Terrence Malick's gorgeous and troubling debut.

August 29, 2008 Full Review Source: Daily Telegraph
Daily Telegraph

Terrence Malick's thriller Badlands (1973), is rightly revered as one of the most astonishing debuts in cinema. Its reissue is a wonderful chance to discover why.

August 29, 2008 Full Review Source: Times [UK]
Times [UK]

Terrence Malick's first masterpiece. Essential viewing.

August 29, 2008 Full Review Source: Film4
Film4

Achingly evocative of a time when Hollywood had the courage to invest in complex and morally ambiguous films and an indisputable masterpiece of American cinema.

August 29, 2008 Full Review Source: Empire Magazine
Empire Magazine

Makes for classic, troubling yet fascinating cinema.

June 18, 2008 Full Review Source: Urban Cinefile
Urban Cinefile

Audience Reviews for Badlands

This is the wonderful and fascinating debut film of one of the most interesting and talented, yet secretive and least prolific filmmakers out there, Terrence Malick. The story, inspired by the real life case of Charles Starkweather, follows that of Kit Carruthers, a young aimless greaser who, along with his teenaged schoolgirl lover/companion Holly Sargis, sets out on a murder spree across Montana and South Dakota.

The film is pretty light on plot and also a great amount of depth and insight into the characters and motivations, but even then, it's still a captivating study of how Holly knows that Kit is dangerous and sociopathetic, yet still finds him likeable and views their little odyssey with a great sense of innocence and naivety. It's a curious mix of crime film, road movie, and lighthearted poetic romance. It's not for everyone, but I sure was taken in by it, and I'm not surprised by it's impact and influence. Both Oliver Stone and Tony Scott heavily cribbed from it (for Natural Born Killers and True Romance, respectively), and I'm sure a lot of others have too, but those two stick out the most.

The greatest things about this film, other than its curious nature and how interesting it is, are the excellent cinematography and the wonderful performances. Martin Sheen is likeable and seductively malevolent, but very cold blodded and callous. It's a tremendous job. Sissy Spacek though, is the one who really shines here. Her turn as the innocent and naive, but not completely ignorant Holly is a great showcase for her immense talents and low key beauty, both of which are far too often underappreciated.

The music, like the visuals, is quite sublime and very catchy. This is a loose and breezy film, yet it never feels shallow or pretentious. I also like how it never overtly condemns or praises the couple or their actions. All in all, I think this is some excellent stuff, and definitely feel you should give it a shot.
October 8, 2013
cosmo313
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

Based loosely on the 1957/8 Charles Starkweather and Carol Ann Fugate spree killings, Badlands (1973), is Terrence Malick's outstanding début feature about love, escape, loneliness and anger. Sissy Spacek plays Holly Sargis, a teenage girl who moves to South Dakota and meets the charismatic yet psychotic Kit Carruthers (Martin Sheen), a James Dean obsessed greaser with a penchant for violence; together, after an initial remorseless act of violence by Kit, the two go on the run. Beauty and unbridled lyricism ensue.

Although incredibly well structured from a plot standpoint, Badlands is largely a character study; Holly is unpopular, unintelligent, and obviously affected by her father's (Warren Oates) parenting techniques, the scene in which he shoots her dog is testament to this, and gives viewer's their first look at the way in which violence is treated throughout the film. Alongside this Holly also longs for her own identity, and uses her trip as a chance to experiment with smoking, make-up and independence. Kit on the other hand is outwardly charismatic and charming, with a brooding hidden anger that is demonstrated through violent outbursts and cynicism. Malick draws heavily from Starkweather when it comes to the more subtle reasons behind Kit's deranged nature, implying sexual shortcomings ("Is that all there is to it?"), and a deep longing to live more then just a "regular" life, perhaps shown most obviously with his desire to be James Dean.

Technically the film is beautiful, exuding a mesmerising transcendental nature that is very rarely caught on camera. Dream-like shots of nature and beauty are poetically inter-cut throughout the film, accompanied usually by the outstanding score, which includes the best use of Carl Orff's 'Gassenhauer' put to film, or the distant narration of Holly's voice-over, which communicates her observations rather then her feelings, adding to the existential nature her character adopts whilst romanticizing ideas of death and escape (a technique later mirrored in 'True Romance'). Tak Fujimoto's cinematography is fully realised, and the baron often banal landscapes perfectly compliment the protagonist's unaffected, regret-less moral beliefs and reactions.

At its core Badlands is an allegory for troubled youth and the constant human desire to be a part of something bigger than yourself, even if in the end we are nothing more then a speck on the all encompassing meaningless and emptiness of existence.
August 20, 2013
Cameron Sherwell

Super Reviewer

the intrigue is in the details. the film, like all malick films, is heightened by incredible images, and subtle moments that define the actions of the characters. badlands is a very interesting debut that puts malick's future nuances in place, with solid performances.
July 18, 2013
sanjurosamurai
danny d

Super Reviewer

A unique film, in its time, as a completely amoral take on a serial killer, an approach that has oft been imitated since. But this isn't a film "about a serial killer," not exactly; for my money, it's more about the gulf between expectations and reality, about the disenchantment that comes with growing up and having to choose which way your life will go. A character like Kit (Martin Sheen) just opts out entirely, and Holly (Sissy Spacek) comes along for the ride, not knowing what she's getting into, just accepting the advances of an older boy who kind of looks like James Dean. I had a hard time with the first Malick film I saw, The Thin Red Line, but I feel like I got this one: it makes a brash comment about what happens when we see (or worse, choose to see) only the surface of things. Beautiful cinematography and joyfully frustrating in its unwillingness to explain, to tie on a tidy bow at the end, it's a groundbreaking film that still stands up today and probably the best one with which to introduce yourself to this difficult director.
November 10, 2012
danperry17

Super Reviewer

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Foreign Titles

  • La Balade sauvage (FR)
  • Malas tierras (ES)
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