The Legacy of Terrence Malick's 'Badlands'

The movies, music, books, and other things we wouldn't have if not for Terrence Malick's debut.

Warner Bros.

The End of the Fucking World (2013)


No, I don’t have the year wrong on this one. Before there was the Channel 4 and Netflix limited series of The End of the Fucking World, there was the graphic novel by Charles Forsman. And while the adaptation clearly pays tribute to True Romance with its male lead similarly costumed in a red Hawaiian shirt, the story of two teens on a murderous journey through England is only influenced by True Romance because that movie is influenced by Badlands.

The graphic novel was even sold on that influence. In their product description of the violent comic, publisher Fantagraphics calls The End of the Fucking World “a road trip drama that owes as much to Badlands as The Catcher in the Rye.” The latter inspiration brings back consideration of Wes Anderson’s involvement in all this legacy, too, since he’s hugely influenced by Salinger. Also, Moonrise Kingdom just happens to be another movie we recommend watching after you see the adaptation of the graphic novel.

More Directors Who Aren’t Terrence Malick

Aint Them Bodies Saints

I could continue populating this list with tons of filmmakers carrying on the legacy of Malick. David Gordon Green, who is probably the one most linked to Malick as a disciple of his aesthetic, admits to having a framed poster of Badlands (alongside Deliverance and Medium Cool) that he sometimes stares at while he writes. Zach Braff also loves the movie and has his own framed poster signed by Malick, Spacek, and Sheen. There’s also Shane Carruth, David Lowery, Carlos ReygadasZack Snyder, and plenty more.

As a shorthand, video essayist and One Perfect Shot contributor Jacob T. Swinney created a popular montage titled “Not Directed by Terrence Malick” a few years back. Watch it below for shots that seem to be from Badlands or other Malick films but are actually from such diverse movies as Carruth’s Upstream Color, Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Reygadas’ Silent Light, and Snyder’s Superman blockbuster Man of Steel.

Further Listening

Take Care, Take Care, Take Care

In addition to the influence on Zimmer, Desplat, Springsteen, and St. Vincent, Badlands and its soundtrack have influenced many more music artists. Too many to list them all, probably, as I’m surely unaware of many of them. But among those I’m aware of are Explosions in the Sky‘s 2011 album Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, which took admitted inspiration from Badlands (the track “Postcard from 1952” sounds most evocative of the movie), and Grapetooth‘s 2018 song “Violent,” of which songwriter Clay Frankel told Noisey, “I definitely had the Terrence Malick movie Badlands in my head while I was writing it for the song to make sense to me” (he also says the music video pays homage to the film).

Christopher began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called 'Read,' back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials.