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Postwar Suburbia Movies & TV

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

This creepy sci-fi thriller has been interpreted by some as an anti-Communist propaganda film, with the pods representing communism; others have viewed it as a critique of McCarthyism raids, with the pod people representing far-right radicals. It's unclear whether the director Don Siegel intended to present a political allegory or simply a story of an alien invasion. Either way, Invasion is a classic horror film from the Cold War era, and a must see! (Officially unrated, it may scare young children. In fact, some of us here at Shmoop remember begin pretty spooked!)

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

James Dean and Natalie Wood star in this iconic '50s film about teen angst and rebellion in an era marked by conformity and conservatism. The three main characters are plagued by anger, disappointment, and loneliness; thus, they frequently drink, act up in school, and challenge their parents, who they blame for their misery. Rebel Without a Cause was a blockbuster hit when it was originally released, and this fact attests to the deep relationship between authority and rebellion in post-World War II America—a relationship that helped speed the rise of rock and roll music. (Rebel is rated "PG-13" for a few curse words and several tense moments, including a fight scene with a switchblade, a dangerous car race, and a conversation that alludes to suicide.)

American Graffiti (1973)

One of the best coming-of-age films ever made, American Graffiti is a whole lot of fun. A group of friends spend one fabulously entertaining night cruising "the strip" in their cars, chasing love interests, playing pranks, racing, fighting, and reminiscing about their high school days before heading off to college. Not only is this film a must see for its depiction of '60s era teenage car culture, but it's also chock full of the most popular radio hits from the period, and it features some of today's major Hollywood stars—Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, and Harrison Ford, to name a few—in their youth. (American Graffiti is rated "PG" for sexual innuendos, fighting, and general, mild inappropriateness.)

Grease (1978)

If you haven't seen this movie featuring a young John Travolta, then we're not really sure where you've been all these years! The most popular film version of a Broadway musical ever produced, Grease is about the turbulent romance between two high school seniors—"bad boy" Danny, a prominent member of the T-Birds gang, and "good girl" Sandy, a preppy, "goodie-two-shoes." Even if you aren't a fan of musicals, you may enjoy this film for its memorable set design and dozens of references to '50s teen car culture. (Grease is rated "PG" for a few subtle references to teen sex, and maybe for the whole "gang" thing. But, in general, this film is just about as harmless as you can get.)

The Stepford Wives (1975)

An aspiring photographer moves with her husband from New York to a quiet suburb in Stepford, Connecticut. There she discovers something strange and too perfect about the other housewives in the neighborhood. The Stepford Wives is not only a creepy horror flick, but also a stinging piece of commentary on the culture of the suburbs. The film was remade in 2004, the new version featuring Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, and Christopher Walken. But we prefer the classic, and we think you will too.

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