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This American classic was Terrence Malick's first film, casting a young Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek in career-defining roles.

Set in 1959, in Fort Dupre, South Dakota, this is a darkly comic drama about the tempestuous relationship between a 25-year-old garbageman (Sheen) and a impressionable 15-year-old girl (Spacek). Together they live a romanticised lifestyle, on the run from the lam after shooting the girl's father. Their killing spree takes them across the midwest; across the badlands.


Directed by

Written by

Drama, Romance, Classic


Rating: M

English and Spanish with English Subtitles


Badlands is a film that doesn’t sit easily within the ‘love on the run’ sub-genre. While other examples of the style are based on overwhelming passions and stylish, violent set pieces, this film is more interested in creating a contemplative mood heavy in pathos and succeeds spectacularly.

The two main characters are a strange but compelling mix of innocence and emotional apathy and the film finds many ways to highlight this. Most obvious is the voice over, one of the best in cinematic history, with a fragile poeticism that contrasts with the killing spree at the heart of the story. Combined with the gentle, child-like score it’s an intoxicating slice of audio.

They underpin quality efforts in both cinematography and production design, creating a depiction of 50’s Americana that is both historically accurate and deeply atmospheric. It allows the threadbare plot to come across as an extension of its surroundings, rather than slow and lacking in action. That first time director Terrence Malick had the daring to choose this approach and managed to pull it off so well is a massive testament to his film making talents, and launched his career as well as that of its leads – Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, both of whom shine.

It’s not for everyone, but if you enjoy a slower brand of film making than this bonafide American classic will enter your personal pantheon of favourite movies.

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert)


The movie is very reserved in its attitude toward the characters. It observes them, most of the time, dispassionately.

Empire (UK)


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.

Total Film (UK)


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.

Urban Cinefile (Australia)


Makes for classic, troubling yet fascinating cinema.

Variety (USA)


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

Incredible debut

This is one of the best directoral debuts ever. It is about a young couple in the late 1950's that go on a killing spree. It is based on a true story. Martin Sheen imitates and looks just like James Dean. It observes human nature in a way that can interesting and cruel. This is a true masterpiece.





I found that movie on DVD although I knew nothing about it. Since I really liked the acting of Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, I gave Badlands a go and was not disappointed. Nowadays it is a rare feeling when you are not American to be nostalgic about American cinema. Fantastic picture all the way.

Are you kidding?


Are you kidding?

Badlands is an infuriating and lyrical piece of American genius. The opportunity to see it on the big screen should not be missed.