Hollywood has a long, sometimes obnoxious tradition of trying to recapture the magic of the classics. Well, Hollywood has a lot of obnoxious traditions, but in this case we’re just focusing on the neverending cycle of using the same tropes over and over as if they’ll all work 100 percent of the time. Take, for example, the “Girl Next Door” that every male with a pulse and hormones looks at and thinks, “Man, why can’t she live next door to me instead of that old dude who shaves his balls by his pool?” And for the more daring films and TV shows, there’s the girl next door who presents herself as squeaky clean and all-American, but underneath it all she’s a lady in the streets and a freak in the sheets, according to a song I heard playing in a car that drove by me once.
What a convenient coincidence it is that today is Phoebe Cates’s 51st birthday and she just so happened to play one of the most iconic bad good girls, as Linda Barrett in 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The sexually active senior’s advice helped lead to poor Stacy getting pregnant, but that was just the kind of fast time that all of the kids desperate to be cool were dealing with back then. But the reason that anyone still talks about Cates has little to do with her decision to walk away from the industry or her long, presumably happy marriage to actor Kevin Kline. Instead, it’s because of that pool scene that guys still drool over 32 years later. The one that other movies have tried so hard to imitate, but none have recaptured that moment of the girl next door walking right through the illusion.
Few scenes really resonate after such a long time the way that Cates’s pool scene has – hell, she even inspired her own pop punk anthem from Fenix TX – as the only others I could think of were Marilyn Monroe’s silly dress over the subway grate gimmick in The Seven Year Itch…
The introduction of Kelly LeBrock as Lisa in Weird Science…
And Terry Griffith revealing that she’s really a woman to Rick Morehouse, of which I cannot share a GIF, but if you’re resourceful enough, you can find the whole scene. In fact, I could probably write an entire book on how that one scene in Just One of the Guys shaped the brains of millions of teenage boys for at least a decade, but today’s thoughtful investigation is only about Cates. Specifically, has there been a scene like the pool exit from Fast Times in the last 32 years that should be awarded elite status and, if not, will there ever be again? Let’s examine some examples to determine the truth.
Marley Shelton in The Sandlot (1993)
Wendy Peffercorn, you guys. She’s obviously legendary enough in the sense that if you say her name to any male teen of the 90s, that man will go into a blank stare as he remembers that smile. But did she have a movie-stealing moment that people still talk about all these years later? If she did, Marley Shelton may have gone the way of Cates and Joyce Hyser, instead of still having a solid career.
Elizabeth Berkley in Showgirls (1995)
This is sort of the example of the girl next door who shows off her naughty side and then doesn’t stop showing it off, before she eventually ruins swimming pool sex for everyone. As much as people wanted to see Jessie Spano naked, nobody really wanted the X-rated version of the “I’m so excited” scene. But then, maybe I should just speak for myself.
Neve Campbell and Denise Richards in Wild Things (1998)
Another trashy classic, I could buy into the argument that the Wild Things scene with Neve Campbell and Denise Richards is on a similar level as Fast Times. Say, “The pool scene” to just about any guy and the response is probably, “Dude, Wild Things.” I just don’t buy Campbell and Richards as the girls next door, though.
Mena Suvari in American Beauty (1999)
At the time, Suvari’s topless rose petal scene probably really stood out in the critically-acclaimed American Beauty, but the other scene with Kevin Spacey was super creepy and awkward. The one above was even parodied by Chappelle’s Show and Family Guy, but after Suvari vanished for a while, so did its relevance.
Shannon Elizabeth in American Pie (1999)
Maybe if Universal didn’t make a cash-grab by turning American Pie into a franchise – as if people were actually asking, “Derp derp, I wonder what Jim and Stiffler are up to now?” – the jokes might have held up better, or Shannon Elizabeth’s sex symbol status wouldn’t have melted like ice in Florida. Or maybe that just happened because Elizabeth kept acting. Either way, I remember people pretending she was the second coming of Kelly LeBrock, and the best thing we can say about her since then was that she was the second or third least-worst actress in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
Ali Larter in Varsity Blues (1999)
The whipped cream bra is pretty huge, but that’s not the first thing that jumps out at me when I think of Varsity Blues. That honor goes to Miss Davis’s strip routine. If I hadn’t grown up in Florida, I would have never believed that a teacher could moonlight as a stripper, so this was basically a documentary.
Lisa Rodriguez in Next Friday (2000)
At the risk of angering the Jokers and having them run me over with their car, I’ll just say that Karla always seemed like the perfect example of the girl next door, had the stereotype also called for her psychotic brothers to threaten everyone with machine guns.
Amy Smart in Road Trip (2000)
Smart’s dorm room strip-tease-turned-sex-tape wasn’t as gratuitous and unnecessary as so many other moments in movie history, as that tape inspired the trip that the main characters would take. But it wasn’t really that memorable, mostly because Breckin Meyer was involved. Nobody wants to watch Jared Franklin get laid. Also, Crank was 100 times better.
Chris Evans in Not Another Teen Movie (2001)
Come on, this isn’t only for the fellas. Evans’s whipped cream routine was way more memorable than Larter’s routine. That’s Captain America with a banana in his ass.
Jessica Biel in Summer Catch (2001)
The thing about the Fast Times at Ridgemont High pool scene that makes it so easy to remember is that it’s in an excellent movie, and that scene is surrounded by many other great scenes. Summer Catch isn’t just the worst baseball movie ever made – and that’s including Ed, a movie about a f*cking monkey that plays baseball – but it’s just a terrible movie in general. The diamond in that rough is Biel’s own pool scene, but it’s so hard to take seriously with Freddie Prinze, Jr.’s terrible mechanics and Fez banging Ellen Griswold.
Erika Christensen in Swimfan (2002)
The swimming pool seduction in Swimfan is very memorable to the 15 or so people who saw this dumb movie, because it reminded people everywhere that sex is always a very bad idea. Someone will probably go insane and try to kill the other person. Notice how I didn’t say that it’s the woman who always goes crazy? That’s because I don’t want to be chopped up with a machete.
Also, Erika Christensen’s sex scene in Traffic is far more memorable than this one, because holy crap. Don’t do drugs.
Elisha Cuthbert in The Girl Next Door (2004)
This is literally The Girl Next Door, but Cuthbert made a terrible porn star. She was Jack Bauer’s daughter, so even as she was standing at Matthew’s door soaking wet, I kept expecting Jack to show up and blow the whole house up before saving the Pope. And Cuthbert was also way more enjoyable as Alex Kerkovich. As always, RIP Happy Endings.
Michelle Trachtenberg in EuroTrip (2004)
The beach scene in EuroTrip was great because of the whole disgusting perverts angle, but Jenny’s moment of, um, revelation that she was no longer just the kid sister was pretty underrated in terms of scenes that people remember. Trachtenberg should be a bigger star, and I blame the fact that I hate spelling her name for her being relegated to meaningless roles on NCIS: Los Angeles.
Anton Yelchin with Amanda Seyfried and Amber Heard in Alpha Dog (2006)
I barely remembered that Alpha Dog was even made until Josh Kurp reminded me of the pool scene, and even then I couldn’t have retold the plot of the actual movie beyond, “Justin Timberlake is there, and Bruce Willis has some weed if you’re buying. Also, it’s a true story, so bad sh*t actually happened in real life.” Did the pool threeway happen in real life? I’m sure the actual people would tell you that it did. Except for the guy who Yelchin played, unfortunately.
Kate Upton in The Three Stooges (2012)
Before we can ever remember any of Kate Upton’s movie scenes, our favorite model should probably try being pickier about her roles, because I’ve watched The Three Stooges and The Other Woman, and I still wish I hadn’t even bothered with both. Bottom line – if Kate Upton can’t even provide us with a memorable moment, then nobody is going to top Cates. She may be done acting, but that legacy’s not going anywhere.