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11 alt icons of TV and film that shaped a generation of emos

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Have you ever watched a movie or TV series and emerged at the end of it with a vision for an entirely new aesthetic and attitude? We often talk about the musicians who shifted our sense of style and culture, such as Hayley Williams and Gerard Way, but we forget to mention the fictional characters that shaped us, too.

Read more: 15 horror movies Jennifer’s Body fans will love

We’ve looked back at some of the most impactful alternative characters from film and TV over the last two decades that have taken Gen Z (and some millennials too) by storm. We may have made some regrettable hair, makeup and clothing choices because of them, but boy are we glad they exist.

Maeve Wiley (Sex Education)

Sex Educationone of the biggest shows on netflix right now, is doing a great job of championing inclusion and diversity. Not only has it handled a plethora of complex topics sensitively, but it’s also brought some beautifully whimsical characters into our lives. Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey) still keeps everyone talking three seasons in. Her hard exterior will always be admired by the alternative community, and many of us can relate to the fact that in reality, she’s just a big softie. Her outlook on feminism and love for the riot grrrl movement means she’s not stuffed into the trope of “not like the other girls,” either. She single-handedly brought back fringed jackets and reassured us that it’s OK to prefer a night in with a book over a house party.

Effy Stonem (Skins)

Effy (Kaya Scodelario) was the unhinged college “it” girl of the UK teen series Skins, which explored the complex lives of teenagers navigating their various traumas, relationships and friendships. She had us all crafting that perfect smoky eye with striking blue liner, and we probably looked ridiculous trying to replicate her romanticized enigmatic ways. Although many of her coping mechanisms for dealing with her brother’s life-changing injury and parents’ ropey marriage were beyond unhealthy, there was something about the way Effy managed to charm those around her and how she was daringly bold. She had both her friends and us completely under her spell.

Rodrick Heffley (Diary Of A Wimpy Kid)

Although the first Diary Of A Wimpy Kid film came out way back in 2010, the hashtag #rodrickheffley has over 861 million views on TikTok alone. In fact, the app is swarming with fan edits of the mischievous, edgy older brother of protagonist Greg (Zachary Gordon). Rodrick (Devon Bostick) stole the hearts of many emos when he made his big-screen debut by playing drums for Löded Diper and rocking some solid smoky eyeliner. He was every teacher’s nightmare but every emo teen’s dream: You either wanted to be him or wanted to date him — there was no in between.

Stella Yamada (Lemonade Mouth)

The angsty lemonade-spitting Stella Yamada of Disney’s Lemonade Mouth had us shopping one side of our hair shorter than the other and making sure all of our friends and family could see that one dangly peacock feather earring so they could see how quirky we were. She played the guitar and wore shirts slapped with text reading “question authority,” making all of us ready to rebel against our boring school policies. These days, the actor who played Stella, Hayley Kiyokosadly isn’t writing emo ballads anymore, but she is known as “Lesbian Jesus” and makes pop music that empowers LGBTQ+ people.

Mary Elizabeth (The Perks of Being a Wallflower)

Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman) was the moody and headstrong girlfriend of Charlie Kelmeckis (Logan Lerman) in The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. Similar to Lemonade Mouth‘s Stella, she also gave a funky lop-sided hair-do and a singular extravagant earring. She caused a stir in her friendship group by becoming a Buddhist and was always ferociously strong in her opinions. She declared that “school dances suck torture” and Charlie described her as “a really nice person underneath the part of her that hates everyone” — quite the compliment for any alt kid. And let’s not forget how this movie helped many of us discover classics from the Smiths and David Bowie. Long live The Tunnel Song!

Ramona Flowers (Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World)

It seems pretty reasonable that we could blame Ramona Flowers for a generation of emos that turn to hair dye at the slightest inconvenience in their life. This quiet and captivating tea-obsessed girl had main character Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) down so bad that he agreed to defeat her seven evil exes so he could date her. Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) loved to date both boys and girls in bands like many of us growing up and her effect on the alt community was so colossal that any girl with dyed hair on a dating app today will often be faced with the classic line of “You remind me of Ramona Flowers.” We’re so sorry. You deserve a Veteran’s discount if this is you.

Janis Ian (Mean Girls)

What would Mean Girls be without Janis Ian? This animated outcast (played by Lizzy Caplan) felt relatable for many of us — she was bullied for her style, discovered comfort in art and befriended other outcasts such as queer kids like Damian and fellow “art freaks.” Her classic lines such as “Your mom’s chest hair!” and “I guess I have a big lesbian crush on you, so suck on that!” remain just as memorable and hilarious today. It’s safe to say we all carry a little bit of Janis’ fiery comebacks with us, and we may well have daydreamed about sabotaging the popular gang back at high school, too.

Robbie Jennings (Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging)

“Libby, stop licking Robbie!” yelled Georgia Nicolson (Georgia Groome) to her odd little sister in Angus Thongs and Perfect Snogging. But let’s face it: You felt a bit jealous, didn’t you? Robbie (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) formed part of the dreamy boy band the Stiff Dylans in this coming-of-age movie that indelibly left its mark on pop culture. The band had some absolute bangers such as “Ultraviolet,” which still goes hard today, and it’s the biggest tragedy of all that they’re not still making such incredible emo bops in 2022.

Jade West and Beck Oliver (Victorious)

OK, so we’re kind of cheating here with a duo, but they’re so iconic we couldn’t leave them out. Jade (Liz Gillies) and Beck (Avan Jogia) were the bickering alternative couple of Nickelodeon’s Victorious who pretty much sent us all into a bi panic. How was it possible for two people to be that attractive? Jade’s love for gothic culture (and scissors) paired with Beck’s mellow, indie-boy aesthetic made the duo the epitome of ultimate couple goals for the emos of Gen Z.

Eddie Munson (Stranger Things)

We could never forget Eddie Munson. Stranger Things‘ favorite metalhead (Joseph Quinn) joined the show in season 4 and, to be frank, sent the alt community absolutely feral. Eddie stole the hearts of millions with his loveable quirks like referring to Steve as “big boy” and his sincere, heartfelt lines for his younger companion Dustin (“Don’t ever change, Dustin Henderson!”). Plus, his whopping guitar showcase of Metallica‘s “Master Of Puppets” in the Upside Down has got to be one of the most talked about moments of any TV series in 2022. Spoiler alert: If he doesn’t make a return from the dead for season 5, we will riot in our Hellfire Club T-shirts.

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