Waters wrote Heathers as a spec script and originally wanted Stanley Kubrick to direct the film, out of admiration for Kubrick’s own black comedy film Dr. Strangelove. Waters intended for Heathers to contrast the more optimistic teen movies of the era (particularly those written by John Hughes) by presenting a realistic depiction of high school imbued with dark satire.
Heathers brought director Michael Lehmann and producer Denise Di Novi the 1990 Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature. Daniel Waters also gained recognition for his screenplay, which won a 1990 Edgar Award. Despite high critical praise, the film failed at the box office but later became popular as a cult film. In 2015, it was ranked number 5 on the Entertainment Weekly list of the "50 Best High School Movies". It was ranked number 412 on Empire's list of "The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time". Heathers has since been adapted into a musical and a television series.