Footloose

"One kid. One town. One chance."

(1984)

starring Kevin Bacon, Lori Singer and John Lithgow

Footloose Dance Your Ass Off Podcast Riley Roberts

PODCAST:

'80s Movies:

A Guide to What's Wrong with Your Parents

Footloose is indicative of teen thinking in the '80s...and points to why America has become such a divided nation today.

Ren McCormick (Kevin Bacon) moves from Chicago to small-town Bomont, whose residents are suspicious of his big city ideas. When he discovers dancing is illegal, he sets out to change the law – 
putting him at odds with the local preacher (John Lithgow).

Why it’s rad:

80's Movie Guide

An awesome soundtrack is the hallmark of an ‘80s teen film – and Footloose is one of the very best soundtrack movies of all time. It also reflects the thinking of the era: teens must rebel against close-minded adults who just don’t understand.

What’s your damage?

Footloose is tremendously empowering and Ren McCormick shows how to stand up for your beliefs in the most respectful way. That said, Footloose is jaw-droppingly irresponsible.

  • Ariel (Lori Singer) switches vehicles while in motion on the highway and relishes standing straight up, perilously straddling the car and truck. When she spots the semi barreling toward them, she just laughs and laughs - no worries about her own safety or the safety of her friends in the other cars. The scene sets up that she's wild and reckless, but since she is a character who is "cool," of course, it also suggests that it's a cool thing to do, pretty much guaranteeing that some kids will try it in real life.

  • Okay, go with me here..one scene matter of factly shows Ariel and her boyfriend getting dressed on a blanket in a field, indicating they just had sex. The first bits of dialogue with Ariel and her girlfriends are about a classmate who got pregnant. So, cool teens have sex, it's just something they do...message received! This may seem a bit preposterous, but these kind of messages were pelted at '80s teens through film all the time. Why is the teen pregnancy rate is down now? Maybe because movies no longer depict teens engaging in sex unless they're in long-term monogamous relationships. 

  • Chuck smokes pot before the tractor chicken race. Ariel does advise Chuck to stop, saying, "you’ve had a lot to smoke" (as you can expect, he doesn't take kindly to this recommendation).

  • When Ren, Ariel, Rusty (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Willard (Chris Penn) go to the dance hall, they engage in smoking, drinking and since Ren drives home (after we've seen him swigging beer), drinking under the influence. During that drive home, Ariel shares with Ren that her brother died in a car accident after driving home from a night of music, dancing and driving drunk - but no one seems concerned.

  • Painfully '80s: Drug dealer Rich  taunts Ren by saying, “Only a dumb son of a bitch faggot would try something like [starting a dance]." Another moment has Chuck ridiculing Ren, "I thought only pansies wore ties." Ren, wonderfully progressive, responds with, "See that? I thought only assholes used the word 'pansy.'"

  • A scene trope in the '80s, it may have been the high school showers. This is boys only, but there sure is a lot of exposed backside shown considering these were supposed to be teens. (Incidentally, Bacon said the shower extras were paid $20 to be in the scene.)

  • Chuck physically assaults Ariel, leaving her with a black eye and bruises. She doesn't report it. One reason might be that she takes a baseball bat to his truck, and she might then face the consequences. Another reason is that in a small, conservative town in the 1980s, police would have done nothing about it. 

Behind the Scenes

  • Footloose seems so far-fetched, but this is based on a true story. The town of Elmore City, Okla., made dancing illegal until the town’s high schoolers asked for the ban to be lifted for their prom. Ren McCormick is based on Rex Kennedy, who was the junior class president. The town had a moratorium on public dancing since it was founded in 1861.

  • Many elements of the true story are worked into the film: the idea of allowing dancing for one night was hotly debated, with elders in the community believing it would lead to a surge in pregnancies. However, the city council ruled in favor (3-2) of the kids. And then, the next problem: how to dance. With none of the kids knowing how to dance, they practiced among each other and with mirrors at home. Like Rusty (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Willard (Chris Penn), some of the girls were frustrated by their boyfriends who really didn’t dance (one teen described her boyfriend as just kicking). After raising $2,000, the students went all out decorating their high school cafeteria (not the local mill, sorry). Sure enough, once the prom began, there just was a lot of standing around at first. Eventually, dancing did happen including the limbo contest...as depicted in the film.

  •  In real life, actor Chris Penn truly didn’t know how to dance just like his character, Willard.

  • A dancing ban was a real thing in some conservative American towns in the early 1970s. In fact, Baylor University in Waco, Texas, had a dancing ban on campus that extended into the 1990s. The film depicts book burnings and albums and, that, too, had a basis in reality. It wasn’t rampant,  but did happen. On a national front, then-Senator Al Gore’s wife, Tipper Gore, led the charge to get warning labels or ratings on albums as the music lyrics were becoming dirtier in the 1980s (think Prince and Madonna). While all Gore was trying to do was get the record labels to voluntarily advise if lyrics were violent or sexually explicit (which exists today), the musical community saw the move as censorship and created an uproar.

  • Kevin Bacon had the full big-city-kid-moves-to-small-town experience. The 25-year-old didn't believe he could pass for 17, so he enrolled at the high school in Payson, Utah (the town where the movie was filmed). Only the principal and a guidance counselor knew the truth. Bacon wore the edgy "new wave" clothes for his character. He says the experience was "terrifying." He says his experience was "just like the movie." He was ridiculed, girls whispered about him, and one young man "took pity on him" and said he'd show him around just like Willard does. 

  • When Ren is teaching Willard to slow dance, they are actually dancing to "Somebody's Eyes" by Karla Bonoff. After feeling the music wasn't a fit for the scene, Pitchford and Tom Snow wrote "Let's Hear it for the Boy."

  • If you notice the extras standing around the prom (not dancing) are no longer seen once the dance picks up and everyone hits the floor, that's because the final scene was shot later, in Los Angeles, with different extras.

  • Paramount was all over Dean Pitchford to secure the title song from Kenny Loggins, who'd agreed to write and perform the song. Pitchford saw his last chance when Loggins was going to perform in Lake Tahoe before departing for the Asian leg of his tour. Pitchford had strep throat and a high temperature but didn't want to let on he was sick. Loggins was recovering from a broken rib and had his entire family in tow - his wife and three children including a newborn. Despite the distractions, the two got the song completed!

  • Kevin Bacon left a note at John Lithgow's hotel before they met, saying it was an honor to work with him.

  • Lithgow recounted to Bacon in Variety's Actors on Actors series that he and Dianne Weist felt so much like old "fuddy-duddies" compared to the rest of the cast, they rebelled in a sense and were "wild," throwing parties. One night, he and Weist went skinny-dipping in the motel pool. “There was a memo sent out to every member of the production the next morning from Dan Melnick that said, ‘Behave yourselves,'” Lithgow recalled, laughing. “It was directed to Dianne and me.”

  • Bacon says the most challenging part of his career was the time following Footloose. He says adjusting to the fame took some time. "I became exactly the person -- the actor -- that I didn't want to be because I wanted to be a serious actor," he says. "I wanted to be Meryl Streep or Bill Hurt or Raoul Julia. I didn't want to be Bobby Sherman or David Cassidy...and suddenly, I was."

  • Bacon says he made poor film choices and faced depression after Footloose, lost between what happened to him after becoming a teen icon and striving to become the actor he wanted to become. He says once he started taking the advice of agents and managers and embraced being a character actor, his career resurged.

Imagine Footloose if it starred Christopher Atkins, Elizabeth McGovern and Tracy Nelson and was directed by Michael Cimino? 

  • Kevin Bacon was a soap actor who'd already had roles in Friday the 13th and, more importantly, Diner. But, it was Footloose was the role that took him from "emerging" to "breakout" to "super" star. 

  • Bacon turned down the starring role in Christine (a horror movie based on a Stephen King novel at a time when Stephen King movies were guaranteed hits) to take the role of Ren in Footloose. 

  • Bacon wasn't the producers' first choice. They wanted Tom Cruise, whom they were impressed with from his "Old Time Rock'n'Roll" dance sequence in Risky Business, however, he was already committed to star in All the Right Moves and was too bulky to play lean gymnast Ren. However, Cruise's All the Right Moves co-star Chris Penn did nab a Footloose part playing Willard, the lug who can't dance but can definitely fight. 

  • John Travolta reportedly also turned down the role of Ren McCormack. Christopher Atkins (The Blue Lagoon) says he was already cast in the role but scared off producers and director Herbert Ross when he showed up to the initial meeting high. Filmmakers were also interested in Rob Lowe, who was a hot commodity following The Outsiders, but he pulled his knee while doing the dance audition.

Footloose movie poster
  • Lori Singer was known for playing cellist Julie in the TV series adaptation of the film Fame. She reportedly beat out Madonna and Haviland Morris (Sixteen Candles) for the role

  • However, Singer wasn't the first choice of the filmmakers. Or the second. Or the third. According to IMDb, other actresses who were reportedly offered and turned the role include Daryl Hannah, Elizabeth McGovern, Melanie Griffith, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jamie Lee Curtis, Rosanna Arquette, Meg Tilly, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Heather Locklear, Meg Ryan, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jodie Foster, Phoebe Cates, Tatum O'Neal, Bridget Fonda, Lori Loughlin, Diane Lane, and Brooke Shields.

  • Sarah Jessica Parker made her feature film debut with Footloose - and wasn't the first choice to play Rusty, either. The role was written, offered and accepted by Tracy Nelson, Parker's co-star on the TV series "Square Pegs." However, screenwriter Dean Pitchford says Tracy nailed her audition, but "there's something regal about Tracy...she looks like she should be sitting in a drawing room in Paris." Ross' wife was the first one to point out that Tracy looked, well, "like a square peg" in the role of a small-town country girl. In the nerd world, it was poetic justice: in "Square Pegs," Nelson played the beautiful, popular valley girl that rules the high school, Parker the dorky unpopular student who is looked down upon by Nelson's character.

  • Even the directorial choice didn't go as planned. While the studio was interested in Herbert Ross, known for directing Neil Simon play adaptations, his pricetag was too high. The studio instead hired Michael Cimino - the director of heavy dramas like The Deer Hunter  - but let him go after he asked for an additional $250,000 to rewrite the script among other demands. After four months with Cimino at the helm, the studio decided to cut their losses afraid they were facing another Heaven's Gate, Cimino's 5-hour epic that went ridiculously over budget, over schedule, and bankrupted United Artists.

  • John Laughlin ("Woody" who shows Ren how to drive the tractor) was a series regular on the TV series "The White Shadow" and was in An Officer and a Gentleman. 

  • Jim Youngs ("Chuck Cranston") had made an impression in two Movie of the Week specials: Splendor in the Grass and The Executioner's Song.

Soundtrack

Footloose has one of the best-selling soundtracks of all time. Six of the singles were Top 40 hits. MTV was instrumental in the success of the film. The video for the title song features clips from the film and premiered three weeks before the movie's release. It played in heavy rotation on the cable network, building anticipation for the film. This became a strategy for movies, essentially making the 1980s the decade of the soundtrack movie. Songs that play in the movie but are not included on the soundtrack are "Bang Your Head" by Quiet Riot and "Hurts So Good" by John Cougar. 

  • "Footloose" by Kenny Loggins

  • "Let's Hear It For the Boy" by Deniece Williams

  • "Almost Paradise" by Mike Reno and Ann Wilson

  • "Holding Out for a Hero" by Bonnie Tyler

  • "Dancing in the Sheets" by Shalamar

  • "I'm Free (Heaven Helps the Man)" by Kenny Loggins

  • "Somebody's Eyes" by Karla Bonoff

  • "The Girl Gets Around" by Sammy Hagar

  • "Never" by Moving Pictures

head
Director: Herbert Ross
Screenwriter: Dean Pitchford
Release date: Feb. 17, 1984
Rating: PG
Opening weekend rank: #1. Other new releases were the Tom Selleck-starrer Lassiter (#2), naughty R-rated Blame It on Rio (#4) and Crackers, starring Chris Penn's more famous brother Sean, which didn't chart.
Opening weekend: $8.55 million
Lifetime Gross: $80 million
Budget: $8.2 million
Production company: IndieProd Company Productions
Distributor: Paramount Pictures