Before Patrick Dempsey was Dr. McDreamy on Grey's Anatomy, he played a high school geek named Ronald Miller. Popular cheerleader Cindy Mancini (Amanda Peterson) borrows her mom’s expensive suede outfit and ruins it. When Ronald offers her $1000 to be his girlfriend for a month so she can purchase a new suede skirt and fringed jacket, she accepts his proposal and then takes him through a Pygmalion-like transformation. Through association, Ronald also becomes popular—and then goes back to being unpopular—much to Cindy’s chagrin. And, just like in so many other teen films about opposites attracting, Cindy and Ronald eventually end up together.
The movie opened on August 14, 1987, and became a sleeper hit, grossing $31 million on a $1.8 million budget. It’s endured to the level that in the 2010 film Easy A, Emma Stone also rides off on a lawnmower, like in the ending of Can’t Buy Me Love. Here are 12 loving facts about the ‘80s rom-com on its 30th anniversary.
1. YES, THE MOVIE WAS NAMED AFTER THE BEATLES’ SONG.
The Beatles' song “Can’t Buy Me Love,” from the album A Hard’s Day Night, became a huge hit in 1964. By 1987, Michael Jackson owned the rights to the tune, so Disney reportedly had to pay The King of Pop $100,000 to use it in the movie. The title insinuates prostitution, but writer Paul McCartney disagrees.
“I think you can put any interpretation you want on anything, but when someone suggests that 'Can’t Buy Me Love' is about a prostitute, I draw the line,” McCartney said. “The idea behind it was that all these material possessions are all very well but they won’t buy me what I really want.”
2. THE ORIGINAL TITLE WAS BOY RENTS GIRL.
Michael Swerdlick’s script was originally called Boy Rents Girl, but director Steve Rash and the producers thought the title sounded “sexist.” “We found that a lot of people had an immediate resentment factor because of the implications of those words,” Rash said. “As it turns out, I don’t think there’s a sexist moment in the film, but the title Boy Rents Girl sounds sexist.” Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner is the one who suggested Can’t Buy Me Love.
3. THE MOVIE ALMOST DIDN’T GET MADE, BECAUSE OF PROSTITUTION.
Swerdlick sold his script to TriStar Pictures and met with the studio executives for a first notes meeting. “I come into the first meeting and the six studio executives are sitting there,” Swerdlick told an audience at a 2011 reunion screening. “And there’s one woman sitting there, and she’s like, ‘Well, I don’t know why we bought this movie, because it’s almost like prostitution the way they treat this girl.’ Guess what? TriStar put it in turnaround,” which involved the company dumping the script.
4. IT WAS SHOT AS AN INDIE FILM.
During the reunion Q&A, Swerdlick explained that after TriStar dissolved the deal, the script landed in the hands of Apollo Pictures founder Jere Henshaw, who was interested in Swerdlick rewriting a motocross script for him. Swerdlick’s agent sent Henshaw Boy Rents Girl as a writing sample, and he loved it so much he financed the film.
Once finished, they needed a distributor. As luck would have it, one of the film’s producers, Mark Burg, had a friend who played an extra in the movie. Two weeks after filming finished, the friend got a job as Head of Acquisitions at Disney. He encouraged Disney top brass Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg to watch the film, and they liked it enough to buy it for $6 million. According to Swerdlick, it was one of the first outside acquisitions in the history of the Walt Disney Company.
5. ONE OF THE EARLY DRAFTS OF THE SCRIPT FEATURED SOME R-RATED MATERIAL.
Rash told Moviehole that one of the drafts he read made it seem like the movie would be “an R-rated sexploitation movie, with gags like a football player ejaculating in a teenage girl’s hair.” He convinced the producers the story needed to return to a PG-13 plot catering to teen girls. Rash got with Swerdlick and rewrote the script. “I spent six weeks, starting all over with his original spec script, and threw away all the R-stuff that had been added over the years,” Rash said. “My most significant contribution was the Airplane Graveyard.”
6. THEY PURPOSELY CAST AN UNKNOWN FOR RONALD.
Rash and Henshaw agreed that Ronald Miller needed to be someone who wasn’t already famous. “If Ronald Miller is a star when you meet him on his lawn mower, you’ll never believe he is a nerd, so you’ll never care when he’s not a nerd,” Rash told Moviehole. Even though Dempsey had starred in a Fast Times at Ridgemont High TV adaptation and a few other movies, Can’t Buy Me Love became his breakout role.
7. SETH GREEN WAS IN THE MOVIE.
Green was only 13 years old when he played Patrick Dempsey’s brother, Chuckie. Green looked so different that he’s surprised when people do recognize him. “I can’t believe how many people actually remember me from that movie, because it doesn’t even look like me,” he said.
8. THE STUDIO ALMOST REMOVED KENNETH’S FAMOUS QUOTE.
As a Halloween prank, Ronald and two jocks throw a bag of dog poop at fellow nerd Kenneth Wurman’s (Courtney Gains) front door, causing Ronald and Kenneth’s already fractured friendship to end. Ronald confronts Kenneth at a video arcade, and after Ronald’s mea culpa, Wurman exclaims, “You sh*t on my house!” In an interview, Gains said the studio wanted to take that line out “because they thought it was too edgy for a teenage movie.” He went on to say the producers fought to keep it. “It’s obviously gone on to be a quotable line in the lexicon of teen cinema,” Gains said.
9. AMANDA PETERSON DIED IN 2015.
Post-Can’t Buy Me Love, Peterson acted in more films and TV spots but none of them resonated the way the teen film did. In 1994, she retired from acting and fell into drug and alcohol abuse. On July 3, 2015, just five days short of her 44th birthday, she died from an accidental morphine overdose. She was supposedly taking the drug to relieve pain from a surgery.
10. PAULA ABDUL CHOREOGRAPHED THE AFRICAN ANTEATER RITUAL DANCE.
At a school dance, Ronald breaks out into a weird tribal dance which incites the students to follow along—but the dance worried Rash. “That fake cultural dance could so easily be perceived as racist or stupid,” he told Moviehole. “Either would have been fatal to the movie.” He hired then-choreographer Paula Abdul to create the dance in a culturally sensitive way. “She conceived the African anteater ritual and then came to Tucson to coach a gymnasium full of teenagers. I owe my creative life to Paula.”
11. 1990s MUSIC SENSATION GERARDO CO-STARRED.
Three years before Gerardo Mejía made waves with his hit song “Rico Suave,” he played the shirtless Ricky, a sort of suave high schooler. It was his film debut—he also starred in the 1988 Sean Penn film Colors—and he told a Can’t Buy Me Love reunion crowd it’s the most popular thing he’s done. “I get calls like crazy,” he said. “They always call me: ‘Dude, that mullet. Is that for real?’” Yes, yes it was real. At least he grew it out by the time “Rico” was released.
12. IN 2003, WARNER BROS. REMADE THE MOVIE AS LOVE DON’T COST A THING.
A loose remake, Nick Cannon plays the nerd (Alvin) and Christina Milian plays the girlfriend (Paris). She crashes her car and Alvin, a mechanic, agrees to repair it if she dates him for two weeks. Mark Burg, a producer on Can’t Buy Me Love, was also a producer on Love Don't Cost a Thing. The film grossed $21 million at the box office—less than the original. It’s unclear if the movie was named after Jennifer Lopez’s 2001 hit, “Love Don’t Cost A Thing.”