Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon) moves to a small town that has banned dancing and rock music, thanks to a minister (John Lithgow) who has suffered a family tragedy, in Footloose. When Ren’s need to dance influences his peers, the 1984 drama film had its conflict. Here are some facts about the movie that’ll help you cut loose.
1. IT WAS BASED ON ELMORE CITY, OKLAHOMA.
Elmore City had forbidden public dancing by law since its founding. In January of 1979, the local high schoolers asked that the rules be changed so that they could have a prom, to the anger of the reverend from the United Pentecostal Church. The kids won and got to dance on prom night. Dean Pitchford (lyricist for Fame songs "Red Light", "Fame", and "I Sing The Body Electric") read about all of it and visited the town. Pitchford had his screenplay after 22 drafts.
2. TOM CRUISE ALMOST PLAYED REN.
The producers wanted Tom Cruise, but he had a scheduling conflict with All the Right Moves (1983). Rob Lowe auditioned and blew out his ACL. "I have post-traumatic stress with anything having to do with Footloose," Lowe said later, while recalling a party where Kenny Loggins asked him to do a karaoke duet of the theme song. "I was like, ‘I won’t do anything with that damn movie, but I’ll do Danger Zone from Top Gun.'”
3. CHRISTOPHER ATKINS HAD THE LEAD, THEN LOST IT.
The Blue Lagoon star Christopher Atkins claimed he was cast as Ren. Unfortunately for him, he was under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol when he met with the producers and the director before taking a vacation where he was planning to have more “fun.” When he found out he lost the role, Atkins had a breakdown and was hospitalized.
4. MADONNA AUDITIONED FOR ARIEL.
Had she gotten the part, it would have been her first feature film role. That didn’t come until 1985, in A Certain Sacrifice. Lori Singer got to play Ariel Moore instead.
5. SARAH JESSICA PARKER WASN’T THE FIRST CHOICE FOR RUSTY.
Pitchford had written the role with Tracy Nelson, Parker’s co-star on the short-lived but cult favorite TV show Square Pegs (1982-1983), in mind. After successfully auditioning, director Herbert Ross’ wife noted that she didn’t fit into the movie.
6. PARKER INITIALLY TURNED THE ROLE DOWN.
The future Sex and the City star passed after being told she had to cut and dye her hair red, something she did not want to do after her hair was finally growing out after playing Annie on Broadway. A couple of days into production, the studio changed their mind and let the actress keep her locks.
7. MICHAEL CIMINO WAS THE DIRECTOR FOR FOUR MONTHS.
Michael Cimino, the Oscar-winning director of The Deer Hunter and Heaven’s Gate, kept asking for grandiose set-ups and making more and more demands—like requesting $250,000 to rewrite the script, and to make the film darker. Paramount Pictures feared Cimino was going to lose them a ton of money after Heaven’s Gate bankrupted United Artists, and so they let him go. Herbert Ross (director of The Goodbye Girl and Steel Magnolias) took over.
8. THE FILM'S ORIGINAL TITLE WAS CHEEK TO CHEEK.
Cheek to Cheek was a placeholder, and Pitchford filled pages of yellow legal pad paper with any ideas he could think of to come up with a better title. On the second day of doing this, he wrote down "footloose and fancy free," and then "footloose." Pitchford liked it because "footloose" is “one of those interesting words that looks good on paper—you see it scrawled across a billboard, and it sells itself."
9. BACON WENT UNDERCOVER AS A HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT.
Only the principal and guidance counselor at Payson Utah High School knew the true identity of one “Ren McCormack,” a transfer student from Philadelphia. The then 24-year-old Bacon was terrified, and was treated the way his character ended up being treated in the movie. He only lasted two to three hours.
10. BACON DIDN’T REALIZE WHAT HE WAS GETTING HIMSELF INTO.
The script, according to Bacon, “didn’t really indicate anything” and led him to believe he didn’t need a choreographer. He spent three weeks of dance training with Lynne Taylor-Corbett. Bacon also worked on his gymnastics, and “worked the skin off his hands.”
11. BACON WASN’T HAPPY ABOUT NEEDING STUNT DOUBLES.
Gymnast Chuck Gaylord, brother of Olympic gymnast Mitch Gaylord, did the complicated gymnastics. Peter Tramm, who had appeared in Staying Alive, was Bacon’s dance double. In 2011, Bacon joked that he “was furious ... It's like a starting pitcher getting taken out of a game—no one wants to be told they can't get the guy out." Bacon balked at the studio’s request to not tell the media he had used any doubles.
12. BACON’S JEANS WERE MADE EXTRA TIGHT ON PURPOSE.
"I remember having these pants on that were unbelievably tight already, but weren't quite tight enough for some of the shots,” Bacon recalled on the DVD commentary. “They would take them and pin them from behind so they were really skintight. It wasn't so much about sexiness as it was that line to make the [dance] move look powerful."
13. CHRIS PENN CAME IN WITH NO DANCE SKILLS.
Taylor-Corbett got Chris Penn to dance after she equated it to wrestling, something Penn loved and used to do. Bacon said the best dance scene in the movie was his character Ren teaching Penn’s character, Willard, to dance. Originally, the two danced to the Karla Bonoff song “Somebody’s Eyes”—Ross said it didn’t work with the scene. Pitchford and Tom Snow wrote a more uplifting song instead around the line “Let’s hear it for the boy.”
14. JOHN LITHGOW DECEIVED A MINISTER.
John Lithgow needed help channeling his character of Reverend Shaw Moore, so he found an Assembly of God minister in the Yellow Pages. Lithgow told him he was lonely on location shooting in Utah, and asked if he could talk to him about Jesus. Lithgow recounted to The Huffington Post that it was an “incredibly valuable thing to do. I did feel like a total hypocrite, a snake in the grass, but without that—this man was extremely kind and very persuasive. That's what I needed to play that part and deliver those sermons.”
15. BACON NEEDED HALF A VALIUM FOR THE TOWN COUNCIL SCENE.
Bacon's real fear of public speaking resulted in hives appearing all over his ribs. He was given half a Valium to calm himself down for the scene when Ren pleads with the Bomont town council to bring dancing back.
16. KENNY LOGGINS AND DEAN PITCHFORD WROTE THE TITLE TRACK ON PAINKILLERS.
Loggins had broken a rib at a show, and Pitchford had strep throat and a fever of 101 when the two met in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Because Loggins was soon flying to Asia, Pitchford hid the fact he was sick from Loggins by spraying his throat with Chloraseptic and taking decongestants so the two could get their songwriting done and appease Paramount. "I think it was two or three days we kept up this charade with him showing up on his painkillers and me on my painkillers, and us getting the gist of the song," Pitchford recalled.
17. THE PROM SCENE HAD TO BE RE-SHOT.
Ross wanted the final scene to play out in slow motion, until the film was screened and it made the end drag. When it was re-shot, new dance styles like popping-and-locking were added. It cost $250,000 to do the reshoot six weeks before the film’s opening. Producers went to L.A. dance clubs on New Year’s Eve looking for talent.
18. BACON PAYS DJS TO NOT PLAY FOOTLOOSE.
While he loves the song, Bacon doesn’t like it when it’s played at parties he’s attending, because when it is played, he’s expected to perform “like a trained monkey.”