13 Better Facts About Better Off Dead

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Savage Steve Holland—who animated the Press Your Luck Whammy—wrote and directed Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer, and directed How I Got into College before quitting teen films to pursue directing, writing, and producing children’s TV programs. With a limited release in August 1985 and a wider release in October, Better Off Dead grossed less than $10.3 million at the box office, but years later found a strong following via cable and home video. “Those video stores just completely saved Better Off Dead,” Holland told Fast Company. “It was always out at any Blockbuster Video I walked into, and then I’d talk to the guys who worked there and they were like, ‘You know, people rent it and they don’t bring it back.’”

The movie centers on Lane Myer (John Cusack), a teenager left devastated when his high school girlfriend, Beth (Amanda Wyss), leaves him for the captain of the ski team. Through a friendship with a foreign exchange student named Monique (Diane Franklin), Lane realizes he’s better off alive. Here are 13 dark-humored facts about one of the greatest cult teen movies of all time.

1. IT’S BASED ON A TRUE STORY.

Savage Steve Holland wrote the script based on his own high school girlfriend, who did indeed leave him for the captain of the ski team. Six years after the movie came out, his ex got in touch with him. “I got a call—I don’t know how she got my number—and she said, ‘I’ve been in therapy because I saw your movie and I had no idea,’” Holland told The Sneeze. “And then she sent me cookies and stuff.”

The film’s darkest elements, including Lane’s attempted suicide in the garage, were also rooted in the autobiographical. “I went into the garage, and I put an extension cord on a pipe, and I’m on a garbage can, and I’m thinking, ‘Should I do this? Maybe this isn’t a good idea.’ Anyway, it was a plastic garbage can, and my weight just like crashed through it and I fell, and the pipe broke! And it starts pouring water everywhere. And I’m basically in a garbage can, drowning. And my mom comes and starts yelling at me for breaking a pipe, which is what any mom would do.” Holland journaled his mishaps and used them as a guide in writing the movie.

2. HENRY WINKLER PLAYED A PART IN GETTING BETTER OFF DEAD MADE.

In the early 1980s, Holland’s short film, My 11-Year-Old Birthday Party, played at the Los Angeles Film Festival. Henry Winkler saw the film and took a liking to Holland. “Henry took me to lunch and he said that my movie was so funny,” Holland told Fast Company. “And I’m like, ‘Well, wait a minute—it wasn't supposed to be funny. It’s a sad story about my life.’ So he asked if I had any more sad stories about my life and I’m like, ‘Of course I do!’” Winkler set Holland up at his Paramount office so Holland could write the script.

“Everybody talks about [Winkler] being the nicest guy in Hollywood, and he actually is,” Holland told Entertainment Weekly. “He didn’t pay me or anything, but he said, ‘I believe in you, and I believe in your twisted vision, and I want to give you an office.’”

3. HOLLAND HAD TO FIGHT TO CAST JOHN CUSACK.

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At Winkler’s suggestion, Holland checked out Cusack in The Sure Thing, which Winkler executive produced. After seeing the movie, Holland thought Cusack was perfect for the role. “I couldn’t see anybody past John,” Holland told Entertainment Weekly. “I had a little bit of a scuffle with some of the studio people because John had just been in Sixteen Candles playing kind of a nerd. And they were like, ‘This is not a leading man.’ I was like, ‘Yes, he is.’ They hadn’t seen The Sure Thing yet. I was like, ‘You don’t even know what you’re getting right now. You’re gonna be so ahead of the curve to get Cusack now.’ I really went to bat for him, and they let me have him. I still think it’s the best thing that ever happened to me and the movie, getting Cusack. Nobody else could have pulled that off.”

4. CUSACK HATED THE MOVIE (THOUGH HE SWEARS HE DIDN’T).

It’s been widely reported that Cusack basically disowned the movie as soon as he saw it, which was the night before he was to begin filming Holland’s follow-up comedy, One Crazy Summer. Though Cusack had helped Holland edit the movie, the film’s star walked out of the screening 20 minutes into it. “The next morning, [Cusack] basically walked up to me and was like, ‘You know, you tricked me. Better Off Dead was the worst thing I have ever seen. I will never trust you as a director ever again, so don’t speak to me,’” Holland told The Sneeze. “He was just really upset. And I said, ‘What happened?! What’s wrong?!’ And he just said that I sucked, and it was the worst thing he had ever seen, and that I had used him, and made a fool out of him, and all this other stuff.” Cusack’s “left field” response made Holland not want to do One Crazy Summer anymore.

“Once he said that stuff, it was like a girlfriend who breaks up with you,” Holland said. “You can’t fight with her. It’s like everything is so great, and then they say ‘I hate you’ out of nowhere. There’s really no argument you can have. I had my heart broken. That was the second time my heart was broken since that girl that Better Off Dead was about, honest to God.”

In 2014, Curtis Armstrong told Nerdist he heard Cusack had signed a Better Off Dead poster. “That was huge, because he literally would not sign anything,” Armstrong said. “Somebody would hand him something and he would push it away. It was like a cross in front of a vampire.”

But last year Cusack went on the Nerdist podcast and explained how he didn’t exactly hate the movie. “It was one of those things where I made it, and I didn’t really have a feel for it,” he said. “But it was fine. It was good. But what happens is that you have to go [to your press tour] and they’d want to talk to you about The Sure Thing or that movie instead of what you were there to talk about. So, it wasn’t that I hated the movie or hated anything. I just didn’t want to keep talking about it.” He said he “felt terrible” about how the cast and crew thought he disliked the movie. “I don’t have anything against it. I mean, I love when he says, ‘It’s a shame to throw away a perfectly good white boy.’ I feel bad that the director [thinks I have something against it]."

Another indicator that Cusack has warmed up to Better Off Dead: in a scene in 2010’s Hot Tub Time Machine, a kid in the background can be heard yelling “I want my two dollars” at Cusack.

5. LIKE LANE’S MOM, HOLLAND’S MOM WAS AN EXPERIMENTAL COOK. AND ONCE GIFTED HIM WITH TV DINNERS.

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In the film, Lane’s mom (Kim Darby) makes weird foods from Ladies Home Journal, such as “bacon,” and some goopy thing with raisins in it that slithers away on its own. “My mom would get McCall’s magazine, and she would find these recipes and make these things, and have some excuse why they didn’t taste good—because she forgot something or she didn’t have an ingredient,” Holland told Entertainment Weekly. One year for his birthday—not Christmas—she gifted him with some TV dinners. “She was like, ‘And I got you these really cool frozen dinners because you like the peach cobbler in this one’ or something. And I was like, ‘Wow. Really? This is my life.’”

6. TEST AUDIENCES LOVED THE CLAYMATION HAMBURGER SCENE.

The silly scene takes place at Lane’s fast food job, Pig Burger, when a hamburger comes to life and plays guitar. Holland told Entertainment Weekly his first job was working at McDonald’s, which is where the inspiration came from. “There was this rumor that a rat fell into a vat at a chicken place and somebody got served fried rat,” he said. “That was what I had in the original script. The producer said, ‘That’s really just disgusting and not even funny.’ So I saw this guy Jimmy Picker had made this really funny claymation short film about mayor Ed Koch called Sundae in New York. I was like, ‘If I could do something like that and still incorporate it into a hamburger scenario.’ And then I had the Van Halen song. I put that together, and it was just so, so out there and stupid that everybody was really worried about it. But it was the highest testing thing when we went to the test audience. They thought that was the greatest thing in the whole movie.”

7. DIANE FRANKLIN TALKED DODGER STADIUM INTO LETTING HER SING THE NATIONAL ANTHEM.

At the end of Better Off Dead, Monique and Lane make out at Dodger Stadium, and Lane plays his sax for her. As a promo for the movie, Franklin had her manager contact the stadium to see if they’d be interested in having her do an autograph signing. “I just kind of thought it would be fun for people, because if they saw the movie, and I was at Dodger Stadium—it would kind of be a fun venue for everyone to come and see me there,” she said. The ballpark said no to a signing but asked her to sing the anthem. “What was unusual about that, was when they introduced me, I thought they were going to say, ‘And here’s Diane Franklin from Better Off Dead,’ or, ‘Here’s Diane Franklin from Bill & Ted’ or something. And they wound up saying, ‘And here’s Diane Franklin.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Who knows Diane Franklin?’ Nobody knows who I am.’ It was so funny.”

8. YUJI OKUMOTO STUDIED HOWARD COSELL VIDEOS, ONLY TO HAVE HIS VOICE DUBBED BY RICH LITTLE.

Yee Sook Ree is one of the two Asian sportscasters who coerce Lane into drag racing them. (Holland based the characters on a high school friend whose natural voice sounded like Cosell’s.) In preparation for his audition, Okumoto studied every Wide World of Sports video. “I went into the Better Off Dead audition ready to go,” Okumoto told Kickin’ It Old School. “Knowing that this character learned English by watching the Wide World of Sports, I decided to do my Howard Cosell with an Asian accent. The producers and director thought it was funny and I got cast. Before the film came out, one of the producers called me to tell me that they brought in Rich Little to dub my voice. They explained that they wanted to make sure the audience understood the dialogue. It was a little disappointing but, hey, it’s their film.”

9. RICKY SMITH NOW RUNS A NICKELODEON EMPIRE.

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Dan Schneider

played Ricky Smith, the Monique-obsessed, mother-loving, crocheting neighbor and classmate of Lane. From 1986 to 1991, he played Dennis Blunden on Head of the Class. In 2003, Schneider started a production company, Schneider’s Bakery, and created the Nickelodeon shows iCarly, Zoey 101, Drake & Josh, and Game Shakers. He also co-created the Amanda Bynes/Jennie Garth WB show What I Like About You, and wrote for Kenan & Kel.

10. CURTIS ARMSTRONG WAS CAST BECAUSE OF HIS ROLE IN RISKY BUSINESS.

Risky Business

came out two years before Better Off Dead, and Curtis Armstrong, who played Tom Cruise’s friend Miles in the film, made such a strong impression on Holland that he called Armstrong’s agent and offered Armstrong the part of the JELL-O-snorting Charles De Mar. “I hadn't seen a character like that in so many years—a second banana character that stole the movie,” Holland told Moviefone about Armstrong’s role in Risky Business. “I was like, ‘God, if I could have a cool dude like that playing Charles De Mar, my movie will work.’” Armstrong also starred in Holland’s One Crazy Summer and How I Got Into College, and provided voices for the Savage-created animated show Eek! The Cat.

11. AARON DOZIER INSULTED HOLLAND BEFORE HE AUDITIONED.

Dozier plays the ski captain and Lane’s rival, Roy Stalin, who’s a bit of jerk—but a good skier. “When I came in, I didn’t know who ‘Savage’ Steve was at first,” Dozier told Moviefone. “I [looked at one guy and] said, ‘Who's this chubby kid?’ Turns out, he’s the director.” Holland remembers Dozier interrupting him as he watched the dailies. “All of a sudden this pompous jerk comes in and says, ‘Hey, who’s the fat surfer?’ And I’m like, ‘Wow, who is this?’ and they go, ‘Savage, this is the guy coming in for Roy Stalin.’ And I’m like, ‘You have the part! You’re perfect.’”

12. THE PAPERBOY LOOKED TOUGH IN ORDER TO GET THE PART.

Demian Slade was only 12 years old when he won the role of real-life paperboy Johnny Gasparini, who stalked Holland and demanded two dollars from him. When Slade auditioned, he wore a leather jacket and looked serious. “I approached it as if I was a serial killer with no intention of making it funny,” Slade told Entertainment Weekly. “I brought in a headshot of me wearing a leather jacket and looking really menacing.” During the car wash scene, he actually broke the windshield with his newspaper. “It was an accident but I was pretty proud of myself,” he told Facebook. “They had to replace it. It’s not easy to crack a windshield with a newspaper, especially when you are a little kid.”

13. HOLLAND DOESN’T THINK BETTER OFF DEAD WOULD GET MADE TODAY.

Because of the success of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, studios were hungry for teen movies. In an interview with LA Weekly, Holland said the studio, Warner Bros., trusted him. “I would never get that movie made these days, but I just wanted to put in everything I knew about filmmaking—cartoons, claymation, everything—because I figured I’d have one chance at it. Today the comedy police would stop me.” When the movie came out and wasn’t a success, Holland said he was put in “film jail.” “And I’m grateful for the chances that I had like you wouldn’t believe, but there’s a point where I’m, like, ‘OK, I’d like to try and make a movie again,’ and everybody’s, like, ‘I don’t think so, mister. Stop right there.’”

10 of the Most Popular Portable Bluetooth Speakers on Amazon

Altech/Bose/JBL/Amazon
Altech/Bose/JBL/Amazon

As convenient as smartphones and tablets are, they don’t necessarily offer the best sound quality. But a well-built portable speaker can fill that need. And whether you’re looking for a speaker to use in the shower or a device to take on a long camping trip, these bestselling models from Amazon have you covered.

1. OontZ Angle 3 Bluetooth Portable Speaker; $26-$30 (4.4 stars)

Oontz portable bluetooth speaker
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Of the 57,000-plus reviews that users have left for this speaker on Amazon, 72 percent of them are five stars. So it should come as no surprise that this is currently the best-selling portable Bluetooth speaker on the site. It comes in eight different colors and can play for up to 14 hours straight after a full charge. Plus, it’s splash proof, making it a perfect speaker for the shower, beach, or pool.

Buy it: Amazon

2. JBL Charge 3 Waterproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker; $110 (4.6 stars)

JBL portable bluetooth speaker
JBL/Amazon

This nifty speaker can connect with up to three devices at one time, so you and your friends can take turns sharing your favorite music. Its built-in battery can play music for up to 20 hours, and it can even charge smartphones and tablets via USB.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Anker Soundcore Bluetooth Speaker; $25-$28 (4.6 stars)

Anker portable bluetooth speaker
Anker/Amazon

This speaker boasts 24-hour battery life and a strong Bluetooth connection within a 66-foot radius. It also comes with a built-in microphone so you can easily take calls over speakerphone.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Bose SoundLink Color Bluetooth Speaker; $129 (4.4 stars)

Bose portable bluetooth speaker
Bose/Amazon

Bose is well-known for building user-friendly products that offer excellent sound quality. This portable speaker lets you connect to the Bose app, which makes it easier to switch between devices and personalize your settings. It’s also water-resistant, making it durable enough to handle a day at the pool or beach.

Buy it: Amazon

5. DOSS Soundbox Touch Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $28-$33 (4.4 stars)

DOSS portable bluetooth speaker
DOSS/Amazon

This portable speaker features an elegant system of touch controls that lets you easily switch between three methods of playing audio—Bluetooth, Micro SD, or auxiliary input. It can play for up to 20 hours after a full charge.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Altec Lansing Mini Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $15-$20 (4.3 stars)

Altec Lansing portable bluetooth speaker
Altec Lansing/Amazon

This lightweight speaker is built for the outdoors. With its certified IP67 rating—meaning that it’s fully waterproof, shockproof, and dust proof—it’s durable enough to withstand harsh environments. Plus, it comes with a carabiner that can attach to a backpack or belt loop.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Tribit XSound Go Bluetooth Speaker; $33-$38 (4.6 stars)

Tribit portable bluetooth speaker
Tribit/Amazon

Tribit’s portable Bluetooth speaker weighs less than a pound and is fully waterproof and resistant to scratches and drops. It also comes with a tear-resistant strap for easy transportation, and the rechargeable battery can handle up to 24 hours of continuous use after a full charge. In 2020, it was Wirecutter's pick as the best budget portable Bluetooth speaker on the market.

Buy it: Amazon

8. VicTsing SoundHot C6 Portable Bluetooth Speaker; $18 (4.3 stars)

VicTsing portable bluetooth speaker
VicTsing/Amazon

The SoundHot portable Bluetooth speaker is designed for convenience wherever you go. It comes with a detachable suction cup and a carabiner so you can keep it secure while you’re showering, kayaking, or hiking, to name just a few.

Buy it: Amazon

9. AOMAIS Sport II Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $30 (4.4 stars)

AOMAIS portable bluetooth speaker
AOMAIS/Amazon

This portable speaker is certified to handle deep waters and harsh weather, making it perfect for your next big adventure. It can play for up to 15 hours on a full charge and offers a stable Bluetooth connection within a 100-foot radius.

Buy it: Amazon

10. XLEADER SoundAngel Touch Bluetooth Speaker; $19-$23 (4.4 stars)

XLeader portable bluetooth speaker
XLEADER/Amazon

This stylish device is available in black, silver, gold, and rose gold. Plus, it’s equipped with Bluetooth 5.0, a more powerful technology that can pair with devices up to 800 feet away. The SoundAngel speaker itself isn’t water-resistant, but it comes with a waterproof case for protection in less-than-ideal conditions.

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

5 Popular Back to the Future Fan Theories, Examined

Marty and Doc Brown were best friends. Too bad Doc had to kill him.
Marty and Doc Brown were best friends. Too bad Doc had to kill him.
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

July marks the 35th anniversary of Back to the Future, the enduring sci-fi and comedy classic starring Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly, an amiable teen who strikes up an unlikely friendship with Emmett "Doc" Brown (Christopher Lloyd). Thanks to Doc's DeLorean time machine, Marty winds up in 1955 to save Doc’s life and to make sure his parents (Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson) fall in love, thereby ensuring his existence.

Fans of the film have spent the past several decades wrapping their minds around the movie’s time travel paradoxes and missing pieces of the plot. Take a look at some of the most popular theories, then check out Back to the Future and its sequels on Netflix to see if they carry any weight.

1. Marty McFly’s parents knew he was a time traveler.

Perhaps the biggest mystery of Back to the Future is why George and Lorraine McFly fail to notice that their grown son Marty bears a striking resemblance to the man they knew as “Calvin Klein” who dropped into their lives in 1955 to make sure their romance was intact. One theory explained by Redditor djbred18 offers that George and Lorraine did recognize him. “I mean they had 30 years to figure it out!” the user said. Crucially, George heard “Calvin” using the names of Darth Vader and the Vulcan race from Star Trek years before they materialized, a fact any science-fiction author like George would have picked up on. A scene late in the film where Marty’s parents give him a brand-new truck and offer a knowing smile could be read as a thank you for his efforts.

Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter in 2020, Back to the Future co-screenwriter Bob Gale explained that they didn't make the connection: It was a simple case of Marty’s parents not recognizing the man they had spent just a few days with 30 years prior. “I would ask anyone to think back to their own high school days and ask themselves how well they remember a kid who might have been at their school for even a semester,” he said. “Or someone you went out with just one time. If you had no photo reference, after 25 years, you’d probably just have a hazy recollection.”

2. Doc Brown was suicidal.

While testing his DeLorean in the Twin Pines Mall parking lot, Doc Brown steps directly in front of the car traveling at 88 mph. The only way he wouldn’t be crushed is if his experiment succeeded and the car vanishes. Yet Doc makes mention of his other experiments being disappointing. Given his lack of confidence in his own abilities, standing in front of the car appears to be a death wish.

When asked about this theory by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in 2018, Christopher Lloyd wasn’t buying into it. “I don’t think so,” Lloyd said. “Because Doc had so much confidence in what he was doing, he didn’t worry about that ... maybe a little doubtful, but Doc didn’t have a grim nature.”

However, Lloyd did add that: “You’ve given me a lot to think about though.”

3. Marty McFly’s actions altered his girlfriend’s appearance.

Elisabeth Shue, Michael J. Fox, and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future Part II' (1989)
Elisabeth Shue, Michael J. Fox, and Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future Part II (1989).
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

In the first Back to the Future, actress Claudia Wells portrays Jennifer Parker, Marty’s girlfriend. In 1989’s Back to the Future Part II, Elizabeth Shue took over the role because Wells was dealing with an illness in her family. For a series about time travel, it might be easy to explain why Jennifer’s appearance changes. According to Reddit user j1ggy, Marty’s presence resulted in unseen but demonstrative effects in the lives of Jennifer’s parents, possibly even resulting in Jennifer having a different mother or father. Because Marty seems slightly confused by Jennifer at the beginning of Back to the Future Part II, it’s possible he realizes he changed the past to the point that his girlfriend is now physically different.

4. Marty may have actually turned Biff Tannen’s life around.

At the beginning of Back to the Future, we see town bully Biff Tannen pushing around George McFly and demanding he perform Biff's work duties at their office. At the end of the film, Biff is in a subservient role, waxing George’s car as part of his work owning an auto detailing company. But, as Reddit user SatNav points out, that may have been best for Biff. He went from being dependent on George to assist him with his job to owning his own small business.

5. Doc Brown kills Marty.

At the conclusion of Back to the Future, time-traveling Marty returns from 1955 to witness 1985 Marty disappearing in the DeLorean. While that’s presumably Marty heading back to 1955, one theory has posited that Doc Brown is sending 1985 Marty either to his death or exiling him in time to make room for the returning 1955 Marty. Had he allowed 1985 Marty to continue living, he could have gone back to 1955 to meet the Marty already there. That, or two versions of Marty would have been running around Hill Valley in 1985.

Christopher Lloyd has dismissed this theory. “Doc would never send Marty off to his death, in any kind of scenario,” he told the CBC in 2018. “Doc couldn’t live with that.”