1987 in Film – Dirty Dancing

Release Date: August 21st
Box Office: $63,892,689

A lot of the films have entered the popular consciousness, but it’s important to realise that this isn’t just limited to films where dudes with big muscles slaughter entire armies to rescue kidnapped family members. No, lots of films without guns of any kind are as popular, if not more so that a lot of those other films. I mean, as awesome as it sounds, there isn’t a single Arnie film that has had a major musical made from it which makes Dirty Dancing (1987) more popular than the entirety of the Austrian Oak’s filmography.

Okay, there’s some sarcasm in there but it is true. I mean, the film didn’t trouble the top ten when it was released but the way that it has stuck around and come back again for new generations proves it’s worth.

The argument could be made that it’s the soundtrack doing a lot of the heavy lifting of the film, which is a good argument. Whilst this isn’t a musical it’s difficult to separate one from the other so intermingled are they. The decade saw the trend of soundtrack albums being wrapped up with the films as a package, like with Top Gun (1986). Also there had been this nostalgia for that late fifties era of music, a good dose of Motown and soul and that kind of stuff.

Dirty Dancing then becomes the ultimate example of this. For all the success of the film, the soundtrack has probably been the greater success story. The soundtrack album was number one for 18 weeks and went platinum eleven times. It was huge, pushing this trend that had been bubbling under firmly into the mainstream. As much as it started that, it was the new song written for the film that is as imprinted onto most people just as much as the Star Wars Fanfare is.

(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life won a Grammy, a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Original Song. I mean, say what you like about the quality of it, but thats not to be sniffed at. It’s one of those things that people just know about, you never really hear it for the first time because it’s just there in the background all the time. Hell, even Skeletor even dances to it these days.

All this makes the film a bit incidental. Patrick Swayze is a dance instructor at a holiday resort who falls for Jeniffer Grey who is there at the resort with her family. He’s a bad boy (because he has a leather jacket) and she’s as prim and proper as can be and yadda yadda yadda. What sells the film is the chemistry between the leads, which is undeniable. This was to be the definitive Swayze film essentially until the end of his career, and also for Grey it would be hard to get out from under the shadow of Dirty Dancing.

Thats understandable though. When something hits like the way this film does, it’s always hard for the cast to move beyond the roles they played. The public didn’t want Mark Hamill to be anything other than Luke Skywalker, for example. The only real way out of that is to hit two landmark characters out of the park at roughly the same time, like Harrison Ford did with Han Solo and Indiana Jones. The public loved Dirty Dancing and just wanted to see that again so anything that had Swayze in it that wasn’t this film would always struggle.

So thats the legacy of the film; a monster soundtrack, careers that were somewhat curtailed and drunk people at weddings attempting to do The Lift. Thats not a bad legacy to have, especially for a film that was expected to be a flop. “Burn the negative,” a producer said when seeing the final cut of the film.

Sure, I’ve felt like that at times. I can’t begin to imagine how many times I heard the tape of the soundtrack played in the car journeys of my youth. But then, for some people, this film means as much as Star Wars does to me. Who would want to take that away from someone else?

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