A BOX-OFFICE BOMB
Aaron Dozier (Roy Stalin): I went to see it at a sneak preview in Westwood. It was a full house and it got so many big laughs. I remember how high I felt watching that movie, and how proud I was of it. I thought it was going to be a huge, huge hit -- and it wasn't a big hit. It didn't really catch on until 10 years later.
Diane Franklin (Monique): I thought it was going to be a hit, I thought it was really funny. I couldn't believe it wasn't. I just didn't get it. I thought, "Well, maybe these people don't get it."
Curtis Armstrong (Charles De Mar): This was a script that people were talking about because it was so different. There was a lot of anticipation that it was going to be very successful and critically it was not. It seemed to me that it disappeared rather quickly, at a time when you didn't have cable and video and DVD to support these things. It was really a death knell.
Dozier: I know that when he was shooting 'One Crazy Summer,' Savage screened a rough cut of 'Better Off Dead' for the cast and crew, and John ran out, screaming, "You've ruined my career!" 20 minutes into it. He obviously finished 'One Crazy Summer,' but it was never the same between him and Savage. Who knows [why it happened]?
Amanda Wyss (Beth): I never really got involved in any of that, so I don't really have any comment. I think it's unfortunate that it happened for both of them, and I know that Steve was hurt, and I don't really know John's reasoning on a personal level.
Armstrong: I hung out with John constantly on 'One Crazy Summer,' at which point he had already seen the movie. He was not happy with it, but I didn't get the impression that he hated it.
Holland: He was just great [during the shooting of 'Better Off Dead']. At least once or twice a day we'd have a joke that we worked for all day pay off, and we were all laughing. And we'd all run the next day after shooting to watch dailies on a big screen. We'd get beer and popcorn and we'd laugh as hard as we did the day before. So I just don't know where he got lost as far as what we were making, but whatever we were making was better because he was in it. That's seriously true.
WHEN THE CULT GREW
Franklin: I have a nephew who was in college, and he told me, "My gosh, everybody is watching this. People are passing it around. It's huge." I was so happy to hear that.
Wyss: The thing that's amazing is how many people love this movie, and it seems to hold up even to the next generation of people. Even on film crews, the crew will come up and say, "That's one of my favorite movies!" and they'll quote lines from it, which I think is always a high compliment.
Dozier: I'm proud of the production. I enjoyed being part of it. For a while, I wanted to go beyond it, I didn't want people to necessarily identify me with that movie, but now I'm out of the whole [acting] racket. I show it to women when I bring them home, hoping they'll make love to me -- not that that works anymore!
Holland: Some cult movies, I'll go, "Whoa, that's a really weird movie that [somehow] hung around." In this case, if it gets put into cult movie status and kept alive for years to come, I'll take it. I can say it survived.
WHY 'BETTER OFF DEAD' RESONATES
Armstrong: It will continue to resonate because it deals with something which is very simple really. It's the reason you make teen movies to begin with; it's basic teenage angst, but it approaches it in a way that never takes itself seriously and with this additional layer of enormous silliness and surrealism, so that people no matter what generation can understand it.
Wyss: I was so young when I did that film, and I remember thinking 'it doesn't seem right to laugh at this' (laughs). He took these very serious subjects, and I'm certainly not proselytizing, I think he dealt with them in a really intelligent manner and then added a layer of humor on top of them, and I think that humor helped bring that sort of issue to light without beating someone over the head -- It resonated with people, and I think that's probably also part of what people, whether its [subconscious] or not, relate to that teenage angst and pain.
Franklin: This movie you can show your kids, it's a family movie. It's really funny, but it's also a PG movie; it allows people to share it more easily with each other -- 'Better Off Dead' just came from Steve's heart. It's about his life. It's that pure movie that you want to make when you're a kid and you're a filmmaker, and I think that people can feel that when they watch this movie. They know who these characters are and even though it's over-the-top, that's the fun of it. We just fall in love with every character. Today, we don't fall in love with our characters as much.
THE RABID FANBASE
Holland: When it first started there was one girl that kept trying to get in touch with me, and what I realized was she was trying to get in touch with John Cusack (laughs). I let her go, but I had to change all my numbers and all that -- It's funny because my fans, people that come up to me are people that work in Hollywood now. It's really sweet. I go to places and there are a lot of people who are giant fans of the movie -- I would say the last 5 shows I worked on were run by people who are big fans of 'Better Off Dead.'
Franklin: I'm constantly amazed at how deeply it's affected people -- Some people have cried or they were shaking, and they said it changed their life. What a gift, my gosh, and what a positive gift -- The fact that it's a positive movie and made people laugh, makes me feel really great -- Once I had a guy say to me "Oh, you have a wedding ring on." And I was like "Yes, it's been a little while." He had this crush on me, and I was married. It's kind of hard to believe that, but just watch the movie, believe in what was going on, that was more fun anyway (laughs).
Wyss: Right after the movie came out, people would come up, and why I did not connect this at the time, I do not know, but people would come up to me and say "Give me my two dollars" and I was like "What?" I was such a nerd, I was like "Is that some new catch phrase, what is that? Is that like 'stay cool'? What's the deal with that?" And my boyfriend at the time went, "It's a line from your movie!" -- People say that line all the time. Now I get it just randomly -- People will come up and be like "No way, you're 'Beth' from 'Better Off Dead'!" and I just go "Jeez, it's a whole new generation of people watching that movie" which just kills me."
Dozier: That's how you always identify it, if you're talking about it, and if people don't know the name of the movie, you say "Remember 'I want my two dollars'?" and everybody gets it after that -- I'm very proud of it, I've been spoofed on 'South Park' -- It's something I'll take with me happily wherever I go (laughs).
WHAT HAPPENS 25 YEARS LATER?
Franklin: I think that [Lane and Monique] wound up together. I think they stayed together, and then they had kids that spoke French and English (laughs).
Armstrong: I imagine [Charles]'d still be looking for household objects that he could ingest for recreational purposes. Eventually, they must probably throw him out of the school.
Dozier: I do have the opening scene for the sequel. It's 25 years later, and there's Stalin and he's at the bar, sipping his drink, and he goes "You know, my life would be so much better if I won that race, let me tell you" and the bartender goes "Yeah, Roy, I've heard this a million times." And you hear a guy go "Excuse me, waiter!" and Stalin picks up the cocktail tray and walks over to the table to put the drinks down for the guy. That's how the movie opens right there.
'Better Off Dead' on RottenTomatoes