Breakin’ the Mold: How a Crew of B-Boys and B-Girls Took Over Hollywood in 1984!

“Get ready for the breakdancing storm!” Variety declared in 1984, anticipating the release of Breakin’, one of many Hollywood films attempting to ride the wave of popping, locking, and electric boogaloo. While the dance craze didn’t quite live up to the hype, it still made a significant impact. For a brief moment, it seemed like breakdancing was on the verge of taking over the box office!

“Breakin’ (1984), directed by Joel Silberg and inspired by the documentary Breakin’ ‘n’ Enterin’ (1983), was the pioneering film that brought breakdancing to the big screen. It achieved a surprising success, debuting at number one at the box office on May 4, 1984, surpassing even the popular teen comedy Sixteen Candles. Breakin’ went on to become the second highest-grossing film of May, only surpassed by the blockbuster Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. With a total gross of $38.6 million, it secured a spot as the 17th highest-grossing film of the year, nestled between Revenge of the Nerds and Bachelor Party.”

“Breakin” (1984) holds the distinction of being the first profitable film from Cannon Films, a studio notorious for its opportunistic approach to filmmaking. Studio head Menahem Golan was inspired to greenlight the project after his daughter became captivated by a breakdancer at Venice Beach. Determined to beat the competition, Golan pushed director Joel Silberg and his team to deliver the film in time for the summer season, resulting in a movie that feels more like a collection of music videos than a cohesive narrative.

The film’s loose storyline follows Kelly (Lucinda Dickey), a classically trained performer, as she teams up with street dancers Ozone (Adolfo “Shabba Doo” Quiñones) and Turbo (Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers) to win a dance contest and challenge the art form’s conventions. However, the narrative serves mainly as a showcase for the talents of Dickey and her co-stars, who deliver memorable performances, particularly in the iconic climactic scene where they shed their tuxedos and top hats to convert skeptical judges into breakdancing enthusiasts, channeling the spirit of Singin’ in the Rain.”

“The formula that made Breakin’ a hit was irresistible to teens in 1984: a fusion of street dance, cutting-edge electronica, and an MTV-friendly approach. Where else could you find gravity-defying street dancers and a pre-gangster rap Ice-T hyping up the crowd in a diamond-studded harness? The answer lies in Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, the hastily made sequel that arrived just seven months after the original.

Cannon Films seized the opportunity to milk the breakdancing phenomenon, greenlighting Breakin’ 2 without hesitation. Directed by Sam Firstenberg, the film is unapologetically absurd, abandoning any semblance of reality. In this alternate universe, men can moonwalk on ceilings, and dance possesses miraculous healing powers, resurrecting the dead and curing disabilities. Electric Boogaloo is a wild ride, to say the least.”

“Once again, the plot takes a backseat to the spectacular dance numbers and vibrant production design, as the original trio reunites to foil a ridiculously villainous developer’s plans to transform a beloved community center into a soulless shopping mall. The story and characters serve merely as a pretext for the film’s true showcase: the mesmerizing choreography and sumptuous production design, evoking the grandeur of classic MGM musicals. The narrative is a thinly veiled excuse for an extravaganza of music, dance, and visual splendor.”

“However, Breakin’ 2 strayed too far from the scene’s gritty roots, and with audiences experiencing breakdancing fatigue, it only grossed half as much as the original. Despite this, it still yielded a significant profit, given its modest $3 million budget, and paved the way for another sequel, 1985’s Rappin’, which predictably followed the law of diminishing returns. It was evident that the breakdancing movie craze was rapidly losing steam.

Other films, like Marcelo Epstein’s Body Rock, failed to make a lasting impact, aside from Maria Vidal’s catchy theme song and Lorenzo Lamas’s cringe-worthy musical attempt, “Fools Like Me”, which briefly charted on the Hot 100. In contrast, Beat Street stands out as the breakdancing movement’s crowning cinematic achievement, a testament to the genre’s artistic potential.”

“Directed by Stan Lathan, a frequent collaborator with Dave Chappelle, and produced by the iconic Harry Belafonte, Beat Street offered a genuinely authentic portrayal of breakdance culture, rooted in the streets of the South Bronx. Drawing inspiration from groundbreaking films like Wild Style, Style Wars, and Saturday Night Fever, Beat Street masterfully blended elements of hip-hop, graffiti, and disco to create a unique and captivating narrative that stayed true to its cultural heritage.”

“Beat Street, directed by Stan Lathan and produced by Harry Belafonte, tells the story of two brothers, MC Kenny (Guy Davis) and breakdancer Lee (Robert Taylor), who strive to bring the vibrant sounds and sights of the streets to the mainstream. Unlike the Breakin’ films, Beat Street tackles real-life issues like teen pregnancy, parental pressures, and gang violence, culminating in a tragic ending. Despite its modest box office success ($16.6 million), Beat Street has since become a cult classic, influencing hip-hop artists like AZ, Jay Electronica, and The Notorious B.I.G. Its anti-capitalist message also significantly impacted the pre-unified German hip-hop movement.

Although the subgenre experienced a revival in the 2000s with films like Step Up, You Got Served, and Stomp the Yard, it’s unlikely that modern movies can surpass the impact of the 1984 breakdancing phenomenon. The pioneers of that era, including Breakin’, Breakin’ 2, and Beat Street, played a crucial role in introducing breakdancing to the wider public, proving that it’s “not just kids dancing on a street corner for a nickel!” With breaking making its Olympic debut in Paris, we may see another wave of breakdancing movies, but it’s hard to top the legacy of the original movers and shakers.”

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