10 Fascinating Facts About ‘Better Off Dead’
If you were a teen in the 80s, you likely remember the movie Better Off Dead. The 1985 cult teen classic directed and written by Savage Steve Holland follows a high school boy named Lane whose girlfriend leaves him for the captain of the ski team. Lane then decides he’d be better off dead, hence the movie title. It is only through spending time with foreign exchange student Monique that Lane realizes there’s more benefit to staying alive. If you remember the film well, here are 10 fascinating facts about Better Off Dead that you probably didn’t know!
1. John Cusak hated the movie.
You might be surprised to learn that the star of the film, John Cusak (who played Lane Meyer), hated the movie. Director Savage Steel Holland explained that Cusak walked out of a special pre-screening in 1986 after all of 20 minutes. “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,” said Holland. “I will never trust you as a director ever again, so don’t speak to me’ . . . 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 . . . It was so out of left field that it just floored me.”
2. But as time passed, Cusak’s feelings changed.
Though Cusak was initially super put off by the film, he said in a 2013 interview that he never hated the movie or hated filming it. He explained that although he wished some things were better, he feels the same way about every movie he has made and is happy the movie achieved cult status and remains a favorite to this day.
3. The movie was based on a true story.
Holland wrote the film based on his own high school experience – a girlfriend of his really had left him for the captain of the ski team. “It’s really weird but she really broke my heart, and even through college I was still bummed out about it, but life went on,” Holland said. “Then I made this funny movie. And like 6 years later, 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.’ I mean, she knew she hurt my feelings, but she was like, ‘I just feel horrible that I put you through all that.’ And she sent me cookies and stuff.”
4. The original tagline was not well received.
The film’s original tagline was, “Sometimes… you’re Better Off Dead,” which was unsurprisingly not well received. It was later changed to, “Relax… you’re never Better Off Dead.”
5. Risky Business put Curtis Armstrong on Holland’s radar.
Holland chose to cast Curtis Armstrong as Charles De Mar after seeing him in 1983’s Risky Business.
6. Fast Times at Ridgemont High characters also appeared in the film.
Amanda Wyss, Vincent Schiavelli, and Taylor Negron all appeared in 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
7. Essentially the entire movie was filmed in L.A.
Due to budget and scheduling constraints, almost the entire movie was filmed in Los Angeles, California, with the exception of the skiing scenes which were filmed in Utah.
8. Lane’s mother’s interesting cooking techniques were inspired by Holland’s own mother.
“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 explained to Entertainment Weekly. For Holland’s birthday one year, she gave him 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.'”
9. Henry Winkler was involved in getting the film made.
Henry Winkler happened to be in the audience during a screening of Holland’s My 11-Year-Old Birthday Party at the LA Film Festival. “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,’” Holland said. “So he asked if I had any more sad stories about my life and I’m like, ‘Of course I do!’” A few short months later, Winkler provided Holland with an office at Paramount where he then wrote the Better Off Dead script.
10. Winkler also connected Holland with Cusak.
Holland also has Winkler to thank for getting John Cusak on his radar. Winkler knew of Cusak from Sixteen Candles, connecting him with Holland for Better Off Dead. Winkler also helped promote the screenplay which is how it eventually landed with producer Michael Jaffe.
In my humble opinion, films made in the 80s and 90s are superior. Talking about Better Off Dead has made me want to do an 80s and 90s teen cult classics movie marathon this weekend!