Teen Wolf is a movie that is considered in the average 80s movie category but is still loved by many people. It’s not the greatest offering of the decade, but it’s decent–and that was the intent with this movie.
The goal was to keep costs as low as possible to see how much they could make back. They had a can’t-miss formula on their hands and it paid off.
It’s also an interesting story that obviously has connections to Michael J. Fox and Back to the Future. The two movies were pretty much joined at the hip and this is what led to the undeniable success of what is technically considered an Indie movie: Teen Wolf.
A Quick Teen Wolf Recap
It’s been a long time since I watched Teen Wolf. In my mind, it was a cartoony sort of 80s movie, but it is definitely not as I remember.
The plot is pretty straightforward, and it uses a classic horror movie trope in the werewolf character. But it brings it into the modern age. Scott Howard is a regular 17-year-old who is not super popular at school. He is pretty average and doesn’t really stand out.
But it turns out “werewolfniss” has run in his family and he too can transform into one. Instead of being an outcast, he is embraced as the werewolf. It also gives him super athletic ability, and he becomes a basketball star.
Now, he is the most popular person in school. His love interest comes into the picture even though he had brushed off genuine interest from one of his friends, Boof. Eventually, Scott has to realize he can’t depend on the werewolf, and his regular self needs to be enough.
There are a few themes in Teen Wolf, and they mainly explore the issues of puberty and adolescents. The werewolf represents the changes that kids in high school go through as they struggle to find their identity. The character of the werewolf has been used this way many other times, but in this case, it works pretty well for all the awkwardness we experience in high school.
As mentioned, my memories of this movie are much tamer than it actually is. There are some very problematic language and situations in this movie. This is no excuse, but it was the 1980s and a lot of this stuff was able to fly.
Surprisingly, Teen Wolf only had a PG rating. I think this threw off many families who found something that really wasn’t appropriate for kids. Why this didn’t get a PG-13 rating is pretty surprising.
If you want to learn all about the origins of the PG-13 rating–and its connections to Indiana Jones–you can check out my article all about it here.
The Teen Wolf/Back to the Future Connections
Michael J. Fox was the first choice to play Marty McFly, but they didn’t know how this would all work with the success of Family Ties. Meredith Baxter Birney was pregnant, and the show didn’t want to lose both her and its star. Back to the Future was to begin filming in November 1984, and the studio just wouldn’t release Michael J. Fox for it.
Back to the Future then went with second choice Eric Stoltz, who would film nearly 80% of the movie before being fired and replaced by Fox. It turns out, Family Ties would take a break with the real-life pregnancy of Baxter Birney, which meant Michael J Fox could go off to make this little werewolf comedy.
The other amazing thing with Teen Wolf–which was again the intent–was they filmed the entire movie in around a month. They reserved one entire week of that month just for filming the basketball scenes.
This short filming schedule is pretty astonishing, even for a TV commercial, but the quick turnaround time allowed Michael J. Fox to go do it compared to Back to the Future, which would have been much, much longer.
So Back to the future could have originally had him, but this all worked out for the best. When they brought Michael J Fox in for the Back to the Future reshoots, they had been able to watch pretty much the entire movie to see which scenes had and hadn’t been working. This allowed the producers to reshape the movie into what we now know and love.
Example: The opening scene wasn’t supposed to take place in Doc’s garage with Marty late for school, but would have started IN school with Marty pulling a fire alarm to get out of detention.
Give me that skateboard scene any day.
Michael J. Fox started filming Back to the Future in January 1985, and at this point, he was such a star from the show that not allowing him to shoot would be a detriment to his career and audiences who loved him.
Michael J. Fox Pulls Double Duty on Teen Wolf/Back to the Future
To handle both Family Ties and Back to the Future, Fox would film the TV show in the day, then head to the movie until 2-3 am where he would be carried into bed and would sleep for a few hours and repeat the entire process. He was apparently so loopy from lack of sleep that he once panicked backstage on Family Ties because he couldn’t find Doc’s camcorder.
Because of the massive test audience response of Back to the Future, they moved the release date up to July 3, 1985. And it was obviously the biggest hit of the summer and the entire year. Michael J. Fox was already a star because of Family Ties, but now he was a superstar. And he would have another movie–that he filmed prior to Back to the Future–coming out just a month later.
This was yet another godsend to Teen Wolf and the Atlantic Releasing Corporation that put out the film. Atlantic was waiting to see when to release Teen Wolf and wanted Back to the Future to come out first as they heard how amazing this thing was going to be.
After the success of Back to the Future, Honestly, they could have put out two hours of Michael J. Fox running around a basketball court and still have a hit moneymaker on their hands.
Teen Wolf came out on August 23, 1985, and because of the lead-in from Back to the Future was an enormous success. But not big enough to take down the champ. Either way, Teen Wolf finished second to Back to the Future, meaning Michael J. Fox had the number one and two movies in the country along with the number 2 show on TV.
Teen Wolf would end up making $80 million, which converted for today is over $210 million. Pretty astounding for a simple comedy, keeping in mind, they made it for only around $1 million. But, again, this was the Michael J. Fox effect. Teen Wolf ended up being in the top 25 highest-grossing films of 1985.
It would have been interesting if Back to the Future had stayed with its original, and later release date. Would that have affected things if Teen Wolf came out first? Teen Wolf is ok, but not exactly the defining movie of the decade.
Would this have thrown people off when they heard about the “Time travel movie” and thought it would be in the same vein as Teen Wolf? I think the word of mouth would have probably resulted in the same success of Back to the Future.
Behind the Scenes & Overall Success of Teen Wolf
Michael J. Fox was not an outstanding basketball player, and the production needed that entire week to try and get decent footage. Fox is a great hockey player but sucked at basketball. He even had trouble making a simple free throw.
They went to a nearby university to find a talented basketball player–and close to Fox’s height. The player they found would end up wearing the Teen Wolf suit to film the basketball scenes.
(Even with the short shooting schedule, Michael J. Fox rarely had to wear the entire werewolf suit.)
But Fox was so bad at basketball that most other actors would have been fired, but this was Michael J. Fox, so he was pretty immune to that kind of thing.
As mentioned, there was no way this movie wasn’t going to make money, and that short schedule and low budget were all part of the plan. We can technically consider teen Wolf an indie movie despite having a giant star. It’s been considered an A-movie with a B-Movie’s body.
The difference here is they were making an indie movie to be a commercial hit and not an art house feature. That hadn’t really been done before, but Teen Wolf was proof the formula could work. But, again, it pretty much all came down to Michael J. Fox.
Would Teen Wolf have been as successful if it starred Judd Hirsch? I don’t think so, but it still would have made money. It was impossible for this thing not to make money.
The formula was also interesting because it wasn’t a horror movie, but had horror movie elements wrapped in a PG package. Speaking of packages, It was more accessible to kids and families, despite having some problematic language, and that infamous scene of the fan in the basketball bleachers. You know what one I’m talking about.
Here’s something I never noticed. Teen Wolf used the same house for the Howard home that was used for Lorrain’s house in 1955 in Back to the Future.
We can’t move on without discussing the dreadful Teen Wolf Too with Jason Bateman. But that wasn’t going to be the end of it. There were talks of a potential third movie, this time involving a female Teen Wolf played by Alyssa Milano.
I could actually see that one working out pretty well. This way, you have the trifecta of hot 1980s stars in Fox, Bateman, and Milano. Corey Haim and Corey Feldman were obviously too busy making the Lost Boys…
Wrapping it Up
Teen Wolf has created a pretty decent legacy when you consider its roots. Again, we have to thank its success to the success of Back to the Future and the connections between the two. Back to the Future walked so Teen Wolf could run. But in the end, it all comes down to the massive popularity of Michael J. Fox.
I really didn’t see much difference between Marty McFly and Scott Howard. I think he found his specific acting-style niche and just went with it. There were some differences with Alex P. Keaton, but in Teen Wolf and Back to the Future, he went with his specific style.
Teen Wolf, as a franchise, has continued to live on. There was the Teen Wolf cartoon in 1986 that ran for two seasons and 21 episodes. And then there was the live-action Teen Wolf series from 2011 that ran for 6 seasons.
The werewolf trope will always work. As will the coming-of-age adolescent story. Both Teen Wolf and Back to the Future share similar stories of adolescence. One just was in a werewolf suit, the other in a Delorean…
If you want some more on Back to the Future, check out my article on the 21 things you probably missed in it.