Fox > Wolf, as Geek Dave discovers...
Let's face it, if it wasn't for Back To The Future, Teen Wolf would've likely been a direct-to-VHS release with very little exposure, and possibly struggling to make back its modest sub $1 million budget. In fact the story of this little movie's production owes a great deal to the Spielberg/Zemekis blockbuster, beyond just catapulting its star to international fame.
Written by the then unknown Jeph Loeb (who went on to write for Heroes,
Smallville, Lost and multiple comic book titles), who was essentially
hired because he was cheap, Teen Wolf itself only came about because
Atlantic Releasing Corporation were looking for a "comedy that would
cost nothing" after achieving some success with the equally thrifty
Valley Girl (which featured Nicholas Cage in his first starring
role). Once the script was in place director Rod Daniel, who had worked
solely on the small screen up until this point, was another hired on the strength of his price tag. And it would be the world of television that Teen Wolf would look to to find its leading man.
In the Autumn of 1984 Michael J Fox was beginning work on season 3 of the hit show Family Ties when he was offered the part of Marty McFly in Back To The Future. Up to this point his film career consisted of standard teen high school fare (Class of 1984, High School USA), so the lead in a Steven Spielberg production was the breakout movie role he had been looking for. However, at this time his 'TV Mom' Meredith
Baxter-Birney was pregnant, and with the show working around her pregnancy and schedule the producer, Gary David Goldberg, was unwilling to allow another member of the cast any unscheduled time off. With Back to the Future originally set to open in May 1985, the producers decided they couldn't wait for Fox, and reluctantly he had to pass on the role.
Less than a month later Meredith Baxter-Birney requested, and was granted, early maternity leave, during which time it was decided to halt production on Family Ties, stopping early for the Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays. Filming was now already underway on Back To The Future (with Eric Stoltz cast as Marty Mcfly), so Fox looked for a smaller production to fill the break, accepting the role of Scott
Howard in Teen Wolf. Ironically the movie was to shoot some of
its first scenes on Bushnell Avenue in
South Pasadena, the exact same location concurrently being used by Steven Spielberg
and Robert Zemekis for the external shots of the McFly house. So near,
yet so far.
Looking back now, Teen Wolf is a very standard high school 80s movie about acceptance, but with a supernatural twist. The effects are surprisingly good, clearly influenced by An American Werewolf In London and possibly more so via Michael Jackson's Thriller. But really it's hard to see Teen Wolf succeeding without the presence of Michael J Fox, if he'd not been available it's unlikely this movie would've succeeded. It's solely his performance which elevates Teen Wolf above any number of other teen genre movies of the day. That's not to say that the supporting cast are amateurs (James Hampton as Scott's father Howard delivers a strong performance, even if when in wolf-mode he looks more like a puffed-up woodland creature), but I feel that if anyone else had been cast in the lead then Teen Wolf would be lacking much of its heart and connectivity.
In his autobiography Michael J Fox
revealed that during production on Teen Wolf he would watch the Back To The Future crew set-up and wish that maybe one day he
could be in a Steven Spielberg film. As we all know his wish came true very quickly, almost as soon as Teen Wolf wrapped in fact. Robert Zemekis decided he was not getting the results he wanted with Eric Stoltz, and so a deal was struck for Fox to work overnight on Back To The Future whilst maintaining his day job on Family Ties, and the movies release was pushed back two months to accommodate.
Knowing Fox was to star in such a high profile feature Atlantic Releasing Corporation wisely held on to Teen Wolf instead of going ahead with the planned Spring 1985 release. Eventually it arrived in US cinemas on August 23rd, 1985, debuting at No. 2 in its opening weekend. The No. 1 film that week was Back to the Future! After its initial run, the film grossed $33,086,661 in the US alone, with a worldwide gross of around $80 million. Which means that if we were to measure success in dollar return alone then Teen Wolf would far exceed that of Back To The Future!
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