Swayze. The Pope of 80s Cool
He made the mullet and poverty starved pottery art sexy. He created a dance sensation and single handedly defeated the USSR when it infiltrated American soil. He helped Ponyboy stay golden, and showed us that robbing banks can be an existential, life affirming experience. He is the Road House. He is Patrick Swayze. His thematic accomplishments have been grand, and you're a bold faced lair if you say you're not a fan of the man. This week, we're looking at the ten films that made Patrick Swayze a cinematic legend in his lifetime. Instead of waiting until he's taken that last swim out passed the rocks at Bells Beach, we wanted to let him know right now how much he's meant to all of our entertainment starved lives.
Texas born and raised, Patrick Swayze always had a habit of choosing the right project at just the right moment in time. Throughout the 80s, every new film he attached himself to became an over night phenomenon. His biography is full of epic hits and cultural milestones. Not many celebrities have racked up the amount of true cult classics that he has under his belt. Some actors only get to star in one great film during their entire career. Not Swayze. He is the unique every man. An action hero macho enough to admit his affinity for dancing in tights. Women love him for his rough-hewn sexiness. Men identify with his hometown heroics. He is an American original, and contemporary cinema would have been at a loss without him.
Here are the ten films that defined the Epic Legend that is Patrick Swayze:
The OutsidersThe Outsiders
Patrick Swayze got his start in show business as a dancer with Disney on Parade. He also starred as Danny Zuko in the Broadway production of Grease before making his feature film debut in the 1979 roller skating opus Skatetown, USA. But he didn't really creep into the American consciousness until he took the role of Darrel Curtis in Francis Ford Coppola's big screen adaptation of S.E. Hinton's popular novel The Outsiders. Though his allocated screen time was limited, Swayze came in packing an undeniable presence that made the entire country sit up and take notice. Nearly every new comer that starred along side him went on to find fame in Hollywood. But it was Swayze that used this opportunity as a stepping-stone towards becoming one of the biggest box office draws of that decade. Darrel was the oldest brother in a parentless household. It was a role tailor made for Swayze, and Patrick would continue to thrive in this mentor archetype throughout most of his young career. A little older than his peers, he almost seemed to get typecast as the absentee father replacement figure. It was a sort of wish fulfillment for teens. Seriously, who wouldn't want Patrick Swayze for a big brother or mentor? With The Outsiders, Swayze found his first niche.
Red DawnRed Dawn
Swayze continued playing the older brother as father figure in this brutally realistic John Milius war epic which has now gone on to become one of the classic staples of 80s action cinema. After The Outsiders, Swayze accumulated a couple of minor supporting roles in films such as the Vietnam War epic Uncommon Valor and the hardly seen TV movie Pigs vs. Freaks, which followed a group of stoner hippies as they challenged the local police to a game of quarterback football in the lesbian capital of the world, Corvallis, Oregon. He also played second fiddle to his onscreen brother Ponyboy, C. Thomas Howell, in Grandview, U.S.A.. But it was the duo's third outing together that shoved Swayze into leading man status. In Red Dawn, Patrick played Howell's older "sort of" brother for a second time. As Jed, he led a group of high school football players in a war against the Russians after their troops invaded American soil. Amidst copious amounts of gunfire, Jed gathered up as many teens as he could and drove them deep into hiding. Set adrift in the woods, Jed showed his brother and his friends how to hunt and survive, and reclaim their land with a mighty call of, "Wolverines!". It was the first film to be released with a PG-13 rating, and at one time held the Guinness record for most violent film of all time. The project solidified Swayze as both an action icon and a sex symbol.
Dirty DancingDirty Dancing
This is the film that turned Patrick Swayze into an overnight star and a worldwide sensation. After the success of Red Dawn, Swayze parlayed his talents into the award winning TV mini-series North and South, which still stands as one of the all time greatest projects ever produced for American television. He also reteamed with his "other" Outsiders brother Sodapop Curtis, Rob Lowe, for the hockey drama Youngblood. But it was Dirty Dancing that changed Patrick from likeable actor into screen idol almost instantaneously. The film was a cultural phenomenon and a massive box office hit. And he once again found himself going toe-to-toe with one of his former costars. This time out, it was Red Dawn's Jennifer Grey. Though the pair didn't care much for one another off-screen, their heated tension played itself out in some of the sexiest dance scenes ever committed to film. The role allowed Swayze to showcase his skills as a classically trained dancer and gave him one of his all time best quotes with, "No one puts Baby in a corner." Dirty Dancing's Johnny Castle stands as Patrick Swayze's signature film role to date.
Tiger WarsawTiger Warsaw
With his newfound fame, Swayze hit a turning point that also served as a sort of stumbling block for his career. How could he keep his current momentum going without losing his audience or his dignity? He wasn't sure, and thus jumped straight into the very strange cult film Steel Dawn, which mixed genres to become one of the only American post-apocalyptic western science fiction films to ever be produced (and no, its not a sequel to Red Dawn, either). It was a B movie flop that has since gained a loyal following over the years. The actor quickly rebounded from this oddity by playing the title character in the 1988 drama Tiger Warsaw. The film allowed Swayze to return to his dramatic acting chops as a reformed addict on a hometown holiday, hoping to make amends with his family. It certainly isn't remembered as one of Patrick's greatest achievements, but his performance brought the kind of realism this type of story needed. Though at the time considered another box office bomb, Tiger Warsaw has gone on to become one of the actor's most beloved cult films. And it serves as a showcase for the kind of gritty bravado the actor was willing to bring to just about any project he touched.
Road HouseRoad House
Moments after it's initial release, this rough and tumble film became a thrusting punch line for comedians ready to rip Swayze a new one. He starred as James Dalton, a thick hunk of a bouncer (i.e. Cooler) hired to clean up the Double Deuce. This greasy honky tonk bar was the breeding ground for hillbilly fistfights and eyeball gouging. During his tenure at the dirty, sawdust-strewn establishment, Dalton confronted the evil ascot wearing Brad Wesley and his army of bottle smashing, monster truck driving, toothless henchman. It's a task that only Swayze could have handled, and the gig proved the dancer could stand toe-to-toe with his action star contemporaries of the time, such as Sly Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not only did he bring Tai Chi into the action films of the 80s, he also brought a lot of heart to the proceedings. He was the kind of punch delivering badass that appealed to both the male and female demographic. Since the time of its release in 1989, Road House has become one of the most beloved and remembered action dramas of its era. Like Stallone's Over the Top, it is defined as much by its goofy B movie nature as it is its daft screenplay. But that's why people love it so much. It's a cheesy popcorn crunching good time that never fails to entertain.
It took Patrick Swayze three years to reestablish himself as a solid box office draw. After Dirty Dancing, the actor was typecast as a beefcake action figure heartthrob, and most directors didn't take him seriously. He drowned in a series of cult catastrophes before landing the biggest hit of his career with this Jerry Zucker romantic drama. Swayze starred as Sam Wheat, a ghost that comes back to tell his lover that he loves her, using Whoopi Goldberg as his spirit chandler. The film grossed $505 million worldwide, and it turned pottery art into a cultural phenomenon. That one golden moment shared between Swayze and his bratpack costar Demi Moore has gone on to inspire a record number of parodies and tributes. The two actors found a once in a lifetime magic held within their chemistry, and they became the premiere screen couple of the early nineties. Ghost is a shinning classical moment in Swayze's nearly perfect career. It came as a second milestone of sorts for the actor, and will be remembered as his masterpiece.
Point BreakPoint Break
After a fondly remembered stint guest hosting Saturday Night Live, where he parodied his hit film Ghost, Swayze jumped straight into the third biggest hit of his career. Reteaming with Keanu Reeves, who served as his running mate in the hokey drama Youngblood, Swayze made the existential surf existence seem like a key lifestyle choice. Point Break created the so-called "Bromantic" adventure genre, pitting an easily influenced wayward FBI agent against a Buddhist bank robber. Together, these two fast moving trains collided head first, leaving the first extreme sports film in its wake. Swayze played Bodhi, a surfing, sky diving, gun shooting adrenaline junky that heads a team of misfit robbers trying to finance their own Endless Summer. Keanu Reeves played Johnny Utah, an FBI agent hot on their trail. By the end, you don't know if the two lead protagonists are going to fight with fists or fuck with dicks, and the sexual tension leaves both men grasping at straws. Swayze gets away in the end, but Keanu spends the rest of his career chasing after this potential soul mate. When they finally find each other once again, Swayze's Bodhi swims out past the rocks at Bells Beach and surfs himself out of existence. Point Break proved to be one of the biggest action films of the early nineties, and it even prompted People Magazine to name Patrick the sexiest man alive the year of its release. Though a sequel has been talked about for many years, neither Keanu or Swayze will be returning for the upcoming direct to video continuation of the story Point Break: Indo, which will see release sometime in 2009.
To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie NewmarTo Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar
After two financially successful and very popular films, Swayze once again wandered off the map and into truly forgettable territory. He starred in a string of failures that no one but his most adherent fans can recall. City of Joy saw him playing a rickshaw pulling doctor involved in family issues somewhere in Calcutta. Father Hood forced him into the world of comedy as a con college father trying to raise his son and daughter on illegally earned wages. And he also stepped into the legendary shoes of Pecos Bill for the Walt Disney Presentation Tall Tale: The Unbelievable Adventure, which looks very cool but seems to have virtually disappeared from the American filmgoer's consciousness. Struggling to find a hit, Swayze decided to take on the biggest challenge of his career with To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar, which saw him becoming the drag queen Vida Bohemme and earning his third Golden Globe nomination. Though he didn't win, he did prove to be a formidable comedic actor, adding another keen talent to his already long laundry list of appealing attributes. In the film, he teams up with Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo as they set out on a road trip to Los Angeles where they will compete in a cross dressing competition of biblical proportions. A hit with audiences worldwide, To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar turned dragging into a more acceptable means of presenting one's true self and it gave Swayze another cultural phenomenon to fall back on.
Black DogBlack Dog
After starring in the small family film Three Wishes, Swayze took on the role of Jack Crews in his last great action film, Black Dog. Crews is a truck driver out of jail on manslaughter charges after hitting and killing a pedestrian. With his house about to be repossessed, he takes a job hauling bathroom fixtures across the country. Soon there after, Meatloaf and Randy Travis are hot on his trail and looking to kill him. Crews soon comes to find out that he is actually transporting guns and other weapons of mass destruction illegally. It's a slam bang Semi Truck smashing race to the finish line, and it is one of the most rousing, crowd-pleasing yarns ever spun about truck drivers and the dangers they face in their day-to-day lives. Chalk it up as another hit for the actor.
Donnie DarkoDonnie Darko
In 1996, while shooting the HBO movie Letters from a Killer Swayze fell off his horse and slammed his face into a tree. He broke both of his legs and suffered four detached tendons in his shoulder. After the accident, the actor temporarily withdrew from the world of acting to tend to his stable of Arabian horses. But in 2001, Richard Kelly came calling and offered Patrick a role in the pitch-black teenage drama Donnie Darko. Swayze accepted the role, playing Jim Cunningham, a motivational speaker and a closeted pedophile. The film went on to become one of the biggest cult classics of all time, giving Swayze his fifth true cultural milestone in the world of cinema. Some have hailed Donnie Darko as a masterpiece of science fiction, and critics were quick to point out Swayze's contributions as a supporting actor in the film. Though his screen time is limited to just a few minutes, he is remembered as an integral part of the film's initial success. And it perfectly ties back into the small but amazing gift he gave to his first major hit, The Outsiders
Patrick Swayze will next be seen in the film Powder Blue, in which he plays an aging rock star and it will be the first time he has starred opposite his brother Don. He also recently wrapped production on the A&E FBI drama The Beast, which will premier in early 2009.
Patrick Swayze? Whoop-doo!