Film producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, owners of Cannon Films, became interested in the art of urban street dance after being inspired by a story from Golan’s daughter about seeing a a group of breakdancers performing at Venice Beach. They took further inspiration for the setting from a documentary titled Breakin’ and Enterin’ and even recruited some of its cast for their fictional take on breakdancing; Breakin’.
Finding talent for the three leads required Golan and Globus to look outside of traditional actors as extensive dance knowledge was required. The first lead went to Lucinda Dickey (Ninja 3: The Domination), a professional dancer and gymnast, playing the the role of Kelly who later earned the nickname ‘Special K’ after the Kellogg’s cereal. The other two leads came from Breakin’ and Enterin’; Adolfo ‘Shabba Do’ Quiñones and Michael ‘Boogaloo Shrimp’ Chambers who played Ozone and Turbo respectively. Like Dickey, both were professionally trained dancers with little acting experience.
The film follows Ozone and Turbo as they train Kelly to become a breakdancer after she has a falling out with the choreographer of her jazz dance class. This transition would prove to be very difficult, resulting in one of the most hilarious 80’s training montages ever filmed. Nonetheless, it proved to her agent, played by Christopher McDonald (Happy Gilmore), that urban dance could work on stage. This set up daunting challenges for the trio, including taking on a rival breakdance group known as Electro Rock at a local community hangout where rapper Ice-T would narrate the rules in rhyme (he also provided voice-over for the film’s trailer).
Breakin’ had a very impressive soundtrack that included tracks from 3V (“Heart of the Beat”), Rufus and Chaka Khan (“Ain’t Nobody”), and of course the hit “Breakin’… There’s No Stopping Us” by Ollie & Jerry. These songs and others helped fuel some of the most heart stopping and energetic dance sequences ever executed in film.
The film premiered in theaters on May 4, 1984 and quickly became a box office hit, debuting at #1 for the week, beating out Sixteen Candles in the process. It also remained in the top 3 for four consecutive weeks and easily outperformed its rival breakdance film, Beat Street by Orion Pictures, which opened five weeks later and only managed a three week run compared to seven for Breakin’. The film even ended the year with greater box office receipts than star filled classics such as The Terminator, Red Dawn, and Bachelor Party.
Due to the success, a sequel was rushed into production; Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. It was released later that very same year, on December 21st, but sadly it did not fair as well as the first film, making less than half the take of its predecessor. Dickey and Quiñones spoke about their frustrations making the sequel in a documentary titled Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films that focused on the company’s history and demise.
However, the legacy of the first film lead to future dance battle films such as the Step Up series while also helping to spread the breakdance phenomenon, which still sees new groups popping up, such as Diversity, an English based group formed by Ashley Banjo that won Britain’s Got Talent in 2009.
Finally, I saved the very best for last. I have fond memories of growing up through the phenomenon in the 1980’s and it lead me to taking part in breakdancing as well. Personally, the film is right up there with Flashdance and Footloose, both of which came out shortly before Breakin’. Here’s my retrospective look back at the film with the official trailer at the end. Enjoy!