What Footloose and its remake can teach us about their times


Films are eye-witness accounts that reflect the time and the cultural values of the period in which they are made. This is true of contemporary films and, to a large extent, historical films and science fiction. They are a record of everyday life, such as fashion, lifestyle and living conditions, at a particular point in time. They also reflect prevailing attitudes to issues such as race, religion, gender, family structures and authority. Films are therefore a great medium for exploring these issues.


The popular musical drama Footloose is based on a true story: In 1979, the seniors of a high school in a small town in Oklahoma wanted to have a prom, but dancing was against the law due to an ordinance from the late 1800s that prohibited dancing within the town limits. The film uses this situation as the premise for the story. Teen Ren, who has moved to a small town where dancing is forbidden, fights to allow teenagers to dance at their prom.


The original version dates from 1984, and a remake was made in 2011. The story of the remake is essentially the same as the 1984 version. Both films are contemporary, meaning that they are set in the period of their production. This fact makes them interesting study material, as they reflect the respective backgrounds of their times. For this purpose, it is irrelevant whether these films are good or bad, which version is better (viewers are of two minds about this), and how realistic the story is. (It may have become more likely recently with the rise of a new conservative movement in some parts of the world, including the United States).


The films show the fashion and lifestyle of each era (big, curly 80s hairstyles, oversized clothes, and gadgets that are now obsolete, such as Walkmans in the 1984 version, compared to long, more naturally styled hair, tight-fitting clothes and mobile phones and iPods in the 2011 remake).

Image: Walkman


In terms of music, the original soundtrack takes us back to the 1980s. The remake is set in the South rather than the Midwest, so the soundtrack is more country-oriented, but the music has been reworked to cover several musical styles, from modern hip-hop and rock to 80s pop.


Both films reflect not only the aesthetics but also the society of their time. The cast of the original was all white; the 21st  century remake typically features a more diverse cast, reflecting American society, including rural areas.


Films reveal the prevailing ideas, attitudes and values of their time. Some examples are traditionalism, inclusive society and feminism. The remake of Footloose has taken up community activism as one of its themes, according to a review in The Guardian:


What's most intriguing about Footloose is its message of community activism rather than youth rebellion. Instead of dropping out and forming a biker gang, our clean-living hero petitions the town council with a well-constructed argument. He's a rebel with a cause, and he's prepared to go through the correct channels to justify it.


Smoking actors are portrayed in the original because the eighties was a time when smoking was still acceptable. Since then, awareness of the dangers of smoking has increased and smoking on screen is avoided. Footloose (2011) is rated smokefree by the website Smokefree Media.


Although there is reckless driving in both the original and the remake, the scene in which one of the protagonists, Ariel, is shown straddling two moving cars as an oncoming lorry approaches has been removed in the 2011 film, probably because there is a greater awareness that such scenes can have a negative effect on young viewers, who may imitate this type of behaviour.


The cinematography of the remake was changed to a more colourful one, including fast-paced scenes influenced by the music video genre that have become more common in feature films. It is worth noting that it was produced by MTV Films, a US film production company that has been part of the Paramount Motion Pictures Group since 2006.


Footloose at a glance


Year of release:            1984

Country of production:  USA

Original language:        English

Age rating:                  PG

Length:                       107 minutes

Director:                      Herbert Ross



Year of release:           2011

Country of production: USA

Original language:       English

Length:                      113 minutes

Age rating:                 FSK 6

Director:                    Craig Brewer



Interestingly, a scene inspired by the iconic final dance scene of Footloose has been included in the Netflix series The Umbrella Academy. The delightful scene is a 2020s update of the original version. It remains to be seen what future adaptations of the famous dance will look like and how they will reflect the time of their creation.


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