What the Hell Happened to Lea Thompson?
Later that year, Thompson starred opposite Tom Cruise in the coming-of-age football drama, All the Right Moves.
Cruise played a high school football player hoping to earn a scholarship so he can go to college and get out of a small Pennsylvania steel town. Craig T. Nelson played his hard-nosed coach who doesn’t like quitters or scientologists (the second one is implied anyway). Thompson played Cruise’s girl friend who is worries she may lose him if he leaves town.
To prepare for the movie, the director sent both Cruise and Thompson back to high school. Cruise was recognized on the first day. But Thompson went unrecognized for four days. During that time, a lot of high school guys asked her out and she got busted for smoking.
The movie is famous (or infamous) because the actors did their own nudity in the love scenes. This was only Thompson’s second movie and she remembers Cruise being very supportive of her while filming the intimate scenes:
“He was so protective of me and interested in making a really good scene, and he did. It’s a really lovely scene. I loved that scene in the movie. Of course, now it’s famous because it’s on DVD, and you can stop it and apparently see his… thing. [Laughs.] I don’t know. So that’s why people still talk about that scene, but the truth of the matter is that it was really beautiful, and he was very kind and protective, and really helped me. And I’ll never forget it. He really helped me learn how to be a better actor.”
Awww. Now I feel bad about the scientologist crack.
Reviews were mixed. Many critics compared it to Flashdance which had a similar theme of an underdog struggling to escape a dead-end job in a small blue-collar town. The general consensus was that the movie was filled with clichés.
All the Right Moves didn’t fare very well at the box office either. It opened in limited release in 6th place just ahead of The Right Stuff. Unfortunately, both movies grossed about the same amount of money but All the Right Moves was playing in twice as many theaters. The following weekend, it opened in wide release and it climbed up to the #5 slot which is where it stayed for three weeks. Over the years, as Cruise grew to become one of the biggest movie stars in the world, the movie developed a cult following.
In 1984, Thompson appeared in John Milius’ Cold War action movie, Red Dawn.
Red Dawn is based on the totally plausible idea *snicker*snicker* that the Soviet Union could successfully invade the United States. Naturally, a group of high school students led by Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen are America’s last line of defense against foreign occupation. When the teen militia goes to an old man for help, he asks them to watch over his granddaughters played by Thompson and Jennifer Grey. Because entrusting your granddaughters to Charlie Sheen makes about as much sense as anything in Red Dawn.
How crazy is Red Dawn? It opens with a high school teacher lecturing on Genghis Kahn. The teacher has a drawing of the Mongolian emperor which is actually a caricature of writer/director Milius. The infamous director was a big fan of the conqueror. The class is interrupted by the sight of Russian paratroopers landing right outside their classroom. Naturally, the invaders immediately open fire on the teacher and his students because the Colorado high school is of great strategic importance to their Communist plan.
To really understand Red Dawn, you have to understand Milius. He was a larger than life figure who prided himself on ruffling the feathers of liberal Hollywood studio execs. There are stories of Milius bringing his gun collection to studio meetings and brandishing his firearms as the execs were giving him notes. The original screenplay for Red Dawn was written by Kevin Reynolds (who was infamous for writing and directing Waterworld). The original script focused on the fractures within the group of teens as the pressures of war broke them apart. But Milius was more interested in the story of a militia saving America from a foreign power. You know, the “gun nut” fantasy.
Thompson fondly remembers filming Red Dawn:
Red Dawn was really the most fun I ever had making a movie, because I love Westerns, and I love the idea of being a tomboy, and riding horses and shooting guns. I remember Jennifer Grey and I being, like, tormented but amazed by the politics of Red Dawn, but the truth is that the story is a fascinating one. The idea was so interesting. And when you see the movie, it’s absolutely fascinating that there’s no… The movie is like a really, really low-budget of its day. You don’t see anything. They talk about how Chicago just fell to the Russians, but you don’t see it. We only talk about it. I think it’s kind of powerful on that level, that it’s more like a play or a book, where the war that you actually do see feels more real as a result.
I dunno, I just had a lot of fun being out on the tundra with John Milius and all the craziness that went along with that. And the guys were all so awesome, and we had such camaraderie. Patrick and Charlie, who was a madman even then. He was awesomely unpredictable even then, but he was adorable. I just had a really interesting time in the ’80s. I tore it up in the ’80s! [Laughs.]
Red Dawn was Sheen’s movie debut. The cast also included Swayze’s The Outsiders co-star, C. Thomas Howell. Harry Dean Stanton and Powers Boothe had supporting roles.
It’s easy to dismiss Red Dawn as a dumb 80’s action movie. But at the height of the Cold War, it was met with controversy. It was the first movie ever released with a PG-13 rating. And according to the Guinness Book of World Records, it held the record for the most acts of violence in a single movie at the time with a rate of 134 acts of violence per hour, or 2.23 per minute.
Despite mixed reviews and controversy, Red Dawn was a hit at the box office. It opened at #1 and grossed nearly $40 million dollars which was a good return on the film’s modest budget. In 2012, in what has to be one of the worst decisions ever, Red Dawn was remade with the Chinese as the 21st century villain. The original movie looked like a documentary by comparison.
Posted on July 15, 2014, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actress and tagged Back to the Future, caroline in the city, howard the duck, jaws, LEA THOMPSON, red dawn, some kind of wonderful, switched at birth. Bookmark the permalink. 153 Comments.