It is perhaps the most infamous — or at least most lampooned — title in movie history, an easy punchline that people lean on when making a crack about any hypothetical film sequel. That trick is simple: Just add “Electric Boogaloo” to the end of anything, and hear them laugh. The title has become a multi-platform meme.
And yes, that title, which refers to a funk-oriented breakdancing style in the early ‘80s, is not a good one. Its path toward notoriety began almost immediately upon its December 1984 release, when Cannon Films chiefs Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus fast-tracked the follow-up to their May 1984 hip-hop breakout hit Breakin’ — which itself had been fast-tracked to beat a similar project, Beat Street (released in June 1984), to theaters. The idea of rush-releasing an unplanned sequel in the same year as its predecessor was virtually unheard of at the time.
But the Breakin’ films have much more to offer beyond the Boogaloo. While the unfortunate moniker is usually cited as the reason for Breakin’ 2’s frequent placement on “worst sequels ever” listicles, and while the sequel is inferior to the original (most sequels are) and cheesy in the ‘80s-est ways, the second installment is just as beloved as Breakin’ by its cult of passionate fans.
To celebrate the legacy of the Breakin’ movies, especially Electric Boogaloo, Yahoo Entertainment reunited both film's three main cast members Adolfo “Shabba-Doo” Quiñones (Ozone), Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers (Turbo) and Lucinda Dickey (Kelly, aka Special K), as well as Part 2 director Sam Firstenberg and editor Marcus Manton for an epic Zoom call that extended well past the runtime of either movies (watch highlights above, and a longer cut below).
And even the film's cast members have some pointed critiques of Electric Boogaloo.
“I didn’t particularly care for Breakin’ 2,” says Quiñones, the veteran dancer-choreographer who has worked with Lionel Richie, Madonna and Chaka Khan, and who helped usher in the concept of “locking” movements. “Not because I don’t respect ‘Shmulik’ [a nickname for Firstenberg] and his ability, I felt like the storyline was going more toward a cartoony point of view and I think that storyline was instigated not by Shmulik but by Menahem Golan, who tried to recreate a 1940s musical in the golden age of musicals.” (Quiñones has gotten more diplomatic in his critiques of the film over the years. In a 2014 documentary on Cannon Films called — what else? — Electric Boogaloo, he admitted he spent parts of the film’s production crying in private.)
Whereas Breakin’ was a more straightforward musical drama about its unlikely trio of multiracial breakdancers forming a unit and filled with electrifying routines (none more famous than Boogaloo Shrimp’s “magical broom” solo), Electric Boogaloo escalated into full-on song-and-dance territory as it followed the threesome’s attempt to save their community center on the brink of being razed for a shopping mall. While it still features plenty of staggering hip-hop choreography, it often veers over the top, with no scene more infamous than its (admittedly ridiculous) hospital scene, where an entire ward of doctors and nurses cut loose with our heroes. There’s also a very odd doll dance.
“I agree with you a million percent,” says Firstenberg (who also helmed Cannon action films like Revenge of the Ninja and American Ninja) to Quiñones about his critiques. “It’s better to make West Side Story than Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, no question about it. I wish I was involved in a movie that would have risen to the level of West Side Story.”
Chambers, for one, loves how some 35 years later, the film continues to draw pop culture mentions and parodies, citing call-outs or tributes in television shows and movies like The Goldbergs and Hotel Transylvania 2. “I am very flattered, as cheesy as people have dumped on the storyline, for people like Chris Rock [in Grown-Ups] to make reference from the movie, it’s a blessing to be able to have Hollywood A-listers look at our film beyond the color, beyond the storyline, and say ‘You know what, that was a pretty good movie that reminded me of my ‘80s childhood.’” (The sequel has also been in the news recently because of the activities and arrests of gun-toting, anti-government extremists who identify as part of “The Boogaloo Movement” — with the term “boogaloo,” originally derived from the film title, codeword for a second Civil War. The cast responded to the groups’ appropriation of their title in a separate interview with Yahoo Entertainment that you can find here.)
Turbo’s follow-up to the broom dance, an incredible solo routine that finds him dancing on the ceiling and which Chambers says was inspired in part by John Carpenter’s The Thing, is undoubtedly the best sequence in Electric Boogaloo.
As Manton points out, Roger Ebert — the late movie critic is perhaps the most admired and influential reviewer of all time — loved Electric Boogaloo (although he called the title “ungainly”).
As dated as the films may feel to non-aficionados, Electric Boogaloo was ahead of its time — namely of its portrayal of social activism and the gentrification of urban centers. And the Breakin’ movies in general are largely credited with helping popularize hip-hop and rap into the mainstream along with acts like Run-DMC, LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys.
In the early ‘80s though, the breakers are treated like outsiders in the dance world — and that in some ways mirrored the experience Dickey, a gymnast at the time, had coming onto the first film. “I didn’t know anything about breakdancing. I made up this ridiculous routine. I did this butt-spin, because I didn’t know, I wasn’t a breakdancer,” says the actress, who was among a thousand or so actress-dancers who attended an open casting call for part. “I remember like it was yesterday the first day that I walked into the studio to meet Shabba-Doo and Shrimp. I was so intimidated and so terrified because I knew it was way out of my wheelhouse.”
Dickey wasn’t exactly embraced by her costar Quiñones. “When I first met Lucinda Dickey, I was certainly not game for Lucinda Dickey to be that counterpart because I felt like, ‘Well, why do you have to put a white person in our world to validate us?’ I was taken aback by it, and I resented it on many levels,” he says. “But then when I got to meet Lucinda Dickey, and I got to work with Lucinda Dickey, and I got to see the success that we did together, I realized it was the best move that ever happened, and I’m happy that it happened. At the end of the day, Lucinda Dickey brought an aspect to hip-hop, to street dance, that wasn’t afforded before. It made it so that everyone could do it, and it was accessible to everyone.”
Breakin’ became an immediate success upon its release, beating out the John Hughes future teen classic Sixteen Candles its opening weekend at the box office and ultimately grossing over $38 million on a budget of just over $1 million. The sequel that would become Electric Boogaloo was ordered almost immediately by Golan. It was a major disappointment, financially, grossing only $15.1 million. Quiñones says they’ve long discussed a third movie, and the conversations continue today. “I don’t want any spoilers out there but I’ve been in negotiations with people who can help make the movie,” he says, before teasing some spoilers: “In today’s world, the king of street dancing should be a woman, first of all. … We hope to not recapture what we did before, but do something much greater.”
In addition to launching the careers of Quiñones, Chambers and Dickey, the Breakin’ movies also featured Ice-T (in leather straps and spikes) as the resident emcee at their dance battles, three years before dropping his debut album Rhyme Pays. Unknown at the time, budding martial arts movie icon Jean-Claude Van Damme was a background dancer in Breakin’, and future Happy Gilmore and Ballers star Christopher McDonald had a sizable role as Kelly’s agent, James.
McDonald jumped on our Zoom chat to surprise the cast and helped capture the essence of why people love the Breakin’ movies… yes, Electric Boogaloo included. “It was at the right moment and the right time, so it basically put a feather in everybody’s cap,” he said. “There’s no doubt that those two movies made a huge impact on the dance world and on the movie world. And God bless us, we should be grateful that we’re a part of [them].”
Watch an extended cut of our Breakin’ cast and crew reunion:
— Video produced by Jon San
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