8 Iconic Musical Movie Moments from the 80s

On this day, Tom Cruise's 'Risky Business' opened in theaters and took his career to unprecedented heights – thanks to his 'underdressed' musical performance.
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Hard to believe, but before Tom Cruise was jumping on couches, scaling buildings and becoming tabloid fodder for his failed marriages, he was a 20-something actor struggling to get by. That is, until he was cast as teenager Joel Goodsen in the 1983 film Risky Business. Not only did the film because an instant classic, but it also launched Cruise’s career to unprecedented heights, in large part to a certain musical performance that nearly everyone (even those who haven’t sat through the film) has seen.

Here, we look back at eight classic musical movie moments from the 80s that helped launch careers and define an entire generation.

Risky Business (1983)

When you think of Risky Business, the image of a 21-year-old Tom Cruise sliding down the hallway in his socks, briefs and oversized shirt to the tune of Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” comes to mind. That moment has been parodied in film, commercials and even Saturday Night Live since it first hit screens, making it synonymous with any scene in which parents fly the coop and leave someone home alone to bask in their “freedom.” When the scene was first shot Cruise had the option of subbing in another song as he danced around the house, but he ultimately felt that Seger’s song could stand the test of time.

Say Anything (1989)

Thanks to the iconic boombox scene featured in this Cameron Crowe flick, no tale of unrequited love is complete without a guy standing below his love’s window, declaring his love through song—specifically, Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.” It’s hard to believe that scene almost didn’t happen; John Cusack didn’t feel as though Lloyd Dobler would be so subservient as to hoist the contraption above his head. He wanted to be sitting on top of the car, boombox beside him. In the end, the defiant look on Cusack’s face during that key moment was one neither director nor actor planned on, but it became entrenched in pop culture forever.

Karate Kid II (1986)

Unlike the six-pack stacked young bucks we see in Hollywood these days, skinny guys in the '80s were hunky-enough heroes — as proven by Ralph Macchio's Karate Kid character Daniel LaRusso. But heartthrobs aside, here's a bit of trivia for you: the franchise has a history of being musically linked to the Rocky films. “You’re the Best,” a breakout song from the first movie, was originally intended for use in Rocky III (they went with “Eye of the Tiger” instead). Meanwhile, the theme song from the second film, Peter Cetera’s “Glory of Love,” was also meant for Sylvester Stallone, via Rocky IV. That turned out to be their loss and Karate Kid II's gain. "Glory of Love" was part of Cetera’s first solo album following his exit from Chicago, and quickly ran up the Billboard charts all the way to No. 1.

Footloose (1984)

Long before there were six degrees of separation between Kevin Bacon and everyone else, his character Ryan McCormack in Footloose dazzled audiences with back flips and sweet, sweet moves in a dance party scene that’s been recreated by myriad wedding parties over the years. Anyone who has scene the film would assume Bacon is the king of dance. That would be false; a professional had to come in and serve as a dance double when Bacon couldn’t master the moves during filming. The actor was less than pleased, telling press years later that he was “furious” by the studio's move to have a double.

Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)

Before she was a Material Girl, Madonna was mistaken as Cyndi Lauper on the set of this female-driven flick. But by the time they were wrapping filming, “Like a Virgin” had become a smash hit and they needed security on the set. So it was no wonder that eager album buyers were excited to buy the soundtrack to the film, only to be disappointed that “Into the Groove” wasn’t included. Thanks to licensing issues with Madge’s record label, the track was released as a b-side to “Angel” from the Like a Virgin album instead. (It was later named Billboard’s Dance Single of the Decade.”) Meanwhile, Desperately Seeking Susan, which was directed by Susan Seidelman, proved that female filmmakers in the 80s could be just as successful as men.

Pretty in Pink (1986)

Music was such an influential part of this coming-of-age film that it was named after The Psychedelic Furs song “Pretty in Pink,” which was re-recorded for the opening sequence. In keeping with the John Hughes brand, a great soundtrack was featured, including OMD's "If You Leave," as Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, Jon Cryer and James Spader closed out their senior high school year with lots of tension that comes out of poor-girl-meets-rich-guy drama. Too bad Andy (Molly Ringwald) and Blane (Andrew McCarthy) never had the same taste in music. 

Top Gun (1986)

Berlin’s Oscar-winning song “Take My Breath Away” certainly helped launch Tom Cruise’s Risky Business follow-up into the soundtrack charts, but it was a movie moment that nearly didn’t happen. After test audiences responded that they wanted to see more chemistry between Cruise and leading lady Kelly McGillis, the duo were called back in to shoot the love scene, which involved plenty of tongues. By then, McGillis has already changed her hair for another role, resulting in the entire thing being shown as a silhouette.

Dirty Dancing (1987)

Before anyone talked about putting Baby in the corner, the final iconic dance scene in Dirty Dancing, starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, was the first order of business. It was so important to get it right that the entire cast shot it to the original demo by writer Franke Previte, of Franke and the Knockouts (the final version was performed by Bill Medley of The Righteous Brothers and Jennifer Warnes). The move paid off — not only did the song top the charts, but the infamous lift during that final dance has become one of the most memorable and recreated dance moments in film.