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Class of 1984 was shot in approximately 40 days with a budget of about 3 million dollars. The film, which captured the punk image, became a hit, despite reviews which criticized the film’s violence. In fact, by some accounts, the buzz surrounding the movie only helped its box office yield.
“When I made this film, I was trying to warn people about what was to happen,” said director Mark Lester, commenting on the rise of violence in schools. “And I thought if people could see this movie maybe people would start dealing with the issue.”
1. Real life inspired the plot.
Director Mark Lestor found inspiration from several news articles which described violent incidents happening in schools. He visited his old high school and was surprised at the way the campus had changed for the worse, including the presence of gangs. “And I thought this is like Blackboard Jungle, the movie that I grew up with,” he said.
2. Patten was the opposite of his character.
Timothy Van Patten got the lead role of the punk leader due to his role in The White Shadow, where he played a similar type. In real life though, he was anything like the character he played. “[He was] a sweet gentle guy who didn’t seem right for this role at all but he played it beautifully,” said Perry King. In fact, King and Patten got along so well that it made the scenes where they play adversaries a challenge. “Timothy did what Malcolm McDowell did in Clockwork Orange. He brought charm to the role,” Lester said. “He was captivating to watch and interesting.”
3. McDowell was a pro at crying.
Roddy McDowell’s part was originally offered to Dennis Weaver, known for his roles in Gunsmoke and McCloud. However, Weaver turned it down due to the violence. McDowell then jumped at the chance. “He loved it, so he signed right on immediately.” Lester “He was fantastic.” In fact, McDowell was able to cry on the exact same word take after take, which impressed the director. McDowell’s vulnerability in the graphic dead animal scene was also impressive, especially since real animals that had been taken from a morgue were used.
4. Michael J. Fox appears!
Class of 1984 was shot in Toronto, and while the principal actors were cast in Los Angeles, many of the actors playing students were from in Canada, including Fox. “When I saw [Fox’s audition] tape, I said, ‘He’s so sympathetic. He’s great,’” remembered Lester. “I immediately hired him. And he was marvelous to work with.” The cast enjoyed working with the new actor, who had yet to find success on the hit television series Family Ties. Perry King said, “I was hugely impressed by Michael Fox. When he was in the film, he was very new, very inexperienced.”
5. The original ending was different.
Originally, Timothy Van Patten’s rebellious character committed suicide after trying to hurt the teacher with his knife. However, the audience’s reaction in previews was lackluster. When a distributor saw the film, they suggested the new ending and agreed to distribute the film if the change was made. So a new scene was shot that was less than ten seconds. Perry King simply looked into the camera and punched the lens. That moment was then added to the film, so that it appeared as if he punched Patten’s character.