Back to School

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Back to School
Back to School Movie Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAlan Metter
Screenplay bySteven Kampmann
Will Porter
Peter Torokvei
Harold Ramis
Story byRodney Dangerfield
Greg Fields
Dennis Snee
Produced byChuck Russell
CinematographyThomas E. Ackerman
Edited byDavid Rawlins
Music byDanny Elfman
Paper Clip Productions
Distributed byOrion Pictures
Release date
  • June 13, 1986 (1986-06-13)
Running time
96 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$11 million[1]
Box office$91.3 million[2]

Back to School is a 1986 American comedy film starring Rodney Dangerfield, Keith Gordon, Sally Kellerman, Burt Young, Terry Farrell, William Zabka, Ned Beatty, Sam Kinison, Paxton Whitehead and Robert Downey Jr. It was directed by Alan Metter. The plot centers on a wealthy but uneducated father (Dangerfield) who goes to college to show solidarity with his discouraged son Jason (Gordon) and learns that he cannot buy an education or happiness.

Author Kurt Vonnegut has a cameo as himself, as does the band Oingo Boingo, whose frontman Danny Elfman composed the score for the film. The University of Wisconsin–Madison was used as a backdrop for the movie, although it was called "Grand Lakes University." The diving scenes were filmed at the since-demolished Industry Hills Aquatic Club in the City of Industry, California. The competition scene was parodied in the music video for Canadian rock band Sum 41's 2001 single "In Too Deep".[3]

Before the end credits, the message "For ESTELLE Thanks For So Much" is shown in dedication to Estelle Endler, one of the executive producers of the film, who died during production. She was Dangerfield's long-time manager, who helped him get into films such as Caddyshack.[4]


Tony Meloni, a child of Italian immigrants, returns from school one day to his father's tailor shop, bearing a report card with poor grades. His ambition is to go into his father's line of work, but his father warns Thornton "If a man has no education, he's got nothing".

As decades pass, Tony changes his name to Thornton Melon and becomes a self-made corporate giant, with a successful chain of plus-size clothing stores and numerous other business ventures. Feeling dejected when his college student son Jason cancels a visit, he returns home to a party hosted by his wife Vanessa. Finally weary of Vanessa's nasty attitude and adultery, Thornton divorces her, and asks his bodyguard Lou to drive him to Jason's college campus.

On the campus, Thornton learns from Jason that he's unhappy with college life. He is a towel boy for the diving team instead of a member, is antagonized by team member Chas Osborne, has no friends except for his roommate Derek Lutz, and intends to drop out. Thornton motivates him to stay in college by deciding to enroll alongside him. Despite Thornton's lack of academic qualifications, the dean David Martin admits him when he bribes Martin with a donation for a new campus building.

Thornton's bribery earns him the wrath of Dr Philip Barbay, dean of the business school. His displeasure is further exacerbated by Thornton's canny practical experience clashing with Barbay's hypothetical theorizing in class, and his romantic interest in Barbay's girlfriend, the literature professor Dr Diane Turner. Meanwhile, Jason begins to attract the interest of Valerie Desmond, a girl that Chas has been trying to impress. Jason's popularity on campus also increases thanks to his father's generosity and party-throwing. Jason even earns a spot on the diving team as well, after Thornton, a former diver himself, convinces the diving coach to reconsider him.

As a student, even though Diane is inspiring a deeper appreciation of literature, Thornton prefers partying to studying. He hires a team of professionals to complete his assignments, including author Kurt Vonnegut to write a paper on Vonnegut for literature class. To Thornton's surprise, Diane gives the paper a failing grade for obviously not being his own work, and she becomes disillusioned by his partying behavior. Jason is also upset with Thornton for trivializing education, while mistakenly believing Thornton bribed the diving coach into accepting him on the team.

In addition, Dr. Barbay accuses Thornton, in the presence of Dean Martin, of academic fraud, and challenges Thornton to pass an oral examination given by all of his professors, with Thornton to face expulsion if he fails any part of it. Believing he has no chance of passing, Thornton packs up and prepares to leave. But Jason stops Thornton and successfully encourages him to stay and prepare for the challenge.

With limited time to prepare, Thornton crams for the examination with help from Jason, Derek, Lou, and Diane. When the big day comes, Barbay begins by intimidating Thornton with a single, 27-part question. Nevertheless, Thornton answers every part, though the effort was so much that he wants to forfeit. Diane inspires him to finish, and he does.

At the championship dive meet that day, Thornton and Jason reconcile, while Jason's team takes the lead. To spite Jason for his performance and for winning over Valerie, Chas fakes a cramp in an attempt to make his team lose. The coach decides to recruit Thornton as a last-minute replacement, and Thornton helps the team win by performing the legendary "Triple Lindy" dive. Afterwards, Thornton learns from Diane that he has passed the examination with all D's, except for a single A from Diane. At the end of the school year, Thornton gives the commencement speech, advising the new graduates to move back in with their parents.



Back to School was the 6th highest-grossing film of 1986, as well as the second highest grossing comedy film of the year, behind Crocodile Dundee (records state that in addition to the rental and theatrical gross it received, it went on to gross $108,634,920 globally).

The film received mainly positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an 86% rating based on 35 reviews. The site's consensus reads, "Back to School gives Rodney Dangerfield plenty of room to riff -- and supports the freewheeling funnyman with enough of a story to keep things interesting between punchlines."[5] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A-" on an A+ to F scale.[6]

Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times noted that "Dangerfield seems to be setting the film's brisk pace and flawless timing himself."[7] Nina Darnton wrote in The New York Times that "the film is a good-natured potpourri of gags, funny bits, populist sentiment and anti-intellectualism."[8] Roger Ebert's Chicago Sun-Times 3-star review described the film as "routine but pleasant", yet elevated by Dangerfield's persona: "This is exactly the sort of plot Marx or Fields could have appeared in. Dangerfield brings it something they might also have brought along: a certain pathos."[9]


Back to School
Soundtrack album by
Various Artists

The soundtrack was released on MCA, available in LP or Cassette (no CD), but cues from the score were released that year with selections from the score of Pee-wee's Big Adventure (both re-recordings made in London) on CD.

Track listing (soundtrack)[edit]

1."Back to School"Richard Wolf & Mark LeonardJude Cole4:16
2."Educated Girl"Bobby Caldwell & Randy GoodrumBobby Caldwell4:07
3."Learnin' and Livin'"David Tyson & Eddie SchwartzTyson & Schwartz3:25
4."Everybody's Crazy" (from Everybody's Crazy, 1985)BoltonMichael Bolton4:37
5."I'll Never Forget Your Face"Richard Wolf & Wayne PerkinsPhillip Ingram4:07
6."Twist and Shout" (Isley Brothers cover, original 1962)Phil Medley, Bert RussellRodney Dangerfield2:51
7."Dead Man's Party" (from Dead Man's Party, 1985)Danny ElfmanOingo Boingo6:17
8."On My Way"David Tyson & Eddie SchwartzTyson & Schwartz3:30
9."Respect" (from I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, 1967)Otis ReddingAretha Franklin2:24

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Blockbuster Lull No Problem At Box Office". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 3 February 2015.
  2. ^ "Back to School (1986)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  3. ^ July 19, Graham HartmannPublished; 2019. "Sum 41 React to Their Classic Music Videos". Loudwire. Retrieved 2020-10-24.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ Dangerfield, Rodney (2004). It's Not Easy Bein' Me: A Lifetime of No Respect but Plenty of Sex and Drugs. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780060779245. I was right about Estelle—she was the best manager anyone could ever have. She got me into movies.
  5. ^ "Back to School (1986)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved August 31, 2020.
  6. ^ "Cinemascore :: Movie Title Search". 2018-12-20. Archived from the original on 2018-12-20. Retrieved 2020-07-27.
  7. ^ Thomas, Kevin (12 June 1986). "Movie Review : 'Back' Gets Laughs, And Respect, Too". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  8. ^ Darnton, Nina (13 June 1986). "Back to School". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (13 June 1986). "Back to School". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved 7 January 2013.

External links[edit]