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Back to School (1986)

To help his discouraged son get through college, a funloving and obnoxious rich businessman decides to enter the school as a student himself.

Director:

Alan Metter

Writers:

Rodney Dangerfield (story), Greg Fields (story) | 5 more credits »
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Popularity
3,823 ( 275)

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1 win & 2 nominations. See more awards »

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Director: Peter Baldwin
Stars: Rodney Dangerfield, Debi Mazar, David Ogden Stiers
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Rodney Dangerfield ... Thornton Melon
Sally Kellerman ... Dr. Diane Turner
Burt Young ... Lou
Keith Gordon ... Jason Melon
Robert Downey Jr. ... Derek Lutz
Paxton Whitehead ... Philip Barbay
Terry Farrell ... Valerie Desmond
M. Emmet Walsh ... Coach Turnbull
Adrienne Barbeau ... Vanessa
William Zabka ... Chas
Ned Beatty ... Dean David Martin
Severn Darden ... Dr. Barazini
Sam Kinison ... Professor Terguson
Robert Picardo ... Giorgio
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. ... Himself
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Storyline

Millionaire businessman Thornton Melon is upset when his son Jason announces that he is not sure about going to college. Thornton insists that college is the best thing he never had for himself, and to prove his point, he agrees to enroll in school along with his son. Thornton is a big hit on campus: always throwing the biggest parties, knowing all the right people, but is this the way to pass college? Written by Murray Chapman <muzzle@cs.uq.oz.au>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

Registration starts Friday, June 13, at theaters everywhere.

Genres:

Comedy | Romance | Sport

Certificate:

PG-13 | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Official Sites:

MGM Studios [United States]

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

13 June 1986 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Mach's nochmal, Dad See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$11,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$9,300,000, 15 June 1986

Gross USA:

$91,258,000
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Dolby

Color:

Black and White (prologue)| Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

When Thornton talks to Kurt Vonnegut Jr. over the phone, the last thing he says before hanging up is "Next time, I'll call Robert Ludlum!" Spy novelist Ludlum was one of Rodney Dangerfield's real-life neighbors at the time. See more »

Goofs

When Thornton and Lou are making the Bruce Springsteen sign, the student at the table is supposed to be writing on a poster but the marker is clearly not touching the paper. See more »

Quotes

Vanessa: You have NO class, Thornton, and I am TIRED of it! I want a divorce.
Thornton Melon: Divorce. I knew we had something in common.
Thornton Melon: [reaches in his coat and takes out papers] Here, sign these.
Vanessa: [scoffs] Oh! Oh, I'm afraid it's not gonna be that easy, honey. This is gonna cost you - PLENTY!
Thornton Melon: [chuckles and takes Polaroids out of his pocket] Oh, yeah? Vanessa, let's talk about class for a minute, alright? Here's you and Giorgio in the guest room. A little classy, isn't it? Here's you and Giorgio in the rumpus room. ...
[...]
See more »

Crazy Credits

In the opening credits, there is a still of Rodney Dangerfield from Caddyshack (1980). See more »

Alternate Versions

Three scenes are cut from the Comedy Central airing - the "twist and shout" scene in the bar, the "phone conversation with Kurt Vonnegut after getting an F grade" scene, and one of the dives in the final competition. See more »

Connections

Referenced in Life of the Party (2018) See more »

Soundtracks

I'll Never Forget Your Face
Written by Richard Wolf & Wayne Perkins
Produced by Richard Wolf
Performed by Phillip Ingram
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Dangerfield University Lampoon Still Contains Truth
14 October 2005 | by japamoSee all my reviews

"Back to School" is a cherished member of my VHS collection not only because of the late but inimitably immortal Rodney Dangerfield and his outrageous persona, but also because of its laceration of a favorite satiric target - college. "Back to School" came out in 1986 -a year after I graduated from Tufts University- and it nearly perfectly encapsulates (if slightly exaggerates) and skewers college life during the heedlessly hedonistic and materialistic '80s.

At first Thorton Melon (Rodney's character in the movie) seemingly has two altruistic motives for applying to college: 1) personal improvement, and 2) desire to help his only son Jason (Kevin Gordon) succeed, especially when Thorton discovers that Jason is not exactly the epitome of the BMOC. However, once he essentially bribes his way into college by convincing the venally avaricious Dean Martin (he, he) to let him endow the Thorton Melon school of Business Administration, high school dropout Thorton apparently has it made. One might argue that this scenario is implausible, but given universities' rapacity for more cash, I could believe they would bend the rules to let wealthy Thorton in.

Thorton then proceeds to embody every college student's wet dream - to be the perpetually fun-loving slacker who has the dough to show himself and others an endless good time and buy himself out of any trouble! Again, philistine critics may argue that no college would tolerate Thorton's party-boy person; wouldn't the cops arrest him for the voyeuristic dormitory scene or the out-of-control party scene, instead of reprimanding him or bringing Lite beer (remember Rodney was one of the shills for Lite)? However, "Back to School"'s college satire necessarily must employ a little hyperbole to get its point across.

For example, in the classroom scenes with the history professor (the late Sam Kinison) and the business instructor (Paxton Whitehead), the movie does also go a little over the top but also tweaks college for its well-meaning but unrealistically theoretical approach (i.e. head up its a$$ approach) to working and life. Yeah, especially Thornton's take on the corruption and shady dealing it would really take to start a business really do have a germ of truth. Also, the way Thorton "prepares" for his classes -his secretary takes notes for him in class and his research team does his reports and homework- is off the wall but also possesses scientific veracity. I'm sure at Tufts and other colleges, some students never went to class and got others to take notes and do reports. However, (and this is one of my favorite scenes from the movie) only Thornton would heft a report created by his research team and crack, "I dunno; it feels like a "C"; add some more multicolored graphs"." And of course only Thornton would hire Kurt Vonnegut to appraise his own work.

Nevertheless, "Back to School" lets Rodney collide with harsh, poignant reality without sacrificing laughs. Thornton is failing his classes; even the professor most sympathetic to him (Sally Kellerman) suspects him of plagiarism. His son Jason angrily refuses to let Thornton's think tank do his astronomy work. Thornton will be expelled unless he passes a multi-part oral exam (!) by all of his course professors. After a pep talk from Thornton's chauffeur (Burt Young) about Thornton's "School of Hard Knocks" life, Jason realizes that just as his dad came to school to show him how to loosen up and enjoy life, he must show his dad how to handle college responsibilities. And isn't that what college is all about - balancing responsibility and fun to have a meaningfully productive experience?

Therefore, "Back to School" is more than just an "Animal House" retread. It uses Rodney's older, wry perspective (and those priceless one-liners) to point out both the absurdity and importance of college life. Heck, I would even recommend high school seniors applying to colleges to give "Back to School" a look if only to show them (with a grain of salt, of course) that while college is a worthwhile experience, it's also a unique, unfamiliar world all its own.

P.S.: I would advise Cedric the Entertainer to abandon his 2006 remake of "Back to School" as an ill-advised travesty.


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