Updated: Jan 25
The '80s offered a treasure trove of great films, and some of the most beloved movies ever came from the decade. Features such as The Breakfast Club, E.T. and Back to the Future are all cultural touchstones. However, some incredible films have fallen through the cracks, and occasionally you come across an underground classic. Finding two hidden gems in a row is almost unheard of, but that's what happened to me one fateful day, when as a senior in college I bore witness to the over-the-top spectacle of the Breakin' movies. Also released as Breakdance and Breakdance 2, these little-known wonders of the woefully under-explored "breakdance musical" genre are just waiting to pop and lock their way into your heart. (I hope I didn't throw you off with my expert use of breakdance jargon!)
The year was 2003. My friend Andre told me that he had bought the DVDs of Breakin' and Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo. As I was an '80s junkie even back then, he no doubt assumed I knew what he was talking about, and I didn't offer otherwise. Truth be told, I had never heard of these films at the time. Intrigue was afoot, and it would lead me to the mean streets, where rival gangs would vie for supremacy through the power of dance. I was about to be initiated into the world of Breakin'. But first, we had to get snacks.
We drove my 1987 blue Oldsmobile station wagon to Taco Bell, and I bought my first ever Double Decker Tacos. My dad has a famously limited palate, and growing up, I was subject to it. My family seldom went out to eat anywhere more exotic than Arby's. But now that I was out on my own, I never passed up the chance to spread my culinary wings. (Grabbing takeout was probably as wild as I ever got in college. The real debauchery would come later!)
We took the tacos and prerequisite sugary beverages to Andre's dorm room. It was exceedingly, unforgettably hot. The building's climate control was broken, and the heat was on despite it being summer. But we didn't have anywhere else to go, since I commuted from about an hour away. He popped in the first DVD, which at the time was still the format to beat. The whole prospect was pretty exciting.
As I quickly learned, Breakin' and Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo were musicals, but not in the sense that I had always thought of them: Instead of the soothing strains of something along the lines of My Fair Lady, these movies rock to the beat of old-school rap! If you're not familiar with '80s hip hop, don't make the mistake of lumping it in with what the genre has become. Rap in the '80s was often upbeat and fun, and it didn't take itself as seriously as it does now. The following clip will give you an idea of the beats that you can expect to experience with these films. Keep an eye and ear out for then-upcoming rapper, Ice-T. Let him satisfy your thirst... for breakin'! (Sorry. Years ago, I heard a TV commercial for one of his movies, which substituted "breakin'" for "action." I had to justify that memory taking up space in my brain, and it came out as copy. Because I told you about the commercial, I've avoided a plagiarism suit.)
While he appeared in both films, Ice-T did not end up being a fan of the Breakin' franchise, calling the movies "wack." That's street for "not good." I know, because I'm as gangsta as it gets, son.
At the end of Breakin', I sat there, sweaty from the heat and flabbergasted by the film. We followed through on the proposed double feature, immediately throwing in Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo. I liked it better than the first, which I wouldn't have thought possible in the brief time between the movies. Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo is one of those rare occasions where the second entry is better than its predecessor. Here, it's due to a slightly more involved plot, and greater creativity in its breakdance sequences.
It was a struggle for me not to include more video in this article, but my goal is to have somebody out there actually make the effort to watch the movies, and I didn't want to give away too much of the footwork footage. Also, most Breakin' clips on YouTube have an annoying menu at the end, which would ruin the pacing of the article. So, I saved one of those videos to conclude things!
The Breakin' series had such a profound effect on me all those years ago that I recently bought the double-feature Blu-ray and showed them to my wife. Adrienne and I have very similar tastes in cinema, so it was not a shock to me when she loved them. Being a fan of the Law and Order TV series, she even spotted the Ice-T cameo. What a woman. By the way, there is a breakdancing triple-feature DVD, which includes the unrelated Beat Street, but I didn't care for that one.
Released by the legendary low-rent The Cannon Group (the production company behind Masters of the Universe), Breakin' tells the tale of streetwise breakdancers Turbo and Ozone, played by real-life breakers Michael "Boogaloo Shrimp" Chambers and Adolfo "Shabba-Doo" Quinones. Ozone and Turbo are humiliated at a dance-off after being outclassed by their rivals, a gang known as Electro Rock, which boasts a female member. As it conveniently happens, a classically-trained ballet dancer, Kelly (Lucinda Dickey), is shortly thereafter introduced to the guys through a mutual friend. She's eager to learn their signature moves, and at first, the two are reluctant to teach her. But as she gets the knack for breaking (very quickly via a Rockey-esque training montage), Turbo and Ozone merge dance routines with Kelly, whom they dub “Special K.” (That couldn't be a drug reference.) The three are then a legit breakin' gang, calling themselves T.K.O.
Here's that montage, set to Chaka Khan's immortal "Ain't Nobody."
Turbo, Ozone and Kelly determine that the best way to cement their good name in the 'hood and by proxy torment Electro Rock, is to emerge victorious in a local dance competition. And this will depend on winning over a panel of stodgy white judges who don't much fancy breakdance. (It's a little-known fact that The Cannon Group's production of Breakin' was deliberately rushed to come out before Beat Street, released by rival film company Orion.)
In Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, the T.K.O crew joins forces with Electro Rock to raise $20,000 in a breakdance talent show, in order to save their youth center from demolition by unscrupulous urban developers. This film has more-developed dance sequences than Breakin', and its standard "underdogs beating the odds" premise makes it work as mindless fun. The "Electric Boogaloo" moniker has become an Internet joke, being slapped on every potential movie sequel imaginable. And If you love The Cannon Group's cut-rate productions (often starring other Internet joke Chuck Norris), you might want to check out Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, a documentary focusing on "Hollywood's least-loved studio," which became defunct in 1994.
Now, prepare yourself for Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo's trailer.
I've been a fan of kung-fu cinema since high school, and there are a lot of parallels between martial arts and dance. The Breakin' films are in fact very similar to what you might see in a '70s chop-socky flick, mainly because both have a thinly-developed plot revolving around elaborate showcases of physical feats. Every now and then, noncommittal films like these are exactly what I want to see, but I've been known to have simple tastes. And speaking of martial arts, Jean-Claude Van Damme has an uncredited appearance as a background dancer in Breakin'. No joke.
It should come as no surprise that the Breakin' films are low-budget ventures which were made to cash in on the breakdancing fad of the early '80s. They were so "quick buck" that 1984 saw both of these movies released seven months apart! The acting can be marginal, the storylines are basic and the overall productions have more cheese than McDonald's. These movies weren't meant to stand the test of time, which is exactly why they make great cultural snapshots.
The practice of breakdance is a dying art (due largely to its inherent physical danger), and these films have some genuinely jaw-dropping dance sequences. Even Roger Ebert was forced to admit as much, while understandably bashing the overall quality of Breakin', to which he gave a 1.5 star rating in his syndicated newspaper column. But narrative be darned: The incredible choreography of Breakin' and Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo will blow you away. You may even want to attempt some of these moves on your freshly-waxed kitchen floor! Get down with your bad self, gentle reader. (The author of this article assumes no liability for injuries sustained.)
If the following clip from Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo doesn't make you want to see these movies, then I give up.