The Tale of That ‘Say Anything’ Boombox Scene, 25 Years Later
"Say Anything...," Cameron Crowe's pitch-perfect post-high school love story, was released in theaters 25 years ago today. Over the past quarter-century, it's become one of the most cherished cinematic romances of all time... yet oddly enough, its most iconic image almost never happened.
The default publicity still for "Say Anything..." isn't one of noble, self-styled kickboxer Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) and good-girl valedictorian Diane Court (Ione Skye) entwined in a lovers' embrace but rather one of Lloyd all by himself, standing outside the home of his ladylove, proclaiming his devotion via a certain Peter Gabriel song ("In Your Eyes," but you knew that already) coming from the boombox he's holding high above his head.
For pretty much everyone, this is the defining moment of the film, a proud and unapologetic symbol of young love and old-school movie romance.
And John Cusack originally didn't want to do it.
"[The boombox scene] was the last thing shot on the last day with the last moment of sunlight," recalled director Cameron Crowe in an interview with Entertainment Weekly in Feb. 2002 (back when the film was barely 13 years old). "John felt that Lloyd was kowtowing too much by holding up the boombox, and that it was too subservient a move. He didn't love the scene, he didn't quite understand it yet — he certainly does now — and he wanted to be more laid-back."
Crowe found the right direction that made the scene work for his star — and put the now-classic look of silent dignity on Cusack's face.
"My whole argument was, 'Be defiant with the holding of the boombox,'" said Crowe. "The last take — it was a place across the street from a 7-Eleven on Lankershim in the Valley — he held up the boombox, and on his face is the whole story of the character — the love of the girl, and, I think, John's feeling that it was a little too subservient but he was going to do it anyway."
"I wanted to just have the boombox be on top of the car and him sitting on the roof," added Cusack. "So I finally did it, but I did it without a look of longing and adoration and love. It was a different kind of feel than either one of us had originally planned."
[Related: The Ridiculous Rules of Dating, According to the Movies]
Years later, Cusack still seems to be a little iffy on the scene and its formidable legacy. In keeping with Crowe's direction to "be defiant," Cusack was a bit taken aback during a 2009 interview with MTV Movies when interviewer Josh Horowitz presented him with a cardboard cutout version of the boombox.
"No, no, no, no, no, no no," protested the suddenly very uncomfortable Cusack. "As long as ... I don't have to do anything with this, right?"
Cusack seemed almost physically repulsed by the prop, which Horowitz called a "visceral reaction." Cusack's "2012" co-star, Amanda Peet, tried to break the tension by offering to imitate the Lloyd Dobler stance herself, though the interview had already "reached the completely surreal."
Three years later, Cusack still wouldn't strike the Lloyd Dobler pose — even in the presence of the man who sang the song coming out of the boombox. Cusack attended Peter Gabriel's 2012 concert at the Hollywood Bowl commemorating the 25th anniversary of his landmark album "So," but as the first few measures of "In Your Eyes" started to play, Cusack entered the stage and simply handed a boombox to Gabriel, who ended up imitating the iconic image himself.
Whether Cusack himself likes the scene or not, pretty much everyone else does, as it's been the subject of seemingly countless discussions and references across all sorts of pop culture platforms over the years — even on a deserted (-ish) island.
"And why would you hold a static-generating radio over your head?" asks Sayid Jarrah (Naveen Andrews) on an episode of the hit TV series "Lost," which prompts Hurley (Jorge Garcia) to ask "They didn't have 'Say Anything...' in Baghdad?" before trying to explain the significance of the scene.
In a bit of a meta flourish, the scene is a staple in its own cinematic genre, too. "What happened to chivalry? Does it only exist in '80s movies?" asks Olive (Emma Stone) in the romantic dramedy "Easy A" (2010). "I want John Cusack holding a boombox outside my window!"
And there have been plenty of parodies of the scene as well. Jimmy Kimmel jokingly recreated the moment as a way to convince Oprah Winfrey to appear on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," as did Stan on a Season 7 episode of "South Park" as a way to show his love for Wendy.
"If you really want a shot at getting her back, stand outside her window, hold a boombox over your head and play Peter Gabriel," advises Bebe when Stan asks "What's the most romantic thing I can think of?"
The scene was even parodied in a "My Little Pony" comic book (titled "Neigh Anything...," natch), in "The Simpsons" episode "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Marge" (2000, guest-starring Parker Posey as Otto's girlfriend Becky), has its own Lego version, and is the subject of more than one meme.
Oh, and if Joseph Gordon-Levitt ever tried to get all Lloyd Dobler in real life, it would totally work.