Flashdance is one of the defining movies of the 1980s. The songs off the poppy soundtrack included massive hits "Flashdance... What a Feeling" and "Maniac," and the film's stylish visuals became engrained in popular consciousness — particularly a sexy dance scene wherein the protagonist vamps on a chair and gets doused in water. Directed by Adrian Lyne — who also helmed classics of the decade like 9 ½ Weeks and Fatal Attraction — the movie followed Alex Owens (played by Jennifer Beals), a young woman with big dreams. Alex is determined to become a ballerina, and spends her days working at a Pittsburgh steel mill as a welder and her nights dancing at a strip club.
The film's music video–inspired cinematography proved highly influential through the '80s, forging a path for further beloved dance movies of the era, among them Footloose and Dirty Dancing. Flashdance also shone a light on the illicit yet artful world of strip club dancing — an industry that’s since become increasingly mainstream. The movie helped popularize dance-inspired fashion like sweatshirts and leg warmers, and its iconic scenes have been referenced by everyone from Jennifer Lopez (in her music video for “I’m Glad”) to Snoopy (in the special It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown).
Flashdance is still spicy and fun today; there’s even a remake in the works. To celebrate its 40th anniversary this weekend (the movie was originally released on April 15, 1983), we’re taking a look back with five fascinating facts about the definitive '80s picture.
1. The dance scenes were shot using body doubles.
You probably assume that actors in dance movies are actually dancing, right? Not necessarily. In order to fully capture the athleticism of her moves, star Jennifer Beals had not one but three body doubles. French dancer Marine Jahan (who was upset not to receive credit for her work) loaned her talents for many of the more complex movements, while gymnast Sharon Shapiro handled one of the high jumps. Amusingly, one of the body doubles, Richard “Crazy Legs” Colón, was a man — as a skilled breakdancer, he was responsible for a quick appearance doing a breakdance-inspired move in the climactic audition scene.
2. It was inspired by a true story — which led to some messy drama.
Flashdance concludes with a classic storybook happy ending. It’s not the most realistic movie — but it actually was inspired by real life. The story is loosely based on Maureen Marder, a woman who worked as a construction worker and simultaneously danced at Gimlet’s, a strip club in Toronto. Tom Hedley, the writer who outlined the original film plot, thought Marder’s life had the makings of movie magic, and asked her to sign a release giving away the rights to her story — which granted her a one-time payment of $2,300. But the movie went on to earn $150 million worldwide. Clearly, Marder should’ve been paid far more; unfortunately, her attempts at getting her fair share have been unsuccessful.
3. That iconic cut-off sweatshirt was an accident.
The sweatshirt Jennifer Beals wears in Flashdance is one of the best-known movie costumes of all-time. Gray and oversized, with a cut-off neckline that insouciantly reveals a slip of Beals' shoulder, the simple but seductive sweatshirt was copied by countless women in the '80s. While it would seem to be the work of a genius costume designer, it in fact came about by mistake. In a 2022 appearance on The Tonight Show, the actress told Jimmy Fallon the story: She had put her favorite sweatshirt in the dryer for too long, causing the neck to shrink. “I couldn't get my head through it, so I just cut out the hole,” she shared. While others may have considered this a fashion disaster, Beals embraced it. “I wore it to a wardrobe fitting for Flashdance, and Adrian Lyne, the director, really loved it, and Michael Caplan, the costume designer, loved it, so he made a much better version of it for the film," she recalled. That dryer ended up changing the course of movie history, and Beals still has the original sweatshirt.
4. It was Jennifer Beals' first credited movie role.
Flashdance catapulted Beals from an unknown to a superstar. She was just 18 years old at the time, and had only one prior role to her name — an uncredited part in the 1980 movie My Bodyguard. She beat out Demi Moore to star in Flashdance, and went on to act in many more movies and TV shows through the years, including Devil in a Blue Dress and The L Word. In her Jimmy Fallon interview, Beals revealed that she was initially hesitant about taking the part in Flashdance, because she was just starting college at the time. She ultimately deferred a term and ended up graduating from Yale with a degree in American Literature in 1987.
5. Critics hated the movie — but it won an Oscar.
While audiences loved Flashdance, critics weren’t quite so enthusiastic, faulting the movie for having more style than substance. Famed film critic Roger Ebert gave the film (which appears on a list of his most-hated titles) just one-and-a-half stars, describing it as “so loaded down with artificial screenplay contrivances and flashy production numbers that it's waterlogged." Another big critic, Janet Maslin of The New York Times, wrote that as a director Lyne “never brings the least bit of credibility or emotion to his story.” These negative reviews didn’t stop the movie from winning an Oscar, however. Irene Cara, who co-wrote and sang the theme song “Flashdance… What a Feeling,” took home the Academy Award for Best Original Song that year. Sadly, Cara, who also starred in and sang the theme song for Fame, passed away in 2022 at age 63; though her musical legacy lives on.
Whether you're nostalgic for the decade of big hair or you're glad that those bold fashions are now (mostly) out of style, there’s no denying that Flashdance made a lasting impact on pop culture. Why not celebrate the big anniversary with a rewatch? We guarantee you'll be cutting up your sweatshirts all weekend.