When most people think of the roles of Michael J. Fox, Marty McFly in the Back to the Future trilogy probably comes to mind. For others, it’s the actor’s portrayal of young conservative Alex P. Keaton on the ’80s sitcom Family Ties, or even his ’90s sitcom role of Mike Flaherty on Spin City, that is most memorable. But rarely does anyone think of Scott Howard in Teen Wolf, and that’s a shame, because it is by far one of Fox’s best performances. Now before you scoff at that notion, just hear me out.
1985’s Teen Wolf is not generally considered to be a classic by any stretch of the imagination. While the movie was a box office hit, making $80 million on a budget of just over $1 million, reviews of the film weren’t so strong. It holds just a 47 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, suggesting that there isn’t a lot of love for the film. Not only that, but the current incarnation of the franchise, MTV’s murder-filled teen drama with its absurdly attractive cast, threatens to wipe away all memory of the film’s existence from the public’s collective conscience. But here’s why I think Teen Wolf, and Michael J. Fox’s role in it especially, deserves more recognition.
The premise of the film, in case you can’t recall, is this: Scott Howard is an average-as-can-be high school student who longs for a way to stand out, be popular, and get girls. In other words, it begins like any other ’80s teen movie. Then Scott’s body starts going through some weird changes, and he discovers that he is a werewolf (as is his father, as the condition runs in the family). Instead of terrorizing the school, being a werewolf helps Scott achieve everything he’s ever dreamed of. In his wolf persona, Scott is cool, a superstar basketball player, and very popular with the ladies. But because of his newfound popularity, Scott becomes selfish and ignores his true friends, eventually learning that he doesn’t need to become a werewolf to fulfill his potential. OK, sounds like a fairly generic (if strange) redemption story arc, but here’s what sets the movie apart.
In his role as Scott, Fox has to wear many hats. He has to convince the audience that he is an average, somewhat awkward high schooler — something Fox could admittedly do in his sleep. But as the wolf, he also has to simultaneously portray a great athlete, a frightening creature, a ladykiller, and someone who’s exceptionally suave and hip despite sporting looks that would seemingly be counterproductive to that type of confidence and personality. The movie mixes elements of teen drama, romance, horror, an uplifting sports movie, and a modern fairy tale with a solid moral at its heart. Oh, and Fox also has to be funny in all of his personas, because at the end of the day, Teen Wolf is a comedy above all else. It’s this kind of versatility and range that truly impresses — especially given the silliness of Fox’s makeup as the werewolf.
So the next time you think of Michael J. Fox, I hope you’ll think of Teen Wolf. The film is undeniably fun, and Fox really does give a surprisingly well-rounded and impressive performance — even if he does look pretty ridiculous as a long-haired, short-shorts-wearing werewolf dunking a basketball.
Teen Wolf airs as the Comet’s Friday Night Feature on February 10 at 8 p.m., with an encore presentation the following night.