The 1970s rollerskating craze gave birth to a host of films, TV moments and questionable skating attire. In honor of Boogie Nights airing this month on IFC, we compiled a list of the great moments in roller skating history that will make you want to dig out your old skates and hit the nearest rink.
1. Boogie Nights
Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s cinematic ode to the early days of the adult film industry is also an ode to the “Me Decade’ itself, referencing not only the decay of American morality but also many of the latest and greatest cultural fads. Our beloved Brandy (Heather Graham) embodies one such fad: roller disco. Brandy loves her roller skates so much, she never takes them off (a quirk she adamantly defends when Dirk Diggler asks her to remove them while they’re having sex for the first time), earning the nickname, “Rollergirl.” During one big disco dance number (choreographed by Hairspray director, Adam Shankman), you can see a fully clothed (for once) Brandy skating the night away with Dirk and the gang. It’s a short-lived moment of pure disco-era joy before the excess begins to take its toll on everyone, including fun-loving, free-wheeling Rollergirl.
A box office flop at the time of its release, Xanadu became a “so bad it’s good” favorite thanks to its hit soundtrack and a look that screams “roller disco heaven.” Olivia Newton-John plays Kira, a roller skating Olympian Muse who falls in love with an artist (Michael Beck) and inspires him to open a nightclub named Xanadu. Olivia Newton-John, who barely escaped starring in fellow 1980 disaster Can’t Stop the Music, did all her own skating and suffered an injury while filming the dance/skate sequence “Suddenly.” But despite its flimsy plot and silly effects, Xanadu gained a large cult following over the years and spawned a hit Broadway musical adaptation in 2007 that was nominated for several Tony Awards.
3. Whip It!
Drew Barrymore’s 2009 directorial debut about an outcast Texas teen’s coming of age via joining a roller derby team is surprisingly sweet. Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) longs to find a purpose in her life beyond the pageants her former beauty queen mother (Marcia Gay Harden) forces her into. After sneaking off to a roller derby match with her best friend, Pash (Alia Shawkat), Bliss decides to try out for one of the local Austin teams, the Hurl Scouts, and winds up making the team. As her skills grow, she earns the nickname Babe Ruthless and starts taking charge of her life, which puts her at odds with her strict mother. The cast — which also included Barrymore, Kristen Wiig, Eve, Ari Graynor and Juliette Lewis — spent hours training to be able to really perform all the skating sequences seen in the film. Page had never skated until she began training with a coach nicknamed “Axles of Evil” during pre-production.
4. Can’t Stop the Music
Young man, there’s no need to feel down– especially if you’re Steve Guttenberg gleefully skating your way through New York City in the opening credits of a Village People biopic. As David London sings the catchy-if-lyrically-inane tune “The Sound of the City,” we see Guttenberg’s character (who is very loosely based on Village People creator, Jacques Morali) skating in the midst of Midtown traffic, past Broadway and XXX-movie theater marquees (Ahhh, Times Square in the 1980s!), and through a large parade before meeting his fashion model roommate (Valerie Perrine) in Washington Square Park. It’s all very cheesy in the best possible way, earning an appreciative smack on the butt for Morell from a rambunctious elderly pedestrian and probably plenty of grins from delighted viewers at home.
5. Mad Men
In the season seven episode “Lost Horizon,” Copy Chief Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) and lovable Roger Sterling (John Slattery) find themselves the only two employees left in the deserted SC&P offices for different reasons: Peggy’s office at McCann-Erickson isn’t ready due to a mix up, and Roger simply refuses to let SC&P go. The two start drinking vermouth and reminiscing. By the end of the day, Roger is drunkenly playing the organ while a giggly Peggy skates through the halls. It’s a rare moment of fun in an otherwise heavy episode.
6. Austin Powers: Goldmember
In the third film of the Austin Powers series, our shagadelic superspy (Mike Myers) is forced to travel back to 1975 to rescue his kidnapped father, Nigel (a hilarious Michael Caine), from the clutches of gold lamé-loving villain Goldmember (also Meyers). When he arrives, he is greeted by a flawless, foxy, vision in gold: BEYONCÉ! Okay, fine, her name is actually Foxxy Cleopatra (a nod to Pam Grier’s Blaxploitation film roles), and she’s working undercover as a singer at Goldmember’s roller disco club. As she sings, the villain makes quite a…limber entrance on his skates that would be impressive if it wasn’t also a little repulsive.
7. That ’70s Show
That ’70s Show has made several references to roller disco, but our favorite comes from the season seven episode, “Angie,” where Eric tells the gang he’s taking Spanish lessons after school to cover up his secret roller disco obsession. Kitty can’t help blurting out Eric’s secret to Fez who quickly tells everyone else. The entire group, including a shocked Red, go to watch Eric née “Rainbow” perform with his partner. After being teased, Eric decides to quit roller disco for good wistfully saying, “You know, here I’m an average kid. But down there? Down there I was a star!”
In 2018 (that’s just two years away, folks!), the world is a global corporate state, with large corporations controlling access to all goods. The only form of entertainment is a violent sport called rollerball, which seeks to show the futility of individualism — until star player Jonathan E. (James Caan) decides to make his last game a gladiatorial act of bloody defiance. Such is the premise behind this dystopian sci-fi flick, which may as well be the Hunger Games on roller skates set to Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor.” The movie overall is a little silly, but the rollerball sequences are pretty thrilling to watch. Stick with the 1975 original and avoid the 2002 Chris Klein-fronted remake at all cost.
9. Van Wilder
Van Wilder (Ryan Reynolds) is Coolidge College’s most popular student if not the most academically-minded one. A seventh-year senior, Van spends his time posing nude for drawing classes, organizing parties and generally avoiding class. When his dad (Animal House alum Tim Matheson) decides to cut him off, Van has to grow up and actually try to complete a semester’s worth of work in the last six days of classes. But not before he can throw a roller disco-themed party to try to set up his “personal assistant,” Taj (Kal Penn), with an American girl before he returns to India. Sadly for Taj, his attempts at romance are about as dismal as his roller skating.
10. Skatetown, U.S.A.
Like most of the films of the brief roller disco era, 1979’s Skatetown, U.S.A. doesn’t have much of a plot (rival skating gangs competing for a $1,000 prize), but it does have stars like Scott Baio, The Brady Bunch‘s Maureen McCormick (who spent most of the shoot high on cocaine, according to her memoir) and Patrick Swayze (in his film debut) strapping on skates and careening around a rink to a killer disco soundtrack. Ever the triple threat, Swayze predictably nails all his skating routines while sporting some seriously feathered hair and a bad boy scowl. After the success of Dirty Dancing in the ’80s, Swayze fans retroactively gave Skatetown, U.S.A. the nickname, “Dirty Skating.”