Cult classic ‘Legend of Billie Jean’ still relevant today

Kirk Boxleitner
Posted 2/27/18

Since you kind folks seem to have enjoyed my reviews of more current movies, we’re going to try an experiment here by publishing occasional reviews of some of my favorite cult classics.

Let me …

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Cult classic ‘Legend of Billie Jean’ still relevant today


Since you kind folks seem to have enjoyed my reviews of more current movies, we’re going to try an experiment here by publishing occasional reviews of some of my favorite cult classics.

Let me know how much you like it, or how much you don’t.


One year after she played Supergirl, in 1984, Helen Slater played her most superheroic on-screen role in “The Legend of Billie Jean,” a music video of a movie that’s not so much a good film as it is an entertaining one. Nonetheless, it’s become a surprisingly relevant work in the wake of the #MeToo movement and of students speaking out directly to adults in authority.

The extent to which most 1980s teen movies were explicitly political was in their use of the snobs-versus-slobs trope, here seen in the rivalry between the spoiled rich Pyatt family and the trailer-park-dwelling Davy family. This clash is made evident when bullying teen Hubie Pyatt (Barry Tubb) hits on fellow high school student Billie Jean Davy (Slater), then steals and trashes the scooter of her younger brother, Binx (Christian Slater).

When Billie Jean goes to Hubie’s father, Mr. Pyatt (Richard Bradford), asking for money to repair the scooter, he propositions her in a sexually predatory fashion, one that should be all too familiar to those who have been following the allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

This prompts Binx to defend his sister by wounding Pyatt with his own gun. This leads Billie Jean, her brother and both of their sisters to go on the run from the law, here represented by Lt. Larry Ringwald (Peter Coyote).

An entire genre has been mined from average folks being forced to flee from legal punishment because of unjust misunderstandings. “The Legend of Billie Jean” adds a self-mythologizing layer to the narrative by turning the title character’s quest to clear her name into a folk hero’s crusade after she records a message on videotape that makes its way to the police, the press and the public.


A common element to most superhero stories is the moment of crossing over.

Peter Parker may have wrestled for cash while in costume as Spider-Man, but he didn’t truly become Spider-Man until he realized that his inaction had led to his Uncle Ben’s death.

Likewise, Billie Jean Davy doesn’t become a legend until nearly halfway through her own film. In the transformative scene, she shaves off her shampoo-commercial locks, tears the sleeves off her Body Glove swimsuit to show off her tanned, bulging biceps, and yells to the camera that she’s not giving up until the Pyatt family pays her the $608 it owes for her brother’s busted scooter, because in her words, “Fair is fair!”

The way Billie Jean’s stark visual transformation is unveiled is underscored by the thrilling synth riff from Pat Benatar’s “Invincible.” And just in case anyone in the audience has missed the point, one of the other characters immediately compares her to “Saint Joan [of Arc].”

The strains of “Invincible” return when Billie Jean finally has her showdown with Mr. Pyatt, which takes place in front of law enforcement, the media and the legion of fellow teens who have flocked to her cause.

Pyatt has actually managed to make money off Billie Jean by selling merchandise emblazoned with her likeness, so at this point, he’s more than willing to pay her off. But she wants vindication, for him to admit, to everyone, how awfully he had wronged her.

This film doesn’t even attempt to be subtle in its characterization or its social commentary, but given the cartoonishly evil behavior we’ve seen exhibited by real-life sexual predators in the news, this actually seems all the more appropriate now.

And as one-dimensionally villainous as Mr. Pyatt is, his self-righteous condemnations of Billie Jean are like textbook illustrations of how actual predators gaslight their victims. That makes it all the more viscerally satisfying when you see Slater, as Billie Jean, work through her emotional trauma to bring him down.

This entire film feels like an anthem for youth in revolt. I can only hope it offers the same adrenaline surge to the kids of today as it did to me, some 30-odd years before.

Movie lover Kirk Boxleitner writes about Jefferson County government and other news and features, when he’s not watching movies. Contact him at