Flashback 1985 – Revisiting the Original Teen Wolf as a New Remake Premieres
He always wanted to be special… but he never expected this!
Teen Wolf continues to howl at the moon. The popular franchise is about to release its fourth remake, Teen Wolf: The Movie on January 26th, streaming on Paramount+. Created as a standalone movie in 1985, the coming-of-age supernatural comedy has maintained its popularity over the years.
The original Teen Wolf, starring ‘80s teen heartthrob, Michael J. Fox, tells the tale of an average teen facing some not-so-average growing pains. Scott Howard, a teenage basketball player, discovers that he descends from a paternal line of werewolves. As a self-proclaimed average kid with problems, Scott is hesitant to take on a new beastly identity. While his newfound fangs and sudden hair growth present challenges, Scott finds upsides to being a werewolf. He gains powers that boost his confidence and help him succeed at school, romance, and basketball.
The movie’s goofy tone and campy special effects add to the not-so-subtle humor ‘80s cult classics are known for. Canine jokes and puns are abundant. Teen Wolf is a true ‘80s experience, from the splashy fashion to the totally awesome ‘80s soundtrack. The “underdog wins at the end” plot structure takes on a whole new meaning. Teen Wolf’s popularity incited the 1987 spinoff, Teen Wolf Too, which follows Scott’s cousin as he experiences the same growing pains.
Supernatural coming-of-age stories have had a renaissance in the past decade. From the vampires of The Vampire Diaries to the witches in Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, fantasy narratives give audiences opportunities to explore familiar themes in unfamiliar contexts. Magic gives characters and situations larger-than-life feelings, which offer escapism and connection with viewers of all ages. Teen Wolf’s magic lies in its characters, who are grounded in real-life situations and problems.
MTV’s spin on the original classic, also dubbed Teen Wolf, is a supernatural comedy-drama series that aired on MTV from 2011 to 2017. The show follows the familiar tale of an average teenager named Scott McCall who gains werewolf powers that change his life, as comedy and teenage angst ensue. Like its predecessor, MTV’s Teen Wolf shows the trials and tribulations of teenagers as they navigate their way through life, romance, and the pangs of growing up. This week, Paramount+ is adding another volume to the Teen Wolf franchise. Teen Wolf: The Movie will feature characters from the wildly popular 2000s series.
Supernatural shenanigans aside, there are timeless coming-of-age lessons that the original Teen Wolf film explores. These growing pains are experienced by viewers of all generations, fangs and claws excluded. Teen Wolf’s dialogue showcases the challenges of growing up, making mistakes, and developing a comfortable sense of identity. A look back at the original Teen Wolf shows which parts of the teenage experience filmmakers captured and how these themes still resonate with audiences today.
“You said if we had problems, we should come to you.” -Scott Howard
Teen Wolf begins with Beacontown High School’s basketball team suffering a crushing defeat at their first game of the season. Scott Howard wears his failure in his body language, and the audience can feel his disappointment as if it’s their own. Scott has a feeling that something is not quite right, as he notices unusual hair growth and a penchant for growling at inopportune times. Like many teenagers, Scott is confused by the changes he experiences. He reaches out to Coach Finstock for advice, but he feels misunderstood. This humorous exchange illustrates how miscommunications can arise between teens and adults.
“I’m sick of being so average.” -Scott Howard
Scott’s exchange with his best friend, Boof, gives him the opportunity to vent his insecurities. Insecurity is part of the human experience. Scott’s insecurity stems from his anxiety that he’s average. There’s nothing special that sets him apart from anyone else. Part of the human experience is finding purpose in the world. Scott’s werewolf transformation allows him to see what it’s like to be extraordinary. He becomes taken by the allure of popularity and basketball stardom his powers bring him.
“I have problems! I don’t need this one!”-Scott Howard
A universal theme of growing up is feeling overwhelmed and misunderstood. Scott lacks confidence in his interactions with love interests, popular Pamela and childhood gal pal, Boof. He feels his basketball skills and school performance are unremarkable. He often finds himself in the crosshairs of a popular bully, Mick McAllister. The stress of mutating into a werewolf adds another layer to Scott’s angst and inner conflict. His lack of confidence and unsteady sense of identity are amplified when he transforms for the first time.
“With great power comes greater responsibility.” -Scott’s Dad
Coming-of-age narratives often explore changing dynamics in parent-child relationships. Scott feels angry and betrayed that his father didn’t warn him he could become a werewolf. Scott’s dad honestly owns up to his error. He imparts some sage advice to help Scott accept this new part of himself. Mr. Howard tells his son that there are many advantages to being a werewolf, like increased powers and the ability to ward off bullies. Speaking from experience, Mr. Howard warns Scott that his new powers come with responsibility. Scott is the audience’s proxy for the teenage experience. His new powers give him ample opportunities to make mistakes and grow.
“Don’t change. Don’t change.” -Scott Howard
Teen Wolf explores uses the supernatural metaphor of Scott’s werewolf transformation to underscore the changes teenagers face. As Scott’s werewolf genes take over, he feels less like himself. That lack of control and discomfort with himself reaches a climax when Scott races to the bathroom at school, splashes his face with water, and begs himself in the mirror not to change. This scene underscores the inner conflict teenagers face as they grow and mature.
“Look, I’ve gotta be the wolf. I mean, that’s what everyone expects…Everybody likes the wolf.” -Scott Howard
Humans are social creatures and being part of a community shapes a person’s identity. Scott spends the course of the movie learning where he fits in. Many teenagers feel social pressure to fit into a group or face being ostracized. Scott’s werewolf powers give him extraordinary abilities, which increase his confidence, athleticism, and popularity. Scott wants to be accepted by his peers and feels that the only way to stay liked is by being the wolf. He wants to live up to other people’s expectations of him and is afraid he won’t be able to in his human form.
“I am what I am.” -Scott Howard
At the end of the movie, Scott accepts both parts of himself. While he knows he may disappoint his teammates by playing in the last basketball of the season in human form, he realizes he needs to honor his human abilities. Realizing he relies too much on his wolf persona is a turning point for Scott. He brings the confidence he cultivated in his wolf form into the last game. Scott’s acceptance of himself and steady sense of identity help him win the game and the girl at the end of the movie.
While writing, humor, and special effects have all evolved over the past 38 years, the timeless coming-of-age themes in Teen Wolf continue to stand the test of time.