March 2, 1984: ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ Opens

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Spinal Tap posterThere are those who consider it to quite possibly be the best and truest movie ever made about rock music. But it took This Is Spinal Tap some time to really catch on.

One Best Classic Bands contributor saw it on its 1984 opening Friday night in Manhattan. Only five other people were in the theater; one was his date. Its national opening weekend theatrical gross was a measly $55,000.

The film wasn’t the first “mockumentary” ever made. But it did put the fake documentary on the film genre map with a parody that is so redolent of rock ‘n’ roll reality that some people thought it was about a real band after seeing it. Reportedly among them is Ozzy Osbourne.

Among the classic rockers who sing its praises for feeling so true-to-life are Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Eddie Van Halen, Eddie Vedder, Dee Snider, Lars Ulrich and many more. On the other hand, it’s also so close to reality that it reportedly made The Edge and Tom Waits cry.

Among the film’s dozens of memorable quotes: “It’s like, how much more black could this be?” “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.” “You put it at eleven.” “Money talks and bullshit walks.” “I wouldn’t worry about it though, it’s not a big college town.” “You can’t really dust for vomit.”

Roger Ebert wrote that Spinal Tap was “one of the funniest, most intelligent, most original films of the year. The satire has a deft, wicked touch. Spinal Tap is not that much worse than, not that much different from, some successful rock bands.” Despite critical acclaim, the movie didn’t reach its critical mass with audiences until it was released on video.

Related: Spinal Tap reunite at 2019 film festival

Harry Shearer (Derek Smalls) filed a lawsuit in October 2016 alleging fraudulent accounting of the film studio and seeking $125 million in compensatory and punitive damages. In February 2017, Christopher Guest (Nigel Tufnel), Michael McKean (David St. Hubbins) and Rob Reiner (director Marty Di Bergi) joined the suit while upping the ante to $400 million.

According to the complaint filed in Los Angeles, CA, Vivendi and its agents, including StudioCanal and Universal Music Group, “willfully manipulated certain accounting data, while ignoring contractually obligated accounting and reporting processes, to deny Shearer and his fellow co-creators their rightful stake in the production’s profits.”

The website Box Office Mojo notes the film earned less than $5 million in U.S. theaters.

The complaint alleged that This Is Spinal Tap and its accompanying music and merchandise “earned tens of millions of dollars in revenue, according to the complaint – through re-releases, album and singles sales, merchandise sales, and distribution of the film in various formats across the globe over the course of the last 32 years,” noting that “these profits were not fairly shared with the four co-creators, cast, or crew.”

On March 1, 2017, StudioCanal asked the judge to dismiss the suit. In its motion, the studio’s owner, Vivendi, said: “Plaintiffs may not like the fact that they have not received anything close to the $400 million in contingent compensation that their complaint absurdly claims they should have received.”

“But that is only because the movie they made has not generated anywhere near the revenue necessary to pay them anything close to that sum.”

On February 1, 2018, The Hollywood Reporter wrote that the creators urged the judge to allow the case to continue.

Fast forward to August 29, 2018. The plaintiffs celebrated a significant benchmark in the suit when U.S. District Court Judge Dolly M. Gee turned the amps up to “11,” when she ruled to allow the trial to move forward, thus defeating the defendants’ motion to dismiss.

Finally, on Sept. 18, 2020, Shearer, McKean, Guest and Reiner reached a settlement with Vivendi/StudioCanal to “restructure the parties’ relationship [to] modify contracts pertaining to the picture’s distribution.”

The plantiffs have created a website, Fairness Rocks., “to inform talent who seek to ensure they are receiving fair reward for their artistic endeavor.”

Related: Spinal Tap actors are suing to collect $400 million

Back to the movie itself… in an act of life imitating art that some thought was imitating life – and in a movie that imitated life brilliantly – many people think that the Stonehenge stage set joke was based on a problem Black Sabbath had with their Stonehenge set in 1983. But it was already in the 1982 20-minute demo director Rob Reiner made to help get the film rolling.

Related: 11 Movies That Rock

This Is Spinal Tap has been included on Entertainment Weekly‘s list of The 100 Greatest Movies of All Time as “just too beloved to ignore.” Time Out London named it the best comedy film of all time. It is preserved in U.S. National Film Registry after being declared “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress in 2002.

This one might be our favorite…

In 2022, it was revealed that a sequel, to be titled Spinal Tap II, which will revolve around the faux-hard rock band planning one final concert, is set to premiere on March 19, 2024, just a couple of weeks after the 40th anniversary of the original film’s debut.

Best Classic Bands Staff

8 Comments so far

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  1. Vinny
    #1 Vinny 5 March, 2017, 16:08

    Best Classic Bands contributor is lying. There were at least 6 people there opening night at the one theater in Manhattan that showed the film, because I was one of them!

    Reply this comment
  2. LakeCity Leroy
    #2 LakeCity Leroy 3 March, 2018, 02:28

    I’ve always wondered if the bit where one of them gets stuck in the prop when they appear on stage is related to something that happened to the group Angel (big thumbs up if you remember them, actually the singer and guitarist, the illustrious Punky Meadows, have recently begun doing live shows). Angel had this huge holographic Angel head like their logo which introduced each member of the band, and then that person would pop out of a bunch of boxes or whatever, that had been stacked up by roadies during that part of the intro. It was really cool, but considering the budget, smaller venues, and technology of the day, somebody MUST have gotten stuck in the boxes more than once. Just wondering.

    Reply this comment
    • Joan Bryant
      Joan Bryant 3 March, 2022, 05:29

      Thanks for commenting on the Rock Band Angel. One of the Band Members lived with me for Three Months. Micky Jones. Micky had some real stories. But he loved NY. I took Micky into my apartment, not knowing who he was at first, But the Glam hairdo was a giveaway. They were part of the 1970’s, and were with Casablanca Records.
      They almost made it big, They wore these elevated shoes. Joan

      Reply this comment
  3. Brad Auerbach
    #3 Brad Auerbach 3 March, 2019, 12:12

    I had a brief chat with Harry Shearer at The Troubadour decades ago when I asked him what he thought of the reunion Rutles show we were there to see.
    “It’s been done before,” he said somewhat ruefully.

    Reply this comment
  4. Deirdre Rockmaker
    #4 Deirdre Rockmaker 3 March, 2019, 15:21

    Story told to me by Robbin Crosby of Ratt:. He and Nikki Sixx took Scorpions’ lead singer Klaus Meine to see the movie. Mid-movie he got up and walked out. He was furious someone had made light of his band.

    Reply this comment
  5. paul ramon
    #5 paul ramon 3 March, 2020, 01:15

    “what’s the difference between regular golf and miniature golf?…the walls”

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