1985 was the year a rising pop star named Madonna went supernova thanks to her starring role in the hit comedy Desperately Seeking Susan and her first blockbuster North American concert tour. But the singer didn’t look like the next big music sensation when she turned up on the set of the high school wrestling movie Vision Quest — which was released in February 1985, two months before Susan and the Virgin Tour — to film a small role as a nightclub singer serenading the movie’s stars, Matthew Modine and Linda Fiorentino.
“She looked like Boy George,” Modine tells Yahoo Movies. “The producers were saying this girl was going to be such a big star, but I remember people not really being impressed.” Even her songs left listeners cold. First, she performed the largely forgotten “Gambler,” followed by “Crazy for You,” which has since become a staple of proms around the world, but slightly underwhelmed listeners at the time. “We thought, ‘Oh, that’s a sweet song,‘” Modine says of hearing that slow dance anthem for the first time.
Within a year, though, the actor discovered just how big a star Madonna had become. While visiting Rome to discuss a potential film role, Modine saw a giant poster of the singer’s face, with “Crazy for You” printed in Italian. “I thought, ‘Oh, she must be doing a concert here.’ But then I looked at the poster a little bit closer and at the bottom I saw myself [in a scene from the film] with my arms in the air. The movie had gone from being a Matthew Modine movie that Madonna was in to a Madonna movie that Matthew Modine was in! That’s how fate would have it.”
Thirty-two years later, Vision Quest‘s Madonna-scored montages are among the highlights of a teen sports movie that’s clearly made in the image of The Karate Kid — a box-office sensation the year prior — but has its own unique moves. Available for the first time on Blu-ray, Vision Quest is notable for how it avoids giving the underdog hero, Lowden Swain (Modine), a Cobra Kai-style nemesis to defeat on the wrestling mat. Instead, his final opponent, Brian Shute (Frank Jasper), is presented as a decent guy who is on his own “vision quest” — a self-imposed rite of passage that leads teenagers into adulthood. In Lowden’s case, that quest involves dropping 22 pounds to wrestle Brian, who is in a lower weight class.
And when the two meet before their climactic match, Shute reveals himself to be anything but a Johnny Lawrence clone. “He’s a good athlete trying to be the best athlete,” Modine says of Jasper’s character. “He’s not this monster Lowden is going to slay. Anyone who has ever put on a wrestling singlet knows that the person you’re actually wrestling is yourself. It’s about discovering what your own personal strengths and weaknesses are.” In fact, in the novel that inspired the film, author Terry Davis declined to reveal the outcome of the Swain vs. Shute throwdown, from which Lowden emerges the victor onscreen.
“It’s just about him achieving his goal of being there to wrestle Brian,” Modine says. “Of course, with a movie we want a little bit more than that. We want that euphoric moment of seeing a person accomplishing their goal. There’s been talk about remaking this movie, but I think whenever a screenwriter tries to approach it from a 2017 perspective, it’s impossible to make. The world that Lowden Swain exists in is so different than the world we live in today.”