Fandango (1985 film)

Fandango is a 1985 American comedy film directed by Kevin Reynolds. It was originally a student film titled Proof made by Reynolds while he was attending USC film school. It was a parody of Greek life at his alma mater Baylor University. However, due to his father's presidency at Baylor, he did not wish to portray the Baptist institution in an unfavorable light and gave it the alternative distinction as the University of Texas. The movie is now a cult classic.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byKevin Reynolds
Produced byTim Zinnemann
Written byKevin Reynolds
Music byAlan Silvestri
CinematographyThomas Del Ruth
Edited byArthur Schmidt
Stephen Semel
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • January 25, 1985 (1985-01-25)
Running time
91 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$4 million
Box office$91,666[1]

Steven Spielberg saw the film and helped fund a feature-length comedy/drama about five college students from Texas in 1971 who go on a "last road trip" together, celebrating the "privilege of youth" as they face graduation, marriage and the draft for the Vietnam War.[2]

Fandango stars Kevin Costner (in his first starring role, although an earlier film where he had been the lead actor, The Gunrunner had actually wrapped in 1983 but was not released until 1989), Judd Nelson and Sam Robards.[3][Note 1] The soundtrack features an original score by Alan Silvestri and music by Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays, among others. The film was released by Warner Bros. and Amblin Entertainment on January 25, 1985, and a DVD of the film was released on February 15, 2005. Fandango marked not only the directorial debut of Reynolds but also the feature film debut of Suzy Amis, previously known primarily for her work in modeling.[4]


In 1971, at a fraternity house on the University of Texas campus in Austin, Texas, Gardner Barnes (Kevin Costner) is throwing darts at a picture of himself and his ex-girlfriend Debbie (Suzy Amis). He rejoins the graduation party going on downstairs, but not before tearing the picture in half. Gardner is a member of a clique called the Groovers, whose other members include Kenneth Waggener (Sam Robards), engaged to be married, and ROTC geek Phil Hicks (Judd Nelson). Phil's parents arrive at the fraternity house just in time to see another Groover named Lester (Brian Cesak) pass out (and remain unconscious for most of the film). They also meet the strong, quiet seminary student Dorman (Chuck Bush).

Kenneth interrupts the festivities by announcing his student deferment has expired and he is now to be drafted into the Vietnam War. Gardner is not surprised: his own notice came weeks before. Kenneth also reveals he has decided to call off his engagement to Debbie on account of being drafted. Gardner reacts with some joy and relief. The Groovers decide to celebrate their last days before the draft by going on a road trip, intending to visit a notorious roadhouse, then "dig up" someone - or something - named Dom near the Rio Grande. They drive all night before making a rest stop. Some, including Phil, resist continuing, but Gardner presses them on.

Phil's car runs out of gas and the Groovers must decide whether to walk to the nearest town or hitch. Phil is adamant about not leaving his car behind, when someone gets the idea to lasso a train passing on the railroad track parallel to the road. Dorman successfully attaches the front bumper with some fence cable to the back of the train, but the car's front end is pulled off, leaving the car in place. The Groovers push the car to a garage in the nearest town and eat at a Sonic Drive-In. They meet up with some townie girls (one of whom is played by Elizabeth Daily) and eventually end up playing in a cemetery operated by one of the girls' undertaker father, where they come upon a fallen Vietnam War soldier's tombstone. They sleep at the former movie set of Giant.

The next morning, with the car repaired with a front end from a different make and model, the Groovers continue. Phil wants to go back, prompting Kenneth to shout angrily at him. Gardner confesses they only let Phil hang with them because they felt sorry for him. Humiliated, Phil retorts that he will take on any challenge. The group sees a sign for a parachute school giving jumping lessons. Gardner cons the hippie-ish instructor Truman Sparks (Marvin J. McIntyre) into giving Phil a free lesson. Phil is terrified but goes up into Truman's aircraft. However, he is carrying Truman's dirty laundry instead of a parachute. The boys try desperately to warn him from the ground without success. Fortunately, Phil is able to open the emergency chute on his stomach with much prompting from Truman by walkie-talkie. The Groovers get a picture for their efforts; Phil gets some of his wounded pride back.

After discovering the charred, abandoned remains of the roadhouse, the Groovers press onward. At last they reach a bluff overlooking the Rio Grande and dig up Dom – which turns out to be a magnum of Dom Pérignon champagne. Each takes a drink before Gardner toasts to "freedom and youth." Kenneth is disheartened, having second thoughts about calling off the engagement. Pondering on the nature of love, Gardner decides to make things right. He calls Debbie, gets her to re-accept the engagement, and arranges for Truman Sparks to fly her from Dallas to the border town and back. Through some trickery, reminiscent of stone soup, he sets up a beautiful wedding for Kenneth and Debbie. Debbie and Gardner share one last dance before the wedding.

After the ceremony, Phil gives Kenneth and Debbie his car as a wedding present. Lester goes to hitch a ride "anywhere" and Phil and Dorman shake hands before leaving. Perched atop a cliff overlooking the town and watching the wedding reception, Gardner lifts a beer in salute to his friends.[Note 2]



Principal photography began in 1984 at a number of locations, primarily in Texas, including Alpine, Austin, El Paso, Fort Davis, Lajitas, Marathon, Marfa, Monahans, Pecos, and San Elizario. Big Bend Ranch State Park in Texas (where Dom was located) and Tulsa, Oklahoma, were also prominent in the film.[5][6]

The skydiving sequence in Fandango is shot-for-shot taken from Kevin Reynolds's USC thesis film, Proof from 1980. Spielberg had seen a copy of Proof and offered to produce the project, which became Fandango, through his company, Amblin Entertainment.[3][Note 3][8]

The supposed backdrop of downtown Dallas where Truman Sparks flies to is actually Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1984.[Note 4] The aerial sequence was filmed with the assistance of the Commemorative Air Force (then known as the Confederate Air Force), which has its main headquarters in Texas. The screen credits note: "Special thanks to the Confederate Air Force for their assistance in making this motion picture."[9]


In her review of Fandango for The New York Times, Janet Maslin praised Kevin Reynolds' "way with the sight gags and off-the-wall humor that make this a notable debut. And he brings a good deal of feeling to the moments in which the film's twin specters – Vietnam and maturity – intrude upon the frantic festivities."[10] The Globe and Mail also praised the direction: "Reynolds shows an uncanny confidence with the camera, a sureness which is backed up by a powerful visual sensitivity and an ear for language, especially the vernacular of Texas, where the film is set."[11]

Leonard Maltin called Fandango "fresh and likeable, if uneven."[12] Quentin Tarantino was quoted in Empire as follows: "Fandango is one of the best directorial debuts in the history of cinema. I saw Fandango five times at the movie theater and it only played for a fucking week, all right."[13]

Modern reappraisals have focused on the storytelling and character development, surprising for a directorial debut. Reviewer Bryan Pope critiqued the DVD version as, "Breezy and confident, and with a wing dinger of a soundtrack, Fandango is the definition of a sleeper. Before the final credits roll, its characters will have downed a few beers, faced fears, forged new friendships, tested old ones, and searched with some success for the answers to life's important questions. And, yes, one of them will even have danced the fandango under the Texas sky."[14]

Steven Spielberg admitted that the film "wasn't really released," but wouldn't say more than that. Asked to comment on Spielberg's hesitance to release the film, director Kevin Reynolds' agent simply responded: "He's tired of talking about Steven Spielberg, and he's busy."[15]

Although Spielberg was disappointed with the finished film and did not have his name on the product, Amblin Entertainment is still credited.[16] Fandango did not receive a widespread release, grossing less than US$100,000.[1] However, through television and video, Fandango grew in popularity and, in July 2010, fans held a 25th anniversary celebration at the filming locations.[17]

Suzy Amis and Sam Robards followed their characters' fates and married in 1986. Reynolds and Costner would later go on to work together on two more films, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) and Waterworld (1995).[Note 5] Reynolds was Costner's uncredited second unit director and set advisor for the western epic and Costner directorial debut Dances with Wolves (1990).[19] Reynolds and Costner collaborated once again on the History Channel mini-series Hatfields & McCoys (2012).



  1. Costner had actually auditioned for a role in Proof, the original student film, but Reynolds had rejected him.[3]
  2. The action of saluting his friends, leaves the audience to wonder if Gardner has left without saying goodbye in order to travel on to Mexico, thus avoiding the draft; or has he left his friends to avoid the pain of their departure and the last "Groover adventure."
  3. Proof can be seen as part of Reel Talent: First Films by Legendary Directors, released in August 2007.[7]
  4. Marvin J. McIntyre, aka Truman Sparks, made his first skydive at Blue Sky Ranch in Gardiner, New York in September 2007. McIntyre played the Parachute Club Chief Instructor (as "Head Jumpin' Bean" in Proof).[7]
  5. Their collaboration in Waterworld would actually result in the two parting ways over creative and personal differences.[18]


  1. "Fandango" Box Office Mojo. Retrieved: February 10, 2012.
  2. McBride 2011, p. 603.
  3. Abaius, Cole. "Interview: Kevin Reynolds Looks Back at ‘Fandango’." FSR Film School Rejects, May 12, 2009. Retrieved: February 10, 2012.
  4. "Fandango: Notes." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: February 10, 2012.
  5. "Filming locations: 'Fandango'." IMDb. Retrieved: February 10, 2012.
  6. "Fandango Movie Locations As They Appear Today." Retrieved: February 10, 2012.
  7. Jones, Preston. "Reel Talent: First Films by Legendary Directors." DVD Talk, August 21, 2007. Retrieved: February 10, 2012.
  8. Maslin, Janet. "At the Movies: Fandango (1985)." The New York Times, January 25, 1985.
  9. "Company Credits: 'Fandango' (1985)." IMDb. Retrieved: February 10, 2012.
  10. Maslin, Janet. "Fandango (1985); Screen: 'Fandango,' Coming of age in 1971." The New York Times, January 25, 1985. Retrieved: February 9, 2012.
  11. Fraser, Matthew. "Not just another teen comedy." The Globe and Mail, March 12, 1985.
  12. Maltin 2009, p. 437.
  13. Morley, Chris. "Exclusive Interview with Dark Regions Press." Weston Ochse, October 4, 2011. Retrieved: February 10, 2012.
  14. Pape, Brian. "Review: 'Fandango'." Archived 2012-02-21 at the Wayback Machine DVD Verdict Review, 2005. Retrieved: February 10, 2012.
  15. "New York Magazine". 1986-03-24.
  16. Keith 1991, p. 70.
  17. "Ultimate Fandango 2013." Retrieved: February 9, 2012.
  18. Campbell, Christopher. "Kevin Costner is 'Learning Italian' with 'Waterworld' director Kevin Reynolds." Movies, February 26, 2010. Retrieved: February 10, 2012.
  19. Reynolds, Kevin. "Reynolds tells which Kevin really directed 'Dances With Wolves'." Los Angeles Times, March 31, 1991. Retrieved: February 10, 2012.


  • Keith, Todd. Kevin Costner the Unauthorized Biography. London: Icon Books, 1991. ISBN 978-1-870049-34-4.
  • Maltin, Leonard. Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide 2009. New York: New American Library, 2009 (originally published as TV Movies, then Leonard Maltin’s Movie & Video Guide), First edition 1969, published annually since 1988. ISBN 978-0-451-22468-2.
  • McBride, Joseph. Steven Spielberg: A Biography. Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2011. ISBN 978-1-60473-836-0.
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