🎶 In Your Eyes 🎶

35 Years Later, This Scene In Say Anything Is Still *Everything* — & It Almost Never Happened

Is it iconic? Yes. Did it nearly end up on the cutting-room floor? Also yes.

Say Anything arrived in theaters on April 14, 1989, a peerless spin on teen romance movies. Witty, optimistic, and heartfelt, it explored the intensity of young love against the pressure of adult obligations. Now, 35 years later, it's best known for one thing — and it involves a retro car and outdated audio equipment.

The boombox scene from Say Anything has become legendary, outshining the movie itself in terms of popularity. It’s been parodied in dozens of TV shows, commercials, and movies, including Modern Family, Malcolm in the Middle, The Simpsons, Glee, Family Guy, and even Deadpool 2. Memes upon memes pay homage to Lloyd Dobler’s peak-’80s romantic gesture. Cusack himself, who played Dobler, hasn’t recreated the scene but took the stage during Gabriel’s Hollywood Bowl concert in 2012 to hand the singer a boombox — sans trenchcoat and teen angst.

It stands, to this day, as a sweeping expression of a lovelorn person desperately trying to catch the attention of their paramour. But many don't know the story behind this scene and how it almost didn't happen at all.

Revisiting Say Anything

Lloyd wants to spend the remaining 16 weeks of summer after high school with Diane before she leaves for a fellowship in England. They’re total opposites—her doting father (John Mahoney) has planned her life in detail, while Lloyd lives in the moment. Even though she thinks he’s “basic,” the two fall deeply in love. While her father initially approves, his stance on Lloyd stiffens when the IRS comes knocking to investigate claims against his business.

As Lloyd and Diane’s relationship intensifies, they spend their first night together while listening to Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.” Enraged by this discovery, Diane’s father demands she not throw away her life for a boy, and she dumps him days after professing their mutual love.

Hellbent on reigniting their flame, Lloyd does whatever he can to change Diane’s mind. One morning, Lloyd steps onto the roof of his 1977 Chevy Malibu to awaken his lover to the song they made love to, blasting the melody out of his Sharp GF-7600 boombox. If it evokes images of “Romeo and Juliet” and their famous balcony scene, you’d be right on.

Trailer for Say Anything

A Song, By Any Other Name

Director and writer Cameron Crowe wrote the direction for this scene in his script simply as Lloyd holds the boombox overhead "and the music wafts down the hillside." He was entranced by figuring out a way for his main character to find an opening back into his love's mind, and needed something to "tap on her shoulder."

"I thought, 'What if you take this song to the person that you're thinking about and just listen to it with them?'" Crowe told USA Today in 2019, "But I didn't know how it was going to turn out."

Crowe envisioned the moment with a song he was obsessed about: "To Be A Lover" by Billy Idol, which is noted in the shooting script. "There was one day I liked that song, and that was the day I wrote the scene," the director explained. "By the next day, I knew it was a hideously wrong choice."

With no music locked in when production started, a song had to be used as a stand-in while shooting. But first, they had to convince the actor to do it.

Picture This: Ska!

Here's where things got dicey. John Cusack wasn't into the concept, believing it felt too pathetic compared to his character's strong conviction. Crowe relented and tried it a different way with the boombox on top of his vehicle while Cusack sat inside. It didn't work, and the director chalked it up as a loss.

On the final day of production, Crowe managed to convince Cusack to try the scene in an empty park. With daylight rapidly running out, the crew scrambled to shoot the scene as intended. One problem remained: What music would play while Lloyd made this romantic gesture?

Cusack, a devoted fan of the ska band Fishbone, convinced Crowe to let him play their music during the scene. (The choice of song is a matter of debate — some say it was "Party at Ground Zero" or "Question of Life," while others believe it was "Bonin' in the Boneyard.")

"When we watched the scene as filmed, with that tune playing outside Diane Court's window, the effect wasn't particularly romantic or yearning," Crowe explained to Vanity Fair, "It was: 'Hey girl, I love Fishbone, and I'm not going to let you sleep.'"

Ultimately, time in the editing booth revealed those songs weren't working. We can thank Crowe's then-wife, Nancy Wilson (guitarist for Heart), for Crowe's revelation. He was driving in the car, listening to a mixtape from the couple's wedding, when he heard the song. "I got this chill because all the words linked up to what we'd filmed and what we were struggling to find a score to or a song."

The right choice was "In Your Eyes," but there was a new problem — its creator wasn't interested.

Music video for Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”

A Major Mix-Up

Once Crowe decided “In Your Eyes” was exactly what he was seeking, the filmmaker scored some phone time with the English musician, facilitated by Rosanna Arquette (aka the person Gabriel wrote the song about). Despite her seal of approval, Gabriel declined the request because he didn’t think the song was a fit due to the “overdose” in the movie.

Of course, there was no overdose scene in Say Anything.

In the most random unfolding of events, another studio had reached out to Gabriel about using the exact same song, only the topic wasn’t teenage romance; it was a John Belushi biopic starring Michael Chiklis titled Wired.

And, well, Gabriel got his wires crossed, assuming the requests were both from Crowe. When Crowe cleared this up, Gabriel allowed Say Anything to use his song for a fee somewhere in the range of $200-300k.

“Where’s the Ding?”

Decades later, Say Anything is still worth the watch. It joins the ranks of Heathers and others like it from the end of the ‘80s and early ‘90s, spitting in the face of teen movies that seem to think life stops after high school graduation. It might be idyllic in its own way, but that’s not a bad thing, reminding us that every great success story begins with nobody thinking something will work.