Bumblebee’s More Subtle ’80s References?

by Curtis Lanclos

I am not a huge fan of the Transformers movie franchise. The special effects are top notch; but as is the case with the Jurassic Park film family, each movie appeared to be an exercise in essentially the same story being retold.

When it was announced a prequel movie focusing on the Bumblebee character would be produced, I was moderately interested because I heard it would be set in 1987 (when the actual Transformer toy line was at the height of its success). When Bumblebee was released (on December 21, 2018), I still didn’t rush out to see it.  In fact, I waited almost 2 months.

Finally I saw Bumblebee with my 14-year-old son 3 days ago, and surprisingly both of us LOVED it. For me, the ’80s music cues by Howard Jones, Bon Jovi, the Smiths, Duran Duran, etc. made it an amazing retro experience. Additionally, there were clever references to ’80s movies like The Breakfast Club

However, from my perspective I can’t help but think there were two additional and ever-so-subtle references to my favorite decade in this movie. When the filmmakers were casting it, they enlisted two actors whose characters resemble two ’80s movie characters at similar ages 30-something years ago. Oddly enough, both of the ’80s actors potentially being channeled were co-stars in two different John Cusack films.


First, there was the leading actress Hailee Steinfeld, who played protagonist Charlie Watson. It was about halfway through the movie I realized she reminded me quite a bit of the Corey Flood character in 1989’s Say Anything…, portrayed by Lili Taylor. In other photographs I found of Steinfeld (not associated with this movie), she really doesn’t resemble Taylor at all; but within the confines of Bumblebee, her character’s appearance and mannerisms clearly emulate (in my estimation, anyway) those of Lloyd Dobler’s best friend.

Incidentally, today (February 20, 2019) is Lili Taylor’s 52nd birthday!


The other resemblance I detected was in Charlie’s younger brother Otis, played by Jason Drucker. Every time I saw him onscreen, I kept hearing “I want my TWO DOLLARS!” in my head. The paperboy who made that line famous was Johnny Gasparini, played by Demian Slade in the 1985 movie Better Off Dead. Minus the perm, I thought Drucker was a bit of a dead ringer for Slade (although he does look a bit like a young Frankie Muniz as well).

Again, I’m not sure if all of this was intentional, or if it’s just my interpretation. I’ve found nothing in the press or otherwise which confirms or denies it. One thing is certain, however; Bumblebee is an excellent film, and if you grew up in the ’80s like me, you’ll enjoy the retro feel if nothing else.

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