Is the 1989 action movie ‘Road House’ based on a real story?

Is the 1989 action movie 'Road House' based on a real story?

‘Road House’, directed by Rowdy Herrington, is a 1989 action drama starring Patrick Swayze. It took place in a small Missouri town and focuses on James Dalton, a bouncer tasked with restoring order at a rowdy bar. Dalton, armed with his wits and martial arts skills, must repel troublemakers in order to keep the peace. The film has since amassed a cult following due to its enduring appeal.

The action drama was gaining more and more popularity, which led director Doug Liman to make the decision to reimagine the film. While he wanted Jake Gyllenhaal to play the lead role, he also wanted to keep the same essential feel as the original film in ‘Road House’ (2024). Some may wonder if the story is based on real-life events or people, given its gritty setting and interesting plot.

Road House in 1989
Patrick Swayze in Road House (1989)

Is the action-packed ‘Road House’ fiction or non-fiction?

“Road House” is indeed a straightforward work of fiction, it is entirely based on imagination rather than real events or people.

Initially, R. Lance Hill, also known as David Lee Henry, and Hilary Henkin wrote a fictional story, which Hill turned into a script. He pitched it to United Artists. The film’s success took time to build, and Hill’s journey was not as glamorous as one might expect.

In a 2017 interview with The Ringer, director Rowdy Herrington admitted that he was not initially interested in the script. He found it overly exaggerated and crude. However, the film Road House required a director. Despite Herrington’s reservations, Joel Silver, a well-known producer, set up a late-night meeting on the 20th Century Fox lot to persuade him otherwise.

The popular blockbuster we know today began with a late-night meeting. During an interview, Herrington recalled Silver telling him, “I believe you have potential.” At that point, actor Patrick Swayze had already been cast as the main character.

Herrington recalled Silver changing his tone to more of a request, insisting, “I really need you to take this on.” Eventually, the director agreed, and the rest is history. In the interview, Herrington also mentioned, “I envisioned it like a cartoon. Bigger than life. More vibrant than life.”

Road House' based on a real story 2
Sam Elliott, Patrick Swayze, and Kelly Lynch in Road House (1989)

Lance Hill is credited as a co-creator in the film’s 2024 remake. The film, directed by Doug Liman and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, attempts to capture the essence of the original while updating it for modern audiences. While the original was known for its flashy scenes, the remake follows Lance Hill’s story but makes several changes, such as changing characters, changing the plot, and adjusting the flow.

Liman, known for directing blockbusters such as The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and Edge of Tomorrow, returns to revive the classic 1980s action genre with his own vision. Teaming up with writers Anthony Bagarozzi and Chuck Mondry, the remake offers audiences a modern take on the original action flick, blending old-school charm with contemporary twists.

The classic film has amassed millions of fans worldwide, sparking interest in a remake. Though the film is entirely fictional, some fans have made a tenuous link between its plot and a real-life event. They suggest that Lance Hill’s story was influenced by Ken McElroy, a Missouri criminal convicted of attempted murder. Fans believe the film’s ending is based on events in McElroy’s life.

Although the classic is confirmed to be fiction, fans believe the film was inspired by a true story. McElroy, also known as the “town bully,” was shot and killed in front of a crowd, which included his wife. Nobody called for help, and no one has been found guilty of his murder. In the film, the Double Deuce bar is threatened, but Dalton saves the day. Both stories have some similarities, but they are unrelated.

Road House (2024)
Jake Gyllenhaal and Lukas Gage in Road House (2024)

Even though the classic story is proven to be made up, fans think it might have been inspired by a real-life event. McElroy, nicknamed the “town bully,” was shot in front of a large crowd, including his wife. Nobody called for help, and the killer was never apprehended. The Double Deuce bar in the film deals with rowdy customers, and Dalton comes to the rescue. Although these stories share some similarities, they are not related.

The remake of the classic film ‘Road House’ is currently attracting audiences, bringing back old fans while also introducing new ones. It serves as a reminder of nostalgia’s powerful ability to bring people of all ages together. ‘Road House’, like many cult classics, recalls memories of the past while also celebrating modern times. Even though the basic story remains unchanged, each new version has its own distinct style, ensuring that it will continue to evoke nostalgic feelings in future viewers.