Roller skating movies seemed like a passing fad of the disco era with the release of such camp classics as “Xanadu,” “Roller Boogie” and “Skatetown U.S.A.” But that would be skating over the truth -- movies featuring roller skating have a rich heritage that has attracted some pretty heavy star power. The latest in the genre, “Whip It,” which opens today, stars Oscar nominee Ellen Page (“Juno”) and marks costar Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut. Here’s a look at some of the famous and even infamous who have donned roller skates for the silver screen:
Charlie Chaplin: In real life, the comic genius loved to play tennis, but in reel life he was a comedic skating master. He first demonstrated his prowess on wheels in one of his best early silent films, 1916’s “The Rink.” Even funnier is the roller skating sequence in 1936’s “Modern Times,” in which the Little Tramp and the “Gamin” (Paulette Goddard) find roller skates at a department store that’s closed for the evening. Chaplin nearly meets his maker when he decides to roller skate with a blindfold on.
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers: The premier movie dance team of the 1930s mixes laughs with grace on skates in 1937’s “Shall We Dance,” when they performed the George and Ira Gershwin standard “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.”
Gene Kelly: The veteran hoofer, who appeared with Olivia Newton-John in 1980’s “Xanadu,” was one of cinema’s most athletic and audacious dancers, especially when he danced with the ease of a champion on roller skates through the streets of New York -- actually, the MGM back lot -- in 1955’s “It’s Always Fair Weather” as he sang the engaging “I Like Myself.”
Mickey Rooney: The roller derby sport began in the mid-1930s and featured separate teams of men and women who would try to pass each other for points. By the 1940s, the derby had turned into a more sensationalized sport in which fights and feuds were staged for the screaming crowds. Roller derby telecasts became a popular staple in the early days of television. And it was during this time that Rooney starred in the low-budget 1950 melodrama “The Fireball,” which was an attempt to cash in on the craze. Rooney played an orphan who ran away from a Catholic orphanage to become an egocentric, womanizing roller derby star. Then he loses it all when he gets polio. A young Marilyn Monroe plays one of his girlfriends.
Raquel Welch: Attempting to get away from her bombshell image, Welch took on the roll of a single mom of two who takes her skating expertise to the roller derby world in 1972’s “Kansas City Bomber.” The film wasn’t a critical success, but Welch gave it her all, even breaking her wrist while training for the film. She did much of her own skating in the melodrama, which also featured top skaters from such teams as the Los Angeles Thunderbirds and the New York Bombers.
James Caan: The rough-and-tumble actor was perfectly cast in Norman Jewison’s “Rollerball,” a futuristic 1975 thriller set in the world of an extremely violent, globally popular roller derby-esque game.
Bow Wow: The rapper put his wheels on in the 2005 drama “Roll Bounce.” He plays Xavier, a young man living in Chicago, circa 1978, who is the leader of a roller skating gang.
And as if that weren’t enough reels on wheels, there are yet more roller skating flicks you can check out: 1972’s “Unholy Rollers,” 1986’s “Solarbabies,” 1986’s “Roller Derby Mania,” 1989’s “Roller Blade Warriors,” 1991’s “The Roller Blade Seven,” 1991’s “Prayer of the Rollerboys,” 1997’s “Boogie Nights” and 1998’s “Roller Blade Killer.”