’13 Going on 30′ Famous Dance Number Caused Drama Behind the Scenes

13 Going on 30 is one of the many movies with dancing. The 2004 romantic comedy stars Jennifer Garner as Jenna Rink, a 13-year-old girl who finds herself transformed into a 30-year-old.

In one scene, Jenna busts a move to liven up a magazine launch party. She does the iconic zombie dance from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video with her childhood friend and love interest, Matt Flamhaff (Mark Ruffalo). Guests join in and Jenna becomes the hero of the party. 

Gary Winick, Jennifer Garner, and Mark Ruffalo at the '13 Going on 30' premiere after party
Gary Winick, Jennifer Garner, and Mark Ruffalo at the 13 Going on 30 premiere after-party | M. Caulfield/WireImage

The dance number is a standout moment in 13 Going on 30. It lives on as one of the movie’s most memorable scenes. However, it was a source of controversy behind the scenes. 

‘13 Going on 30’ director initially felt the dance scene didn’t make sense

Gary Winick, the director of 13 Going on 30, and the studio producing the film had differing views on the dance scene. During a 2004 interview with The Telegraph, Winick said the studio was set on the dance scene. Meanwhile, he felt it didn’t connect with the plot. 

“I kept saying ‘What does that have to with the story?’ and they kept saying ‘We need to put it in the trailers.’ I had to force them to make it work as part of the narrative,” he said. 

The dance number’s not only a nod to Jenna’s ‘80s upbringing but a way she saved the party from being a dud. Winick had to push for it to happen the way it did and clearly, it worked out.

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The director also opened up about the scene in the 13 Going on 30 production notes.

“I didn’t want it to feel like a music video,” he said, according to Made In Atlantis. “I wanted it to work dramatically. As good as the dancing is, the reason the scene works is because it’s plot-oriented. Jenna is saving the party the way a 13-year-old would, not an adult.”

Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo relived their childhoods with the dance scene

Both Ruffalo and Garner grew up in the ‘80s like their 13 Going on 30 characters. Each had childhood memories associated with “Thriller” that gave the dance scene an added dose of nostalgia. 

“I had only one cassette tape growing up and it was ‘Thriller,’” Garner said in the production notes. “So getting to do that dance, to rehearse it and have all the back-up dancers was seriously one of the most fun experiences I have ever had.”

“That was my youth,” Ruffalo said of the song. “‘Thriller’ was the tape that everyone passed around.” 

Jennifer Garner filming a scene from '13 Going on 30'
Jennifer Garner filming a scene from 13 Going on 30 | Arnaldo Magnani/Getty Images

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Not only did Ruffalo and Garner have fun with the dance scene but the rest of their 13 Going on 30 co-stars did too. Andy Serkis, who played Jenna’s boss Richard Kneeland at Poise magazine, worked with a choreographer to learn the moonwalk.

Even though it was originally a point of contention, the dance scene became one of the most memorable moments in 13 Going on 30.

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