Swayze Vs. Gyllenhaal: Which ‘Road House’ Throws a Better Punch?

Swayze & Gyllenhall in Road House
United Artists; Amazon Prime Video/Courtesy Everett Collection

In my very unbiased opinion, as someone who watched both these films for the first time back-to-back, the recently released reimagining of the 1980s cult classic Road House (available now on Prime Video) is the perfect example of how much we have improved upon storytelling in the last 35 years. Yes, I know this will annoy some nostalgic middle-aged men who loved the original film and consider it a masterpiece of a campy, over-the-top action thriller. However, the new Road House is also a rather over-the-top action thriller — it’s just far superior. So, sorry 1989: 2024’s Road House is the winner.

Why? Well, to put it simply: it’s just a better story. But let’s break it down.


It’s clear whoever wrote these two films was not the same person. In the modern adaptation, the characters are very nuanced, well-written and three-dimensional. In the original, they feel like archetypes of people, not actual people. I blame the 1980s for this. A lot of movies that came out of that decade were just plain silly, including Road House, because, from what I can tell based on watching so many 1980s movies lately, people really just wanted to have fun and keep things light. The original version is indeed light; it’s easy to follow without paying much attention or having to think about anything in depth. Also, there are a lot of topless women. In fact, women only exist in this film to be topless, looks like. In contrast, the new film features women in more interesting roles, with actual personalities. So that’s a plus! What the 1989 film had in excess nudity and a cartoonish vision of good guy vs. bad guy, the 2024 film makes up for with realism and depth.


ROAD HOUSE, from left: Ben Gazzara, Billy Magnussen 2024. Collection

MGM/MoviestillsDB; Laura Radford /Amazon Prime Video /Courtesy Everett

The villain in the new Road House was just so much more interesting and hate-able. Partly this is because Ben Brandt (Billy Magnussen) is a more down-to-earth sort of bad guy. A rich kid who insists on getting a straight-razor shave while sitting aboard a rocky yacht (this scene alone was very telling, and also kind of hilarious), he is the kind of spoiled manchild who needs to prove to his father he can manage a business on his own (which he is incapable of doing) that you just love to hate, and sort of feel sorry for, too. I prefer my villains with some humanity and a few faults. Whereas Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara) is just straight-up mean and uninteresting, like a cartoon character. Where’s the fun in that?


ROAD HOUSE, Jake Gyllenhaal, 2024; ROAD HOUSE, Patrick Swayze, 1989,

Laura Radford/Amazon Prime Video; United Artists both Courtesy Everett Collection

The biggest difference between these two films is the character of Dalton. I’m not saying Patrick Swayze didn’t do a good job acting cool and beating people up when they deserved it, but Jake Gyllenhaal‘s former UFC champion version of Dalton is a complex, layered reluctant hero dealing with a lot of trauma and a guilty conscience on top of acting cool and beating people up when they deserve it. They’re not the same character at all, besides being good at MMA. Gyllenhaal’s Dalton is very closed off emotionally and a very realistic interpretation of what a former UFC fighter might act like. As someone who does a lot of martial arts, I happen to know a lot of men who fight, including a former UFC fighter, and this all tracks.

Ending *Spoilers*

ROAD HOUSE, Patrick Swayze, Kelly Lynch, Sam Elliott, 1989.

MGM/Courtesy: Everett Collection

These movies have very different endings. In the original version, which is far more upbeat, Swayze gets the girl and stays in town (however, his best friend, played by the great Sam Elliott, is sadly killed in the process). In the new version, which is much darker, Dalton does what he does best: he leaves. Another point for realism. It also just makes more sense than the original film, which was rather lacking in proper motivation for Brad Wesley’s obsession with the brawl-happy bar and Dalton. Okay, you own the town, but then wouldn’t you want the fighting at the local bar to stop? You should be on the same side here.

Conor McGregor

ROAD HOUSE, Conor McGregor, 2024.

Laura Radford/Amazon Prime Video/Courtesy Everett Collection

As much as I understand why they included former UFC champion Conor McGregor in this film and basically had him play himself (but with a very odd choice in accent, which is maybe what bothered me most), can I just say that his acting was maybe the worst part about the film? All you had to do was play yourself, Conor. Come on! (Don’t beat me up!)

Final Thoughts

ROAD HOUSE, Marshall R. Teague, Patrick Swayze, 1989

Courtesy Everett Collection

Both movies are definitely a bit over-the-top in terms of violence (why is everyone so easily dragged into nightly bar fights anyway?), but this wasn’t an issue for me, because I just accepted that, as a viewer, we’re witnessing a slightly different version of reality where this is normal. Both movies are fun, if you like watching someone with a conscience and a brain beating up people who sort of deserve it.

ROAD HOUSE, Lukas Gage (center), Jake Gyllenhaal (right), 2024.

Laura Radford/Amazon Prime Video/Courtesy Everett Collection

But the 2024 film is a cohesive, well-written story of a troubled man who finds a bit of redemption by helping other people when he can’t help himself, and it is the perfect example of why we are living in peak film/television: we have reached a point where we’ve understood that no one is all good and no one is all bad. People are complicated creatures, and trying to show a black-and-white version of reality where this is not the case just rings false.

Also, the dialogue is also pretty great. Check out both versions of Road House on Prime Video, and see for yourself!


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For most of her childhood, all Ukrainian-born millennial Zhanna Slor ever watched was a cartoon about a chain-smoking wolf chasing a bunny around Soviet Russia. This has the tendency to both amuse and horrify her coworkers. “No, I have not seen Star Wars.” “No, I have not seen Rocky.” “The ShiningCaddyshackAnimal House? Nope.” In this column, using ignorance as a challenge, she debates how iconic films hold up in the new century, when watched completely out of context for the first time. For more of these reviews, click here.