Updated: Jan 11
Since my first official viewing of The Breakfast Club, I’ve been obsessed with John Hughes. The director of famous ‘80s coming-of-age films such as The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, and Pretty in Pink, Hughes also worked on a couple of slapstick family comedies in the mid-2000s and produced Home Alone. But for this article, I’ll focus on his 80s teen films.
Undeniably, this collection of movies has a certain something to it. It may be the way heart and soul mixes with cheesy moral one-liners, the incredible costumes, the dancing, or simply the goofy nostalgia of the ‘80s, but they’ve definitely got something. What makes these movies so damn good? Why haven’t we been able, all the way from the ‘80s to now, to capture that feeling?
Who is John Hughes?
John Hughes, who grew up in Michigan and married his high school sweetheart, was one of the forefathers of teen movies. The first film he directed, Sixteen Candles, is raw, un-glamorized, and retrospectively problematic. However, overall, it’s a well-done coming-of-age movie starring Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall: two important members of a group of young actors known as the Brat Pack. Sixteen Candles follows 16-year-old Sam Baker (Molly Ringwald) through her horrible 16th birthday⎼ which her family has forgotten about. Throughout the film, though, she gains a more mature understanding of what it means to be a young adult⎼ life, love, and all the rest. There are some really uncool scenes regarding sexual misconduct and blatant racism, which are impossible to gloss over and make the film hard to watch in parts, but it’s definitely an iconic film and paved the way for teen movies as a genre.
Directly after that, Hughes directed The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off⎼ some of the most iconic films of all time. The film features many of the same actors and introduced the idea of optimism and sheer vibes outweighing the negative in anything, especially in the everyday lives of American youths.
What was the Brat Pack?
The Brat Pack, as aforementioned, was a group of about 8 actors⎼ Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Ally Sheedy, Anthony Michael Hall, and Emilio Estevez. These actors worked alongside each other in a ton of teen ‘80s movies, not all directed by John Hughes. They were young, gorgeous, famous, and the personification of the ideas put forth in their films⎼ ideas about youthful exuberance, carelessness, and living in the moment. Only some of those actors, such as Rob Lowe and Demi Moore, made it out of the ‘80s with far-reaching acting careers. The Brat Pack is a very interesting phenomenon in adolescence and corporatism.
What’s the John Hughes Sparkle?
So what makes John Hughs movies so sparkly? There’s an undeniable shine in these films⎼ a feeling of everything's-going-to-be-okay that's raw, strong, and very, very nostalgic. There are plenty of reasons for this, but I think the key suspects are dancing and joy.
Dancing in movies is one of my favorite things. The Sparkle can be found, to a lesser extent, in films like Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Footloose (1984), and La La Land (2016). What really works about The Breakfast Club’s famous dance scene or Ferris Bueller’s parade, is that they feel wholeheartedly real. The kids are awkward, gleeful, smiley, and wonderfully stupid in their adolescent euphoria⎼ something we see less and less of these days.
The question of why teens in movies suffer so much is a weighty topic that deserves its own article. With the rise of media like Twilight (2008), Riverdale (2017), and Euphoria (2019), the romanticization of teenage suffering has become almost cheap in its continuous appearance. Teenagers in kids’ media are rebellious and troublesome, teens in adult media are emotional and overdramatic, and teens in teen media are, as they’ve appeared lately, a clever mix of the two. Riverdale, it seems, exists only to take previously happy fictional teenagers and make their lives as difficult as possible. Euphoria has been criticized plenty of times for being too adult for the teen setting. And Twilight’s sadness is almost comically dependable.
John Hughes movies, while they do feature plenty of sad kids, seem to show the whole range of adolescent emotions. Ferris Bueller is a teen like never before; he’s witty and funny, he’s always smiling, and he has his life together (in a rather unconventional way). Even the goth in The Breakfast Club (the best character, barring her unfortunate makeover at the end of the film) smiled a couple of times throughout the movie. Hughes’ kids reflect a different kind of teenage experience from the ones we see nowadays. The pure joy of independence, the thrill of coming of age, the life-changing friendships, and the magic of this stage of life are not lost. There is quite enough magic to go around.
If you’ve never seen a John Hughes movie, I recommend, as always, that you go and watch one. Not only are they some of my favorite films, but they really do capture pure teenage euphoria, which is very real, very sparkly, and very nice to see on the silver screen.