The Top Five John Hughes Movies of the 1980s

The stars of John Hughes' 1980s hit "Sixteen Candles"
The stars of John Hughes' 1980s hit "Sixteen Candles" | Source

No one captured the collective angst of middle class American teens in the 80s better than filmmaker and writer John Hughes. With honest and thoughtful films ranging from sci-fi comedies to high school dramedies, Hughes brought credibility and critical acclaim to the teen film genre that previously had been defined by gross-out movies like Porky's. Hughes' career in the movies spanned nearly three decades up until his death of a heart attack in August 2009 at age 59, but he was most prolific in the 1980s when he wrote, produced, and/or directed no less than 16 films. With universal themes and relatable portrayals, these movies remain relevant and funny nearly 30 years later. Here are the top five John Hughes films of the 1980s. They're worth a revisit today.


Sixteen Candles
Sixteen Candles

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1. Sixteen Candles

Samantha Baker is having a horrible sweet sixteen. Her entire family forgets her birthday because they are preoccupied with her older sister's wedding the next day. She gets roped into taking weird foreign exchange student Long Duk Dong to the school dance where she has to fend off the advances of the school geek. Through it all, she's forlorn over her unrequited crush on popular senior Jake Ryan, who doesn't know she exists. Or does he?

This 1984 romantic comedy, which was written by Hughes over a weekend and marks his directorial debut, was the break-out teen movie of the 1980s. It was the first of three Hughes' movies to cast Molly Ringwald in a leading role, the second of four in which Anthony Michael Hall appeared (as the Geek), and the first of many set in Chicago's North Shore suburbs, where Hughes had attended high school. The movie includes many memorable scenes, including a very un-P.C. Long Duk Dong drunk after a high school party, Samantha's clueless grandparents' misguided efforts protect Samantha from Jake, and Samantha's sister high on muscle relaxants during her wedding. But all ends well for Samantha, Jake, and even the Geek.


The Breakfast Club
The Breakfast Club

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Simple Minds performing Don't You at Live Aid in July 1985

2. The Breakfast Club

The Breakfast Club follows five high school students from suburban Chicago who are forced to serve detention together one Saturday. Each of the five represent a different clique within the school – the athlete (Emilio Estevez), the princess (Molly Ringwald), the nerdy brain (Anthony Michael Hall), the bad boy (Judd Nelson), and the misfit (Ally Sheedy). Over the course of the day, as they pass time and try to evade the scrutiny of Mr. Vernon, the school principal, they move beyond their respective stereotypes and become friends.

The Breakfast Club, which was released in 1985, is considered by many to be John Hughes' best movie, as well as one of the best teen films of all time. It was filmed at Maine North High School in Des Plaines, Illinois, which closed in 1981 and subsequently was used by Hughes as a filming location for the Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. The movie's soundtrack also was hugely popular and included Simple Minds' number one hit, Don’t You (Forget About Me).


Weird Science
Weird Science

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3. Weird Science

Weird Science, released the same year as the Breakfast Club, gives us teen angst with a goofy sci-fi twist. Gary and Wyatt are two high school nerds who decide to create the perfect virtual woman using their computer skills and hack into a government computer for more processing power. A lightning strike sets off a series of supernatural occurrences, and a beautiful woman emerges from the smoke.

The woman, who the boys name Lisa, has superhuman abilities she puts into use to make them cool. Things get really weird when Lisa throws a party at Wyatt's parents' house. A warhead emerges from underground, a gang of mutant bikers arrives to cause trouble, and Wyatt's brother transforms into a green blob-like creature. In the end, Gary and Wyatt find girlfriends, which is all they ever wanted, and Lisa leaves to make some other boys' dreams come true.

Weird Science is a campy departure from John Hughes' more celebrated teen films. The outlandish premise is balanced by charming performances by Anthony Michael Hall, in his fourth and final Hughes' movie, and Ilan Mitchell-Smith as Gary and Wyatt. The soundtrack is loaded with great 80s tunes, including the title song by New Wave group Oingo Boingo.


4. Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Ferris Bueller's Day Off is a coming of age comedy about a high school senior who feigns illness to skip school and spend the day in Chicago with his girlfriend Sloane and best friend Cameron. As the three take in the sights of Chicago, including a baseball game at Wrigley field, a trip to the top of the Sears Tower, and a visit to the Art Institute, both the Dean of Students and Ferris' jealous sister try to track Ferris down. Before the day is out, Ferris rides on a parade float, narrowly misses his father at an upscale restaurant, saves Cameron from drowning himself, and watches as Cameron's father's prize Ferrari crashes into a ravine. Ferris makes it home just in time to slide back into bed before his parents check on him.

John Hughes called the 1986 film his love letter to Chicago. The film was shot on location in downtown Chicago and several suburbs and features a number of Chicago landmarks. The film stars Matthew Broderick as Ferris Bueller and includes scene-stealers Ben Stein as an economics teacher and Edie McClurg as Grace, the school secretary.


5. Planes, Trains and Automobiles

This heartwarming buddy movie from 1987 stars Steve Martin as Neal, an advertising executive trying to get home to Chicago in time for Thanksgiving dinner with his family. His trip from New York seemingly is thwarted at every turn by a bumbling shower curtain salesman named Del Griffith, played by John Candy. After a series of misadventures over three days which see the two men employ multiple modes of transportation in an effort to get home, Neal's contempt for Del turns into compassion. Neal ends up inviting his new friend to spend the holiday with him and his family.

With Planes, Trains and Automobiles, John Hughes moved beyond the teen subgenre into an expanded comedy repertoire. The movie also gave Martin and Candy, both previously known for low-brow comedies, an opportunity to demonstrate serious comedic chops. The movie's R-rating is the result of a hilarious scene in which Neal loses patience with a car rental agent (Edie McClurg, in another scene-stealing appearance) and goes on an f-bomb-laced tirade.


Five more John Hughes movies to check out

They may not be worthy of the top five spots, but honorable mention goes to these five John Hughes films:

National Lampoon's Vacation:This 1983 comedy classic starring Chevy Chase and Beverly DeAngelo chronicles a family's misadventures as they road trip to Wally World for vacation.

Pretty in Pink: Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall are back in this 1986 teen romantic dramedy about a girl from the wrong side of the tracks in love with a rich, preppie boy (Andrew McCarthy).

Some Kind of Wonderful: This 1987 film is a recycled version of the Pretty in Pink story, but this time it's a working class boy (Eric Stoltz) in love with a popular girl (Lea Thompson), while his tom-boy best friend (Mary Stuart Masterson) waits in the wings.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation: Chevy Chase and Beverly DeAngelo reprise their rolls as Clark and Ellen Griswold in the second (and best) sequel to National Lampoon's Vacation. Released in 1989, it has become a holiday classic.

Home Alone: Macaulay Culkin stars as an 8 year-old boy who accidentally gets left behind when his family flies to Paris for Christmas. Although released in 1990, this family comedy deserves mention here since it was John Hughes' biggest commercial success and one of the top grossing comedies of all time.


John Hughes Movies of the 1980s

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Comments 49 comments

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

I loved Planes, Trains and Automobiles, still watch it now if it's on TV - the scene with the freezing cold dog in the back of the truck still makes me laugh out loud and watching Steve Martin trying to dry himself with a face cloth - it's a hoot!

Voted up and shared.


cloverleaffarm profile image

cloverleaffarm 4 years ago from The Hamlet of Effingham

Wow, this brings back some memories. Thanks for sharing. Up +


RolyRetro profile image

RolyRetro 4 years ago from Brentwood, Essex, UK

Classic films all, but Ferris has to be the best. Great hub, followed!


PJ Jones profile image

PJ Jones 4 years ago

I did not see Planes, Trains and Automobiles, but will soon. I did not like the Breakfast Club...but my daughter Loved this film. She watched it over and over, I did not "get it"..so I will watch it again, maybe I missed something..thank you.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, Jools. Steve Martin is one of my very favorites. This is the second movie hub I've done and he's made his way into both of them! Thanks for the comment, vote, and share.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, cloverleaffarm. I just don't go to movies now like I did in the 80s so its fun to revisit all of them now.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, RolyRetro. Ferris is a classic. I love all the scenes of Chicago, too, which is a great city.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

I must admit, PJ, The Breakfast Club is my least favorite of the five, but I had to include it because so many consider it to be THE John Hughes movie. You should check out Planes, Trains and Automobiles The Martin-Candy pairing is a classic! Thanks for the comment.


weestro profile image

weestro 4 years ago from Virginia

I would rank them:

Ferris Bueler

Breakfast Club

Planes Trains and Automobiles

Weird Science

Sixteen Candles

But you can't go wrong with any on this list, Great Hub voted up!


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, Weestro. I'd move Sixteen Candles up and Breakfast Club down, but you're right, you can't go wrong with any of them. Thanks for the comment and vote.


BRIAN SLATER profile image

BRIAN SLATER 4 years ago from Nottingham Uk

I haven't seen all of these but Trains, Planes and Auto's is a great film so I did your quizz and everyone else agrees with me. Voted up :)


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Well, maybe not everyone ... : ) Thanks for the comment and vote and for participating in the poll. Now you'll have to check out the others!


lisa42 profile image

lisa42 4 years ago from Sacramento

Ferris Bueller's Day Off has always been one of my favorites!


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, Lisa. It's a great movie!


randomcreative profile image

randomcreative 4 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Nicely done Deb! I agree with Lisa that Ferris Bueller has been a favorite for a long time.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, Rose. It was great to rewatch some of these old movies recently in order to write this hub. I didn't rewatch Ferris because I've seen it so many times, but I will have to do that soon!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

Ferris Bueller hands down takes the cake for me. I love that film-it's heart is timeless. But John Hughes overall is one of my favorite filmmakers from the most recent era of films. Great hub!


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, Alecia. John Hughes did make some great movies, didn't he? I appreciate the comment.


KDuBarry03 4 years ago

WOw, I remember when i first watched these movies! I have to say, from this list, the Breakfast Club is my favorite out of all of them! Great Hub!


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Glad you enjoyed my hub, KDuBarry. Despite the dated hairstyles and clothes, Breakfast Club is timeless. I think teens today could relate to it as well as I did back in the 1980s. Thanks for reading and commenting.


ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 4 years ago from Illinois

I live in an area not far from where John Hughes attended high school (actually its outside steps were used in FB when the girlfriend leaves school and Ferris gives her a ride). Interestingly, to me anyway, they actually have real "Saturday school" in Illinois for punishment, just like in Breakfast Club. I guess that must be where Hughes got the idea. Great hub.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Hughes drew a lot of inspiration from growing up in the North Shore suburbs. I was in college back in the 80s and had several friends from the area. Whenever we'd watch a John Hughes movie, they always were able to pick out familiar places. Thanks for reading and commenting, ktrapp!


picadilly profile image

picadilly 4 years ago from Schaumburg, IL

I loved the trip down memory lane!!! I too grew up with Saturday school as punishment for naughty acts and pranks during the school week..not that I ever attended a Saturday school outing!

Great write!!! Thank you for sharing your thoughts!


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Not even once, picadilly? : ) Thanks for reading and commenting.


ChristyWrites profile image

ChristyWrites 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

I love all of these movies, what a great list you have compiled here!


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks for reading and commenting, Christy.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

These were such great movies....every single one of them was a classic! I do believe I'll have to watch a couple of these this weekend. Great hub Deborah!


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, Bill. Glad I was able to help you with your weekend plans. : )


Janine Huldie profile image

Janine Huldie 4 years ago from New York, New York

Wow, so many memories brought back in this one hub article about the many movies made by John Hughes. I have seen all of these so many times, but who is counting. Thanks for writing this and have shared and voted too.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, Janine! Kind of makes you want to rewatch them, doesn't it? Appreciate the share and votes.


sadie423 profile image

sadie423 4 years ago from North Carolina

In highschool my friends and I watched the breakfast club, over and over. We had in memorized (and this was in the late 90s). Today it's a toss up between that and Ferris Bueller.....though I them both (and most of the others too!)


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, Sadie. For me and my friends, it was Sixteen Candles. So many memorable lines.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York

Great hub, great film writer, and great movies....what more can I say? My daughter's watch 16 Candles so many times I thought I had a crush on Jake ;)

Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Jake Ryan was something, wasn't he? Thanks for the comment and votes!


Docmo profile image

Docmo 4 years ago from UK

Hughes captured the spirit of the eighties and pretty much set the scene for 'coming of age' films . Films previously were either highbrow entertainments that ignored the teen audience or children's films that talked to the preteens and toddlers. As you say Deb, no one understood the teenage angst and the riotous hormones better than Hughes. He was an intelligent film maker who knew how to make us laugh, think and cry at the same time. His roll call of films are some modern classics. Thanks for bringing him to our collective memories again. voted up and shared.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, Docmo. I don't know there is anyone today who can make films the way Hughes did. It was a great loss when he died at a relatively young age.


KDuBarry03 4 years ago

Coming back for a second read! I just watched Beuller's Day off again last week and I still laugh at it after so many times watching it. Sharing this, again!


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, Keith. One of the great things about writing this hub was the excuse to revisit all of these movies!


nanderson500 profile image

nanderson500 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles are great! I love John Hughes movies. Great hub.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, nanderson, for sharing your favorites. It's really hard to narrow it down to 5 best.


Jordanwalker39 profile image

Jordanwalker39 4 years ago from GA

I lover all these movies!!!! I am going to call in sick to work so I can have a filmfest and I am going to tell my boss you made me do it! haha.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Hey, don't get me in trouble! But have fun playing hooky. : )


Jordanwalker39 profile image

Jordanwalker39 4 years ago from GA

oh, don't worry I'm wearing my rubber ducky boxers, my bunny slippers are on and I have my tablespoon already dipped into my mayo jar! Ok, im not that insane...


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

LOL!


Lybrah 4 years ago

Has John Hughes made anything new lately?


Jordanwalker39 profile image

Jordanwalker39 4 years ago from GA

No, he past away in 2009.


AudraLeigh 4 years ago

I love a trip down memory lane! John Hughs was a great Director who made some fun movies! I saw them all! However, Plains, trains...was my favorite of the lot. It was just so funny...lol!

Great hubs, great memories!


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa Author

Thanks, Audra. And it's great to see you back here at HubPages!


AudraLeigh 4 years ago

You are welcome! And thank you!

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