The Top Five John Hughes Movies of the 1980s
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.
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.
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).
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.