Combustible Celluloid
Stream it:
Download at i-tunes iTunes
Own it:
With: Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Paul Gleason, John Kapelos
Written by: John Hughes
Directed by: John Hughes
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 97
Date: 02/06/1985

The Breakfast Club (1985)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Who We Think We Are

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In 1984, screenwriter John Hughes made his directorial debut with Sixteen Candles and became the voice of a generation of teens, myself included. His characters were more complex and confused, and subsequently funnier and more mature, than anything in an army of earlier teen films.

His first four movies as director, Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), Weird Science (1985), and Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) -- in addition to his screenplays for Pretty in Pink (1986) and Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) -- somehow coincided with my high school years. Many of us saw ourselves in some of the characters, and it helped us realize that we, perhaps, were not alone.

The Breakfast Club is the one for the ages, though. It's talky, and it contains a few scenes of filler (smoking pot, a makeover, etc.), but it's full of great, truthful dialogue and some hilariously unexpected moves. (Hughes reportedly wrote it in two days and also relied on improvisation by the actors.) The kids fit nicely into their pre-assigned "types," -- the Brain (Anthony Michael Hall), the Athlete (Emilio Estevez), the Princess (Molly Ringwald), the Criminal (Judd Nelson), and the Basket Case (Ally Sheedy) -- but they emerge as a whole by the end of the film. I never really identified with any one of them, but as a whole, I knew who they were.

Normally, Hughes allows adult characters to be objects of ridicule rather than three-dimensional characters, but in this one, the authority figure, Principal Vernon (Paul Gleason), is allowed some small moments to reveal who he truly is, as well.

The young actors became known as The Brat Pack and would go on to act with each other throughout the rest of the decade. The Breakfast Club soundtrack, with the great Simple Minds song, "(Don't You) Forget About Me," was a big deal for a while.

In 2017, the Criterion Collection released the movie on an excellent new Blu-ray edition, and for the first time, I realized how strong the movie's visuals are, especially the genius of the library set, the compositions, and the crisp cutting. (This was a movie I saw in the theater, in 1985, and then many times on muddy VHS tapes.) It includes a treasure trove of extras, starting with a 2008 commentary track by Anthony Michael Hall and Judd Nelson and tons of outtakes. There are interviews both new and vintage, a video essay, a behind-the-scenes documentary, audio interviews with Hughes, a This American Life episode with Molly Ringwald, and much more. David Kamp provides the liner notes essay.

Movies Unlimtied