BREAKFAST CLUB: Influence Over Expectation and Hughes’ Legendary Film

When John Hughes’ was granted the budget to direct his screenplay, THE BREAKFAST CLUB (1985), no one would anticipate its fantastic success and influence, earning an impressive $51.5 million versus a $1 million budget.  While it wasn’t nominated for any major awards, Roger Ebert had credited it with three out of four stars and wrote, “the performances are wonderful.”  The film revolutionized the teen film with its coming of age brand of charm, catapulting the careers of all those involved throughout the ‘80s, and has remained a cinema and style icon to this day. 

The film centers on Brian (Anthony Michael Hall) “the brain”; Andrew (Emilio Estavez) “the athlete”; Allison (Ally Sheedy) “the basket case”; Claire (Molly Ringwald) “the princess”; and Bender (Judd Nelson) “the criminal” as they serve an entire Saturday in detention together.  The students learn to empathise and connect with one another while grappling with the antagonism from Principal Vernon (Paul Gleason), and what he represents: soul-crushing adulthood.

Where it lacked serious critical attention, it had more than gathered the attention of a long forgotten film audience: teenagers.  With the rise of the multiplex, more teens than ever before now also had disposable incomes, and with that Hughes’ may have recognized an untapped market.  Up until this point, teenage narratives had largely been ignored, unless they were used as fodder for overly sexualized comedies and horror films, and even then the product was a facsimile of teenage lives and emotions that read as mockery rather than a realistic interpretation.  Molly Ringwald pointed out in an essay for The New Yorker in 2018, that at that time “no one in Hollywood was writing about the minutiae of high school, and certainly not from a female point of view.”  An interesting note, as a lot of Hughes’ films did feature female perspectives, yet as they age, they’ve become criticised for their misogynist undertones and lack of racial representation, as well.  Yet, THE BREAKFAST CLUB, among many of his other woks,remains one of the most iconic films and soundtracks to come out of the ‘80s.

In fact, Simple Minds’ Don’t You (Forget About Me), the theme song for the film,topped Billboard’s 100 chart.  The song had been written by Keith Forsey, the film’s composer, and was presented to the band, which initially was less than enthusiastic at the prospect of performing someone else’s song.  After meeting with Hughes and Forsey, and witnessing their enthusiasm for the project, however, they “came around…[because Hughes and Forsey] were great guys and they made you want to do it,” Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr stated in an interview for Forbes in 2018.  Hughes’ loved the British new wave sound, and its placement in his films gives them an indescribable edge that other films at the time just didn’t have.  “John particularly was a fan of the sounds. He sprinkled the sounds of what was coming out of the U.K. throughout his movies then… It’s kind of an unlikely combination when you think that a lot of the movies were set in Chicago and stuff,” Kerr also noted in the same interview.  In that sense, Hughes was too cool for Hollywood at the time, and his films exemplified that.

It would seem that Hughes had an aptitude for creating a unique and subliminal style, not only with his musical choices but promotional, as well.  Renowned photographer, Annie Leibovitz photographed the film’s poster and cast.  She had already been known for her work with Rolling Stone Magazine and had “creat[ed] a distinctive look for the publication as chief photographer. In 1983, she began working for the entertainment magazine Vanity Fair, continuing to produce images that would be deemed iconic and provocative,” as stated by her own website.  Hughes could not have been blind to the affect Leibowitz’s collaboration would have on the film’s marketing; and indeed, the poster was unique and effective.  Not only did it perfectly showcase the film’s moody stars and their characters’ personalities, but also prompted the media to create and dub the actors as part of ‘80s celebrity group, “The Brat Pack.”  The core group consisted of all five BREAKFAST CLUB stars, and a couple others from Joel Schumacher’s ST. ELMO’S FIRE (1985), due to the fact that Estavez, Sheedy, and Nelson were in the Schumacher film together, as well.  While Hughes and Leibovitz had nothing to do with the young actors’ new title, the poster itself was aesthetically engaging enough to warrant attention from most major media outlets and stir excitement.

Contrary to the excited reception, Hughes actually had some difficulties procuring the budget for THE BREAKFAST CLUB as he had only made his directorial debut the year prior with SIXTEEN CANDLES (1984), despite having phenomenal writing success with Stan Dragoti’s MR.MOM (1983) and the NATIONAL LAMPOONS (1982, ’83, ’85) franchise beforehand.  Studio executives were worried about Hughes’ lack of directorial experience, the angst- ridden tone of the main characters, and the fact that it read and viewed much like a play: the majority of action takes place within the library, and conflict is more introspective and emotional, than it is physical.  With that in mind, he asked for a small budget, built the library within an actual high school gymnasium, and, according to Hughes himself on the 25th anniversary DVD commentary, shot FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986) concurrently at the same school.  While the logistics of how the two were shot simultaneously can be dizzying to contemplate, that is a tremendous feat and further proves not only the emotional genius Hughes possessed, but the directorial and productive, as well.

It seems that THE BREAKFAST CLUB’s influence can’t go understated.  It created a new genre of teen film, dedicated to real intellectual thoughts and analysis pertaining to teen anguish and transgression.  It was stylistically unique and validated the philosophy of an entire generation, and many afterwards.  It may have never won any awards, but The National Film Board of Preservation preserved it in 2016, and Ebert liked the film during its release, a feat in its own right, not to mention earning fifty times is expenditure.  The film defined a generation and homages to it are still made to this day.  It was never expected to become so influential, but proved more than anything that people and films are so much more than “how you want to see [them].  In their simplest terms, and most convenient definitions.  Does that answer all your questions?”

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