FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF: Legacy Despite Snubbery

John HughesFERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986) is probably one of the most beloved and quoted films to date, but has somehow never been seriously considered for any accolades or preservation by the National Film Registry.  The film’s success is quite notable, with a budget of $5.8 million and box office earnings of $70.1 million, an obviously enthusiastic positive reception.  It would play host to many iconic scenes, yet still its legacy has remained in guided secondhand viewings and playful homages.  While that may upset some fans of the piece, it ultimately satisfies Hughes’ attempt at legacy by being so unique within his canon, and still maintaining his famed thematic and character-driven integrity within his teen culture films.

FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF poster directed by John Hughes

“Righteous Dude” Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) coerces his girlfriend, Sloane (Mia Sara) and his perpetually anxious best friend, Cameron (Alan Ruck) to skip school and steal his father’s Ferrari for an adventure through downtown Chicago.  Meanwhile, Ferris’ sister, Jeanie (Jennifer Grey), and Principal Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), separately strive to bring Ferris to what they believe is much deserved justice.  The concept, similarly with many of Hughes’ teen culture films, is simple.  The character-work, however, has incredible depth, explaining why casting was such an important process for Hughes, and why so many actors are long-revered for his roles: Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, and John Cryer aside from Broderick, would be just a few examples.

Hughes wrote the script for FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF in an impressive six days under the threat of the Writer’s Guild striking.  It is also rumored the character of Ferris was specifically written for Broderick, after starring in John Badham’s hit film, WAR GAMES (1983), although John Cusack was a strong contender for the role.  As usual, Hughes was heavily invested with casting, even refusing Ringwald as Sloane, stating “the role wasn’t big enough,” as revealed by Ringwald herself, despite the fact that Sloane appears in the majority of the film.

FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF was well received by audiences, yet it did cause debate between Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert during an episode of their show SISKEL & EBERT AT THE MOVIES (1982- 1986).  Siskel panned the film, with the opinion that Jeanie and the Boy in the Police Station’s (Charlie Sheen) storyline was more interesting than Ferris’, especially because he “doesn’t do anything of much fun.”  Ebert disagreed with Siskel, saying “it was a sweet, innocent, and heart-warming little movie.”  Broderick would be nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical, but the film wouldn’t be recognized for any other nominations, and still has yet to be preserved by the National Film Registry.  A failed television sitcom version of the film would air for thirteen episodes in 1990, starring Charlie Schlatter as the titular character, and a young Jennifer Aniston as his sister, Jeanie, before being cancelled.  It seems as though FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF’S influence and legacy would culminate in the trade of recognizable one-liners uttered by fans and decades of media content paying affable homage. 

Hughes, however, was less interested in the impact of each individual work, but more so in the legacy he would leave behind.  He would say,

“I tried to line up the release of each new movie with the video release of the previous one. That way, the first one might not do so well at the box-office, but people would become familiar with it by the time the second came out, and so on. That’s why my movies would come out every six months or so, and if you look, you’ll see that the grosses steadily increased with each one. So I grew an audience, and I tried to be as true to that audience as possible, play to what they like and appreciate.”

Interestingly, it would be filmed simultaneously and at the same high school location as THE BREAKFAST CLUB (1985).  The film would fit into the usual philosophy of many of Hughes’ films, the trope of adults vs. adolescence, while achieving possibly the most lighthearted approaches.  Alan Ruck would say of Hughes’ work, “teen comedies tend to dwell on the ridiculous, as a rule… and we kind of hold the kids up for ridicule in a way. Hughes added this element of dignity. He was an advocate for teenagers as complete human beings, and he honored their hopes and their dreams.”  It is widely acknowledged that Hughes brought a never before seen realism to teen culture in film, and he reveled in his ability to do so, saying these films are “near and dear to me. It’s like being at the kids’ table at Thanksgiving – you can put your elbows on it, you don’t have to talk politics… no matter how old I get, there’s always a part of me that’s sitting there.”

It’s not quite discernible what makes FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF so lovable or memorable.  Perhaps it’s the clever and hastily written script, reeking of stress sweat, they usually make the best ones, or the actors that genuinely embody the characters within those pages.  No matter the formula, it seems that despite being snubbed for serious accolades or remembrance, FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF remains one of the most interesting character studies, and one of the most quotable and philosophical films while still being lighthearted.  Its place within Hughes’ canon is firm and its legacy undeniable.

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