John Hughes Remains Relevant: Don’t You Forget About Me

In recent memory, how many posters of The Breakfast Club have you seen in dorm rooms? Even contemporary movies like Pitch Perfect recall the generation defining Simple Minds song and iconic fist pump as an example of teenage achievement. John Hughes had many cult comedies, including National Lampoon’s Vacation and Home Alone but his coming-of-age films remain popular today. Why? The eighties are generally remembered by today’s millennials as a period of big hair and neon spandex, the weird stuff your parents thought was cool. The nineties were much grungier, more deserving of the typical brooding teenager’s attention.

Teenagers are generally not a beloved group of people. Parents fear them. They’re a hard generation to connect with because they’re usually seen as self-absorbed. A lazy age group who sleeps in too late, complains too much and puts in too little effort. Just like the overworked businessman and overbearing housewife, teenagers are easily dismissed into archetypal roles on-screen. One of John Hughes strengths as a screenwriter is his ability to imitate the teenage voice. Most teenage roles demand an ignorant caricature instead of honest relatable voices that audiences connect with.

Let’s Get Relatable

"Sixteen Candles" with Molly Ringwald and Michael Schoeffling
Sam Baker falling for Jake Ryan

John Hughes acknowledges the box teenagers are put in and shows them how to see past it. He begins with something as simple as the constrictive roles as the popular girl, the athlete, the academic, the rebel and the loner in a beloved classic, The Breakfast Club. Their teacher even demands an essay from them asking “who they are.” This is a central question for most teenagers, who are struggling to find themselves as they mature. It feels as if the minute high school begins, people feel defined by one thing. Those who resist any labels get slapped with a stereotype anyway. Lost, forgotten or unnoticed. It’s how you’re remembered. Unless you are a dedicated fan of The Breakfast Club, you might not even remember the five characters names. But you recognized their archetypal roles. High school students are usually remembered in “the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions.”

Hughes is always careful to treat teenagers with respect so they never feel looked down upon. Indignities of teenage life are something everyone agonized over when they were younger. Jeannie is furious that her parents always let Ferris get away with everything. Sam can’t believe no one remembered her birthday in Sixteen Candles. Pretty in Pink’s Andie is insecure about going to prom with Blane. Are these problems trivial compared to adult struggles with their career, finances and debilitating health? Not when you’re a teenager. John Hughes movies always recall the excitement of being young and experiencing adulthood for the first time. It’s a nice reminder the small degree of selfishness that comes hand in hand with youth. Everyone enjoys a little acknowledgement on their birthday. There’s a reason Facebook sends out birthday reminders and people dutifully post congratulations for public viewing, even if they plan wishing privately as well.

Growing Up is Hard Work

Ferris Bueller, Cameron and Sloane taking a Day Off
Cameron, Ferris and Sloane taking the day off

“Life moves pretty fast” for everyone, even as yesterday’s teens become today’s adults. Probably the hardest part of growing up is the conflict between wanting to find individuality through maturity while still fitting in to feel a part of the crowd. Part of maturity is never fully accepting that everyone else is struggling to figure everything out too because it looks like everything is aligned perfectly. In Sixteen Candles, even racially stereotyped characters like Long Duk Dong are able to fit in and achieve social merit. Sam and the teenage audience are left wondering what piece of the puzzle they’re missing, what they’re lacking. He’s a stranger at a party held by Sam’s own peers, but he finds friends immediately. How did Long Duk Dong find a girlfriend in five minutes but Jake Ryan is still unachievable? Sam is missing out on her support system, isolated both at school and at home. The feeling of loneliness is mutual, responds an audience of enraptured teenagers.

Characters are allowed to have real issues, such as parental conflict, depression, and suicide that are treated with sincerity instead of humour. Even in a light coming of age movie, John Hughes reminds us that we need characters like Cameron who struggles with depression or Brian trying to commit suicide over his grades. High school is painful for many people, not light and happy like many traditional “teen” movies portray. Audience members with a generation gap might be horrified. How could characters so young be dealing with mental health issues this debilitating? This movie had an upbeat song in the trailer! Part of John Hughes crusade is reminding audiences that teenagers are just like us. We were them. Some of us still are.

Parents Just Don’t Understand

Adults in Hughes films are categorized the way most teenagers see the older generation: restrictive or oblivious. These are people who either get in a teenager’s path to self-discovery or they are hopelessly unaware. Hughes points out how this is blatantly opposite to an age where teenagers are hyperaware of their place in the world and who they’re trying to become. The Buellers’ are helplessly unaware that their son Ferris is touring downtown Toronto instead of sick in bed. The principal, Ed Rooney, is furious that Ferris continues to be idolized and is determined to catch him in the act. What other principal would break into a student’s house just for proof of truancy? His unhelpful secretary reminds Ed that the other students see Ferris as a “righteous dude.” Other teachers in the school are also unconscious of the fact that most of their students are hopelessly bored of them. Repeating “Bueller… Bueller…Bueller” in a monotone voice is a simple line, but perfectly demonstrates how adults are viewed in these movies: a broken record that keeps on spinning while Ferris is a dynamic whirlwind popping around Chicago.

Not Angsty? The Movies are Still Timeless

Making friends within the Breakfast Club
The members of The Breakfast Club

John Hughes coming-of-age tales were released in 1980s which makes his films over thirty years old now. Remaining relevant with the present generation? This is every artist’s dream. Hughes relied on a fairly standard formula. His dialogue was snappy and fresh, with focus on real voices instead of trendy jokes that would become dated. This alone will remain one of his true legacies. There was nothing stilted or robotic about the way his characters spoke.

Several of the movies were bookended to a short span of time, so audiences were not forced to follow these characters through an entire semester of high school. Few people want to relive that. Each move’s premise usually boiled down to a fairly simple idea: a birthday in Sixteen Candles, one day off from school in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, or a Saturday detention in The Breakfast Club. These aren’t idea stories, they’re character studies of adolescence. Teenagers like feeling catered to. Remember how we’re all a little bit selfish?

Does music make the movie? No, but those songs will be stuck in your head long after the credits roll. Perfect for setting the mood in scenes, Hughes picked timeless soundtrack choices that remain critically acclaimed today. A few choice tracks:

  • Simple Minds “Don’t You Forget About Me”
  • Beatles “Twist and Shout”
  • Karla DeVito “We Are Not Alone”
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s “If You Leave”
  • Thompson Twins “If You Were Here”

And even today’s generation and all their weird house music can remain satisfied. Try “Oh Yeah” by Yello. Parodied constantly in pop culture, it’s a song you’ll never forget.

A Little R-E-S-P-E-C-T

There’s a good chance the next generation will seek solace in John Hughes films as well. No one doubts being a teenager is a tumultuous time. Hormones are pumping, the social hierarchy at school is a class in itself and everyone is maturing at their own speed. There are still teen movies that garner attention, like Mean Girls, but most are dismissed. Milennials have joined the hordes of teenagers who love John Hughes and keep his movies playing on the Movie Network on Saturday nights. Maybe teenagers are comforted by the recognition that some people are still taking them seriously. At the end of the day, they’re just looking for a little respect.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Hughes was a very talented guy. It’s easy to be tempted by the idea of writing him off as the guy who wrote all those overwrought Brat Pack high school dramas, but he did much more than that, and even some of the high school movies were damn well made.

  2. I’ve only seen two of his films.

  3. Denisse

    There are very, very few movies that do this to me – take me back to childhood, or adolescence, or impart the specific feeling of a season, different time and place in our lives. Watching a John Hughes movie is like deja vu all over again.

  4. Lexzie

    I have never seen a John Hughes film. My mom thinks it is quite a travesty. However, even though I haven’t seen any of the films, I think you nailed it with his relevancy. Many of my friends adore his works.

  5. John Hughes is not only still relevant, but ahead of his time. Even today people are afraid of how smart young people are. Growing up in a time when kids not only served in the military before they were the age to vote but also were shot in schools for disagreeing with the government, he obviously had a lot of ideas of the wrong impression the world had (and still has) of them. From him then to Don Bluth in the next decade the trust in kids and teenagers they pioneered hopefully will grow and they won’t be treated like idiots rather than inexperienced. But if recent memory since the millennium shows, there’s a lot of catching up to do to this master of movies, John Hughes.

  6. Aaron Hatch

    It’s funny how the new Spider-Man movie coming out in a year or so was marketed as “having a John Hughes feel.” The problem I see with this is that the only person who could do John Hughes movies, is John Hughes. Other films that tried to copy his formula didn’t work as well, proving why he was the master of high school comedies/dramas. The film that came the closet to mastering his formula was Perks of Being a Wall Flower.

  7. EthaDennison

    Ferris Beuller is an undisputed classic. I also think it’s a really interesting entry in Hughes’ filmography, because Ferris is the complete opposite of every other Hughes teen protagonist — he’s happy, he’s in charge, and he’s not scared at all.

  8. I love them all honestly. Least one that I have watched is probably She’s Having A Baby.

  9. Mcswain

    Weird Science is the one I go back to the most. Hughes’ most fun and inventive flick. But for me it’s Ferris Bueller where all of the things that made Hughes great come together most successfully.

  10. He wrote movies that defined a generation of caucasian teenagers only.

    • His movies defined a generation and are beloved to this day.

  11. Agripin

    NO ONE can write about teens and teen life in high school like Hughes….not since and no one ever will. No matter how old you are and what generation you’re from, you’ll be able to relate to the kids in his films.

  12. Ryan Errington

    Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) would have been a good choice to add. It was not directed by John Hughes, but he did write the screenplay. It is a mature take on romance and relationships.

  13. Monique

    As an 80’s teen, I saw all the Hughes movies in the theater, long before I was consciously examining media. In my experience, they’ve just always been around… but you’re right — the reason they’re still referenced is due to how accurate, thoughtful, and relevant the character portrayals are. Thank you for shining a spotlight on an artist I haven’t given enough thought to!

  14. Fitcher

    Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is by far my favorite 80s film of his. I’m watching it right now.

  15. Love his work. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Followed closely by The Breakfast Club and Some Kind of Wonderful.

  16. While John Hughes did make great films during the 80s that have defined the era and have since gone down as classics, after Home Alone his involvement in the film industry during the 90s (which seems to make up the majority of his screen credits) was terrible. I think it’s pretty clear he fell apart.

    • Giordano

      You must not understand what terrible means.

      He did different things and moved on with his career. Much like the contemporary Horror directors, he no longer had his message to convey onto the world. They move on, try different things, some hits, some misses.

  17. Lewandowski

    I Love Them All…But Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

  18. Zonia Leger

    Hughes was so loved but he never knew it. He died sad. He was an innocent kid at heart that never understood the constant lies and backstabbing in Hollywood.

    • Oh i think he understood quite well but had no idea how to counter it. He just faded because he was not willing to conform. Good for him! Though i do agree with your first two sentences, sadly.

  19. Garfield

    the breakfast club, I adore that movie.

  20. I liked “Home Alone 3” – it was rather charming and entertaining.

  21. Li Doan

    He wrote movies that defined a generation. The majority of which will go down as classics. In my book, they already are.

  22. Ryan Walsh

    Its sad to see how he wrote such influential films but then after Home alone 2 his works became mediocre then eventually crap…its a real shame cause he was so damn good before. But then again, maybe its his good works are all we really need to remember how much of a influence he was.

  23. Great article all-around. I would like to point out that Ferris drives around downtown Chicago, not Toronto. Just letting you know.

  24. films I love all of these films now showing them to my teenagers there a lot of great easy fun with no green screen vocabulary we used to use in the eighties prohibited now we love all the movies and buy them all now now they are just like our lives in the eighties and nineties fun cool nice people

  25. This was really informative. I enjoyed Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, and The Breakfast Club, but I had no idea they were all written and directed by the same person. You can really see Hughes’ impact on new films in the genre, with Easy A’s nostalgia for 80’s movies, including all three of the films I mentioned above, and Pitch Perfect’s male protagonist urging Anna Kendrick’s character to watch The Breakfast Club.

  26. Valeria Sharivker

    Loved the added details of the music used in the films, and their effects. Great article.

  27. Really enjoyed reading this, mostly because of how much I relate and respond to Hughes’ work. He definitely captures the uniquely American teenage experience without being stereotypical or trying too hard. Oftentimes, films about the high school years try to be especially pessimistic, sarcastic, or “quirky.” What Hughes accomplished so well in films like The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink was a genuineness and respect for the characters and who they represent.

  28. Just the other day I was in Hot Topic and saw a Breakfast Club shirt. You know the iconic image of the five of them leaning against the lockers. I couldn’t help but smile at it’s resilience to the times, and when a friend asked me what I was smiling at I pointed and she gave me a blank stare. It was in that moment that I realized she was not familiar with the Hughes world and I must convert her.

  29. I love “The Breakfast Club.” I think it is a great classic that will last the test of time. In your article, you pointed out a lot of key ideas and themes that made John Hughes’ movies so good and enjoyable. I agree that Hughes did an excellent job of writing relatable characters that people can easily sympathize with. It is easy to for anyone to feel a connection with any one of these characters.

  30. A great read!

  31. I love that these “classic” coming of age movies seem relevant. Of course, the breakfast club is up there in my top ten list. It brings to light certain elephants in the room- the fact that in highschool, life is very on the surface, emotions are usually bubbling silently beneath a layer of insecurity. It also asks the question of what constitutes a friendship worth pursuing. We never find out what ever did happen to the 5 of them. I’d like to think they turned things around for what we assume for the age group 🙂

  32. Marcie Waters

    So many of John Hughes’ movies touch on topics and issues that are so relate-able, like wanting to fit in or having a crush on someone and wondering what they think of you. I think that’s why his films have remained relevant all these years.

  33. Crazy how in high school you think everything is so important and your life can be ruined by one day of summer spent in detention!

  34. I’ll never forget watching The Breakfast Club for the first time. My dad got a few movies he loved (TBC, From the Hip, Young Frankenstein) growing up and he kinda explained all the cultural stuff. That Era and Hughs’ generally produce a strange sort of nostalgia by proxy. Good article.

  35. “The Breakfast club” is just a timeless movie since it had the ability to bring together many strong and essential themes such as the fight against stereotypes, adulthood, the search of the self, the bid for freedom and love.
    Many can relate to this type of movies that perfectly illustrate the revolutionary transition of one’s lost innocence.

  36. Stephanie M.

    Nice article. I’d like to see you write and analyze more on The Breakfast Club, especially its five main characters (they were John, Andrew, Allison, Brian, and Claire, if anyone didn’t remember and was interested). Watching this film is one of my best memories of high school psychology.

  37. Samantha Leersen

    John Hughes really knew how to make a movie that people would watch for years afterwards. Great article!

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