The Breakfast Club currently sits at number 1 on Entertainment Weekly’s best High School movies as the absolute benchmark of teenage life caught on film. It’s now over 30 years since its release, but walk up to any slightly film-conscious teenager and they’ll probably have seen it at least once. In fact, they may even be able to quote it to you. ‘Screws fall out all the time, the world’s an imperfect place,’ says Bender (Judd Nelson) at one point. The Breakfast Club perfectly captures all the anxieties, the pressures, and the imperfections of being young. Possibly that’s why it endures: Hughes managed to make a film with diverse, sympathetic characters that every young person could, and still can, relate to.
John Hughes’ career as a writer and a director was a prolific one, a career that has now developed into somewhat of a cult after his death. He’s come to epitomise the 80s film industry, with hits like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles and Pretty In Pink all set aside as solid gold teen classics. His repeated use of the same actors and the creation of the iconic ‘Brat Pack’ lent his work another layer of pop culture relevance. The Breakfast Club captured all of this, and along with its instantly recognisable sound track of Simple Minds’ ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ it’s come to represent the aestheticisation of 80s nostalgia today.
The actual story is pretty simple; five very different teenagers wind up in detention one fateful Saturday, and whilst they’re stuck in the school library trading insults and tearing each other down, eventual boredom forces them to actually listen to each other. The best line comes from an unexpected source, Andrew (Emilio Estevez), the ‘jock’: ‘My God, are we going to be like our parents?’ ‘It’s unavoidable. It just happens,’ Allison (Ally Sheedy) replies. Isn’t that every young person’s secret fear? That we’ll forget what it’s like to be young? Become boring, ignorant and indifferent in our old age?
There’s an earnest awkward quality to the script that makes it so special. An authenticity helped perhaps by the now very much well-perpetuated rumour that the young actors improvised a lot of the dialogue themselves. This includes memorable moments like Brian’s (Anthony Michael Hall) answer to why he needs a fake ID – ‘to vote’ – and the entire scene where they sit in a circle at the top of the library. The genre-defining fist pump at the end was also supposedly ad-libbed by Judd Nelson – now the ultimate ‘got the girl’ salute.
The Breakfast Club is the seminal tribute to teen angst, in all its forms. The absolute talent of the ensemble cast means they add layers to their archetypes, especially Molly Ringwald’s spoiled prom princess Claire and Judd Nelson’s delinquent Bender, both highlights of their careers. Years before the clichéd formulaic high school movies of the nineties flooded our screens, The Breakfast Club was already dismantling them, reminding us ‘we’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that’s all’.
And that’s why The Breakfast Club is still so popular. It understands.
Grab the opportunity to see it on the big screen again for the 30th anniversary celebratory showing at Leeds Town Hall on Saturday 7th November at 9am.
Image: Universal Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection