‘The Breakfast Club’ Reconvenes for Its 30th Anniversary

By Mark Walsh — March 10, 2015 4 min read
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“The Breakfast Club,” the iconic 1985 movie about disaffected students spending Saturday in detention at their upscale suburban high school, is reconvening beginning Tuesday.

That’s when the film by the late writer-director John Hughes is re-released in a 30th anniversary edition Blu-Ray DVD. And later this month, the same remastered edition will be shown at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, (March 16), and for a limited run in selected theaters nationwide, on March 26 and 31.

That theatrical run includes a panel discussion featuring some of the original Brat Pack actors: Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, and Ally Sheedy. (They played high school stereotypes, respectively, the “Jock,” the “Brain,” the “Rebel,” the “Beauty,” and the “Recluse.”) Locked together in the school library under the intermittent surveillance of an evil vice principal (Paul Gleason), the five students talk and argue, smoke pot, and reveal their deepest secrets.

Here’s the original trailer, via Newsweek, which gave the film a tepid review.

“The Breakfast Club” was probably the darkest of Hughes’ high school-themed movies, which included “Sixteen Candles,” “Pretty in Pink,” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” (Did you happen to catch the takeoff of “Ferris Bueller” a couple of weeks ago on the “1980-something” ABC comedy “The Goldbergs”?)

Writing in The Atlantic, Garin Parnia writes that 1985 “marked the zenith for films aimed at younger audiences, across genres ranging from action-adventure to sci-fi to fantasy.”

Besides “The Breakfast Club,” Parnia cites “Gremlins,” “The Goonies,” and “Back to the Future,” among others.

“It was a short-lived crest in artistic innovation and creativity: After 1985, the number of youth-oriented films dwindled each year, leaving the genre almost dead by the end of the decade,” Parnia writes.

Meanwhile, in USA Today, Jayme Deerwester reflects on 10 ways that the storylines in “The Breakfast Club” would not play out the same way today. Among the reasons: sushi “is no longer exotic enough to qualify as an icebreaker,” as it is for a couple of the students in detention; no student would get “mere detention” for having a gun in his locker, as was the case with Hall’s Brian the Brain character; and “helicopter parents would never allow their special snowflake to miss their Saturday activities.”

“What about their soccer game/SAT prep course/violin lesson/chosen form of college application fodder?” Deerwester writes.

Sadly, John Hughes died of a heart attack in 2009, at age 59.

As I was writing this item, I recalled that Vanity Fair had published a pretty good piece about seven months after his death. That March 2010 article, “Sweet Bard of Youth,” by David Kamp, referenced a 1999 oral history of “The Breakfast Club” in the now-defunct Premiere magazine.

Between those two articles are these nuggets about Hughes and “The Breakfast Club":

  • Hughes had given up directing by 1991 (“Curly Sue” was his last), though he continued to be a prolific screenwriter. But by the time of his death, he had also largely withdrawn from show business. He bought a farm in northwest Illinois and spent much of his time there.

  • Hughes was set to make “The Breakfast Club,” but Universal Pictures asked him to make “Sixteen Candles” first.

  • The story came from a script Hughes had written called “Detention,” and the film’s eventual title came from a name for Saturday detention that the director learned of from a friend of one of his sons.

  • The filmmakers built the library of “Shermer High School” in the gymnasium of an abandoned high school because all real school libraries they checked out were too small.

  • Judd Nelson’s role as the bad boy almost went to John Cusack (who had been one of the nerds in “Sixteen Candles”). But Cusack “didn’t look threatening enough,” Hughes told Premiere.

  • As part of the rehearsal for the film, Hughes sent the five Brat Packers playing the students to visit his old high school, Glenbrook North in Chicago’s northern suburbs, to see their prototypes. None of the five had ever spent time in a big suburban high school before, Hughes told Premiere.

  • Hughes based Vice Principal Vernon on a teacher and wrestling coach he had in high school. The director later ran into his old teacher, who told him how much he liked the movie but how that assistant principal character was such a jerk.

  • Studio executives had trouble understanding the movie, and they thought it was going to be a dud. It was a hit.

The Premiere oral history closes with Hughes saying that he was frequently asked what happened to the five students come the next Monday at school. “I used to say, ‘Nothing.’ But I think it’s more complex than that. So complex that I can’t do it in film,” Hughes said. “I think I was able to get at something immutable, and I’m proud that it has lasted.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.