Thirty years ago, filmmaker John Hughes got the attention of a generation when he introduced us to the detention crew at Shermer High School, who start out socially separated strangers and end up thick as thieves as they work through their problems, differences and similarities during one extended day. Making stars out of its young cast — Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall and Ally Sheedy — that film, The Breakfast Club, also put creator Hughes on the cinematic map and made him the go-to adult for teens by showing them he was still just as old as they were, if only in his heart.
"It's unforgettable, because inside each and every one of us is still a brain, a rebel, a jock, a princess and a basketcase," says Britta Erickson, festival director for the Denver Film Society, which produces Film on the Rocks. This teen classic should hit you hard when it plays to a sold-out house at Red Rocks (seriously, get your tickets ASAP before they’re all gone) this Wednesday, when it just might unite thousands of strangers in one massive fist pump by the time the credits roll.
The Breakfast Club is one of only eight films that Hughes wrote and directed in his storied career as a filmmaker who truly understood the adolescent experience from top to over-dramatic bottom. But Hughes’s stamp on Hollywood storytelling began and ended with screenplays that he wrote but didn’t direct himself. Here are five films that you may not know that he wrote:
5) Mr. Mom
Although Ron Howard’s comedy Night Shift was a great major-film role debut for Michael Keaton, the John Hughes-penned Mr. Mom became the actor’s big break. The story of a dad who gets laid off and must stay at home with the kids — despite not having a clue how to do that — while his wife (Teri Garr) goes out to bring home the bacon became a hit in 1983, and got even bigger as one of the first films to hit HBO every night. The screenplay by Hughes was based on his own wacky experiences trying to watch his children all by himself. Only his second screenplay to sell, it’s still a little rough around some edges and focuses on a different demographic than Hughes would get into the following year with Breakfast Club. Still, director Stan Dragoti (The Man With One Red Shoe, Love at First Bite) did a fine job of bringing Hughes’s wacky paternal adventure to life.
4) Home Alone
Although the greatest blips on Hughes’s radar remain his teenage melodramas, he hit on an amazing pre-teen idea — the fear/joy of being left behind by your parents and being made to fend for yourself against villainous burglars — that made for a gigantic box-office hit. The film skates on the same comedic ice as Sixteen Candles, Hughes’s directorial debut, with soon-to-be-global-phenom Macaulay Culkin’s towheaded sassy brat standing in for Molly Ringwald’s ginger pout. Both films revel in the notion of being forgotten by the one social team that is supposed to remember you forever: your family. Director Chris Columbus (Adventures In Babysitting, Harry Potter & The Sorceror’s Stone) got to helm this one and take all the credit (and box-office millions).
3) Pretty in Pink
The first of three collaborations with director Howard Deutch, Pretty in Pink continued Hughes’s streak of digging deep into the teen psyche and revealing all of the worry and drama that comes with the battleground that is high school and the war that is love. Hughes stalwart Molly RIngwald continued her role of '80s “everygirl” as a frustrated and cash-poor teen raising a reluctant father (Harry Dean Stanton) when she has to make the most important decision of her short life: fall in love with doting best friend Duckie (Jon Cryer) or handsome rich boy Blaine (Andrew McCarthy)? Had social media existed in 1986, it would have imploded with the controversial decision that Hughes and Deutch took in resolving the love triangle. And unlike most teen rom-coms after Pink, this one created a debate that still rages today. Bonus style points for creating/casting the character of Iona with Annie Potts, who defined the perfect adult bestie, complete with a personal record-store workplace, impeccable fashion sense and plenty of Hughes-style adult advice, to boot.
2) Some Kind of Wonderful
Perhaps feeling some kind of guilt for the way things worked out in Pretty in Pink, Hughes and Deutch followed up that film a year later with this one that showed girls aren't the only ones who have to make hard decisions about their true soulmates. Fellow ginger actor Eric Stoltz is Keith, a poor student who must decide between his hard-rocking drummer best gal-pal Watts (the electric Mary Stuart Masterson) and rich beauty Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson). Though treading similar ground, Wonderful makes the most of its gender swap and goes deeper into the rich-versus-poor war that gets played in particularly stinging fashion in this film. And Masterson’s tomboy attitude stands up for best-friend romantic interests in ways that Pink’s Duckie seemed unable to ever do (poor guy).
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1) National Lampoon's Vacation
One of the most surprising screenplays to have been written by Hughes is this comedy classic that follows the ill-fated Griswold family — led by papa Chevy Chase, ma Beverly D’Angelo and kids Rusty and Audrey (future Hughes pal Anthony Michael Hall and Dana Barron) — on a summer-vacation road trip that just goes from bad to worse as the clan heads for the fabled Walley World, an amusement park whose promise of family fun may end up being the death of everyone. The epic tale was born of John Hughes’s own family experience as a child, which he originally wrote as a hilarious essay for National Lampoon (which was recently republished here) that was such a hit, the publication tapped him to turn it into a screenplay. That kickstarted a career of stories that often hit you hard in the funnybone, gut and, most important, the heart.
Film on the Rocks presents The Breakfast Club Wednesday, August 26. at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 18300 West Alameda Parkway. Gates open at 5:30 p.m., with musical guests Jen Korte & the Loss with The Dirty Femmes starting at 6:30 p.m. The film screens at dusk. Get $12 general admission tickets and more info at denverfilm.org.