The Breakfast Club – 30 Years On

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This week marks 30 years since Bender, Claire, Andrew, Brian and Allison spent their Saturday sitting in detention at Shermer High School. The film established itself as a cult classic in the 80s and has influenced generations of teen movies, whilst remaining culturally relevant.

The hugely influential 80s film scene was largely due to director John Hughes, who wrote and directed films such as Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The Breakfast Club follows five high-school students who have to give up a precious Saturday morning for a detention, after they all commit some kind of misdeed. They share the common ground of not being understood by the adults in their lives – their parents, teachers and detention leader Mr. Vernon. After a few hours of tension and arguing (and one hour of extreme relaxation…), the club begin to open up to each other, sharing stories of how they ended up in detention and the struggles of growing up as a teen. What starts as a comedy ends surprisingly meaningful, leaving the audience longing to know what happens next – do Bender and Claire continue seeing each other? Do Allison and Andrew get together? Do the students break free from their cliques and reunite as the ‘Breakfast Club’?

Hughes did originally have the idea of producing follow-ups every 10 years, showing where the characters were at every stage of their life. This would mean that, 30 years on, all characters would be well into their adulthood – we would probably see Claire with children; Brian with a Nobel Prize; Allison may have been a famous painter; Andrew as a retired wrestler, and, well, who knows about Bender. This idea was allegedly scrapped due to John Hughes and Judd Nelson not getting on during filming, with Hughes stating he would never work with him again.

Despite the franchise ending after the first film, it remains relevant as the characters and themes still exist in modern adolescence, as well as its major influence over subsequent teen film classics.

First of all, the characters still exist – schools still have the jock, popular girl, nerd, outsider and bad boy stereotypes. These labels were later portrayed in a number of modern teen films (just think of the cafeteria scene in Mean Girls… “You got your freshmen… J.V jocks… desperate wannabies, burnouts…”), and also contribute to the common perception of American high-school life. Ask anyone outside the US what kind of characters you’ll see in an American school, and you’ll no doubt get ‘jocks, nerds and rich, popular girls’.

Secondly, the film’s jokes are still funny – if you see this film at a cult screening, you will find yourself laughing along at Allison’s ‘confession’ to sleeping with her shrink and Brian trying to ‘handle the smoke’. Not only does this prove Hughes’ ability as a screenwriter standing the test of time, it showcases the acting capabilities of the group. Before shooting a number of scenes, the actors were told to improvise, most notably as they sit in a circle discussing how they got a Saturday detention – all reasons given were completely made up at the time by the cast.

A review of the film in a 1985 issue of New York magazine coined the term the ‘Brat Pack’, referring to the actors from The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire. This nickname stuck with the group of young stars and sparked a number of other reviewers to use tongue-in-cheek variants of the ‘Packs’ – such as the ‘Brit Pack’, featuring British actors such as Tim Roth, Gary Oldman and Colin Firth, that experienced success in Hollywood; the ‘Frat Pack’ which consisted of a number of comedy actors appearing in films since the 1990s (such as Will Ferrell, Jack Black and Ben Stiller); and the ‘Splat Pack’, a collection of independent horror film writers, like Eli Roth, Robert Rodriguez, Rob Zombie and James Wan.

Teen films made after the Breakfast Club owe a lot of credit to Hughes’ 1985 cult classic. For example, the ‘90s saw Clueless, with Alicia Silverstone’s character Cher sharing similar character traits with Claire, surviving high-school as a privileged rich girl. The ‘00s saw Mean Girls, which re-established the stereotypical school cliques and watched a group of young girls attacking each other and soon reconciling, thus breaking the school’s constrictive social groups. Additionally, the ‘10s had Easy A, with protagonist Olive Penderghast struggling with the pressure of high-school labels, and wishing she had “Judd Nelson thrusting his fist into the air because he knows he got [her]”. More recently, there have been comparisons made between The Breakfast Club and Pitch Perfect. As well as a character stating it is their favourite film, it follows the same themes, such as a group of outsiders coming together, a rebellious boy with a hard home life, and the possibly intentional fact that the characters’ names all start with the same letters (Bender, Andrew, Allison, Claire and Brian – Beca, Aubrey, Amy, Chloe and Benji).

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It is clear that 30 years on, The Breakfast Club is still a cult classic, and although it may have been nice to see the 10 year anniversary sequels, maybe preserving the film as a snapshot of 80s culture is how it should be, with the characters and actors remaining at the peak of adolescence.

“Dear Mr Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club.”

Jenn Spiers