The legacy and influence of the hidden Brat Packer – director John Hughes
PUBLISHED: 08:54 06 April 2019 | UPDATED: 09:09 06 April 2019
Director John Hughes created some of the most memorable Brat Pack films and his legacy has inspired film and TV makers for decades – from Heathers to Netflix’s Sex Education, Mean Girls to Juno, there’s a Hughes flavour to a host of classic entertainment.
The world that director John Hughes transported his audience to is one which TV and film directors still revisit regularly.
Hughes, who died at the age of 59 in 2009, was a prolific filmmaker whose comedies like The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles reflected the lives of teenagers living in the 1980s and captured the hearts of audiences, influencing popular culture in their wake: no one spoke to teenagers like the late John Hughes.
While his biggest box office success came via the Home Alone series, his greatest professional effect came from a series of teen-oriented films which he began directing in 1984 and catapulted a list of actors into the stratosphere, many of whom continue to lend their names to big-budget productions today.
After 1984’s Sixteen Candles, starring Molly Ringwald as a girl whose 16th birthday was forgotten in the whirlwind of her sister’s wedding and also starring actors like Anthony Michael Hall, Joan Cusack, John Cusack and Jami Gertz, a year later The Breakfast Club followed, a critically-acclaimed tale of teenagers from different high school cliques spending a Saturday in detention togther with their strict assistant principal.
The film’s five stars – Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy - were dubbed The Brat Pack.
John Singleton, the groundbreaking filmmaker behind films like Boyz n the Hood (a teen drama about growing up in South Central Los Angeles), reviewed The Breakfast Club for his high school newspaper and cited Hughes as a major influence on his career: “He gave me a template,” he explained.
In 1986, Hughes’ Pretty in Pink, with its incredible soundtrack, tale of unrequited love (Jon Cryer’s Duckie and Molly Ringwald’s Andie Walsh), gorgeous love interest (Andrew McCarthy as Blaine Mc Donough) and story of a working class girl becoming the belle of the ball was an international hit.
Hughes was furious that the original ending of his film – Duckie got the girl in his version – was changed that in Some Kind of Wonderful in 1987 he decided to retell the story but with the genders of the main characters switched and the best friends getting together. In all, from 1984 to 1987, Hughes wrote six teen movies that also included Weird Science and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, a fraction of his back catalogue but a huge proportion of his legacy to film.
The influence of Brat Pack films made by Hughes has sprinkled magic over a host of other productions: Mean Girls, Rushmore, Superbad, Dazed and Confused, Juno, Gossip Girl, Heathers…there’s the Hughesian voiceover, use of songs to punctuate funny moments and befriending of someone in a lower social class in Clueless and Kevin Smith of Chasing Amy fame said of Hughes: “If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be doing what I do. Basically, my stuff is just John Hughes films with four-letter words.”
Hughes permanently changed how Hollywood made and marketed teen movies and his influence can still be seen today.
In Netflix’s recent series Sex Education, teenager Otis (Asa Butterfield) is desperate to quietly get through sixth form but bad-girl-with-a-good-heart Maeve (Emma Mackey) has other plans, especially when she realises that Otis has a natural ability to dish out relationship advice.
Otis has, of course, benefitted from being brought up by his sex therapist mother Jean (Gillian Anderson playing an uncharacteristically touchy-feely mother) who has always encouraged him to face his feelings. Although British, Sex Education owes a huge debt to Brat Pack films of the 1980s such as The Breakfast Club.
“Our executive producer was obsessed with (John Hughes) films and was trying to find something that was going to fit the bill,” explained Anderson of British director Ben Taylor, who also directed Catastrophe and has a self-confessed passion for romantic comedies.
Taylor said: “I’ve always wanted to do a high-school rom-com, a Hughesian-style high-school experience. That’s not something that really exists in the UK – writing and rendering of the British school experience is not traditionally joyful. It’s always a bit greyer and flatter and ironic, whereas this had a lot of heart and optimism.”
Just like The Breakfast Club, Sex Education is about capturing how it feels to be young complete with the mood swings, hopelessness and what motivates teenagers to act in the way that they do – and just like Hughes’ classic, its heroes are the kids that engage in their own makeshift therapy to get through the hard times.
Hughes took teenagers and their problems seriously and understood the timeless elements of being young such as belonging and identity – as he put it: “at that age, it feels as good to feel bad as it does to feel good.” Remember those days? It was the ability to immerse himself in them all over again that made Hughes the influential director he was. Don’t you forget about him...