On August 6, 2009, we lost an icon – a genius who is the benchmark for honest, funny and heartfelt films about those precarious teen years.. Husband-father-writer-director John Hughes left this planet far too soon at the age of 59, succumbing to a heart attack. Though he hadn’t been actively involved in Hollywood since the mid 90’s after becoming disillusioned with the studio system, his influence is still felt today through films like ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL, PAPER TOWNS and THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER.
We wanted to take a look back our favorite films in his catalog – films that changed how you and I see the world. While he suffered from quite a few misses (CURLY SUE, BABY’S DAY OUT, and anything written under his pseudonym, Edmond Dantes), there are many titles that informed our collective youth.
- MR. MOM: Inspired by the time Hughes felt completely inadequate looking after his two kids in the absence of his wife, the comedy starring Michael Keaton hit on the very 80’s trend of mothers returning the workforce. He received sole writing credit despite being replaced by a team of TV writers before it morphed from a TV movie into a feature. Maybe it’s the “doofy husbands” aspect or just the magic of Keaton’s comedic timing, but this film never fails to make me laugh. However, I do cringe at some of the film’s un-feminist sentiment (Women: if you go back to work, you’ll feel guilty and get sexually harassed). Oh, the 80’s!
- UNCLE BUCK: Starring John Candy and featuring Macaulay Culkin’s first collaboration with Hughes, this romcom has a touching sentiment about the familial ties that bind – even though we may want to cut them loose. Because I was the stereotypical teen who didn’t get along with her mom, nothing gets me to cry faster than the end of this film when Hugh Harris’ “Rhythm of Life” kicks in. And I know I’m not alone in this feeling. Incredibly funny, charming and touching, this embodies Hughes’ sweet spirit perfectly.
- WEIRD SCIENCE: Two high-school dweebs create Playboy’s version of the bride of Frankenstein. Male hormones run rampant throughout this sci-fi-tinged male fantasy. Much like SIXTEEN CANDLES speaks to teen girl angst, Hughes does the same for teen boys. Though it doesn’t hurt that she’s a supermodel, their idealized playmate isn’t strictly around to be treated as a sex object. Kelly LeBrock gives a performance filled with more warmth and depth than you’d ever expect out of an 80’s teen comedy. She’s smart, sweet and helps these guys to be their best selves. She’s the ultimate wing woman. Very much of its time, but also slightly ahead of its time, it predicted the internet’s ability to find a fantasy woman at the touch of a button. Hughes once again tapped into the cultural zeitgeist. Plus, it’s interesting to note that this off-the-wall, at times juvenile film was released just a few months after THE BREAKFAST CLUB.
- HOME ALONE: This modern Christmas classic is every little kid’s wish-fulfillment fantasy. Well, perhaps to a certain extent. Left all alone after his forgetful family takes off for vacation, Kevin McAllister fends off two bumbling criminals out to rob his house. A massive hit at the box office, star Macaulay Culkin became an overnight sensation because of his precocious skills (that paid his parents’ bills). Though Chris Columbus directed, Hughes’ hallmarks are sprinkled all over the picture.
- NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION: As Lindsey Buckingham sang, “It’s a long way down the Holiday Road.” Inspired by his own family pilgrimage to Disneyland, Hughes wrote this classic film first as a short story (“Vacation ‘58”) for National Lampoon magazine. A runaway hit with audiences and critics alike, Clark Griswold’s (Chevy Chase) bumbling buffoonery and wide-eyed optimism struck a chord with our souls, and the success of this film helped advance his career. It’s since spawned 5 sequels and one short film (“Hotel Hell”).
- PRETTY IN PINK/ SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL: Hughes’ films always had carefully curated soundtracks, pairing sequences with the perfect songs. In WONDERFUL, Stephen Duffy’s “She Loves Me” makes me swoon, as does Ducky’s performance of Otis Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness” in PINK. Howard Deutch directed two Hughes stories that are nearly the same – but with the genders swapped. Both films’ lead characters navigate high-school’s strict social hierarchies. And in both pictures, Hughes focuses on teens on the fringes of blue-collar society – a segment of the population he hadn’t explored before. These two pictures connect with viewers in a special way.
- PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES: Holiday travel doesn’t get more frustrating than this. And one simply can not think about holiday travel without recalling this film. From Neal’s (Steve Martin’s) rental car counter tirade, to the line “Those aren’t pillows,” to the way Neal’s third act revelation about his sidekick Del (John Candy) is edited, Hughes is in fine form here. It captures the balance between humor and heartbreak in those all-too relatable holiday nightmares.
- FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF: This teen had the most epic of mini-vacations – one that you may have tried (and maybe failed) to imitate. Years later, there’s no one I know who doesn’t love this film: “Sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads – they all adore him.” Filled with iconic moment after iconic moment (too many to list and you already know them), Hughes and actor Matthew Broderick created an endearing slacker this country could all root for. If you haven’t seen this in years, it’s worth a re-watch. It really is “so choice.”
- THE BREAKFAST CLUB: Thirty years later, it’s clear no one has forgotten about any of the characters in Hughes’ most resonant drama. The anniversary screening at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles on February 15 was for a packed house of fans eager to relive their teenage-dom. This film spoke to a disenfranchised generation who felt misunderstood and undervalued by adults. Perfectly cast, paced and scored, the film is chock-full of indelible moments. From Brian’s (Anthony Michael Hall) endearing lack of confidence, to Claire’s (Molly Ringwald) lipstick trick, to the crew’s choreographed dance montage, the list goes on and on.
- SIXTEEN CANDLES: Though FERRIS was the first Hughes film I ever saw, it was this one about a girl (played perfectly by Molly Ringwald) whose family forgets her 16th birthday that really connected with my soul. The raucous comedy was introduced to me by a high-school friend who knew every line and inflection (big ups to Megan Murphy White!). I laughed at Sam’s inept family and Farmer Ted (Anthony Michael Hall), swooned over dreamy Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling, who – fun fact – now designs furniture), and gobbled up every bit of dialogue from it too. Though recently it’s been catching heat for being racist (with its caricature of Long Duk Dong) and a bit rapey (did Farmer Ted have sex with an unconscious Caroline?!), nothing will sway my undying adoration.
BONUS: SHE’S HAVING A BABY: Seemingly semi-autobiographical, this film was inspired by his wife Nancy. Similar to his protagonist, Hughes also was an ad-man early on in his career. Perhaps the most powerful scene is at the end when Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” plays. The way Hughes cross-cuts between the delivery and happy moments the couple shared really bowls you over.