John Hughes had a long and storied history of films, that have reached out from across the annals of time and pop culture to become beloved classics, that never really seem to get old. But after 30+ years and 30+plus films (worked on in one way or another), what is it that we as the audience hold so dearly about these movies? Why do they stick? To answer in one word, it would be “Relatability”. The one thins that John Hughes movies did better than almost anyone else’s, especially during that time period, was his ability through a number of channels to make at the very least one of those channels strike a cord with viewers by finding that common human element. He achieved this in his casting, his music selection, his themes, and he portrayal teenage characters.
Throughout his career, but especially over his most beloved movies, John Hughes was always able to cast leads in his movies that were just as much a voice of their generation, as they were totally down to earth and relatable in their portrayals of their characters, and even in their looks. Now a definite argument can be made that a lot of these films feature a lack of at the very least ethnic diversity, but I think thats a discussion for another time. Lets take every boy’s (of that time) teenage crush, Molly Ringwald. When Sixteen Candles came out, she WAS 16, a seemingly simple and insignificant detail, but that lent so much authenticity to the role that when coupled with her looks and acting, made her seem so real to viewers, that we ALL knew a Samantha Baker. It’s no surprise why she would return in more of Hughes movies, which in itself was another of his genius moves. His use of actors for multiple roles was by no means ground breaking or something that had never been seen, but it did show his understanding how the connection these character and actors had with the audience. The likes of Matthew Broderick, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, and later on his use of actors like Steve Martin and John Candy all played to intricately into his work and his ability to connect with the audience.
“Don’t you, forget about meeee.” I’d wager more people than not, upon hearing that classic Simple Minds ballad, think first of the end scene of The Breakfast Club, than any other visuals that may be connected to that song. That song went on to be a number 1 hit thanks to the movie, and allowed both to cement themselves in pop culture history. He also knew when to implement much more mainstream songs into his movies, but always in ways and places that both fit and work with his narrative and characters. Ferris Bueller’s Day off features a pivotal scene set to the Beatles’ Twist and Shout that epitomizes the character of Ferris in his street parade rendition of the song, using the song not just for a cheap thrill, but to both fulfill a character moment and add that instant recognition of what had become at that point a classic already. Hughes is also never afraid to let his musical choices be bold and stand out as they become just as much of a character as the ones he wrote that we came to know and love.
Teen angst, love, sex, growing up, fantasies, harsh realities, risk and reward, and even more…such are the themes of John Hughes movies. This is most likely the largest single reason to the success and longevity of a lot of Hughes’ movies. For the first time on the big screen, teens felt like someone understood them, cared about them, didn’t pander to them, and didn’t feel the need to try and “parent” them. Movies like Weird Science, Sixteen Candles and the Breakfast Club (among many of his other movies), showed what being young and full of hormones was like, from the perspective of those who were actually going through it. It legitimized feels of despair and lust and all the other super emotions we go through as teens, but without making them out to be just some kind of phase. Everyone of us, has some kind of story to tell, some collection of experiences that define who we are, and for many of us those came in our teen years. A time in most peoples lives that becomes idolized at some point for one reason or the other, but no matter the experiences we all have the collective experience of having them, and thus we can all connect to a character who feels her world in ending when no one, not even her family remember its her sixteenth birthday. We can see eye to eye with anyone of the kids in Saturday detention who don’t want to be there, yet deep down know thats exactly where they needed to be. We all know what its like to be hungry for the opposite sex, even when we have zero experience and wouldn’t want to admit it either. These are universal themes, but when viewed through the lens youth, are something we can all relate to.
As I’ve mentioned before, one of the biggest parts of the John Hughes puzzle, are the characters he employs. In his movies we get characters that don’t have to feel like their issues are less than important, ones who don’t have to feel bad for being overwhelmed at times. We got these see these characters given just enough sympathy, and just enough legitimacy that allow for these characters and these movies to capture the thing which we truly all relate to, youth. That is the true and real essence of what made these movies so iconic, they gave us a real doorway back to our youth, and youth is powerful tonic. Couple that with the genuinely wide array of character to choose from and identify with, and no matter who you were as a teen, there’s something or someone for you to connect with, and take you on that ride.
Are you a fan of the late great John Hughes? Agree with my reasoning, or do you think I’m making some leaps? Either way comment and let me know.