The Breakfast ClubThe Breakfast Club is a 1985 American teen comedy-drama film written, produced, and directed by John Hughes. It stars Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy as teenagers from different high school cliques who spend a Saturday in detention with their authoritarian assistant principal (Paul Gleason).
The film premiered in Los Angeles on February 7, 1985. Universal Pictures released it in cinemas in the United States on February 15, 1985. It received critical acclaim and earned $51.5 million on a $1 million budget. Critics consider it to be one of Hughes's most memorable and recognizable works. The media referred to the film's five main actors as members of a group called the "Brat Pack".
In 2016, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". The film was digitally remastered and was re-screened in 430 theaters in celebration of its 30th anniversary in 2015.
On Saturday, March 24, 1984, five students at the fictional Shermer High School report at 7:00 a.m. for all-day detention. Each comes from a different clique: Claire Standish the Snob, Brian Johnson the Geek, Andrew Clark the Jock, John Bender the Punk, and Allison Reynolds the Kook. They gather in the school library, where Assistant Principal Richard Vernon instructs them not to talk, move from their seats, or sleep until they are released at 4:00 p.m. He assigns them a thousand-word essay, in which each must describe "who you think you are". He leaves, returning only occasionally to check on them.
John, who has an antagonistic relationship with Vernon, ignores the rules and riles up the other students by starting new antagonistic relationships with them as well. John spends most of his time humiliating Brian, bullying Andrew, harassing Claire, and ignoring Allison, but they all eventually feel sorry for him after seeing how he interacts with abusive adults like Vernon who gave John eight weekends' worth of additional detention and eventually locks him in a storage closet, but he escapes and returns to the library.
The students pass the hours by talking, arguing, and, at one point, smoking marijuana (except Allison who does not smoke with the others). Gradually, they open up and reveal their secrets: Claire has lots of experiences of peer pressure, John comes from an abusive household, Allison is a compulsive liar, Andrew can't think for himself, and Brian contemplated suicide over a bad grade. They discover they all have poor relationships with their parents: Claire's parents use her to get back at each other during arguments, John's parents physically and verbally abuse him as well as each other, Allison's parents are neglectful, Andrew's father pushes him to the limit, especially in wrestling, and Brian's parents pressure him to earn the highest grades possible. The students realize that, despite their differences, they face similar problems.
Claire gives Allison a makeover, which sparks romantic interest from Andrew. Claire decides to break her "pristine" innocent appearance by kissing John and giving him a hickey. Although they suspect their new relationships will end along with their detention, they believe their mutual experiences will change the way they look at their peers.
As the detention nears its end, the group requests that Brian complete the essay for everyone, and John returns to the storage closet to fool Vernon into thinking he never left. Brian leaves the essay in the library for Vernon to read after they leave. As the students part ways, Allison and Andrew kiss, as do Claire and John. Allison rips Andrew's state champion patch from his jacket to keep, and Claire gives John one of her diamond earrings, which he puts on. Vernon reads the essay, in which Brian states that Vernon has already judged who they are using stereotypes, and that they think that he (Vernon) is crazy if he thinks that they are going to tell him who they are; so Brian correspondingly states in the letter that "each one of us is a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question?" He signs off the letter with "Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club."
CastingMolly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall both starred in Hughes's 1984 film Sixteen Candles. Towards the end of filming, Hughes asked them both to be in The Breakfast Club. Hall became the first to be cast, agreeing to the role of Brian Johnson; his real life mother and sister playing the same roles in the film. Ringwald was originally approached to play the character of Allison Reynolds, but she was "really upset" because she wanted to play Claire Standish (then named "Cathy" in the first draft of the script), which saw the auditions of Robin Wright, Jodie Foster, and Laura Dern. She eventually convinced Hughes and the studio to give her the part. The role of Allison ultimately went to Ally Sheedy.
Emilio Estevez originally auditioned for the role of John Bender. However, when Hughes was unable to find someone to play Andrew Clark, Estevez was recast. Nicolas Cage was considered for the role of John Bender, which was the last role to be cast, though the role was narrowed down to John Cusack and Judd Nelson. Hughes originally cast Cusack, but decided to replace him with Nelson before shooting began, because Cusack did not look threatening enough for the role. At one point, Hughes was disappointed in Nelson because he stayed in character and harassed Ringwald off-camera, with the other actors having to convince Hughes not to fire him.
Rick Moranis was originally cast as the janitor but left due to creative differences and was replaced by John Kapelos.
FilmingIn 1999, Hughes said that his request to direct the film met with resistance and skepticism because he lacked filmmaking experience. Hughes ultimately convinced the film's investors that due to the modest $1 million budget and its single location shoot, he could greatly minimize their risk. Hughes originally thought that The Breakfast Club would be his directorial debut. Hughes opted for an insular, largely one-room set and wrote about high school students, who would be played by younger actors.
Principal photography began on March 28, 1984, and ended in May. Filming took place at Maine North High School in Des Plaines, Illinois, which had closed in 1981. The same setting was used for interior scenes of Hughes's 1986 film Ferris Bueller's Day Off, which featured exterior shots from nearby Glenbrook North High School. The library at Maine North High School, considered too small for the film, prompted the crew to build the set in the school's gymnasium. The actors rehearsed for three weeks and then shot the film in sequence. On the Ferris Bueller's Day Off DVD commentary (featured on the 2004 DVD version), Hughes revealed that he shot the two films concurrently to save time and money, and some outtakes of both films feature elements of the film crews working on the other film. The first print was 150 minutes in length.
During a cast reunion in honor of the film's 25th anniversary, Ally Sheedy revealed that a Director's Cut existed but Hughes's widow did not disclose any details concerning its whereabouts.
In 2015 the first draft of the film's script was discovered in a Maine South High School cabinet as district employees were moving offices to a new building.
PosterThe film's poster, featuring the five characters huddled together, was photographed by Annie Leibovitz toward the end of shooting. The shot of five actors gazing at the camera influenced the way teen films were marketed from that point on. The poster refers to the five "types" of the story using slightly different terms than those used in the film, and in a different sequence, stating "They were five total strangers with nothing in common, meeting for the first time. A brain, a beauty, a jock, a rebel and a recluse".
ThemesThe main theme of the film is the constant struggle of the American teenager to be understood, by adults and by themselves. It explores the pressure put on teenagers to fit into their own realms of high school social constructs, as well as the lofty expectations of their parents, teachers, and other authority figures. On the surface, the students have little in common with each other. However, as the day rolls on, they eventually bond over a common disdain for the aforementioned issues of peer pressure and parental expectations. Stereotyping is another theme. Once the obvious stereotypes are broken down, the characters "empathize with each other's struggles, dismiss some of the inaccuracies of their first impressions, and discover that they are more similar than different".
The main adult character, Mr. Vernon, is not portrayed in a positive light. He consistently talks down to the students and forcefully flaunts his authority throughout the film. Bender is the only one who stands up to Vernon.
ReleaseThe film premiered in Los Angeles on February 7, 1985. Universal Pictures released the film in cinemas on February 15, 1985 in the United States.
Home mediaThe Breakfast Club was first released on VHS and Laserdisc.
In 2003, the film was released on DVD as part of the "High School Reunion Collection". In 2008, a "Flashback Edition" DVD was released with several special features, including an audio commentary with Anthony Michael Hall and Judd Nelson. A 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray was released in 2010, and the same disc was re-released with a DVD and digital copy in 2012 as part of Universal's 100th Anniversary series. On March 10, 2015, the 30th Anniversary Edition was released. This release was digitally remastered and restored from the original 35mm film negatives for better picture quality on DVD, Digital HD and Blu-ray.
The Criterion Collection released a special edition 2-disc DVD set and a Blu-ray disc on January 2, 2018. The transfer was the same as the previous release but included new features such as fifty-minutes of new deleted and extended scenes, an Electronic Press Kit, new and archival interviews, a 1985 excerpt of the Today program, a new video essay and an episode of This American Life.
Critical responseRoger Ebert awarded three stars out of four and called the performances "wonderful," adding that the film was "more or less predictable" but "doesn't need earthshaking revelations; it's about kids who grow willing to talk to one another, and it has a surprisingly good ear for the way they speak."
Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote,
”This confessional formula has worked in films as different as 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' 'The Big Chill' and 'My Dinner with Andre,' and it works here too. It works especially well in 'The Breakfast Club' because we keep waiting for the film to break out of its claustrophobic set and give us a typical teenage movie sex-or-violence scene. That doesn't happen, much to our delight."
Kathleen Carroll from the New York Daily News stated, "Hughes has a wonderful knack for communicating the feelings of teenagers, as well as an obvious rapport with his exceptional cast–who deserve top grades".
Other reviews were less positive. Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote,
”There are some good young actors in 'The Breakfast Club,' though a couple of them have been given unplayable roles," namely Ally Sheedy and Judd Nelson, adding, "The five young stars would have mixed well even without the fraudulent encounter-group candor towards which 'The Breakfast Club' forces them. Mr. Hughes, having thought up the characters and simply flung them together, should have left well enough alone."
James Harwood of Variety panned the film as a movie that
"will probably pass as deeply profound among today's teenage audience, meaning the youngsters in the film spend most of their time talking to each other instead of dancing, dropping their drawers and throwing food. This, on the other hand, should not suggest they have anything intelligent to say."
Pauline Kael wrote in The New Yorker,
"When the kids are just killing time and being funny—when they're not being challenged by the rebel's probing—the dialogue has an easy, buggy rhythm ... But the scenes involving the snotty, callous dean ring false right from the start, and though Paul Gleason seems miscast, maybe anybody playing this villain would seem miscast."
Michael Wilmington of the Los Angeles Times praised Estevez for "a practically perfect performance" but wrote that
"'The Breakfast Club' tries to have it two ways: It borrows the O'Neill-Williams-Albee structure, but it's also a teen-age sex comedy, wherein the kids revolt and make asses of their teachers. It's not really a teen-age 'No Exit,' but an attempt to fuse something like 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' with something like 'Animal House.' The movie is too crafty for its own good; its mixed ambitions often self-destruct."
Paul Attanasio of The Washington Post stated,
"As the kids yammer at each other, 'The Breakfast Club' becomes as static and uninvolving as most filmed plays; there's none of the ingenious virtuosity that, for example, Robert Altman used in shooting David Rabe's 'Streamers.'"
Among retrospective reviews, James Berardinelli wrote in 1998:
"Few will argue that The Breakfast Club is a great film, but it has a candor that is unexpected and refreshing in a sea of too-often generic teen-themed films. The material is a little talky (albeit not in a way that will cause anyone to confuse it with something by Eric Rohmer), but it's hard not to be drawn into the world of these characters."
Writing in 2015, P. J. O'Rourke called The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off "Hughes's masterwork[s]". He described the former film as an example of Hughes's politics, in that the students do not organize a protest but, "like good conservatives do, as individuals and place the highest value, like this conservative does, on goofing off. Otherwise known as individual liberty".
As of December 2019, review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an 89% approval rating based on 63 reviews, with an average rating of 7.7/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "The Breakfast Club is a warm, insightful, and very funny look into the inner lives of teenagers". Review aggregator Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 62% based on 11 reviews from mainstream critics, considered to be "generally favorable reviews".
Box officeIn February 1985, the film debuted at #3 at the box office (behind blockbuster film Beverly Hills Cop and Witness starring Harrison Ford). Grossing $45,875,171 domestically and $51,525,171 worldwide, the film is a box office success, given its $1 million budget.
AccoladesAnthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Paul Gleason and Ally Sheedy all won a Silver Bucket of Excellence Award at the 2005 MTV Movie Awards in 2005.
LegacyThe Breakfast Club is known as the "quintessential 1980s film" and is considered as one of the best films of the decade. In 2008, Empire magazine ranked it at number 369 on their The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time list. It then rose 331 places to rank at number 38 on their 2014 list. Similarly, The New York Times placed the film on its Best 1000 Movies Ever list and Entertainment Weekly ranked the film number 1 on its list of the 50 Best High School Movies. In the 2001 parody film Not Another Teen Movie, Gleason reprised his role as Assistant Principal Vernon in a short scene that parodies The Breakfast Club.
In 2005, the film received the Silver Bucket of Excellence Award in honor of its 20th anniversary at the MTV Movie Awards. For the event, MTV attempted to reunite the original cast. Sheedy, Ringwald, and Hall appeared together on stage, with Kapelos in the audience; Gleason gave the award to his former castmates. Estevez could not attend because of other commitments, and Nelson appeared earlier in the show but left before the on-stage reunion, prompting Hall to joke that the two were "in Africa with Dave Chappelle". Yellowcard performed Simple Minds' anthem for the film, "Don't You (Forget About Me)", at the awards. At the 82nd Academy Awards (March 7, 2010), Sheedy, Hall, Ringwald, and Nelson all appeared in a tribute to John Hughes—who had died the prior year—along with other actors who had worked with him, including Jon Cryer from Pretty in Pink, Matthew Broderick from Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Macaulay Culkin from Home Alone. In 2018, The New Yorker published an article written by Ringwald in which she critiqued Hughes's films "in the Age of #MeToo".
The film's soundtrack, The Breakfast Club (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), was produced by British pop musician Keith Forsey and released on February 19, 1985 by A&M Records. The album peaked at No. 17 on the US Billboard 200 album chart. The song "Don't You (Forget About Me)" performed by Scottish rock band Simple Minds was released on February 20, 1985 in the United States and on April 8, 1985 in the United Kingdom as a single and reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
OverviewThe album contains ten songs that are played partially throughout the movie, performed by bands and singers of the rock and new wave genre, including three instrumental songs by record producer Keith Forsey.
Simple Minds's international hit "Don't You (Forget About Me)" is played in the opening and closing credits. A music video was made for this song and for Wang Chung's "Fire in the Twilight" (reached No 110 on the US Billboard Hot 100).