Study Guide

Sixteen Candles Hero's Journey

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Hero's Journey

Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.

About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)

Ordinary World

The ordinary world is so yesterday, when Sam was still fifteen. Now that she's turned sixteen, everything is going to change.

Seriously, her sixteenth birthday is one of the weirdest days in suburban history. The movie takes a long time to set us up for step two, continuing how simple the plot is. We won't get to steps 2-4 for Sam until the school dance 1/3 of the way in.

Call To Adventure

Sam doesn't hear the call to adventure until the school dance, and by "call to adventure" we mean being within spitting distance (ew) of her crush Jake Ryan.

Refusal Of The Call

Sam's too nervous to actually ask Jake out, however, because she believes that he doesn't know she exists. Even after the Geek tells Sam that Jake's interested in her, she still chickens out before she can work up the nerve to introduce herself.

Meeting The Mentor

Oddly, the Geek goes from annoying horndog to mentor in the auto shop when he actually listens to Sam's problems and reveals some of his own insecurities. This is when he puts his own feelings aside and tells Sam that her crush actually likes him.

Crossing The Threshold

Even more oddly is that Sam disappears for about 1/3 of the movie. The threshold she crosses is back home to sleep on the couch, because her grandparents are staying in her bedroom. It is the Geek who becomes the temporary hero, entering Jake's party and keeping the plot of the movie moving forward.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

The Geek and Jake become unlikely allies when the Geek tells Jake that Sam has a big honking crush on her.

Approach To The Inmost Cave

Sam has a sweet heart-to-heart chat with her dad, where he gives her bits of Dadvice, like "if this guy can't see in you all the beautiful and wonderful things that I see, then he's the problem" and "That's why they call them crushes. If they were easy, they'd call them something else."

He gives Sam the confidence to just be herself, whether a boy likes her or not.


Jake's party's an ordeal for everyone. It's an ordeal for Sam, even though she doesn't go, because she has to sleep on the couch. It's an ordeal for the Geek, who gets shoved under a table by jocks. It's an ordeal for Jake, who realizes that he doesn't like his girlfriend Caroline. It's an ordeal for Caroline, who gets half her hair chopped off when she gets it stuck in a door. It's an ordeal for the Donger who gets drunk and falls from a tree.

Reward (Seizing The Sword)

One of the creepier aspects of this movie is that people are used as rewards. It's mostly women, as Jake passes off Caroline to the Geek as a reward for the information about Sam. But Sam is also a reward, because Jake gets her panties, which he returns to her as a token of trust.

To be fair, Jake's a reward for Sam as well, and her reward for enduring all this troublesome-grandparents, annoying-wedding, panty-snatching weirdness over the last twenty-four hours.

The Road Back

Dawn breaks on the day after Sam's birthday, and everything starts to return to normal. Or at least it will as soon as this pesky wedding is over.


After her pep talk with Dad, Sam feels like a new girl. A whole year older and a whole year wiser. She stops complaining about her sister's wedding and decides to just go with it. Meanwhile, the Geek has landed the hottest girl in school, and she seems to like him. All these crazy kids will be just fine.

Return With The Elixir

Finally, Sam gets her birthday wish when Jake arrives at the wedding to take her out. Plus, she gets a cake. Who needs elixir when you have cake?

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