Study Guide

The Breakfast Club

The Breakfast Club Introduction


Release Year: 1985

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Director: John Hughes

Writer: John Hughes

Stars: Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald


Five high school stereotypes walk into a... library?

Yeah, this sounds like the start of a bad joke, but instead, it's the start of a really good movie. It's the story of a jock, a nerd, a juvenile delinquent, a rich, popular girl, and a weird girl who transcend their respective stereotypes and learn to get along.

Meet 1985's The Breakfast Club.

Sound like a bunch of cliches?

You got it. This movie gave birth to cliches... and several thousand dorm room posters.

The movie was written and directed by John Hughes, the guy who flipped teen movies into production as easily as if they had been pancakes. Prior to The Breakfast Club, Hughes had already created a hit with Sixteen Candles in 1984 (teaching a generation to recite the line "What's happenin', hot stuff?"), but with The Breakfast Club, he was ready to go deep into a world of dads burning sons with cigars and teens bullying each other… before making sure everything turned out all right in the end. 

Sixteen Candles was light and frothy and rated PG. The Breakfast Club dropped lots of F-bombs and dealt with Serious Issues affecting the '80s teen.

After going through a relatively thrifty production, The Breakfast Club became a smash hit, securing the cast's reputations as pop cultural icons: The stars of The Breakfast Club became a hard-partying unit known as the "Brat Pack" (riffing off Frank Sinatra's "Rat Pack").

So, kick back, relax, play Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me)," and walk toward an imaginary camera with a triumphant fist in the air. 

You're about to visit (or revisit, because this movie can't be seen too many times) the greatest teen movie ever made.

What is The Breakfast Club About and Why Should I Care?

You thought this movie was just fun: a stoned wrestler doing cartwheels, a girl using her dandruff to create snow in a drawing, a juvenile delinquent who gets a carton of cigarettes for Christmas, a queen bee putting on lipstick with her cleavage, and an academic-minded young man who fails to make a workable elephant-lamp.

But, wait—it turns out at the end there's a moral lesson

Yep, you were duped.

The Breakfast Club isn't just about teens smoking pot in the school library and yelling profanities at the supervising teacher (although both of those things do happen): It's about the importance of not judging people. 

But this ain't another after-school special—although it is special, and it takes place after school (ish).

Presumably, you don't want to be an awful person. (We really have your number, huh?) So the next time you see an Anthony Michael Hall or Ally Sheedy-type character trotting down the hall, don't immediately spit in their faces and trample them in the dust. Imagine: They might be just like you on the inside—restless, anguished, hilarious, and mad at mom and dad.

(And if you are an Anthony Michael Hall or Ally Sheedy-type character, we guess you're supposed to imagine that the people spitting in your face and trampling you in the dust also possess some vestige of humanity and/or daddy issues.)

To sum up the movie's message: Don't be an unreflective walking stereotype. Be a reflective walking stereotype.

Or better yet, don't be a stereotype at all.

The Film Buff Version

As a budding amateur film historian, you should study this movie as a classic, trendsetting example of the Teen Movie.

The secret to John Hughes's success was looking at the world the way teenagers do. Earlier teen movies tended to approach the equation from a grown-up perspective; in other words, "stop being foolish; your angst really isn't all that important." (There were a few exceptions, of course, like Rebel Without a Cause.) Hughes's Sixteen Candles, on the other hand, said, "when you're sixteen and they forget your birthday, it really does feel like the end of the world." That empathy and understanding helped make The Breakfast Club the classic it is today. 

So go ahead and reflect on how it explores teenage stereotypes, how other movies have copied it (perhaps less effectively), and how it catered to its younger audience (a David Bowie quote! Reckless drug use!).

Feel free to deconstruct it.

Trivia

During filming, John Kapelos told Emilio Estevez and Judd Nelson that they should be more dedicated actors, joking that they would've let Martin Sheen die if they'd been on the set of Apocalypse, Now (Sheen had a heart attack on the set). Kapelos didn't realize that Sheen was actually Estevez's dad and felt really embarrassed when he learned this. (Source)

Judd Nelson was almost fired after he continued to remain in character and harass Molly Ringwald when they weren't filming. The other actors talked Hughes out of it. (Source)

Rick Moranis was originally going to play Carl, but Hughes and producer Ned Tanen fired him after Moranis insisted on wearing a Russian hat and doing a Russian accent for the role. (Source)

Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall actually dated for a while when they were making the movie. So, Hall actually did get with someone—in real life, if not in the movie. (Source)

When they arrived at the school where they were going to film, the actual school library was too small. So the crew constructed a larger library-set in the gym. (Source)

The Breakfast Club Resources

Websites

The Breakfast Club IMDB Page
The IMDB is the revered center for technical info on movies—cast lists, specifics on the kind of film used, a brief synopsis, a little trivia, etc. So, feel free to check it out.

The Breakfast Club Rotten Tomatoes Page
This page collects all the movie reviews of The Breakfast Club from over the years. They're pretty good, aside from a few curmudgeonly dissenters.

The Breakfast Club 30th Anniversary Website
2015 was the movie's 30th anniversary. However, John Hughes himself didn't live to see it.

Inspired by the Breakfast Club

"The Breakfast Club" '80s Music Cover Band
The Breakfast Club is also the name of a '80s music cover band. Apparently, they (and not any movie fan-sites) own the url for "thebreakfastclub.com."

American Teen, a Documentary
This semi-scripted documentary about the life of American teenagers overtly stole its poster design from The Breakfast Club.

Articles and Interviews

"Sweet Bard of Youth" by David Kamp
This article pays tribute to Hughes after his death—interviewing his sons and delving into the trials and travails of his career, including his sudden breaks with Ringwald and Hall.

"Hollywood's Brat Pack" by David Blum
This somewhat hostile article coined the term "Brat Pack" (riffing off Sinatra's Rat Pack) to describe The Breakfast Club's actors and associated stars. The article may not be entirely fair or pleasant, but it's a part of movie history.

"8 Facts That'll Change How You View The Breakfast Club" by Bill Bradley
This uncovers a bunch of trivia about The Breakfast Club, including the fact that there was originally a gratuitous nude scene that John Hughes ended up deleting.

"15 Things You Didn't Know About The Breakfast Club Even If You Got Detention Every Saturday Morning" by Lauren Duca
Lists are the lifeblood of the internet. So, it shouldn't come as that much of a surprise that The Huffington Post published two lists of Breakfast Club trivia… uh, within the span of two months. Plus, this one has fifteen fun facts in it, giving it the edge.

"Slow Change May Pull Us Apart" by Andrew Unterberger
Unterberger delves into the history of Simple Minds' epic track, "Don't You (Forget About Me)," which closes The Breakfast Club.

"I Had to Convince John Hughes to Give Me the Part": Molly Ringwald on The Breakfast Club, 30 Years Later
Ringwald was Hughes' protégé, starring in three of his biggest movies. Here, she talks about Hughes's masterpiece and says that originally they wanted Robin Wright to play the Claire role. (Robin Wright now plays the first lady, Claire Underwood, on House of Cards.)

Video

"The Breakfast Club Lives On: 22 Times Pop Culture Played Tribute to the '80s Classic" by Erin Clements
This video catalogs a bunch of references to The Breakfast Club from pop culture: from Community to Family Guy to Gilmore Girls to, um, Cougar Town.

Molly Wygant Interviews Molly Ringwald and Judd Nelson from The Breakfast Club
This interview is very calm and '80s.

Judd Nelson on His Bad Boy Breakfast Club Role
A spectacled, professorial Nelson reflects on his halcyon days, back when he was John Bender, iconic bad boy.

The Breakfast Club Dance Scene
This might be the one scene that seems the most '80s—not the kind of thing you would find in a teen movie anymore, except maybe ironically.

"Don't Mess with the Bull" Clip
Paul Gleason utters one of his classic lines, suavely making a horn-sign with his hand as he sentences Bender to another Saturday of detention.

"Eat My Shorts" Clip
Bender utters the fatal words, "Eat my shorts," dooming himself to another two months of detention.

Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me)" Music Video
Interestingly, Simple Minds didn't actually write this, their most famous song. A songwriter working for the movies, Keith Forsey, penned this angsty classic.

Audio

Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me)" with Lyrics
Here's the immortal, angst-laden song with lyrics, so you can use it during '80s music sing-a-long, if you're holding one for some reason.

An Alternative Version of "Don't You (Forget About Me)"
This alternative version has a longer introductory part before jumping into things. If you're used to the normal version, it's pleasantly jarring.

Images

The Breakfast Club Original Poster
Nothing too out of the ordinary, here—the poster basically shows all the characters posing together.

Another Breakfast Club Poster
Here's another poster with the characters posing, except in this one they're standing up and leaning against a blackboard. So you know it's set in a school.

A Poster for American Teen Copying The Breakfast Club's Poster
This documentary poster either rips off or pays homage to The Breakfast Club's original poster, depending on your perspective.

Paul Gleason as Richard Vernon
Gleason conveys the self-assured, arrogant slickness of Vernon with style.

Judd Nelson as John Bender
Nelson redefines the high school bad boy with his constant scene-stealing as John Bender.

Emilio Estevez as Andrew Clark
Rather than seeming like an immortal athlete on top of Olympus, Estevez is screwing around with the drawstring on his hooded sweatshirt. Who hasn't?

Ally Sheedy as Allison Reynolds
Sheedy is making a sarcastic gesture and going full Goth—before being forced to wear a bow in her hair at movie's end.

Allison Reynolds After Her… Transformation
Claire gives Allison a makeover, eliminating her Goth look. This has become the subject of endless controversy.

Anthony Michael Hall as Brian Johnson
Hall conveys shyness and fragility as Brian, a stressed-out high school intellectual.

Molly Ringwald as a Crying Claire Standish
As her illusions and pretensions are crushed, Claire weeps openly.

John Kapelos as Carl the Janitor
Kapelos seems kindly and avuncular as the understanding janitor, Carl.

John Hughes, the Writer and Director
And here's John Hughes himself—the 35-year-old Baby Boomer who somehow ended up speaking for 1980s teenagers.