When John Hughes began to make The Breakfast Club, he was still sort of inexperienced—he was a seasoned writer, not a director. The only movie he'd actually directed was Sixteen Candles (which was a hit, after all, but the movie gods are fickle). But he justified himself to the studio bigwigs, explaining that it was only going to cost a million bucks to make the movie (which, by movie standards, isn't that much) and they were only going to use one location for the shoot. The movie gods relented: They agreed to give him a shot.
Hughes obliged by filming the movie in a straightforward way—nothing risky or daring, but still fundamentally solid. He kept everything confined to the high school, which made the budget naturally low. The movie eventually made $50,525,171 at the box office—more than justifying Hughes as a salable director. The movie gods were pleased.
Despite the low budget, Hughes still manages to do some pretty cool things. He puts a David Bowie quote on a black screen at the beginning of the movie and he cuts to the scene outside the high school by having the black screen shatter. Hughes also uses the soundtrack to create a specific emotional mood—Bender's triumphant fist in the air at the end of the movie, accompanied by Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me)," has become an iconic moment.
Sure, there are some parts that might seem a little dated and a little too '80s… like the dance sequence (although it has its charms). But, overall, it's a good example of how to successfully direct something with a small amount of characters and a limited location. It shows that having limited resources can actually make you innovate as a director.
On the surface, John Hughes seemed like a wholly normal dude, a happily married ad man from the Chicago area. But this deceptive middle-aged exterior masked a core of wild humor and teen angst. While he was working in advertising, Hughes was also writing humor pieces, making a little extra cash on the side. Eventually, his hobby morphed into a full-time gig, and Hughes became one of the guiding spirits of National Lampoon Magazine.
Springing up from his humor writing roots, in the early '80s Hughes wrote the scripts for National Lampoon's Class Reunion and the Michael Keaton comedy Mr. Mom. The entire series of National Lampoon's Vacation movies (starring Chevy Chase) were actually spawned by a story Hughes wrote for the Lampoon entitled "Vacation '58," which he then adapted into the first Vacation movie.
After toiling in the writing mills for a number of years, Hughes finally got into the director's chair with Sixteen Candles, a comedy he also wrote, featuring future Breakfast Club actors Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall. It was a fairly big hit, justifying Hughes's directorial ability. (Today, it's also uber-problematic. Lots of critics have called it racist; for example, it features a Chinese character named "Long Duk Dong" and a gong sounds every time someone says his name. Yiiikes.)
In Sixteen Candles, Hughes wrote a teen movie that was mainly a zany comedy. With The Breakfast Club, he created more of a comedy-drama. It's consistently funny, but also has a message about getting along and not judging people and all that nice stuff.
As a writer, Hughes followed that classic staple of all college creative writing classes: Write What You Know. It's good advice. Consequently, Hughes's movies tend to be set in and around Chicago, particularly in the wealthier suburbs. That's definitely true in The Breakfast Club's case, since the movie takes place in the (fictitious) suburb of Shermer, Illinois.
The Breakfast Club is probably Hughes's masterpiece as a writer. He would go on to pen other hit teen movies like Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Pretty in Pink, along with non-teen movies like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and Home Alone (both massive hits). But while those movies are superbly entertaining, they don't feel quite as personal as The Breakfast Club. John Hughes managed to bare his soul and the hidden teen angst he'd been carrying around for twenty-seven extra years… and make a pile of money in the process. Not a bad deal.
When writer-director John Hughes first showed the producers the final cut of the movie, they were disappointed and didn't think it would be a hit. How bitterly wrong they were…
To finance The Breakfast Club, Hughes turned to Channel Productions, a production company founded by Ned Tannen, who had already produced such hits as National Lampoon's Animal House and George Lucas's American Graffiti. Being a National Lampoon writer, this seems like a logical choice for Hughes—also, Tannen was producing Hughes's own Sixteen Candles, so they already had a working relationship. At a certain point, Universal Studios jumped in and also helped produce The Breakfast Club.
Since Hughes was only asking for a million bucks (a pittance in the eyes of movie producers) Channel and Universal basically let him do what he wanted. Despite their skepticism about the final product, they were richly rewarded when the movie raked in over fifty million bucks internationally—a massive return for that small of a budget.
Like with a lot of classic movies, there were casting issues with The Breakfast Club that might've created a totally different kind of movie, if things had gone another way. Molly Ringwald was originally cast as Allison Reynolds, but wanted to play Claire Standish. So Hughes switched her, and let Ally Sheedy play the odd introvert character. Likewise, Emilio Estevez originally auditioned for the John Bender role, but ended up playing the athlete, Andrew Clark. Since Judd Nelson is so identified with Bender's part, it's weird to imagine what might've happened.
The Breakfast Club's mode of production was super simple. It had a budget of one million bucks, which is really cheap: It's an independent movie budget—and a thrifty independent movie budget, at that—even though a major studio, Universal, was actually helping to produce it. Plus, the fact that Hughes limited the setting to high school and the number of characters to seven helped keep the costs extremely low.
The movie predates digital photography, so naturally, it was shot on actual, 35mm film. Hughes's cinematographer was a guy named Thomas Del Ruth, who had a long career before The Breakfast Club, working on movies like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (considered a great movie) and Myra Breckenridge (considered a terrible movie) as an assistant cameraman. After The Breakfast Club, he worked on other films and also did cinematography for a ton of TV shows, from ER to The X-Files to The West Wing.
The woman who did the film's editing was legendary film-editor (if a film-editor can be legendary) Dede Allen. She'd done the editing for such seminal films as Bonnie and Clyde and Dog Day Afternoon. John Hughes gave her a lot of credit for making the movie great—she forced him to sit down and really work on making this thing flow. They had over a million feet of film to go through, and Allen helped carve the movie we currently know out of it.
The Breakfast Club doesn't have a score—but it does have an iconic soundtrack. John Hughes loved music: If he hadn't been a writer-director-producer genius, he would've been a musician, or tried to be one (like Carl the janitor?). But instead of composing music for his movies, he settled for the next best thing: selecting the soundtrack, curating it to fit with cool, alternative '80s vibes (insofar as '80s vibes were cool and/or alternative). (Source)
One song defines The Breakfast Club: "Don't You (Forget About Me)" by Simple Minds. One the one hand, the song is about a guy hitting on a girl. But, in the context of the movie, the "Don't you forget about me" chorus seems addressed to the baby boomers, the parents, and the film's Gen X audience.
It's saying: Hey, you might be a self-involved bunch of rich '80s baby boomers, but can't you spare a thought for these Gen X misfits? As the lyrics read: "Will you stand above me? / Look my way, never love me / Rain keeps falling, rain keeps falling / Down, down, down."
The song was actually written specifically for The Breakfast Club by a movie composer, Keith Forsey, who also did a bunch of instrumental tracks for the movie, along with a guitarist named Steve Schiff. It was then taken to the band, Simple Minds, who covered it for the final soundtrack—making it a number-one hit in the process. It's the song playing when Bender pumps his fist in triumph at the end of the movie, highlighting the lessons they've learned and the fact that they can't forget about each other if they want to hang on to those lessons.
Forsey had a long and pretty awesome career as a movie composer and music producer. He produced a bunch of successful Billy Idol albums, won an Oscar for the song "Flashdance… What a Feeling" from Flashdance, and wrote songs for the soundtracks to Ghostbusters and Beverly Hills Cop.
Basically, this guy was in the thick of '80s music.
The Breakfast Club's widespread fandom has leaked into all kinds of pop culture. Shows from Family Guy to Community have all paid tribute.
It makes sense: Movies that appeal to older adult audiences can become really famous, but don't usually manage to become cult movies (or get a prolonged following) because the people who watch them aren't really into geeking out about pop culture.
But teens have their whole lives ahead of them. They have time to care about the minutiae of the Star Wars trilogy (the original trilogy) or go deep into the idiosyncrasies of John Hughes's oeuvre.