In the 1980s, there was one name that was associated with teen angst more than any other; John Hughes. Dominating the decade with hit after hit, many say that he defined youth cinema for a generation. Covering themes such as existential despair, depression, loneliness and alienation, Hughes is a legend in film. As such, it’s only fitting that he produced enough films to fill up this list, so without further ado, here are the top 5 John Hughes films of all time!
5. Sixteen Candles (1984)
The first film from Hughes, Sixteen Candles establishes many of the tropes that would become commonplace in his work, such as a moody teen protagonist lamenting their place in the world, philosophical themes and goofy side characters. Starring Molly Ringwald as Samantha “Sam” Baker, the film focuses on Baker’s efforts to navigate High School, while dealing with unwanted attention from “Farmer Ted”, played by Anthony Michael Hall.
As far as first films go, Sixteen Candles is a solid effort. While some of the characters perpetuate dated stereotypes and the plot can feel cheesy at times, it’s nevertheless a mostly enjoyable story.
4. Weird Science (1985)
Weird is a very appropriate adjective for this film. Eschewing the realism of Hughes’ other films, Weird Science stars Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell Smith as Gary Wallace and Wyatt Donnelly, two nerdy teen boys who use a computer to produce a woman. Their plan goes horribly right and along comes the sultry Lisa, played by Kelly LeBrock. Can Gary and Wyatt keep the secret…well, secret?
Weird Science earns its title in spades and despite its often silly tone making it hard to stay engaged, it’s immensely escapist fun regardless.
3. The Breakfast Club (1985)
Perhaps the most famous of Hughes’ “teen” films, The Breakfast Club is a classic coming of age tale, featuring the plights of five completely different teenagers on a Saturday morning in detention. The stories of popular girl Claire (Molly Ringwald), jock Andy (Emilio Estevez), basket case Allison (Ally Sheedy), nerd Brian (Anthony Michael Hall) and criminal Bender (Judd Nelson) all intersect, as the five learn that there’s more to their personalities than initially meets the eye.
The Breakfast Club cleverly combines both witty comedy and heartfelt drama, with characters that feel fully believable. It perfected the format Hughes was best known for and made him a household name.
2. Ferris Bueller’s Day off (1986)
Outwardly, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off appears to be yet another archetypal John Hughes teen film. While it does feature a teenage protagonist, Ferris Bueller eschews melancholy drama for escapist fun. Featuring Matthew Broderick as the titular character, the story focuses on the main character’s also titular day off, as he storms the streets of Chicago with both his best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) and girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara). Along the way, Ferris must also run afoul of nefarious school principal Edward Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) and his jealous older sister Jeanie (Jennifer Grey). Can Ferris have his fun and make it home in time?
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a welcome departure from the standard Hughes format. It features levity, adventure and a sense of danger, as you start to question if Ferris can stay one step ahead of his enemies for long. As such, it’s Hughes’ best teen film.
1. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
What an unusual way to end this list! The man best known for releasing thoughtful teen dramas creating a dramedy centered around two middle-aged men? Stranger things have happened. In Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Steve Martin and John Candy portray Neal Page and Del Griffifth respectively. To say that the two men are night and day different would be the understatement of the year! While Neal is neat, Del is slobbish. Neal is a marketing executive, while Del is a traveling salesman. Neal is distant, Del is chatty, you get the idea. The two are forced to use a variety of means to get home in time for Thanksgiving, forced to trust one another without driving each other crazy. Can the duo succeed, or will the adventure be a total turkey?
Though this is a fairly typical odd couple setup, the film works because of the substantial character development. The characters are revealed to be more than what they initially appear to be and the development feels entirely natural. Of course, the exciting change of scenery throughout also helps!
Planes, Trains and Automobiles is Hughes’ funniest and his most heartfelt film. Withot even trying, it combines humor and emotional depth and no one blinks an eye. Overall, it’s a classic.