It's been 25 years since five teenage archetypes sat down together for Saturday detention, and their experience as related in John Hughes' teen classic The Breakfast Club is still having an impact. The film, which starred Molly Ringwald as the princess, Judd Nelson as the rebel, Emilio Estevez as the jock, Anthony Michael Hall as the geek and Ally Sheedy as the misfit, premiered on Feb. 7, 1985, and made instant icons out of its young cast members. "You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions," Hall writes at the end of the movie to their grown-up tormentor. In You Couldn't Ignore Me if You Tried: The Brat Pack, John Hughes, and Their Impact on a Generation author Susannah Gora details how John Hughes and other filmmakers related to teens of the '80s and today by doing something very few adults can do: taking teens and their problems seriously.
How did you feel after watching your first Brat Pack movie?
I was too young to have seen it in the theaters, but I saw The Breakfast Club on VHS when I was in eighth grade, and it just blew my mind. I couldn't believe that there was a movie about the very things that I was concerned with at that moment in my life.
What do you think happened on Monday, after that day in detention?
It is my hope that Claire [the princess] and Bender [the rebel] were boyfriend and girlfriend and really fell in love and had a beautiful relationship. That Allison [the misfit] and Andy [the jock] were also boyfriend and girlfriend. And that Brian felt more confident because he had discovered a new part of himself.
Which character did you identify with the most?
In a weird way, I really did relate to Anthony Michael Hall because he's a writer. I really thought there was something wonderful in that scene where he writes the letter for the group. That feeling of just, Wow, I can use words to capture some powerful feelings here. That, I definitely related to.
How are John Hughes' movies different from the many others directed toward a teen audience?
The thing that made John Hughes so special was that he took kids and their problems seriously. He understood that the teenage years can be the most emotionally resonant, passionate, intense years of many people's lives that these years are about so much more than just sneaking beer and trying to make out.
What are some of the biggest lessons teens and not just teens, but anyone can take away from these films?
Hughes basically wanted to say to teenagers, Look, it doesn't have to be that bad. I think in his films he was sort of telling people to believe in optimism. That, yes, the nerd can get the babe, and the jock can have a heart, deep down. The reason his movies are uplifting is because they're really honest about the elements of his characters' lives that do kind of suck, so that at the end, when they finally get their happy ending, it feels so richly deserved.
You explain how the label "the Brat Pack" came from one night many of these stars had on the town with a reporter from New York magazine. Regardless of how it was intended, the actors took it as this kind of negative term.
A lot of them were hurt. They felt, understandably, that the moniker was a little offensive or that it summed them up too easily. It had a very sad impact on their personal lives at the time these actors really were each other's best friends and lovers until that article ran. After, a lot of them told me that they didn't feel comfortable hanging out as much, and that was really heartbreaking for them. To this day, a lot of them are sad about that.
How do they feel about the nickname now?
Time heals all wounds. You know, you get old enough and realize it's kind of cool to be remembered for anything.
How did the term affect their careers?
I really believe that some of these actors could have gone on to even greater things professionally had the label not been stuck on them. Many of them were serious actors who had studied with important teachers and had received rave reviews. On the other hand, the label is such a big part now of their chapter in pop-culture history, so it's kind of hard to imagine them without it.
How were you affected by Hughes' death last year of a heart attack at age 59?
I had been sort of living with John Hughes his spirit, his words and his ideas for so many years, I really felt like I knew him. His passing was heartbreaking. I was touched to see the incredible outpouring of emotion from people all over the world who talked about how he made their teenage years more bearable.
I noticed he isn't on your list of interviews. Did you try to interview him?
I tried very hard to interview him. He was famously reclusive. Not only would he not talk to any journalists, but he often didn't even call back people who had worked with him on these movies.
How will he live on?
Teenagers are always going to know about these movies. They're part of our youth culture. The themes are timeless. I mean, yes, teens today are doing things that '80s teens didn't they're on Facebook or texting or whatever but they're worrying about the same issues of coolness and conformity. The theme song of The Breakfast Club is "Don't You (Forget About Me)," and here we are, 25 years later, and it's clear that no one has forgotten and no one ever will.