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The Lasting Legacy of John Hughes and ‘The Breakfast Club’

On this date 37 years ago, five teens had Saturday morning detention.

Breakfast Club March 24 1984
Breakfast Club March 24 1984

No matter how many years have passed since the release of John Hughes’ 1985 classic, “The Breakfast Club” will always remain timeless.

Many of Hughes’ films are as visceral today as they were at the time of their release, largely due to the subject matter they so deftly explore. Whether it’s the teenage rebelliousness of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” or the middle-aged doldrums of “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” Hughes was surgical in his writing about the human experience and among the best to ever present it on the silver screen.

“The Breakfast Club” is set on Saturday, March 24, 1984. Similar to many other Hughes films, it takes place in an idyllic Chicago suburb. The five young characters must wait out eight long hours of Saturday detention. It’s the smallest scope of all Hughes’ films, essentially what the television industry refers to as a bottle episode, with the vast majority of the plot taking place in the school library. As a result, Hughes’ tight writing and razor-sharp direction is on full display, among the finest examples throughout his legendary career.

When the late filmmaker John Singleton (“Boyz n the Hood,” “Shaft”)–celebrated as the first African American to get a Best Director Oscar nomination–first saw “The Breakfast Club” in 1985 at his local movie theater, he reviewed it for his high school newspaper. “The various characters were teenage archetypes, but they were rooted in genuine human problems,” he later said. “I didn’t feel alienated by the fact that they were all white kids. They were just teens finding their way into adulthood–like I was.”

At the time of Hughes’ sudden death in 2009 at the age of 59, Roger Ebert, one of the filmmaker’s biggest proponents and fans, reflected on his legacy, writing “What can be said for him is that he usually produces a real story about people he has clear ideas about; his many teenage comedies, for example, are miles more inventive than the recent sex-and-prom sagas.”

Indeed, Hughes made films that tapped into essential emotions, his writing and directing style stripping away all the subcutaneous fat that most movies are laden with in order to strike the assorted muscles and bones of our more primitive nature. “The Breakfast Club” is more than just another title among Hughes’ remarkable filmography. It represents one of his earliest great movies that he took on the triple job of writer, producer, and director, doing so while he was at the very top of his game, blazing a timeless cinematic legacy along the way.