Remembering John Hughes and what he meant to the 1980s

As a writer and as someone who felt like an outsider growing up in the 1980s, it should be easy for me to talk about what writer/director John Hughes meant to me. Hughes died yesterday at 59, a year or two younger than my parents, and yet despite being one of Them, he spoke so truthfully to my generation, who came of age to his coming-of-age movies.

Whether you're now in your 20s, 30s or even 40s, there was something about his comedies that felt as though they were tapping into your own life experience. The Breakfast Club. Sixteen Candles. Weird Science. Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Hughes wrote, produced and directed all of those films in a few short years in the mid-1980s. He also wrote National Lampoon's Vacation (based on his first short story for the Lampoon) as well as its sequels, Mr. Mom, Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, Uncle Buck, and made a ton of money on the Home Alone series. We all have our own entry point into the Hughes oeuvre, and a character or two who we reference and identify with more closely than the others. If Michael Jackson provided a soundtrack for our collective experience, then John Hughes provided our pre-Web version of blogging, documenting our adolescent angst and giving it life on the big screen. Whether we were a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess or a criminal, we worried about making it out of high school, or even just surviving in the world, and Hughes made us feel as though we were not alone. I still remember watching Ferris Bueller in the cinema and thinking he was me, even though I was never popular in high school. Sure, I did get away with a few outrageous pranks in both high school and college, but because of that, there were other events that people tried to link me to — my biology teacher remained convinced for years that I somehow placed worms all over campus (really? I can't even see me doing that?), and my parents for a while played the role of Ferris' sister (Jennifer Grey) wondering how other parents in town could think I was an angel. Maybe it was my cherubic look? Anyhow. This isn't about me.

It's about how John Hughes knew how we all felt as teenagers (and in his later efforts, he tried to convey how we felt as even younger kids, or as adults). It comforted me to read that, in fact, Hughes had a singular connection to one of my own generation through a series of pen pal letters. Read this post by Alison Byrne Fields about how she reached out to Hughes, and made such a connection.

How did you connect with John Hughes? Was there a specific character that spoke to your life experience?

Here is a montage of Hughes movie clips that someone edited earlier this year to  "Baba O'Riley" (known by its strains of "teenage wasteland") by The Who:

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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4 thoughts on “Remembering John Hughes and what he meant to the 1980s

  1. Great article. I also grew up in the 1980’s and connected with his movies in a similar way. From a comedy screenplay perspective the guy had an amazing batting average. Check out his IMDB profile. From 1982 forward, especially until about 1990 with Home Alone, he wrote and/or directed so many great comedy films – all of which also had tremendous heart to them without being overly sentimental. Not a dud in the bunch. I really can’t think of a writer/director of comedies who has as solid of a track record – 15 or so really great comedies from 1982 – 1990!

  2. Nitpick: The title of The Who song in that video is “Baba O’Riley”…
    I bothered to include that nitpick because John Hughes knew how important the right music was in each of his films…as the glorious soundtracks to “Sixteen Candles”, “The Breakfast Club”, “Pretty In Pink”, “Some Kind of Wonderful”, “She’s Having A Baby” and “Planes Trains and Automobiles” will attest.
    (You had to recreate the “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” soundtrack yourself.)

  3. I managed to catch every single Hughes written/produced or directed film in theatres from Breakfast Club on (I skipped Just Visiting and Maid in Manhattan though) and I’d be hard pressed to think of a single writer who had such a massive effect on my sense of humor, love of teen films or even musical tastes.
    Even his “dumbest” movie “Weird Science” is comedy gold to me and managed to become a major part of my youth. I loved his more “serious” turn in the late 80s with She’s Having a baby, Plans Trains and Automotibles and even some aspects of Dutch and Career Opportunities (the first 45 minutes or so of which are outstanding, once the robbery plot comes in it loses steam). Not by design, but not a single month of my life has gone by since 1984 where I haven’t sat down at watched a John Hughes film.
    Also, I have no real point with this post.

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