Let’s Talk About ‘The Breakfast Club’ (1985)

What The Breakfast Club Means to Us

While I didn’t get the chance to watch all of John Hughes’ seminal teen flicks when I was a teen, I did manage to check out The Breakfast Club before I graduated… and it was entirely accidental. I was just chatting with a couple of classmates before class one day and The Breakfast Club came up and I said I had never seen it. They thought it was wild that I hadn’t and one even gave me her Netflix password so I could rectify that immediately. I didn’t and it was probably a good six to eight months before I finally pressed play on this ’80s classic.

The Breakfast Club, like almost all of Hughes’ teen-centric films, has nuggets of truth buried beneath the jokes and shenanigans. No matter how many times you rewatch Hughes’ films, you will always unearth a new quote or bit of wisdom that sticks with you for a long time. Yet, there is something about The Breakfast Club that triumphs over the rest of his filmography. To watch five kids from different backgrounds see how similar they are despite their apparent differences is something that is perhaps more important now than it was back in the ’80s. I guess, Hughes just understood the need for hashing some things out. Okay, time to go watch The Breakfast Club again. *fist pump*

–Marmaduke Karlston

I was 3 years old when Judd Nelson first walked across a football field, pumping his fist into the air to the tune of one of the most memorable songs from any 80s movie. Not exactly the target demographic at the time, but like any good Xennial (yeah, I said it) I have still seen The Breakfast Club about a thousand times. While the fashion screams 80s, the themes are as timeless as a movie about teenagers can get. No matter what decade you grew up in, everybody knows where they fell in the spectrum of high school cliques that are represented and can name their classmates that fell into the other categories. And we all know that we were far more than that classification, despite the adult world constantly telling us we were kids and didn’t know anything. It’s something we forget as we get older, but as the parent of a teen, I try to cling to the memory of what it felt like to be trapped in that hell-ish, hormone-fueled in-between world. Watching a nostalgic film like The Breakfast Club helps take me back but it also reminds me that the world of adult-ing isn’t nearly as different from high school as we all hoped it would be.

–R.J. Mathews

Yes, It Smells Like Teen Spirit

The revolutionary nature of The Breakfast Club lies in a fairly simple concept: what if teenage characters in a high school film were given actual depth and humanity?

Prior to and up until the mid-80s, characters in movies about high school were pretty one note. They were mostly scoundrels looking to party and get laid. Then a guy by the name of John Hughes, who made a name for himself writing for the humor magazine National Lampoon, decided to write and direct a film that gave more serious considerations to teenage anxieties, fears, motivations, and inner conflicts.

The Breakfast Club at times reads like a group therapy session. Stuck in an all-day Saturday detention, our five main characters – Claire Standish, Andrew Clark, Brian Johnson, Allison Reynolds, and John Bender (played by Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, and Judd Nelson respectively) – have the option to either sit in silence as instructed or talk to each other and learn about their classmates.

Because these characters all come from different social backgrounds and represent different high school stereotypes, the opportunity for them to learn about each other was endless. The princess, the jock, the brain, the basket case, and the criminal end up spending their time in detention peeling back the layers of each other and of themselves. We learn about their ticks, what landed them in detention, their home lives, what they eat for lunch, and so much more.

As the layers are peeled away, we begin to realize just how similar their internal struggles are despite the ostensibly material differences in their experiences.

The universality of The Breakfast Club is stems from the fact that we have all been teenagers. Our personal experiences may not have been exactly like that of any of the members of the breakfast club crew. In fact, our high school careers maybe have felt like they were completely different from what we see in this film. However, the angst and the confusion of that age is perfectly expressed here.

Once again, the timeless appeal of this movie is its dedication to exploring the lived in truth of the teenage experience. Hughes understands that even though these characters are young, they still deserve to be treated with respect. Although simple, it was a novel idea for a film at the time.

Parental Pressures

The opening sequence of The Breakfast Club is brilliant for many different reasons. It’s an absolute masterclass in character introduction. Very few words of dialogue are actually spoken, but every word uttered carries a weighty significance for the remainder of the movie. Most of the dialogue that is actually is delivered is delivered by parents of our teenage protagonists as they drop their kids off for their cruel Saturday punishment.

Andrew’s father and Brian’s mother express their frustrations with their sons’ attendance in detention. It’s antithetical to the life-path that they’ve laid out for the boys. On the other hand, Claire’s father appears fairly sympathetic to his daughter’s turn in detention. He offers to make it up to her with promises of shopping trips and an undoing of her mother’s grounding. Then there’s Bender parents, who are noticeably absent as he strolls up to the school in what we can only assume is a Saturday ritual for him. We don’t see an interaction between Allison and her parents. We can only assume that there was no actual exchange at drop-off.

Understanding the characters’ relationship (or lack thereof) with their parents colors so much of what we learn about them throughout the course of the rest of the film. So much of that inner conflict stems from how they’re treated by their parents at home. Whether it be unhealthy expectations and pressure, fighting, or being ignored, each characters’ home life is directly or indirectly an explanation for their bad behavior.

While the parent characters mainly exist offscreen, the brutal vice principal, Richard Vernon (played masterfully by Paul Gleason), acts as a stand in for them during detention. As the authority figure who misunderstands the teens he is attempting to “teach”, Vernon is one of the most despicable movie villains of all time. He’s the closest thing we have to a true antagonist in this movie and it’s inspiring to watch the breakfast club put aside their differences to rally against him.

Locked in the Library

Location can play such an underrated role in a film’s success. It doesn’t only matter for the vast landscapes of westerns, or the cosmic otherworlds of science fiction adventures. By choosing to lock the angsty teens of The Breakfast Club in a massive school library, Hughes is allowing his location to tell so much of the story.

Detention could have taken place in a classroom, the principal’s office, or a number of different locales in the school. The library, however, is understood as a place of learning; a place to gain knowledge. In the most obvious sense, The Breakfast Club is about our characters learning about each other, themselves, and their place in the world.

The library setting and chamber piece structure of the movie are also crucial to its success. By locking these five characters within close proximity of each other, they are forced to interact with one another in ways that they otherwise would not. Despite occupying the same hallways and classrooms, there are plenty of opportunities for members of the group ignore one another (this notion is even devastatingly discussed during one of the group’s more powerful pow wows).

Within the confines of a single location story, one may assume that dialogue becomes your only tool as a filmmaker for conveying your movie’s message. While the script is certainly strong here, Hughes is keenly aware of some other tools in his filmmaking toolkit.

When the breakfast club crew first take their seats for their day of detention, the placement of their seating informs much of the group’s dynamic.

Claire and Andrew sit at the front of the room at the same table. Because their status as popular kids at school (even though in separate cliques) they occupy a shared space at the top of the social hierarchy. Sitting behind them is Bender. His notoriety as a member of the burn out crew has him slightly aligned with the popular kids but still behind them in the social hierarchy. Sitting across from Bender, and still behind the popular kids is Brian. Like Bender, Brian belongs to his own social circle (the nerds). The nerds have less social cache than the stoners, which is why Brian sits in the row opposite of Claire, Andrew, and Bender. Directly behind Brian is Allison. She doesn’t belong to any social circle. She’s as far away from the popular kids as possible. This is the complete opposite end of the high school social hierarchy.

Although it’s not quite character blocking, this placement of characters within the setting is a subtle yet extraordinary choice by John Hughes. Frankly, it’s just one of many. And that’s what makes The Breakfast Club so fantastic.


The high school drama genre completely changed after The Breakfast Club. The kinds of stories that filmmakers were able to tell about high schoolers were vastly expanded. Movies about high school have since become much richer in their detail and their emotion. Other classics like Fast Times at Ridgemont High or Dazed and Confused probably wouldn’t exist without The Breakfast Club.

Like most, I first experienced The Breakfast Club as an angsty teen. And like many, I immediately connected to it. The timelessness of those feelings of aimlessness and uncertainty will make this movie one that audiences love for generations to come.

Don’t worry Breakfast Club, we’ll never forget about you.

Share your Breakfast Club trivia or memories down in the comments below!

Author: Raf Stitt

Brooklyn based. Full time movie fan, part time podcaster, occasional writer. Follow on Twitter: @rafstitt