Thinking of teen movies today, we consider grown up Disney stars, vampires in love, and of course kids killing one another in games of hunger. During the 80’s however, it was a whole different story. Before we get into these wonderful movies, let’s have a look at the face of them, the group of young thespians, the “band of famous young stars on the prowl for parties, women, and a good time”: still the standing description David Blum gave when he coined the term ‘Brat Pack’ in New York magazine in 1985.
Blum’s Brat Pack nickname emerged to describe the group who often appeared together in coming-of-age movies during the decade, sticking together in what he called “the ensemble spirit”, resulting in the movies (and the actors) being categorised as one, as if they were the only kids willing to participate in the school plays. The movies tackled teen-orientated storylines, with John Hughes very famously helming quite a few of them – The Breakfast Club (1985), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), Sixteen Candles (1984) etc. While these may be the more obvious picks of the category, it also includes the lesser-known movies (yet equally popular among fans) like St. Elmo’s Fire (1985) and Less Than Zero (1987).
To briefly mention the recognisable names in this Brat Pack, there is: Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men), Rob Lowe (Parks and Recreation), Matthew Broderick (Inspector Gadget) and perhaps the most successful of all, Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Cruise. Of the female members, the biggest standouts of the Brat Pack filmography are Ally Sheedy and Molly Ringwald. While they were the more favourable when it came to these movies the one who went on to garner more success in the future may be Demi Moore who went on to act in award critically acclaimed movies like A Few Good Men (1992).
“Directors had a reliable fan-base that would watch the movie, rather than risk casting newcomers”
With the knowledge that these were faces audiences were happy with, directors had a reliable fan-base that would watch the movie, rather than risk casting newcomers. The downfall was that, while there was success for the select few, there were also some left behind which caused difficulties for the actors themselves. While Tom Cruise managed to breakout from the Pack and go onto star in Risky Business (1983), on the other side of the spectrum we have Andrew McCarthy who, despite having the leading role in Pretty in Pink (1986), did not manage to achieve a high level of success.
Many Brat Pack members despised the label for its negative connotations of spoiled, young celebrities unable to break out of the associations and expectations that came with Blum’s arguably harsh critique. It had a detrimental effect on many careers following the peak of the Pack in the 1980’s, as the trademark prohibited a venture into ‘serious’ roles for many of them, though the term was revived in the twenty-first century to be seen as a positive troupe of memorable actors from classic films.
“Many Brat Pack members despised the label for its negative connotations”
Nowadays when we see actors work with the same people repeatedly, it’s because they have signed on to do a teen-oriented franchise (The Hunger Games, Divergent) and perhaps not the variety of storylines that the ‘Brat Pack’ tackled. While this genre of movies hasn’t been approached in 30 years, it doesn’t mean that they did not have a significant influence in contemporary Hollywood and TV. St Elmo’s Fire revolved around a prime location (St Elmo’s bar) which is something that many sitcoms (Friends, How I Met Your Mother) have incorporated into their structure as well as numerous recreations of the classic cult scenes.
If you feel that these are movies that you may want to give a go then here are a few highlights:
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson
As cheesy as it sounds, the poster reads “They only met once. But it changed their lives forever.” This movies takes place on a saturday as five students who run in very different circles spend a whole day in detention.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Cast: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh
This movie follows a high school and their students throughout the course of one year, tackling the issues of relationships, academia and sex. The age old storylines are something that may seem exhausted for us contemporary audiences but were something refreshing for the audiences it was aimed at at the time.
St Elmo’s Fire (1985)
Cast: Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Rob Lowe
This movie past the teen lives of the other generic movies, as it follows seven friends after graduating university and their hardships in the new adult world (sounds scary doesn’t it third years). This movie follows the age old tradition, that many sitcoms have adopted, of revolving around one prime location, while its Central Perk in Friends or McLaren Pub in How I Met Your Mother, we have St Elmo’s Bar.