The Brat Pack Movie Explosion of the 1980s

Television

The 1980s was the age of the Brat Pack.

Before the phrase was even coined in 1985, many of the young actors later named Brat Pack members starred in unforgettable films.

In preparation for the release of the 2024 documentary Brats, we’re looking at that explosion of Brat Pack movies and what made them so special.

Defining the Brat Pack and Their Films

Before we can delve into what made the Brat Pack films great, we must define them.

There are varying opinions about which movies are actual Brat Pack films.

Related: The Controversial Origins of the Brat Pack

Most people seem to agree that to be considered a Brat Pack film, a movie had to come out between 1983 and 1990 and include at least two Brat Pack actors.

The only problem is that everyone’s list of Brat Pack actors seems different.

Journalist David Blum coined the phrase “Brat Pack” in his 1985 article, applying it to several specific actors, such as Tom Cruise and Nicolas Cage.

Those particular actors have since been excluded as Brat Packers, according to the public at large.

Since its initial release, many actors have also been added to the public list.

Today, the Brat Pack is widely considered to consist of eight actors: Anthony Michael Hall, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, and Andrew McCarthy.

McCarthy decided to create the Brats documentary and reunite his fellow Brat Packers so they could all talk about their early Brat Pack days.

Based on those definitions, a dozen films can be considered Brat Pack movies.

Ten of the films starred two Brat Pack members apiece.

The other two were The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire, now regarded as classics.

Related: 13 Classic ’80s Shows That Need a Reboot

They starred five and six Brat Pack members, respectively.

Although all twelve can be considered Brat Pack films, the five that genuinely stood out were The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo’s Fire, Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, and The Outsiders.

The Outsiders Was the Foundation of the Brat Pack Films

The Outsiders (1983) is widely considered the film that kicked off the era of the Brat Pack, even though the label wasn’t applied to any of the young actors until 1985.

It was one of the earliest 1980s movies with an ensemble cast that included at least two who later became Brat Pack members.

Those were actors Rob Lowe and Emilio Estevez, but they weren’t alone.

They were joined by the Brat Pack-adjacent Matt Dillon and Tom Cruise, who would both later be briefly labeled as Brat Pack members in David Blum’s article.

Also among the cast was Ralph Macchio, later of The Karate Kid and Cobra Kai.

The Outsiders was a coming-of-age movie like no other.

It wasn’t a feel-good flick but rather an in-depth look at the lives of young greaser gang members.

The Outsiders took us on a real journey through the main characters’ lives, from facing murder charges to dealing with ultimate loss.

Related: Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies Review: Old School Girl Power

The film also showed how certain life events could easily alter a person’s path and the consequences of such changes for everyone involved.

It paved the way for other teen films with somber plots, such as Stand By Me (1986).

Honestly, The Outsiders wasn’t rocket science.

Although it had its moments, it didn’t consist primarily of perfect dialogue or fantastic acting.

The biggest reason it was so successful is that it had a hot male cast.

It depicted cute guys who weren’t afraid to show their feelings.

Tween and teen girls loved the movie because it gave them visual representations of their dream guys.

Sixteen Candles Hits the Scene

One could argue that the next Brat Pack film was Class (1983), which also starred Rob Lowe.

The very busy Mr. Lowe appeared in that film with Andrew McCarthy before starring in 1984 with Brat Packer Ally Sheedy in Oxford Blues.

Related: The Age of Nostalgia: Why Young Audiences Are Seeking Out Old TV

However, the next major successful Brat Pack movie was Sixteen Candles (1984), which starred Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall.

The story of Samantha “Sam” Baker (Ringwald), trying to win her crush, Jake (Michael Schoeffling), while a geek (Hall) was crushing on her was relatable to just about every teen.

Add to that the fact that everyone forgot her birthday, which was enough to make any teen who felt forgotten or ignored sympathize with her character to their core.

The late John Hughes (1950-2009) made his directorial debut with Sixteen Candles, and people praised his ability to understand teenagers so much that it kicked off the creation of other films that defined a generation.

But Sixteen Candles had its problems.

The nearly all-white cast punctuated by one Asian character written in a very stereotypical way comes to mind.

Then there was the infamous implied unconsenting sex scene in which Jake gives his drunk girlfriend to the geek.

It makes me and most others who have seen it cringe every time we watch.

Yet, the movie was generally excellent. It was a sign of more incredible films to grace movie screens later.

1985: The Year of Lightning and Fire

1985 was cinematically huge to the point where it changed Hollywood and entertainment forever.

That year gave us gems like The Goonies starring youngins (at the time) like Josh Brolin and Sean Astin.

Related: Why Has Gen Z Produced So Few Prominent TV Stars?

But in terms of the Brat Pack, it gave us the lightning in a bottle that was the combination of The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire.

The Breakfast Club is a now-classic tale of five very different teens who discover they have more in common than they thought during Saturday detention.

Meanwhile, St. Elmo’s Fire was a tale of seven young adults navigating life while trying to maintain their friendships and relationships.

Not much can be said about The Breakfast Club that hasn’t been said before a million times over.

It was a cinematic masterwork from the casting to the script.

Many movies and shows have featured brilliant soundtracks, but this one was perfection.

“Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds was our generation’s fight song before “Fight Song” existed.

Hughes made a high school movie with so much realism behind it that it felt like we all went to that school.

We were all in our versions of the club as the brain, athlete, basketcase, princess, or criminal.

Hughes was so impressed with the young actors he had cast that he recommended three of them to star in St. Elmo’s Fire, directed by the late director Joel Schumacher (1939-2020).

Amazingly, both films came out in 1985, the middle of a decade of generally fabulous film releases, many of which have seen recent reboots.

Related: The 10 Best Reboots We’ve Ever Seen

During this time, Blum was assigned to interview Estevez, who had appeared in The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire.

He spent a night out with Estevez, Rob Lowe, and Judd Nelson, causing him to pen his now infamous article in which he labeled them and other Hollywood rising stars “The Brat Pack” without their consent.

By that point, the young stars were cemented eternally into pop culture, but they were far from done making a splash in Hollywood.

Pretty in Pink Leads the 1986 Pack

The year of the biggest Brat Pack movies was 1985, but the year of the most was 1986.

Brat Packers Demi Moore, Rob Lowe, and Emilio Estevez popped up again that year.

Moore appears twice in About Last Night and Wisdom.

Lowe joins her in the former and Estevez in the latter.

At the same time, Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy were busy starring together for the third time in Blue City.

But none of those were the most popular Brat Pack movie of 1986.

The top 1986 Brat Pack honors went to another John Hughes juggernaut, Pretty in Pink. Although, some would argue Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was the best Hughes film released that year.

Pretty in Pink was essentially a souped-up Sixteen Candles to a degree.

Related: The Shows That Best Depict Being a Gen-Z Teenager

It focused on a teenage girl, Andie Walsh (Molly Ringwald), from a poor neighborhood.

She was trying to date a rich guy (Andrew McCarthy) with friends who looked down on her.

Meanwhile, her best friend, Duckie (Jon Cryer), is a geeky guy with a crush on her.

Sound familiar?

Given the earlier success of Sixteen Candles and the fact that Molly Ringwald played the lead in both films, Pretty in Pink didn’t feel very original.

Yet, it still somehow felt inviting and comfortable.

Watching it was, at least to this writer, like putting on a favorite pair of slippers.

Despite that comfort level, one aspect of the film still hotly contested by fans today is the ending.

Many people think Jon Cryer as Duckie should have gotten the girl, but even though that ending was initially filmed, it didn’t do well when screened by an audience.

The Impact of the Brat Pack Films

Most people feel the Brat Pack movies ended with Fresh Horses (1988) and Betsy’s Wedding (1990).

However, many classic movies starred a single, Brat Packer, including Weird Science (1985) and Less Than Zero (1987).

Related: Will Movies and Shows of Today Be Classics Tomorrow?

Each brought its unique flavor to the recipe of that film era, but they also all did something collectively.

They gave people, especially young people, voices.

It was rare for teenagers to feel seen back then, and John Hughes’s films, in particular, made that happen, as did the actors who starred in them.

We all had that one film with Brat Pack stars that shaped us most.

For me, it was The Breakfast Club, an iconic film to which other movies and shows that came after, like Dawson’s Creek and Riverdale, paid tribute.

What was your favorite Brat Pack film?

How did it shape who you are?

Tell us about it in the comments.

Jessica Kosinski is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. You can follow her on X.

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