In honor of The Breakfast Club's 30th anniversary, 430 select theaters across the country will be showing the revolutionary teen movie on March 26 and 31. The film"”filled with teenage angst, love, humor, and somewhat questionable messages"”inspired a wave of teen classics that changed the way we look at high schoolers and their experiences.
High schoolers used to look like the Brady's, troubled by petty sibling arguments and young love. Such high school depictions gave viewers a two-dimensional look at cliques, reducing characters to stereotypes instead of people. The Breakfast Club, despite its flaws, worked to create three-dimensional characters who were more than just walking blueprints for their social circles.
Instead of presenting the old "squares v. cool kids," The Breakfast Club expanded the high school clique cliches by introducing the jock (Andy Clarke), the nerd (Brian Ralph Johnson), the social outcast/recluse (Allison Reynolds), the popular girl (Claire Standish), and the criminal bad boy (John Bender). At first, the characters seem to conform to their stereotypes quite nicely. Allison doesn't want anything to do with the others, Claire is a total diva, Brian is a know-it-all, Andy is a good-looking meathead, and John is the dreamy rebel "” the characters fill their social roles without offering much more.
But, as the movie progresses, the characters reveal secrets about themselves to each other, transforming them from stereotypes into real, multi-faceted human beings. John isn't just the bad boy; he's also the guy whose father abuses both him and his mother most nights. Claire's popularity doesn't exempt her from peer pressure to lose her virginity; Brian's perfectionism nearly drove him to take his own life; Allison often finds herself in a web of lies; and Andy struggles to define himself amidst the pressure and strict direction he receives from his family and his wrestling coach.
Then, BOOM. The socially diverse group becomes friends. John softens his edges, Brian chills out, Andy starts thinking for himself, Claire shrugs off some of the peer pressure, and Allison transforms herself from grungy to chic.
The film resonated with youth so much that the teen movie became a staple in popular culture, yielding hits like She's All That, 10 Things I Hate About You, Clueless, The Princess Diaries, and Mean Girls. Unfortunately, the film also kicked off a common teen movie theme where an unpopular girl transforms herself in order to get the guy and fit in at school.
The New York Post brilliantly highlighted the problem with Allison's transformation in The Breakfast Club, noting that she essentially changed her identity in order to attract Andy. All of the movies I listed above follow a similar pattern: Girl meets guy. Girl changes for guy. Girl and guy fall in love.
These movies told girls that they weren't good enough and that they should change not for themselves, but for boys and popularity. In She's All That, Laney swaps her paint-spattered clothing for trendier garb so that she can win Zack's affections. In Clueless, Cher and Dionne give Tai a complete makeover so that she can fit in better and get a guy's attention. And so it continues, from `90s films to the early 2000s.
Thankfully, Mean Girls allowed Cady to transform back into herself after she was unsuccessful in getting the guy by being, well, a mean girl. The message had finally shifted away from encouraging girls to change who they are to encouraging girls to be themselves. Perhaps this refreshing change is why the movie remains incredibly popular over 10 years later.
With all of the hype surrounding The Breakfast Club's anniversary, I can't help but worry that someone might want to remake the iconic movie. Like Mean Girls, I imagine the remake would stray away from the overdone "girl changes her life for popularity" trope and would instead put more power into the hands of the outcast.
While the movie did allow characters like Brian to have their time in the spotlight, in the end the bad boy and the jock both got what they wanted and were able to keep their image intact. If The Breakfast Club were made today, I could see the power shifting from the jock and over to the nerd, with Andy's character being a total meathead and Brian's character being a rich, app-designing genius. John would still be a bad boy, but in a more sensitive and artistic way, while Claire would be obsessed with taking selfies and drinking juice. Allison would be a disinterested hipster, more closely resembling Kat from 10 Things I Hate About You than her original character.
Sure, the movie would be entertaining, but it wouldn't be worth recreating. The beauty of popular films like The Breakfast Club is that we can look back and analyze both what we liked and what we wish we'd changed, while also examining the cultural impacts they had.
We can, and should, celebrate The Breakfast Club for breaking barriers, changing narratives, and giving characters more emotional depth than we'd previously seen in a teen film. But we shouldn't just stop there. Why not aim for improved narratives and stronger characters? After all, we could create a groundbreaking teen film that could inspire cinema for years to come.