Friday List: Ranking the John Hughes characters
Today marks the one-year anniversary of the death of John Hughes, the writer-director who served as a personal, pop cultural GPS for every kid who attempted to navigate adolescence in the '80s ... or for that matter, who has attempted to do it since.
Much has been written about Hughes's impact on Generation X, about which of his movies most resonate, about why Hughes ducked out of Hollywood during the 1990s. In some ways, it seems like there isn't much left to say.
Yet it seems somehow inappropriate -- at least to this devoted degree seeker in the field of Hughesian Studies -- to let this day pass without acknowledging the man. Which is why today's Friday List focuses on the 10 most memorable characters in John Hughes films, ranked from No. 10 up to No. 1. Clearly this will be a subject of much debate, which is why the list is followed by a poll that allows you to rank the characters yourself. Also, feel free to suggest any iconic personalities that were unjustly omitted in the comments section.
Ready sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids and dweebies? Let's do this.
Watts from "Some Kind of Wonderful": Yes, she was essentially the female version of Duckie. Still, Mary Stuart Masterson brought a sexy-tomboy, brooding-while-rockin' sensibility to the part that made Eric Stolz's Keith seem like a complete lunkhead for taking so long to see what was right in front of him.
Allison Reynolds from "The Breakfast Club": The characters in Hughes's most important teen movie function more as a sum than individual parts. Still, within that ensemble, a couple of characters stand out. The first of the two on this list is Allison, who, as played by Ally Sheedy, looked like a very different female teen than any we'd seen onscreen prior to 1985. She wore all black and hid her pretty face with a messy shag of hair. She used sugary cereal as a sandwich ingredient. She used her dandruff to decorate artwork. And she masked her vulnerability with defensiveness and a tendency to lie about her sexual experiences. She also uttered, perhaps, the most heartbreaking line in the Hughes high school canon: "It's inevitable. It just happens. When you grow up ... your heart dies."
Del Griffith from "Planes, Trains and Automobiles": The shower curtain ring salesman who never knew when to shut his yap, Griffith (the late John Candy) was an amusing, bumbling idiot who, by movie's end, morphed into a dear, lonely man you desperately wanted to hug ... even if he does need a few lessons in recognizing what pillows are.
John Bender from "The Breakfast Club": The other "Club" outcast on our list, Bender was "the criminal," the smartmouth who always had a sarcastic rejoinder for Principal Vernon. But there was also an enormous vulnerability in him and a desperate need to be liked by the girl he insulted most: Molly Ringwald's Claire. Plus, in the hands of Judd Nelson, Bender delivers more quotable material than any other "Breakfast Club" character. (To that end, much language in the video below is NSFW. So, to bastardize a Bender phrase, if you can hear this, you might actually want to turn it down.)
Andie Walsh from "Pretty in Pink": Molly Ringwald was Hughes's teen queen. And while her Samantha Baker in "16 Candles" and Claire Standish in "The Breakfast Club" are certainly memorable, Ringwald reached her most supreme level of teen-movie iconicness with Andie, an outcast who was clearly cooler and more well-adjusted than anyone around her. Able to unwittingly seduce both Andrew McCarthy's Blaine and Jon Cryer's Duckie, she single-handedly sent an entire generation of women to the thrift store in search of comparably hip clothes.
Cameron Frye from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off": A bundle of neuroses that somehow managed to become BFFs with the most laidback human being on Earth, Cameron (Alan Ruck) served as a comforting example to perpetually anxious teens that, yes, other people do worry as much (or more) than you do. A hypochondriac, a neglected son and a kid who could do a mean Ed Rooney impression, Cameron is another of the many highly quotable souls in the Hughes universe. Decades later, we still refuse to let our Cameron go.
Clark Griswold from "National Lampoon's Vacation": No, he doesn't hold the same soft spot in our hearts as our teen heroes. But this Hughes creation, brought to Wally World-seeking life by Chevy Chase, is pretty much the quintessential clueless road-tripping dad, and one who spawned his own franchise. Honestly, when you're vacationing with your family and you get lost or drive through a seedy neighborhood or your Aunt Edna dies, whom do you think of? That's what I thought.
Farmer Ted from "16 Candles": Many of us didn't use the word geek on a regular basis until The Geek -- Anthony Michael Hall's Farmer Ted -- waltzed into our lives, determined to interface. Clearly a scrawny dweeb, yet also cooler than we would ever be, Farmer Ted is the funniest person in this 1984 comedy, and possibly the smoothest. And yes, I am including Jake Ryan.
Duckie Dale from "Pretty in Pink": Even now, the Duckie/Blaine debate remains a hot topic among those of us who still want to hang out at Traxx. The fact that so many people still wish Andie had ended up with her New Wave-ish, pompadoured best buddy speaks to how beloved and unforgettable Duckie turned out to be. Jon Cryer may have spent more years on "Two and a Half Men," but there's no question he is now, and will always remain, a Duckman.
Ferris Bueller from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off": John Hughes did his best writing when he was crafting nerdy, outcast characters. Which is why it's sort of odd that, in my opinion, his most enduring, worshiped, brilliant creation is Ferris Bueller, a well-dressed con artist who is popular with every conceivable demographic, charms his way out of every situation and pretty much coasts through life unscathed. Perhaps it's a testament to Matthew Broderick's performance. Or maybe it's just that Bueller -- or is it Abe Froman? -- represents the guy whom all of us, at any age, yearn to be. All I know is Bueller, Ferris Bueller stands as the greatest character in teen movie history.
As such, he deserves two video clips as a tribute. The first, from the film itself:
And the second, a brilliantly crafted, Billy Joel-style salute: "He's Always Abe Froman":
Now it's your turn to rank 'em:
| August 6, 2010; 12:37 PM ET
Categories: Friday Lists, Movies, Pop Culture
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