I Watched ‘The Breakfast Club’ for the First Time Ever—& It’s a Powerful Reminder That Teens Deserve Better
*Warning: Spoilers ahead*
Over the past few months, I’ve been slowly dipping my toes into classic films—and by “classic,” I mean the kind that elicits a gasp if I dare confess I’ve never seen it before. My most recent film of choice? Everyone’s favorite ‘80s teen movie: The Breakfast Club.
Now, before you call me out for being the last person on earth to see this iconic John Hughes’s film, it’s worth noting that I never even knew it existed until I was in high school myself. I’d heard it referenced a few times by classmates, but still, I didn’t have much interest because I was mostly drawn to Black sitcoms and movies at the time. As I grew older, I did have a better idea of the film’s plot and cultural impact. But even so, a teen comedy-drama that starred what appeared to be an all-white cast just didn’t appeal to me. So naturally, I figured I wasn’t missing out on much.
Boy, was I wrong.
It turns out The Breakfast Club is a coming-of-age masterpiece, and all it took for me to finally watch it was the perfect five-star rating on Amazon Prime. For those who aren’t familiar with the movie, it follows a group of five high school students (Claire, the popular girl; Andy, the jock, Alison, the outsider; Brian, the nerd; and Bender, the criminal) who are forced to spend their Saturday in detention at the school library. What starts off as an awkward meeting between students that would never even sit at the same lunch table, turns into a day of bonding and mischief that leads to a shift in everyone’s perspective.
I was so impressed by how the teenage experience was handled, but more importantly, there are some powerful lessons to be learned from this ragtag group. Read on for my honest thoughts and why this 1985 movie still serves as a great reminder that teens deserve better, even 36 years after its release.
1. It challenges harmful stereotypes about teenagers
In my opinion, Hollywood isn’t the best place to turn to if you want to gain a deeper understanding of the teenage mindset. Most films tend to paint adolescents as shallow and self-obsessed kids who only care about losing their virginity or getting wasted at raging parties (see: Superbad). But with The Breakfast Club, Hughes, its screenwriter and director, doesn’t exaggerate these common tropes or paint the students in a negative light. Instead, it goes deeper by revealing each character’s backstory in a way that feels sincere.
For instance, take the scene where the characters gather for a little group therapy. Brian “the nerd” (Anthony Michael Hall) kicks things off by asking the group if they’ll still be friends when they return on Monday, and after Claire “the popular girl” (Molly Ringwald) gives a rather blunt answer, the group calls her out for being dismissive. Feeling attacked, Claire tearfully confesses that she hates being pressured to go along with what her friends say, just for the sake of being popular. But then, Brian reveals that he’s the one whose been under real pressure, as he nearly committed suicide over a failing grade (even Bender “the bad boy” seems as shook by this news as I was!).
Because of these vulnerable moments, I saw these characters as complex beings with depth, people who longed for change and wanted to find themselves along the way.
Another big highlight is that these teens managed to bond in spite of their differences (because yes, it is possible for people from two different social cliques to mingle and be friends!). In most teen films, for some odd reason, these groups always steer clear of others who don’t fit into their social bubble, and while that may be the case in some schools, it feels way too exaggerated and unrealistic.
2. It shows that parents and adults aren’t the only ones dealing with disrespectful behavior
It’s typical to hear that teens are disrespectful towards their parents, but The Breakfast Club actually does a stellar job of highlighting why that may be the case.
For instance, take Miss Trunchbull’s reincarnate, Vice Principal Vernon (Paul Gleason), who’d go to great lengths to teach the kids a lesson—even if it means verbally abusing them. In one scene, he locks Bender in a storage closet for breaking the rules, then he actually tries to provoke him into throwing a punch to prove his toughness. Add this terrifying incident to Bender’s problematic home life, and you can’t help but feel for the seemingly thick-skinned Bender, who’s been dealing with emotional and physical abuse from his dad.
Of course, this isn’t to say that every adult is like this or that all parents have problematic parenting techniques. However, the examples in the film, from Andy’s overbearing dad to Allison’s neglectful parents, speak to the very real trauma kids learn to sweep under the rug and cope in the only ways their adolescent minds know how.
If The Breakfast Club illustrates anything, it’s that teenagers don’t want to be looked down upon as immature, disrespectful and entitled. They want to be valued and taken seriously, especially when it comes to their passions. Also, contrary to what most teen house party films might tell you, teenagers are a lot smarter and more resilient than the adult world realizes.
Given that they’re still in the process of growing and carving their own paths, teens not only deserve to be treated with respect by the adults in their lives, but they also deserve acceptance and support from their peers and the institutions they move through (ahem, talking to you Vice Principal Vernon).
3. The writing in this movie is spectacular
There are so many quotable moments, and they’re a testament to screenwriter John Hughes’ creativity and wit. Every other line from Bender is just priceless, from “Does Barry Manilow know that you raid his wardrobe?” to "Screws fall out all the time. The world’s an imperfect place.” Another standout quote comes from Andy, when he shares this insightful tidbit with Claire: “We're all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that's all.”
But the best quote of all, hands down, would have to be Brian’s, aka the brain of the group. In his essay to Mr. Vernon, he manages to perfectly sum up the group when he writes, “You see us as you want to see us—in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.”
4. The cast is incredible
Ringwald is the quintessential it-girl. Estevez is at his best as the overconfident jock. Ally Sheedy is very convincing as the odd-ball outsider, and Anthony Michael Hall embodies nearly every high school overachiever. But as impressed as I am by their performances, Nelson is the one who stands out. He does a stellar job as the rebellious “criminal,” but underneath that tough exterior is a smart and self-aware teen who’s trying to hide his suffering.
From powerful performances to smart one-liners, I now understand why so many people love this movie. There’s no way I’m forgetting about this one.
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