There's no question that John Hughes was a beloved and culturally significant filmmaker. The man practically created the teen angst film genre. His movies include such classics as Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, and Home Alone, and those are just the very best John Hughes movies. He only directed eight films but wrote over 50, making his full list of films quite long. What makes his films immediately recognizable are the characteristic and ubiquitous '80s movie stereotypes that are now synonymous with his work.
Aside from teen movie clichés, the tropes used in John Hughes movies are especially specific to his style and sense of humor. Some of these include his love for Suburban Chicago, iconic music, and comically evil principals. Of course, what with it being the '80s and all, John Hughes's defining film characteristics were sometimes problematic.
For better or worse, here are all the things found in John Hughes movies. Perusing through his tropes is a reminder of just how much of his personal humor and lightheartedness the filmmaker put into his work. This explains why his films, despite their flaws, remain in the hearts of those who wouldn't have made it through the '80s without them.
John Hughes had an odd obsession with principals. While he rarely took the time to develop adult characters, he certainly did so with school employees. Though, they are always generally conveyed as overly strict on rule-breaking and obsessively spiteful toward students. Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Dick Vernon of The Breakfast Club (Paul Gleason) are very well-developed characters. They get their own scenes and their motivations are explained through their actions. But when provoked by students who are out to have a little fun, these school workers become hellbent on imposing iron law, becoming crazed and enraged, stopping at nothing to thwart what are essentially school children.
It's one of Hughes more comedic tropes, but certainly isn't doing any favors toward imbuing appreciation for those in education.
Opposites attract, but John Hughes really liked give his characters the strangest of friendships. Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) is kind of a selfish prick who doesn't care at all about school, while Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck) is an uptight coward. Why are they friends? None of The Breakfast Club kids should have come out of that detention liking each other, and Andie (Molly Ringwald) and Duckie (Jon Cryer) may both have strange senses of humor, but their friendship seems to be fueled by Duckie's pining love for her. That's not to mention the strangeness of Andie's odd older punk friend Iona (Annie Potts).
In general, Hughes liked to choose character pairings that showed off the different types of teens in existence in the '80s. Which is commendable, even if it made for some weird friendships. Though, since many of his films focused on romantic pairings, friends were often side characters existing only to revolve around the main character's life choices.
The denim-clad Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club is one of the most recognizable "wrong side of the tracks" characters in film history, a trope that Hughes loved. Nelson's character, John Bender, had a chip on his shoulder because nobody understood him, man! They don't know his life! But he's not the only angry outsider in Hughes's movies. A couple of his protagonists are variations of this trope, like Andie Walsh (Molly Ringwald) in Pretty in Pink who doesn't want Blane (Andrew McCarthy) to see her house, which is literally near the train tracks.
Keith Nelson (Eric Stoltz) in Some Kind Of Wonderful is also a working class teen trying to get together with a girl from a wealthier family. Bender, and characters like him, channeled the cynicism (and sometimes nihilism) inherent in Hughes's work. The poor, white kids that society forgot.
Music is among the most memorable elements of every John Hughes movie. “Don’t You (forget about me)” by Simple Minds in The Breakfast Club, “If You Were Here” by Thompson Twins in Sixteen Candles, “Pretty in Pink” by The Psychedelic Furs in the titular movie, and “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want” in both Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Pretty in Pink. These movies are inextricably linked with these songs and, especially in the case of The Breakfast Club, and the songs are elevated to cult status because of the films' cult followings, as well.
Other teen movies since the '80s have made music a key element as well. There was even a cover of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” in American Pie. John Hughes's excellent judgment in this area will forever be mimicked.