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    A definitive ranking of Brat Pack movies.

    Brittany Allen

    June 18, 2024, 2:18pm

    This week, the ex-teen heart-throb, ur-“Nice Guy,” and award-winning travel writer(!) Andrew McCarthy made his documentary debut at the TriBeCa film festival. Brats—the film in question, now on Hulu—documents the rise and fall of the enfants terribles who defined the ideal teen in Reagan’s America, and maybe your more troubling romantic interests.

    Though NPR called McCarthy’s movie “searching, earnest, frequently self-important and occasionally clueless,” I saw the doc as a calling to revisit some old, problematic friends. Is the pack as charismatic as memory serves? And what were their best offerings?


    Before I get to judging, it’s worth defining terms. What was the Brat Pack? Experts disagree. It’s either a trio of blockbusting Molly Ringwald vehicles, or any commercial film starring teens made between 1981 and 1989. It’s either John Hughes’ entire oeuvre, or every movie made with these these twelve actors. As McCarthy himself said in a recent guest essay for The New York Times, “There has never been a precise accounting of which actors constituted the Brat Pack, but that is largely beside the point.” Um, okay. I mean, you’re the boss.

    For my (unscientific) purposes, here are some obstructions: a Brat Pack movie is here defined as canonized, fantastical coming-of-age fare starring at least two members of the recognized “pack.” There must be a plot arc involving class tension, in which the preppier kid is vaguely malevolent. At least one of the main characters must have a disappointing father. And all accessories must be insane.

    Now, from worst to first…

    Molly Ringwald and Michael Schoeffling. Universal Pictures/AP Photo

    5. Sixteen Candles (1984)

    This one’s pretty difficult to watch these days, between the distressing ferns of Gedde Watanabe’s and Haviland Morris’ ill-used characters. (To parrot Eric Duggans in NPR, “For fans of color like me, there was always a double edge to the success of Brat Pack-style films.” CC: women, queer people.)

    In the corner of silly qualms, it is also true that Jake Ryan is the least compelling object of affection…ever put onscreen? With all due respect to Mr. Schoeffling, I challenge you to apply one single adjective to this kid. Our spunky Samantha (Molly Ringwald) deserved better.

    On the redeeming hand, we have fun character performances from the extended family. The hat game isn’t bad, either.

    Molly Ringwald and Jon Cryer. Paramount, Laurel Moore.

    4. Pretty in Pink (1986)

    Once again, it’s the accessories that elevate this rather pat spin on Cinderella. Though Andrew McCarthy is charismatic elsewhere, as lover boy Blane he smizes too much. As Micah Norris put it in a withering 2016 re-review for Vanity Fair, “Blane is a Wasp without a stinger. He’s a non-alcoholic beer, an unsalted pretzel. ” I tend to agree. Also, for filling me with unrealistic expectations re: speed-sewing and mall jobs, I must dock additional points.

    But for the presences of Harry Dean Stanton (Dad box—check!), Annie Potts(!), and that most malevolent prep of them all, James Spader, I admit this to the top five. The costume jewelry befuddles, and the soundtrack slaps.

    I’m still unpacking what this clip did to me.

    Most of the Brat Pack. From Moviestore Collection/Rex USA

    3. St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)

    It may alarm you to learn that this film features a group of recent graduates navigating infidelity, parenthood, and the acquiring and losing of the kind of power broker jobs that answer to “the Senator.” To put things in perspective: If everyone in this movie was 38, it might make sense today—minus the Georgetown real estate? But they are all supposed to be 22. So minus abundant points for the creation of unrealistic post-grad expectations.

    But despite the Degrassi-levels of trauma plot-stacking, I love this movie for the fact that it follows friends. It’s in the ensemble mode that the Brat Pack really shines.

    I also love Demi Moore’s apartment. Has anything ever been so pink? I am here to tell you that something has.

    Some of the Brat Pack. Universal Pictures/Photofest

    2. The Breakfast Club (1985)

    The Breakfast Club lingers, in that cheesy after-school special way, for its attempts to acknowledge difference rather than smooth it over. (Make-over scene notwithstanding.) Maybe it’s damning by faint praise to note that this film at least tries to explode the stereotypes that the previous three movies embrace. But I’m still a little moved by The Geek’s confession. Sue me!!!

    This film is also ur-bratty in its commitment to my admittedly random criteria. I mean, everyone’s got Dad beef in this one.

    1. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

    Arguably, this one should be disqualified because it…doesn’t include any members of the Brat Pack? (In his infamous profile in New York magazine, David Blum classified Matthew Broderick as a “Not Quite There” hanger-on.) But there’s no evading the just critic. As the most specific fantasy, Ferris’ big day evades cliches. This is not even a movie about love triangles. It is, instead, an ode to Chicago, and an anti-work manifesto. Which makes it the real and righteous winner.

    Top five forever. No further questions, case closed.


    As Brats only attests, the Brat Pack movies have at times been taken too seriously by swathes of impressionable young. I know the pack was once a world to me. But that’s why I’ve found it soothing to relegate these films to the just-for-laughs aisle, where founding myths go to sleep. Today we knock the pictures back with a grain of salt, yes. But it turns out you can still admire those hats.

    Here’s McCarthy again, on the whirlwind years that produced these people, their times:

    …the great French film director Claude Chabrol said to me, “My dear boy, the truth today is not the truth tomorrow.” For so long I didn’t understand what he meant, but perhaps now I do. Something that had cast such a long shadow over me, that I felt had obscured my identity and even clouded who I had perceived myself to be, had transformed into something like a blessing.

    This Heat Dome, I hope you’ll be blessed by visits with old friends.

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