St. Elmo’s Fire is a classic Brat Pack movie about a group of college graduates just trying to make their way in the real world. Stars including Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe and Demi Moore all appeared in the film, which was ravaged by critics due to the unlikeable nature of a lot of its characters.
Whether you love or hate St. Elmo’s Fire, there’s no doubt that the movie was hugely popular amongst teenagers in the 80s, and its themes of malcontent youth are strikingly appropriate today. The fashion, however, isn’t. And even if you’re not familiar with the movie, you’ve surely had its unforgettable none-more-80s theme song stuck in your head for decades!
Here are some facts about the 1985 film which you might not have been aware of…
20. The film is directly responsible for the term ‘Brat Pack’
Anyone familiar with the teen-friendly movies of the 80s will undoubtedly have heard them referred to as ‘Brat Pack’ movies.
However, you might have known that it was an article about St. Elmo’s Fire specifically that coined this enduring phrase.
It came from a New York Magazine article by writer David Blum, who used the term in reference to the film’s cast.
It was a play on the Rat Pack, an affectionate label given to a legendary group of performers of the 50s and 60s which included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.
As the ‘Brat’ aspect reflects, this new group of entertainment icons were linked by their youth – and as well as St. Elmo’s Fire, there was a lot of crossover with the films of John Hughes.
Those actors considered key Brat Pack members include St Elmo’s Fire’s Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, Rob Lowe, Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson and Andrew McCarthy, as well as John Hughes regulars Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall.
19. Demi Moore struggled with substance abuse issues in real life
During the filming of St Elmo’s Fire, Demi Moore was suffering with some serious addiction issues in real life.
Because of this, for Moore to playing a character with a narcotics problem was perhaps a little too much like art imitating life.
On at least one occasion, the actress turned up to a day of shooting under the influence of drugs.
Director Joel Schumacher then demanded that Moore leave the set and sober up before returning to work.
It was at Schumacher’s insistence that Moore got help for her addiction and went into rehab; the director also made her promise to stay clean for the rest of the shoot lest she be replaced.
Sadly, Moore has continued to struggle with substance abuse throughout her life, relapsing following her 2013 divorce from Ashton Kutcher.
18. Three of the cast members were personally recommended by John Hughes
As well as St. Elmo’s Fire, the New York Magazine article that coined the term ‘Brat Pack’ made reference to another notable 1985 movie.
That movie was, of course, writer-director John Hughes’ revered coming-of-age classic, The Breakfast Club.
And of course, you don’t have to look too closely at the cast of St. Elmo’s Fire to see a few of the same faces.
Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy and Judd Nelson all came to St. Elmo’s Fire direct from having worked together on The Breakfast Club.
Nelson, Estevez and Sheedy were all personally recommended by John Hughes to director Joel Schumacher for the movie.
For Breakfast Club fans, it’s strange to see the trio playing college graduates almost immediately after starring as high schoolers. They grow up so fast!
17. Emilio Estevez wanted to play Rob Lowe’s part
The Breakfast Club paved the way for Emilio Estevez landing the part of Kirby in St. Elmo’s Fire.
However, history repeated itself, as Estevez had originally hoped to get the part of Billy, which went instead to Rob Lowe.
It had been a similar story on The Breakfast Club, in which Estevez was cast as the jock Andrew Clark after he auditioned for the part of rebel John Bender, which went to Judd Nelson.
It seems Estevez tended to covet bad boy roles early on, after breaking through as gruff punk Otto in cult classic Repo Man.
The actor went on to enjoy leading man success in a variety of roles including the Young Guns and Stakeout movies.
By the 90s, Estevez’s leading man career was on the wane, but he enjoyed long-standing success in the Mighty Ducks series.
16. ‘Wendy the Virgin’ was actually pregnant during filming
The one cast member of St. Elmo’s Fire not generally classed as a ‘Brat Packer’ was Mare Winningham.
Unlike the rest of the cast, Winningham never made another film with any of her St. Elmo’s Fire co-stars.
She was also quite far removed from her character in one very pertinent way.
Winningham’s character Wendy is often referred to in the movie as ‘Wendy the Virgin.’
This was very far removed from the truth, as Winningham was actually a mother of two and pregnant again whilst the film was in production.
Winningham ultimately had four children, and has continued to work as both an actress and a singer-songwriter.
15. Demi Moore was cast after she was spotted walking by Joel Schumacher’s office
It’s every up-and-coming actor’s dream to be spotted and then pursued for a breakthrough role.
This was essentially what happened to Demi Moore on landing her role in St. Elmo’s Fire.
The young actress was at a studio building auditioning for a John Hughes movie, which she didn’t get (it was most likely the role of Lisa in Weird Science).
However, on her way out Moore happened to walk past the office of St. Elmo’s Fire director Joel Schumacher.
Clearly Moore made an impression, as the director asked a colleague to run down the hall after her to ask if she was an actress.
The rest is history; after the success of St. Elmo’s Fire, Moore soon became one of the most in-demand actresses of the era.
14. The studio wanted to rename the film The Real World
Towards the end of the movie, Rob Lowe’s Billy explains what a St. Elmo’s fire is – but it’s likely that many viewers weren’t aware of what the title meant going in.
This was a concern of studio Columbia Pictures, who reportedly produced a 35-page memo explaining their issues with the title.
They suggested some more down to earth alternatives such as The Real World (years before MTV’s reality show of the same name) or Sparks (which we suppose is a simplified explanation of what a St. Elmo’s fire really is).
The title came from an old teacher of screenwriter Carl Kurlander, who originally wrote it as a short story at college.
In reality, a St. Elmo’s fire is a weather phenomenon: a form of lightning that was historically taken as a good omen by sailors.
It has some bearing on the film, as the bar in which the friends hang out is called St. Elmo’s.
13. The title song was actually written as a tribute to a Paralympian
St. Elmo’s Fire isn’t necessarily a movie that absolutely everybody has seen, but there can’t be many of us who’ve never heard the theme song.
Performed and co-written by rock musician John Parr, St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion) was a chart-topping smash hit in 1985, reaching #1 in the US and #6 in the UK.
A classic example of an 80s air-punching rock anthem with inspirational lyrics, Parr’s song has long been a fixture at sporting events.
Interestingly, although the song uses the film’s title, its lyrics were not actually inspired by the film itself.
Parr instead wrote the song as a tribute to Rick Hansen, a Canadian Paralympic athlete who toured the world promoting awareness of spinal cord injuries.
Hansen’s goodwill tour was dubbed the Man in Motion tour, hence John Parr used this as the song’s subtitle.
Parr went on to compose and perform theme songs for more movies including The Running Man and Three Men and a Baby.
12. Demi Moore is embarrassed by the scene in which Jules attempts to freeze to death
If there’s one thing that 80s pop culture in general is synonymous with, it’s cringe-inducing cheesiness.
St. Elmo’s Fire is as perfect an example of this as any, with countless moments that might have been intended as cool or dramatic at the time, but which are simply embarrassing today.
Looking back on the film in 2017, Demi Moore agreed there’s a lot about the film that doesn’t hold up, and there’s one scene in particular that she finds painful to look back on.
Moore told EW, “Sitting on the floor with all the windows open in the cold was a cringeworthy moment for me. It’s probably better that I haven’t seen the movie recently. I am sure I would find many more [embarrassing scenes].”
In the scene in question, Moore’s character Jules is in a moment of despair, and hopes to kill herself by freezing to death – which is, admittedly, a bit hard to take seriously.
However, the film’s late director and co-writer Joel Schumacher insisted, “that part was satirical and tongue-in-cheek… Demi did it fantastically but it was ridiculous. Do you know how long it takes to freeze herself in a Georgetown apartment? She’s not in the Antarctic.”
11. Joel Schumacher made Ally Sheedy cry during her sex scene with Andrew McCarthy
St. Elmo’s Fire was the first time Ally Sheedy had played a character above high school age on film, and along with it came her first sex scene.
Shooting the scene with Andrew McCarthy took the actress (aged 22 at the time) outside of her comfort zone.
Reportedly Sheedy hadn’t realised until the day of shooting that Schumacher intended to do more than simply fade out before things got heavy, and the actress was upset by the director’s approach.
McCarthy recalls, “[Ally Sheedy and I] were fairly tender and shy as actors to be doing this sort of thing. Joel [wanted us to be more wild and] in his inimitable style screamed, ‘You’re f***ing!’
“Ally burst into tears, and in that instant, I stood up and said, “What the f*** is the matter with you, Joel?'”
The director acknowledged, “I made a terrible mistake, and I’ve regretted and felt embarrassed by it.”
10. Rob Lowe was asked to perform his saxophone solo for Bill Clinton – but he can’t actually play
Few things scream ’80s’ quite so loudly as Bruce Springsteen-esque rock bands featuring saxophone players.
Rob Lowe’s Billy is every inch the 80s rock’n’roll saxophonist, complete with mullet and dangling earring.
Many years later, Lowe was asked to perform his sax solo from St. Elmo’s Fire at a Hollywood fundraiser, in the presence of one of the world’s most famous saxophonists: Bill Clinton.
In reality, Lowe can’t actually play the saxophone at all – but despite this fact, he couldn’t bring himself to say no when asked to perform in front of the former US President.
The actor recalls, “The house band said, ‘Why don’t you come up and play the solo from ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’? We’ll play it… it’ll be fun’. President Clinton is in the audience [and] I’m blowing on [the saxophone], but nothing is coming out [because I removed the reed] and Quincy Jones, the great musical artist, [is clapping along]. I’m like, ‘He should really know better’.”
Of course, St. Elmo’s Fire wasn’t the last time director Joel Schumacher memorably showcased the saxophone on film, as he shot an unforgettable scene featuring the instrument in his next movie, 1987’s The Lost Boys.
9. Anthony Edwards and Lea Thompson unsuccessfully auditioned to be in the film
Every movie tends to have a lengthy and in-depth casting process, and this was especially key for a large ensemble piece like St. Elmo’s Fire.
It’s no surprise, then, that Joel Schumacher and company met with “hundreds” of potential cast members.
Small wonder, then, that some of those who missed out on the movie went on to make a significant impact elsewhere.
For one, actor Anthony Edwards was rejected for one of the male roles – but would break big the following year with 1986’s biggest movie, Top Gun.
Another performer who unsuccessfully auditioned for one of the female roles was Lea Thompson – but we can’t imagine missing out hurt her too much in the long run.
The same year as St. Elmo’s Fire, Thompson appeared in the biggest hit of 1985, and one of the most beloved blockbusters ever – Back to the Future.
8. The film gave Andie MacDowell her big break
While Andie MacDowell was never considered a Brat Packer, she too got a major career breakthrough on the film.
St. Elmo’s Fire was the second screen role from the model-turned-actress, who made her film debut in 1984’s Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes.
However, St. Elmo’s Fire was the first time audiences heard MacDowell’s real voice, as the Carolina-born actress’s dialogue was overdubbed by Glenn Close on Greystoke.
The supporting role of Dale, love interest of Estevez’s Kirby, helped raise MacDowell’s profile in the film industry.
Four years later MacDowell would really attract widespread attention for her performance in director Steven Soderbergh’s 1989 breakthrough film Sex, Lies, and Videotape.
Five years after that, MacDowell co-starred with Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral, after which she was a firmly established star.
7. The real Georgetown University wouldn’t let the film shoot there, calling it ‘immoral’
In St. Elmo’s Fire, the central seven friends are all recent graduates of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
While the central location of St. Elmo’s Bar is fictitious, it is modelled on a real bar popular with Georgetown students called The Tombs.
With all this being the case, Georgetown University itself was naturally where the cast and crew hoped to shoot the film.
There was just one problem – after reading the script, the relevant parties at Georgetown would not give permission for St. Elmo’s Fire to be filmed there.
The governing body of the university had a problem with the script, owing to what they deemed the immoral behaviour of the characters.
As a result, the film was instead largely shot at the nearby Maryland University, who had no such objections.
6. Emilio Estevez and Andrew McCarthy lived together during filming
The Brat Pack label stuck with most of the St. Elmo’s Fire cast, and for good reason.
As well starring alongside one another (often in multiple films), the actors were also buddies off-camera.
This was certainly the case for Emilio Estevez and Andrew McCarthy when St. Elmo’s Fire was in production.
The actors played roommates in the movie, so they shared an apartment during filming to help prepare for their roles.
Even so, McCarthy more than any of the cast voiced his resistance to being classed as a Brat Pack member years later.
The actor insisted in 1999 that “the media made up” the label, and that he didn’t see any of the St. Elmo’s Fire cast again after the film wrapped – although he did go on to work with confirmed Brat Packer Molly Ringwald in 1986’s Pretty in Pink.
5. Emilio Estevez and Demi Moore started dating after filming wrapped
Andrew McCarthy may not have enjoyed close relations with his co-stars after the movie wrapped, but this wasn’t true across the board.
Most notably, it wasn’t the case for Emilio Estevez and Demi Moore, who started dating during the production of St Elmo’s Fire.
The couple were also engaged for a time, and Moore would go on to co-star in Estevez’s directorial debut Wisdom. However, they broke up in late 1986.
This proved to be just one among a number of high profile relationships both actors would enjoy throughout their careers.
Moore – who took her stage name from her first husband, Freddy Moore – went on to marry Bruce Willis, and later Ashton Kutcher.
Estevez, meanwhile, would later wed singer Paula Abdul, although their marriage only lasted two years.
4. Rob Lowe turned up to audition fully in character
Like a lot of young up-and-coming actors at the time, some members of the St. Elmo’s Fire cast were keen to go a bit method.
As a result of this, some of them showed up to their auditions very much in character – perhaps too much so.
Most notably, Rob Lowe turned up to his audition for the role of Billy carrying a six-pack of beer.
This helped give the impression he was suited to the role of the hard-partying bad boy.
Even so, Lowe had to badger Joel Schumacher with persistent phone calls until he was told he’d landed the part.
Demi Moore, meanwhile, turned up to her audition on a motorcycle and with tags still on her clothes!
3. Ally Sheedy fought off a lot of famous actresses to win the role of Leslie
Ally Sheedy was, like all her St. Elmo’s Fire co-stars, a hot young star on the rise in the mid-80s.
After debuting in 1983’s Bad Boys, she gained widespread attention alongside Matthew Broderick in 1983 cult classic WarGames.
Sheedy followed this with roles in Oxford Blues (alongside Rob Lowe), and of course The Breakfast Club.
Even so, landing the role of St. Elmo’s Fire was by no means a cakewalk for Sheedy, as she was up against some stiff competition.
The likes of Meg Ryan, Melanie Griffith, Elisabeth Shue and Jamie Lee Curtis were also considered for the role.
Sheedy would follow St. Elmo’s Fire with the 1986 hit Short Circuit, though her career gradually declined in the years that followed.
2. It launched Joel Schumacher as a blockbuster director
St. Elmo’s Fire was the third theatrical feature from director Joel Schumacher.
It launched him on his way to becoming one of the most successful – and divisive – filmmakers of the 80s and 90s.
Schumacher’s next feature was an even bigger success: the beloved 1987 vampire movie The Lost Boys.
Perhaps most notoriously, Schumacher took over from Tim Burton on the Batman series, calling the shots on the ultra-camp and critically reviled Batman Forever and Batman & Robin.
Sadly, Schumacher passed away from cancer in June 2020, at the age of 80.
1. Critics hated the film
St. Elmo’s Fire may have done a good job of winning over audiences, but it didn’t have quite the same effect on critics, who almost unanimously panned the film.
The New Yorker’s David Denby’s scathing review declared the film wouldn’t impress anyone “over the moral age of fifteen,” and blasted the characters as “turbidly self-important” and “vacuous.”
Janet Maslin of The New York Times was also put off by the characters, who she described as “spoiled, affluent and unbearably smug.”
Nor did the ‘plaudits’ stop there, as Rob Lowe’s performance landed him the Worst Supporting Actor award at that year’s Razzies.
Today, St. Elmo’s Fire is rated 44% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes – although its audience score is a more respectable 68%.