Back in the 80s, we all wanted to be as cool as the stars of The Breakfast Club. Not only that, but the characters were sensitive and well-rounded, and have stuck with us ever since.
Released in 1985 and directed by John Hughes, The Breakfast Club starred Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy as five very different high school teenagers who spend a Saturday together in detention. It was a simple concept for a film that debuted in a simpler time and was a runaway success, becoming a classic and era-defining 80s film.
The Breakfast Club was loved by critics, with an 89% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and performed phenomenally well at the box office, making $50 million from a budget of just $1 million. The main cast, many of whom had come from John Hughes’ previous project Sixteen Candles (1984), would inevitably become part of a time capsule of sorts, forever tied to that mid-80s teenage malaise, serving as icons for anxious adolescents and disillusioned adults for decades to come.
But that doesn’t mean their stories were over as soon as Hughes’ camera stopped rolling. The world’s most famous after-school squad have had wildly different career paths, so let’s take a look at what they look like and where they are today.
Anthony Michael Hall
While Anthony Michael Hall was born into the world of show business, being the son of blues-jazz singer Mercedes Hall, his path to acting stardom was less assured than Estevez’s. He began his career at age 7, starring in TV commercials for toys and the chocolate bar Bounty, as well as most famously portraying the ‘Honeycomb Kid’ for the eponymous Post cereal.
His major film breakthrough came from Sixteen Candles, in which his portrayal of the geeky Farmer Ted set the stage for his casting in The Breakfast Club as Brian ‘The Brain’ Johnson. Despite Brian being the only one of the five not to couple up, Hall and Ringwald in fact dated for a time after filming. After the film’s success, Hall starred in Weird Science, but afterwards sought to avoid typecasting by playing the lead in action-thriller Out of Bounds (1986) which was unfortunately both a commercial and critical disappointment. In the same year, Hall joined the cast of Saturday Night Live.
In 1999, Hall won acclaim for his portrayal of Bill Gates in the Emmy-nominated TV movie Pirates of Silicon Valley, and has gone on to produce and star in The Dead Zone (2002-06), based on characters from the Stephen King novel of the same name. Unfortunately the latter series was cancelled without a proper finale due to high production costs; it was once rumoured to be concluding with a made-for-TV movie, but as of yet nothing has been announced. Hall’s most recent film work includes The Dark Knight (2008) and Foxcatcher (2014).
It’s hard to overstate the impact that Judd Nelson had in the 80s, both as Alec Newbary in St. Elmo’s Fire and – more importantly – John Bender in The Breakfast Club. The son of a corporate lawyer and a court mediator, Nelson was originally studying liberal arts at Haverford College, Pennsylvania, before leaving partway through his studies to learn under the legendary acting coach Stella Adler in Manhattan.
With starring roles in Making the Grade (1984) and Fandango (1985), both teen-focused comedies, Nelson had built a brand in his mid-twenties. Admit it: we were all jealous of the romance between Nelson’s John Bender and Molly Ringwald’s Claire Standish. And, more than anything else, Nelson’s performance was a landmark moment for the American teenager, setting the standard not only for future teen films but for the culture as a whole.
Following The Breakfast Club, Nelson has had a broad career, voicing Hot Rod in the animated Transformers films, starring in comedies like The Dark Backward and Mario Van Peebles’ New Jack City (1991).
After the turn of the millennium, Nelson has mostly starred in TV roles, including in the psychological thriller Nikita (2010-13), and played Chris Frost – aka Santa Claus – in the Hallmark film Cancel Christmas (2010).
The daughter of a blind jazz pianist, Molly Ringwald‘s first breakthrough came after a director spotted her as an orphan in a production of Annie. As a result, she had her first TV appearance at age 11 as ‘Molly’ on the NBC sitcom The Facts of Life (1979-80).
Aged only 16, Ringwald became a teen icon, with a triple whammy of roles in three iconic 80s teen movies: Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. Of all of The Breakfast Club’s major stars, Ringwald remains the most symbolic as a teen star, having ranked first in VH1’s list of the Top 100 Teen Stars. Ringwald herself was aware of her stardom: “I was a very, very famous teenager and I thought a lot of teenagers were looking up to me and emulating me.”
Following her time as a teen star, Ringwald eschewed a conventional acting career, and reportedly turned down the lead roles in Pretty Woman and Ghost (both 1980), instead moving to Paris and starring in various French films.
Ringwald, now 51, continues to act, most prominently in The CW American teen drama Riverdale (2017-) as Mary Andrews, bringing her career full circle.
The daughter of a civil rights activist, Ally Sheedy was initially set on becoming a ballet dancer, and started performing with the American Ballet Theatre aged six. Instead, she focus on acting, with roles in the serial police drama Hill Street Blues and breaking through in the Sean Penn led prison movie Bad Boys (1983) as well as WarGames.
Playing the ‘outcast’ Allison Reynolds in The Breakfast Club, her character is best remembered for receiving a quintessentially 80s makeover, which sparks a romantic interest from Emilio Estevez’s Andrew. Unfortunately, her outcast persona in the film was a little too close to real life for comfort, with Sheedy having struggled with an addiction to sleeping pills and other substances which have led to periods in rehab. Sheedy claims that her addictions were worsened by her short relationship with Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora.
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Following her success in the late 80s with roles in Short Circuit (1986) and Maid to Order (1987), Sheedy’s troubled personal life did not stop her succeeding. In addition to more substantial roles, Sheedy had a cameo in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York and starred in the independent film High Art (1998) for which she won several awards. In 1999, she briefly led the off-Broadway genderqueer musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
Drawing on her mother’s activism, Sheedy has focused on promoting trans rights and women’s equality. In particularly, in January 2018, Sheedy tweeted that James Franco and Christian Slater had been sexually inappropriate with her, even going on to say that Franco was the reason she chose to leave the industry for good, though she later removed the tweet in question. Today, Sheedy is 57 and a #MeToo advocate.
Estevez is part of one of Hollywood’s biggest dynasties: brother of Charlie Sheen, and the son of Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez was in exactly the right place at exactly the right time – and at exactly the right age – to dominate the 80s film landscape. As well as starring as ‘jock’ Andrew Clark in The Breakfast Club, Estevez also starred in the likes of Repo Man, St. Elmo’s Fire, The Outsiders and Young Guns.
In the 90s, Estevez’s acting roles became less frequent. Although he had an uncredited appearance in Mission: Impossible (1996), a Young Guns sequel and three Mighty Ducks films, Estevez’s taste for directing caught fire with 1996’s The War At Home – in which he also starred with his father – and refocused his career path.
Unfortunately, Estevez’s biggest labour of love, Bobby (2006) was a commercial flop. Despite a star-studded cast (including Harry Belafonte, Laurence Fishburne and Anthony Hopkins) and an emotive subject matter covering the hours before the assassination of Senator Bobby Kennedy, the film struggled and failed to make back its production costs in the domestic market, nearly bankrupting its director.
Despite this setback, Estevez, now 57, is still writing and directing today, as well as making acting appearances in his own films. His most recent movie as filmmaker was 2018’s The Public, which starred Alec Baldwin and Christian Slater.
Breaking away from the five main Club members, it’s worth taking a look at some of the minor roles in the film that have interesting stories behind them. John Kapelos played the curmudgeonly but loveable janitor Carl Reed, who seems to be a bridge between the disaffected students and the overbearing teachers. For one thing, he wonders why the Club is tasked with an essay titled “Who do you think you are?”, sympathising with the fact that figuring out who you are at age sixteen is one of the greatest challenges you can face.
Interestingly, the role was originally to be played by Ghostbusters star Rick Moranis, who left the project due to creative differences.
Kapelos has a strong background in theatre, being – like Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert – an alumnus of the improvisational comedy group Second City, based in Chicago, and had toured with them between 1978 and 1982. Until 1986, including during the filming of The Breakfast Club, Kapelos was a member of the resident company, performing in six revues. Having caught the eye of director John Hughes, he starred not only in The Breakfast Club but also Hughes’ surrounding projects, Sixteen Candles (1984) and Weird Science (1985).
After The Breakfast Club, Kapelos has mostly focused on the improv, but hasn’t stopped acting: later roles include an acclaimed role in drama The Deep End of the Ocean (1999), an uncredited appearance in Legally Blonde (2001), and TV appearances in shows like Desperate Housewives, iCarly and NCIS. Kapelos even starred as Mr Arzoumanian in the Best Picture winning The Shape of Water (2017).
Kapelos has founded an independent record label called Carpuzi Records, featuring sounds from Kapelos himself and other Second City alumni like The Simpsons star Dan Castellaneta.
In a film like The Breakfast Club, the heroes and villains of the piece aren’t exactly clear cut. But we know who’s scary, and those characters stay with us. Mr Clark, the stubborn dad of Emilio Estevez’s Andrew, is exactly that. Obsessed with his son becoming a true ‘jock’ and focusing his efforts on sports, Mr Clark is a memorable symbol of each Club member’s bad relationship with their parents.
At the time of filming, Ron Dean wasn’t a huge name, but had already made his mark with a diverse career. With films ranging from John Belushi comedies such as Continental Divide (1981) and crime dramas like The Big Score (1983), Dean had proven his acting chops by any measure. In the latter in particular, Dean played a character called ‘Kowalski’, which is something to cross off the bucket list.
After starring in Hughes’ film, however, Dean has been busy. Typically playing coaches, detectives, and army men, Dean has featured in iconic films like Cocktail (1988), The Fugitive (1993), and even has a role in The Dark Knight (2008).
Dean’s career is a reminder that you don’t have to be a lead to make your mark: if you’re good at playing detectives, or indeed any other kind of archetypal role, then several doors will open for you.
Any discussion of The Breakfast Club would be incomplete without mentioning Paul Gleason, who played the iron-fisted Assistant Principal Vernon. Unfortunately, Gleason passed away in 2006 due to pleural mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer, which some believe may have been due to labour he carried out on his father’s construction sites as a teenager.
Gleason was originally a sportsman, and had even been a professional baseball player in the minor leagues. A chance encounter with Ozzie Nelson led to his TV break as a guest athlete on Ozzie and Harriet, and the rest is history.
Prior to starring in The Breakfast Club, Gleason had won plaudits for his role in the John Landis comedy Trading Places (1983), and afterwards would go on to star as the self-important Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T Robinson in the seminal action movie Die Hard (1988). After the 80s, Gleason mostly worked in TV in appearances connected to – and generally parodying – his performance as Vernon.
His last role was in the independent comedy The Book of Caleb (2008), released posthumously. He will be missed.