20 Facts About Sixteen Candles That Really Take The Cake
The so-called Brat Pack was a group of young actors who starred in some seminal 80s films, aimed at a teen and young adult audience, they were often coming-of-age movies, and all featured characters and situations that its target audience could relate to in some way.
Sixteen Candles is one of the most well-known and well-loved films in the Brat Pack series of movies, so let’s take a look back at this classic with some facts you probably never knew…
20. Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall hated each other at first
Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall found that they did not particularly like each other at first. In the roles of the nerdy Ted Farmer and his crush Samantha Baker, the pair initially found it difficult to build any chemistry between their characters. Hoping to fix this, the director of Sixteen Candles, John Hughes, took the two stars to a record store together.
When the pair found they had a very similar taste in music, they started to form a friendship. One of the bands they both liked was The Rave-Ups – and at one point in the movie, Sam doodles this band name on her notebook. Hall and Ringwald actually ended up dating in the year between Sixteen Candles and their next film, The Breakfast Club.
19. Molly Ringwald insisted on wearing hats
One of the film’s costume designers begged Molly Ringwald not to wear the hat that she is seen in at the start of the film. But the headstrong star decided to wear it anyway, feeling that it suited her character perfectly. After Sixteen Candles was released, teenage girls started to wear similar hats.
They even wore them tilted back in the same way that Ringwald did in the film. Ringwald had another last-minute outfit change just before they filmed the school dance scene. She asked to swap outfits with her co-star Liane Curtis, who played Randy, and Hughes agreed. As a result, Ringwald wears a light pink handkerchief dress for this scene.
18. Schoeffling was actually eight years older than Hall
True to his character, Anthony Michael Hall was in his mid-teens when he played Farmer Ted in Sixteen Candles. Molly Ringwald, too, was of high-school-age when she starred in this classic movie. But the odd one out in this onscreen love triangle was the actor Michael Schoeffling.
Born in 1960, Schoeffling was about eight years older than Anthony Michael Hall, who plays his romantic rival. A successful college wrestler, Schoeffling made his film debut with Sixteen Candles, playing the heartthrob Jake Ryan. Unlike his co-stars, Schoeffling did not remain in the world of acting for long. He quit in 1991 to start a handcrafted furniture business.
17. Sam’s birthday cake is made of cardboard
Forgotten by her family amid preparations for her sister’s wedding, Sam misses out on a birthday cake until Jake Ryan gives her one. Towards the end of the movie, the pair sit in darkness over the cake and share a kiss. However, this simple romantic scene – lasting only 45 seconds – was actually a nightmare to film.
Every time they tried recording the scene, it took so long to perfect that the cake started melting. Eventually, the team resorted to replacing the cake with a cardboard model, complete with real candles. It must have taken some careful maneuvering to keep the cardboard cake, and not to mention Sam’s flowing dress, from catching fire.
16. A sequel called 32 Candles was planned but cancelled
In 2003, USA Network was hoping to create a sequel to the classic film, entitled 32 Candles and based on the corresponding birthday of Sam Baker. This made-for-television film would have brought the original cast back together – but the plan fell through for unspecified reasons. A few actors remained optimistic that the project would happen eventually, following the adult exploits of Sam, Farmer Ted and Long Duk Dong.
In an interview with Empire Magazine in 2007, Justin Henry – who plays Sam’s little brother – said his precocious character grows up to be a gynecologist. However, Ringwald remained reluctant to join any sequels or reboots of her breakthrough movie. Speaking to KABC-TV in 2010, she said she wouldn’t want to take part because “it is not a good idea to do remakes of great classic films.”
15. Jim Carrey auditioned to play Ted
Farmer Ted might have been a bit different, as a certain Jim Carrey auditioned for the role but ultimately was not cast. Instead, Carrey joined the cast of the short-lived 1984 sitcom entitled The Duck Factory, as well as starring in the comedy film Finders Keepers. But it was Anthony Michael Hall – whom Hughes had always hoped to cast in the role – who stood out during the auditions.
Notably, Hall chose not to act particularly geeky in his first meeting with the filmmakers. In a 1984 interview with The Day, Hughes said, “Every single kid who came in to read for the part… did the whole, stereotyped high school nerd thing. You know – thick glasses, ballpoint pens in the pocket, white socks. But when Michael came in he played it straight, like a real human being. I knew right at that moment that I’d found my geek,” Hughes explained.
14. It was John Hughes’ directorial debut
John Hughes went on to direct some classic films including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Planes, Trains and Automobiles. But Sixteen Candles was in fact his directorial debut, showing he had talent from the start. Previously, Hughes had written the scripts for National Lampoon’s Class Reunion, Mr Mom, National Lampoon’s Vacation and Nate and Hayes.
In a 1984 interview with Bobbie Wygant, Hughes said how pleased he was to finally direct one of his own screenplays. “I wanted to make a very realistic movie about what it is truly like to be sixteen, and to compress a lot of those things that you experience and feel when you’re sixteen in one day,” he elaborated. “It was never really a comedy, it was never really a drama,” he said, adding that the film blended comedic elements with a serious story.
13. Jake was nearly played by Viggo Mortensen
The role of Jake was auditioned for by Viggo Mortensen, who most famously would go on to play Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Molly Ringwald later said she wished Mortensen had won the role, since he made her “weak at the knees.” Aged 26, Mortensen would have been a whole decade older than his love interest, had he taken the part.
Instead, the actor found his film debut in Witness, a 1985 neo-noir crime drama starring Harrison Ford. A world away from Ringwald and Hall, Mortensen spent the late 80s starring in black comedies, horror films and crime dramas. His big break didn’t arrive until 1991, when he played Frank Roberts in Sean Penn’s crime film The Indian Runner.
12. Actor Gedde Watanabe pretended he couldn’t speak English to win his role
One of the most controversial elements of Sixteen Candles is a visiting student named Long Duk Dong, who attends the school dance with the reluctant Sam. When the film came out, the New York Times described this character as “unfunny” and an “offensive stereotype”. Some Asian American high school students were reportedly mocked with lines from the film. Other critics, however, have argued the actor Gedde Watanabe pulls off an outstanding performance. Roger Ebert wrote that Watanabe “elevates his role from a potentially offensive stereotype to high comedy.”
Watanabe himself has said the film was “a great experience,” but also admitted that he was “a bit naïve” about the racial aspects of his character. When auditioning, Watanabe – who is Japanese American and was raised in Utah – pretended to be from Korea, and he hid the fact that he spoke English. John Hughes and casting director Jackie Burch were completely convinced by his performance. When Hughes heard Watanabe return to his American accent, he chuckled, “Boy, I was duped!”
11. John Hughes wrote the movie in a single weekend
Before Hughes sat down to write Sixteen Candles, he asked his agent for a stack of photos of aspiring actresses. One face instantly caught his attention: Molly Ringwald, a teen who had previously starred on the sitcom The Facts of Life. In an interview with CBS, Ringwald recalled, “He put [my headshot] up over his desk and wrote ‘Sixteen Candles,’ basically over a weekend.”
Blaring music also helped Hughes to stay focused as he raced through his creative project. He had another muse in mind, too: Anthony Michael Hall, for whom Hughes had written the role of Rusty Griswold in National Lampoon’s Vacation. Hughes wrote the part of the nerdy Ted Farmer, nicknamed ‘Farmer Ted’, with this young star in mind.
10. John Hughes could have cast Ally Sheedy instead of Molly Ringwald
Among the pile of headshots John Hughes received was another soon-to-be-famous face: Ally Sheedy. Although Ringwald was ultimately the actress who inspired Hughes, Sheedy stood out from the pile too. She had already starred in two feature films: the 1983 coming-of-age drama Bad Boys and techno-thriller WarGames. When Sheedy failed to secure a part in Sixteen Candles, she instead joined the cast of Oxford Blues.
In this critically panned sports film, Sheedy plays an American student who coxes a rowing boat. However, by the following year, she was starring alongside Anthony Michael Hall and Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club.
9. Ringwald and Hall would crash Bat and Bar Mitzvah receptions for something to do between filming
Filming for Sixteen Candles took place in the peaceful village of Skokie in Cook County, Illinois. While adult cast members spent their time off in bars and clubs, travelling out towards Chicago, there was very little to entertain the film’s underage stars. However, the hotel where Ringwald and Hall were staying used to host many Bat and Bar Mitzvahs, as Skokie has a large Jewish population.
The young stars would talk their way into these celebrations to hang out with people their own age. To the east of Skokie is the city of Evanston, where the crew filmed Sam’s family home. In 2016, this luxurious six-bedroom house went on sale for $1.5 million. While the interior was renovated, the outside of the building remains almost exactly the same as it appears in the movie.
8. The actors playing Sam’s parents persuaded John Hughes to make their characters kinder
Paul Dooley and Glynn Carlin won the parts of Sam’s parents, the Bakers, in Sixteen Candles. As these parents forget about their daughter’s birthday while preparing for her older sister’s wedding, they are not exactly shown in the most positive light. However, Dooley and Carlin both felt it was important to show the parents weren’t just cartoonish or purely neglectful.
They teamed up to persuade John Hughes to rewrite sections of the script, allowing Sam’s parents the chance to apologise to their daughter and show her some love. In fact, Dooley only agreed to play the part of Sam’s father when Hughes agreed to add his apology to the script. The father also consoles Sam about her unrequited love for Jake, in a scene Hughes added at the very last minute.
7. The film shares its school settings with Risky Business
Funnily enough, Sixteen Candles shared a key filming location with the comedy blockbuster Risky Business, which came out the previous year. Both filmed their classrooms and corridors in Niles East High School, though Sixteen Candles also used Niles West for a few of the school settings. The entrance to the school features in both films. In Risky Business, you can see it in a nightmare sequence, as Joel Goodson (Tom Cruise) rushes in late for an exam.
Risky Business fared far better at the box office than Sixteen Candles did, grossing $63 million compared to Candles’ $24 million. The critic Gene Siskel directly compared the two films in his review for the Chicago Tribune. He described Sixteen Candles as “the best teenage comedy since last year’s Risky Business.”
6. It was Molly Ringwald’s favourite John Hughes set
Molly Ringwald starred in several of the so-called ‘Brat Pack’ films and was touted as the muse of John Hughes. But she has said that, of all the films she made with the acclaimed director, Sixteen Candles is the one on which she had the most fun. On the other hand, in recent years Ringwald has developed mixed feelings about the humour of her early films. In an article for the New Yorker in 2018, she wrote that she sees the sexism in Sixteen Candles in a very different light following the #MeToo movement.
“It’s hard for me to understand how John was able to write with so much sensitivity, and also have such a glaring blind spot,” she wrote. “Yes, it was a different time, as people say,” she noted. “Still, I was taken aback by the scope of the ugliness.”
5. The film became a huge success only when it was released on VHS
Released over 35 years ago, Sixteen Candles has enjoyed long-running fame, despite some of its humour ageing badly. It performed well at the box office, earning almost $24 million on a budget of $6.5 million. But Sixteen Candles’ popularity really exploded once it was released on VHS, spawning a cult following. Writing for the New York Times, Janet Maslin described the film as “sophomoric” but often effective.
“16 Candles is a cuter and better-natured teen comedy than most,” she wrote, “with the kinds of occasional lapses in taste that probably can’t hurt it in the circles for which it is intended. Most of the movie is cheerful and light,” she added, “showcasing Mr. Hughes’s knack for remembering all those aspects of middle-class American adolescent behaviour that anyone else might want to forget.”
4. There are two pairs of siblings among the cast
One of the biggest stars to emerge from this movie was John Cusack, who took the supporting role of Bryce, one of Farmer Ted’s nerdy friends. But the Cusacks, who were living in Evanston, sent a second child to the Sixteen Candles set: Joan Cusack, the future comedy star. Joan Cusack plays another geeky child. She wears a neck brace and can be spotted sitting on the school bus, and later is seen struggling to drink from a water fountain.
Meanwhile Beth Ringwald, the older sister of Molly Ringwald, joined the cast as Patty Baker. This character is flirting in the boys’ locker room until she gets carried off by an athlete. Despite their shared surname, Sam and Patty Baker – unlike their actresses – are not related to one another.
3. Jake’s licence plate is an Easter egg
Towards the film’s end, Jake pulls up in a red car to meet Sam as she emerges from her sister’s wedding ceremony. Jake’s car has the licence plate number, 21850. This is John Hughes’ birth date: 18th of February, 1950. Coincidentally, Molly Ringwald’s birthday is also the 18th of February – 1968.
This similarity may have inspired Hughes to add a double birthday to the plot of this movie. In the film, Farmer Ted tells Sam that they actually share a birthday – singing a ditty about the coincidence until she tells him to stop. But it’s only at this point that the pair start to sympathise with each other and form an unlikely friendship.
2. The workout scenes were filmed in a gym with no air conditioning
While most of the film revolves around Sam’s life, there are a few scenes where the male characters chat in private during gym classes. The gym used in the film had no air conditioning and at times was over 100° Fahrenheit (over 30° Celsius!). The girls also shot scenes in the gym, where their characters bicker over boys and talk about body image.
Haviland Morris, who plays Sam’s rival Caroline, had to change costumes between takes due to sweating so much. Both the cafeteria and the gym were filmed at Niles North High School in Skokie, Illinois. This school happen to be the alma mater of another huge star of the 80s: Nancy Lee Grahn, who was starring in the soap opera Santa Barbara around that time.
1. Sam’s grandparents are played by actors from The Twilight Zone, and the show’s theme tune soundtracks their appearance
Amid the stressful preparations for Ginny’s wedding, Sam and Ginny’s grandparents turn up on the doorstep. As they appear, the Twilight Zone theme tune plays eerily in the background – a nod to the actors playing two of the grandparents. Sam’s grandfathers, named Howard and Fred, are played by Edward Andrews and Max Showalter respectively.
Both of these older actors had previously appeared in episodes of The Twilight Zone. The rest of the film features a rock soundtrack, with songs by Patti Smith and the Thompson Twins. The song 16 Candles also crops up – although it was written by the band Stray Cats in 1958, 26 years before this film got its famous title.