Molly Ringwald in 'Sixteen Candles'

Forget ‘The Breakfast Club,’ ‘Sixteen Candles’ Is John Hughes’ Best Movie

Sixteen Candles, which turned 40 earlier this month, is John Hughes’ best movie. I know, I know, this flies in the face of many others’ opinions that it is The Breakfast Club that holds that accolade. But life is a rich tapestry of experiences, and we can all hold different opinions. Except on this matter. On this, I’m right.

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I’m just going to go for the jugular first: I think it’s extremely telling the movies Hughes wrote from the female perspective, typically rank lower on his “best of” lists than the ones that are predominantly male. I am of course talking about my beloved Sixteen Candles, as well as Pretty in Pink. Now, look, I love Planes, Trains, and Automobiles as much as the next person, but the strongest role for a woman in that movie is the doting, waiting, patient wife. Sixteen Candles is out there, and loud, about female wish fulfillment, the female gaze, and general celebration (and humiliation) of what it means to be a teenage girl in 1980s America.

The Breakfast Club is beloved because it humanizes the teenage experience. It’s a damn good dramatic movie and had a stellar cast. You know what other movie does that? Sixteen Candles. Growing up is hard. Having a crush on someone cooler than you is incredibly painful. Trying to navigate the teenage social structure is basically impossible. Being able to communicate that all, effectively, against a comedic tableau is even harder. Basically, The Breakfast Club is able to do the hokey pokey and everyone is clapping for it while Sixteen Candles is out here tap dancing backwards and the world collectively shrugs.

Have I mentioned the cast yet? The cast is top-notch. Not only do you have Molly Ringwald, but you also get not one, but two damn Cusacks (John and Joan)—an incredible get— Michael Schoeffling, who disappeared from Hollywood after making the quintessential horsegirl movie; Anthony Michael Hall; and Paul Dooley. It’s an embarrassment of riches. Everyone plays their part to perfection.

The ’80s teen comedy of it all

We cannot talk about this wonderful, nearly perfect movie without also discussing its extremely problematic elements. This movie is very much a product of its time in some very not-great ways. Sexism especially ran through much of Hughes’ work, including The Breakfast Club. In that movie, Bender (Judd Nelson) constantly harasses and belittles Claire (Molly Ringwald) before the two end up together. Plus there’s the whole “you have to change to get the guy” narrative that gets pushed in Allison’s (Ally Sheedy) character arc.

A few years ago, Ringwald embarked on an exploration of the problematic themes in Hughes’ work, especially as they manifest in these two films. “It’s hard for me to understand how John was able to write with so much sensitivity,” she wrote, “and also have such a glaring blind spot.”

Sexism is deeply ingrained in most ’80s teen movies, and that includes Sixteen Candles. Our main love interest Jake Ryan (Schoeffling) essentially facilitates his girlfriend’s sexual assault and that’s hard to grapple with on a rewatch. But when I fell in love with this movie at an impressionable young age, the message that stuck with me was that, unlike The Breakfast Club’s Allison, Samantha (Ringwald) did not have to change to get the guy. She attracted the attention of the most popular guy in school just the way she was, thankyouverymuch.

In a world where male characters outnumber female characters more than two to one, I find it death by a thousand cuts that female-focused movies tend to be devalued by the largely male film critic population. I’m sure someone out there is shaking their head vehemently, snidely thinking “This has nothing to do with the sex of the characters. Sixteen Candles is simply the weaker movie.” To that hypothetical I say: Perhaps there should be some critical exploitation as to why the female-focused movies in the Hughes oeuvre get less love than the male ones. Just saying!

As for me, I love Sixteen Candles. I love it for being my slumber party staple all through middle school and high school. I love it for the wish fulfillment of the shy, unremarkable girl landing the most popular, hottest guy at school she was crushing on. I love it for showing that awkward transition between being a kid, and going out into the world. I love it for being entertaining, yet having an empathetic core. It will forever be John Hughes’ best movie.


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Kate Hudson
Kate Hudson (no, not that one) has been writing about pop culture and reality TV in particular for six years, and is a Contributing Writer at The Mary Sue. With a deep and unwavering love of Twilight and Con Air, she absolutely understands her taste in pop culture is both wonderful and terrible at the same time. She is the co-host of the popular Bravo trivia podcast Bravo Replay, and her favorite Bravolebrity is Kate Chastain, and not because they have the same first name, but it helps.