On Saturday, March 24, 1984, five students report at 7:00 a.m. for all-day detention at Shermer High School in Shermer, Illinois. While not complete strangers, each of them comes from a different clique, and they seem to have nothing in common: the beautiful and pampered Claire Standish, the state champion wrestler Andrew Clarke, the bookish Brian Johnson, the reclusive outcast Allison Reynolds, and the rebellious delinquent John Bender.
They gather in the high school library, where assistant principal Richard Vernon instructs them not to speak, move from their seats, or sleep until they are released at 4:00 p.m. He assigns them a 1,000-word essay, in which each must describe “who you think you are.” He then leaves, returning only occasionally to check on them. Bender, who has a particularly antagonistic relationship with Vernon, ignores the rules and frequently riles up the other students, teasing Brian and Andrew and harassing Claire. Allison is initially quiet, except for an occasional random outburst. Over the course of the day, Vernon gives Bender several weekends’ worth of additional detention and even locks him in a storage closet, but he escapes and returns to the library.
The students pass the hours by talking, arguing, and, at one point, smoking marijuana that Bender retrieves from his locker. Gradually, they open up to each other and reveal their deepest personal secrets: Allison is a compulsive liar; Andrew cannot easily think for himself; Bender comes from an abusive household; Brian was planning to kill himself with a flare gun due to a bad grade; and Claire is a virgin who feels constant pressure from her friends.
They also discover that they all have strained relationships with their parents: Allison’s parents ignore her due to their own problems; Andrew’s father constantly criticizes his efforts at wrestling and pushes him as hard as possible; Bender’s father verbally and physically abuses him; Brian’s overbearing parents put immense pressure on him to earn high grades; and Claire’s parents use her to get back at each other during frequent arguments. The students realize that, even with their differences, they face similar pressures and complications in their lives.
Despite their differences in social status, the group begins to form friendships (and even romantic relationships) as the day progresses. Claire gives Allison a makeover, to reveal just how pretty she really is, which sparks romantic interest in Andrew. Claire decides to break her “pristine” virgin appearance by kissing Bender in the closet and giving him a hickey. Although they suspect that the relationships will end with the end of their detention, their mutual experiences will change the way they look at their peers afterwards.
About the Filming
In 1999, Hughes said that his request to direct the film met with resistance and skepticism because he lacked filmmaking experience. Hughes ultimately convinced the film’s investors that due to the modest $1 million budget and its single location shoot, he could greatly minimize their risk. Hughes originally thought that The Breakfast Club would be his directorial debut. Hughes opted for an insular, largely one room set and wrote it about high school students, who would be played by younger actors.
Principal photography began on March 28, 1984, and ended in May. Filming took place at Maine North High School in Des Plaines, Illinois, shuttered in 1981. The same setting was used for interior scenes of Hughes’ 1986 film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which featured exterior shots from nearby Glenbrook North High School. The library at Maine North High School, considered too small for the film, prompted the crew to build the set in the school’s gymnasium. The actors rehearsed with each other for three weeks and then shot the film in sequence. On the Ferris Bueller’s Day Off DVD commentary (featured on the 2004 DVD version), Hughes revealed that he shot the two films back-to-back to save time and money, and some outtakes of both films feature elements of the film crews working on the other film. The first print clocked in at 150 minutes.
During a cast reunion in honor of the film’s 25th anniversary, Ally Sheedy revealed that a Director’s Cut existed but Hughes’ widow did not disclose any details concerning its whereabouts. In 2015 the first draft of the film’s script was discovered in a Maine South High School cabinet as district employees were moving offices to a new building.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Directed by: John Hughes
Starring: Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Perry Crawford, Paul Gleason, Anthony Michael Hall, Mary Christian
Screenplay by: John Hughes
Production Design by: John W. Corso
Cinematography by: Thomas Del Ruth
Film Editing by: Dede Allen
Costume Design by: Marilyn Vance
Set Decoration by: Jennifer Polito
Music by: Keith Forsey
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release Date: February 15, 1985