Hughes, John: Zeitgeist Director?

By Jake Reid

John Hughes passed away on August 6, 2009, while taking his morning walk. He was only 59.  Hughes may be one of the most important directors of the 1980s.  He is responsible for a handful of “zeitgeist” movies that will live on for generations. Some of his delightfully re-watchable comedies are filled with all the things we love about that decade. Though often cheesy, there is no denying the impact his depictions of teenage youth had on a whole generation. 

Hughes had not directed a film since “Curly Sue,” in 1991, staring James Belushi (and a bit part from Steve Carrell), which was not a success. But he had stayed in the business (from afar) as a writer and producer.  His most recent work was as a writer, story by, but not screenwriter for “Maid in Manhattan” (2004, staring Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes) and “Drillbit Taylor” (2008, starring Own Wilson).

Nonetheless, though John Hughes’ directorial credit list is short, his imprint on film in the 1980s and early 1990s as a writer was tremendous. 


Thus, instead of mourning his loss, we should celebrate the images, characters, and stories he gave us during his incredibly influential run.  As a writer and director, there are countless characters to revisit and reflect.  As a writer, he gave us the “Home Alone” franchise and introduced child actor Macaulay Culkin.  In The Great Outdoors, he hilariously scripted the rivalry between Chet Ripley (John Candy) and Roman Craig (Dan Aykroyd), while also depicting the scary yet ultimately funny tale of the Bear that had been shot in the rear (and is now bare). 


In “Some Kind of Wonderful,” Hughes executed one of the original mainstream romantic comedy formulas of an unpopular boy who loves popular girl; gets help from his best friend (an unpopular girl); gets popular girl to like him only to realize he loves the unpopular girl in the end.  This formula was also seen in “She’s All That” and “Drive Me Crazy” (among others).


Icons of the 1980s were staples in Hughes films. John Candy became a staple in his films with “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” (alongside Steve Martin), “Uncle Buck,” and “The Great Outdoors” (and even the polka band member that drives Mrs. McCallister home to her son in Home Alone). 


Hughes had an uncanny ability to deliver an ensemble cast of high school characters with an appropriate level of depth within each.  The combination of clever writing and good acting from Hughes’ favorites (and other 1980s icons) Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, and Matthew Broderick created “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Pretty in Pink,” “Sixteen Candles,” and “The Breakfast Club.”  Most of these pictures were extremely popular at the box-office: We could all relate to at least one character in the bunch.  It’s safe to say that, at one time or another, everyone has felt like the athlete, the prom queen, the drop out, the nerd, or the outcast.


New technologies should help preserve John Hughes’ heritage.  His cult classics will be passed down from generation to generation, through cable television and DVD anniversary releases for years to come.