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The Brat Pack Movies, Ranked

From the moment New York ran its now-infamous 1985 cover story on the Brat Pack, the article’s subjects hated it. Depicted in the piece as out-of-control, party-hearty twits, they loudly objected to what they considered to be writer David Blum’s shallow, sensationalistic treatment. “That was ridiculous, and at the time I was very angry about it,” Emilio Estevez said in early 1987. “He painted us in a very negative light. He didn’t portray us as hard-working young men and women who cared deeply about our craft.”

Nearly 40 years later, a member of the Brat Pack is looking back on those times and wondering what they meant. Andrew McCarthy’s documentary “Brats,” which just premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, brings together several of his fellow club-members to reminisce and reconsider, provoking fresh waves of cultural nostalgia for this gang of photogenic young actors who were both mocked and loved in the ‘80s.

Although different actors have been placed in the Brat Pack over the years—whether they liked it or not—there are eight performers who are generally considered officially part of the group: Ally Sheedy, Andrew McCarthy, Anthony Michael Hall, Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald and Rob Lowe. But which of their movies from the Reagan era have stood the test of time? And which are outright embarrassments?

To answer those questions, I’ve put together a ranked list of Brat Pack movies, the rule being that at least two of the official members had to star in them. Of the 12 films that made the cut, I’d say only five would be classified as “good,” with many of them actually pretty terrible. Graying Gen-xers may think I’m being too harsh, to which I’d say many of these actors went on to better work after the ‘80s—perhaps not surprisingly, once they stopped appearing in movies together. But from love stories to crime dramas to teen sagas, these were the films that defined their meteoric rise—even if more than a few of these pictures, I’m sure, they’d love to forget. 

12. “Class” (1983)

Brat Pack cast members: Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy 

Vincent Canby had little patience for “Class,” writing in his New York Times review, “The movie can’t make up its mind whether it’s a lighthearted comedy … or a romantic drama about a teenage boy who has a torrid affair with his roommate’s mother. Either way it’s pretty awful.” It’s hard to argue: The film starred McCarthy as a sheltered newbie at a prep school, with Lowe as his cool-guy roommate and Jacqueline Bisset as Lowe’s mom, who McCarthy starts sleeping with. (Hilarity, allegedly, ensues once McCarthy discovers who her son is.) Bisset later expressed misgivings about the film, saying, “[T]hey changed my character’s behavior, making me look like a bimbo, out in the streets and trying to get laid,” and especially with modern eyes, “Class” feels like a misguided attempt to capitalize on the sex-comedy trend popularized at the time by the gross “Porky’s.” Neither Lowe nor McCarthy feel entirely comfortable in their roles—better days were on the horizon for both.

11. “Fresh Horses” (1988)

Brat Pack cast members: Andrew McCarthy, Molly Ringwald 

During the height of their collective notoriety, the Brat Pack didn’t do many straight dramas. So it was a surprise when Ringwald and McCarthy signed up for this serious love story, directed by “Hoosiers” filmmaker David Anspaugh, about an engaged man who falls for a married woman, who may be 16. Based on a play by Larry Ketron, “Fresh Horses” was, as McCarthy put it in his memoir Brat, “a bad idea from the start” although he took it on because “I continued to operate from my freelancer mentality of ‘Just get the next job.’” A box-office bomb, the film was a bad match for both actors, who tried to evince a more grownup demeanor that they hadn’t fully grown into yet. 

10. “Blue City” (1986)

Brat Pack cast members: Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy 

Co-written by Walter Hill, and based on the Ross Macdonald novel, “Blue City” is the sort of movie that happens to a rising pin-up when Hollywood is convinced he’s ready to enter his “brooding heartthrob” era—and he’s just not ready yet. Nelson played Billy, a troubled youth who becomes obsessed with finding his dad’s killer, with Sheedy as Billy’s friend’s alluring sister. Neither their love story nor the investigation is particularly well-done, and Nelson struggles to bring the appropriate grit to his character. He might have been a convincing punk in “The Breakfast Club,” but in “Blue City” you never buy his darker side.

9. “Oxford Blues” (1984)

Brat Pack cast members: Rob Lowe, Ally Sheedy

“Oxford Blues” was a big deal in Lowe’s early career: As he recalled in his memoir, Stories I Only Tell My Friends, “It’s the first script to come my way that will give me the true lead, completely with first billing.” Unfortunately, the movie was a complete bust, with Lowe playing an ugly American journeying to Oxford so he can join the rowing team and meet the princess he has a crush on. With Sheedy as a fellow rower who likes him—if only he would notice!—“Oxford Blues” got terrible reviews and crashed at the box office. Thankfully, Lowe’s maiden starring vehicle didn’t sink him.

8. “St. Elmo’s Fire” (1985)

Brat Pack cast members: Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Judd Nelson, Demi Moore, Ally Sheedy 

Or, “The Brat Pack’s Big Adult Drama.” Telling the story of a group of friends trying to figure out life as grownups, “St. Elmo’s Fire” was where the young stars tried to prove their acting chops. As someone who came of age at the time, believe me when I say that, even back then, we knew this movie was pretty overwrought. David Denby’s scathing review in New York nails it, declaring, “‘St. Elmo’s Fire’ is a teen dream of adult life, in which you work through every glamorous problem with six friends.” Before “emo” was a thing, Joel Schumacher’s film, his follow-up to the irreverent comedy “D.C. Cab,” was all up in its feelings, becoming a try-hard landmark populated by stilted, unconvincing performances. Some of the Brat Pack would eventually grow into accomplished dramatic actors. But not here.  

7. “Betsy’s Wedding” (1990)

Brat Pack cast members: Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy 

The Razzies, an annoying collection of people who like to draw attention to themselves by making cheap shots at easy Hollywood targets with their annual “awards,” nominated Ringwald and Sheedy for, respectively, Worst Actress and Worst Supporting Actress for this limp wedding comedy. Those nods are obnoxious—more an indication of the public’s general exhaustion with the Brat Pack by the dawn of the 1990s—but even so, “Betsy’s Wedding” is a fairly forgettable film about the upcoming nuptials of Betty (Ringwald) and Jake (Dylan Walsh), which are endangered by her dad’s (writer-director Alan Alda) desire to thrown a lavish spectacle in order to impress Jake’s rich family. With Sheedy as Betsy’s sister, a cop who falls for a criminal (Anthony LaPaglia), the film suffers from chronic sitcom-itis, which is hardly the Brat Pack stars’ fault. 

6. “Wisdom” (1986)

Brat Pack cast members: Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore

Estevez didn’t just star in this crime drama but also wrote and directed it. It was his first time making his own film, and around “Wisdom’s” release, he was candid about its flaws. “I’m going to take a beating on this one,” he said. “I can see myself getting my feet wet as a director, and there’s a choppiness, an awkwardness to it. It’s not totally relaxed.” And, indeed, the reviews were brutal, with critics finding the story—about a one-time felon who decides to embrace a life of crime, alongside his girlfriend (Moore)—uncompelling and forced. In real life, Estevez and Moore were engaged, but their relationship soon collapsed, leaving “Wisdom” as an odd curio from their time together. But the film’s commercial and critical drubbing didn’t keep Estevez from getting back into the director’s chair: Since then, he’s made comedies (“Men at Work”) and historical dramas (“Bobby”).

5. “The Outsiders” (1983)

Brat Pack cast members: Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe 

After enjoying commercial and critical success in the 1970s, director Francis Ford Coppola entered a down period in the early 1980s after the failure of “One From the Heart.” He responded with this teen saga, which dared to take teenagers seriously. Based on the S.E. Hinton novel, this look at rival 1960s Oklahoma gangs helped launch young actors like Lowe, and Coppola gave his delinquent characters an unexpected grandeur. “The Outsiders” is more than a little silly and showy—one never forgets this is an Oscar-winning auteur trying to bring his talents to material that isn’t necessarily up to his standards—but the young actors seem liberated being in Coppola’s presence. They’d rarely work with a director as visionary the rest of their careers.

4. “Sixteen Candles” (1984)

Brat Pack cast members: Anthony Michael Hall, Molly Ringwald

The objections to this movie are well-documented and correct. Yes, its depiction of Gedde Watanabe’s Long Duk Dong is belittling and offensive. Absolutely, its humor around what is (or isn’t) consent is deeply uncomfortable. But with those reservations noted, “Sixteen Candles” was the start of Ringwald’s ascension to pin-up idol, playing Sam, who’s crushing on the class hunk (Michael Schoeffling) while resisting the romantic advances of the class dork (Hall). In his feature debut, writer-director John Hughes here began to envision teendom in a brand new way—messy, funny, deeply real—and in Ringwald, he found the perfect vessel to express his thoughts about fitting in, falling in love and stumbling toward maturity. 

3. “Pretty in Pink” (1986) 

Brat Pack cast members: Andrew McCarthy, Molly Ringwald

She’s the outcast. He’s the cool classmate. Can their courtship last? Written by John Hughes and directed by Howard Deutch, “Pretty in Pink” aimed for the universal in this admittedly familiar love story, exploring how young people start picking up on the idea that the world is divided not just into cliques but also social classes—and how the worlds of haves and have-nots never goes away. But beyond its big heart and tender insights, the film was a showcase for Ringwald as the fiercely vivid Andie, one of the most memorable and complicated of all teen characters. 

“John had been wanting to write something for me, and he often used song titles for his projects since most of what he wrote was inspired by music,” Ringwald recalled recently. She had introduced Hughes to the Psychedelic Furs song, which gave him his title as well as an idea of what to write. “At that point in my life I also just really liked pink—Andie’s room was basically modeled after my own,” she added. “The prop people even took a collage from my personal bedroom and used it in the movie for Andie’s room, if that tells you anything.” 

2. “About Last Night” (1986)

Brat Pack cast members: Rob Lowe, Demi Moore

Before Edward Zwick made historical dramas like “Glory” and “The Last Samurai,” he cut his teeth on this smart love story about two Chicagoans (Lowe and Moore) who hook up one night, figuring out where to go from there—and recruiting their best friends (James Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins) for help. Based on David Mamet’s well-regarded play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago,” “About Last Night” was one of its decade’s more candid portraits of the anxieties of modern dating, balancing humor with an understanding of the fears that go into every relationship. This modest hit is a little underappreciated today, but it remains a funny charmer—and it inspired the 2014 remake, which starred Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Regina Hall and Joy Bryant.  

1. “The Breakfast Club” (1985)

Brat Pack cast members: Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy 

Before it was released, there was industry concern that “The Breakfast Club” might tank commercially. What, a whole movie where the teenagers just talk? Who’s gonna see that? But writer-director John Hughes was unconcerned. “I told the actors that if ‘Breakfast Club’ bombs, we have nothing to be ashamed of,” he said at the time. “I said, ‘We have made a movie that will be around for a long time. If nothing else, even if doesn’t do any business, we have documented a slice of life that normally doesn’t get documented in the movies. It will live on cassettes; it will live on television. We can be proud of this.’”

He was exactly right—well, except for the part about VHS tapes. Decades later, “The Breakfast Club” endures, capturing the insecurity, rebellion and sensitivity of high-school life with a rare compassion. Here’s where cinema’s teenage tropes became immortalized—the popular kid (Ringwald), the bad boy (Nelson), the jock (Estevez), the nerd (Hall), the outcast (Sheedy)—with each of the actors tapping into the nuance of familiar types. The film’s profound ‘80s-ness no doubt makes it a little dated today, but any current movie geared toward young people would do well to follow its example. Turns out, teenagers aren’t blandly hip or insufferably cool or any one thing, which is what Hughes and his cast understood on a molecular level. “The Breakfast Club” celebrated its characters’ uniqueness—and their cheesy belief that they could change the world. We all grow out of that phase, of course, but this movie brings it all back with shocking, touching clarity.

Tim Grierson

Tim Grierson is the Senior U.S. Critic for Screen International

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