The eight must-see Brat Pack movies

In the 1980s, coming-of-age movies sent a group of young actors to Hollywood fame.

by Douglas Greenwood
08 September 2021, 12:31pm

The 1980s in American movie-making are seen by some as a stain on the medium’s history. While the 1970s New Hollywood moment — think Spielberg, Scorsese and Lynch — is considered a golden era, many critics often paint the 1980s as a period defined by directors selling out; simple ideas designed to bring in big box office numbers, and often failing at that too. The decade was also defined by the ascendance of the coming-of-age movie, starring — most likely — some of the Brat Pack.

Brat Pack, coined by New York Magazine in 1985, referred to a group of actors working in Hollywood at the time, famed for starring in mainstream movies about contemporary American middle-class adolescence, but living raucous lifestyles off-screen. The list included (but were not limited to): Emilio Estevez (widely regarded as the ringleader), Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Anthony Michael Hall, Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Andrew McCarthy and Ally Sheedy. Together they made up the heartthrobs and darlings of American moviemaking for almost a whole decade, even when the quality of their work was waning. 

The term stuck to them negatively, especially when certain parts of the pack started to succumb to addiction problems commonplace in an industry that seldom supports its young stars, so much so that it pulled the brakes on many of the group’s careers. Nowadays though, it’s seen as the overarching term for a collection of actors who made some of the most beloved and memorable movies of the 1980s. Haven’t seen em? Here are eight of the Brat Pack’s most important movies.

1. The Outsiders (1983)

Having made his masterpiece, The Godfather, its even more critically-acclaimed sequel, and Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola decided to direct a more youth-spun moral drama in the 80s. Gearing up for re-release in the UK on 15 October, The Outsiders tells the story of two rival teen gangs, the Greasers and the Socials, who get embroiled in a violent fight that leaves one of the latter clan dead. Fearing the consequences and eager to protect themselves, the Greasers go off the grid, figuring out how to deal with what they’ve done. 

2. Sixteen Candles (1984)

A total tonal gear shift from the previous film, Sixteen Candles famously marks the directorial debut of coming-of-age cinema’s true master, John Hughes. This movie — starring the Brat Pack’s Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall — is a high school love story about the misfortune of being an irrelevant outsider. Molly plays Samantha Baker, a girl whose 16th birthday is conveniently overlooked by family and friends, catalysing a long-string of humiliating events. 

3. The Breakfast Club (1985)

A year after Sixteen Candles’ success, John Hughes called on Molly, as well as Emilio, Judd, Ally and Anthony to make up the ensemble of his big breakout feature; one memorialised by brunch chains to this day. A cult classic, The Breakfast Club follows a group of high school students stuck in Saturday detention. All from different cliques and backgrounds, the movie sees their commonalities come through as the day drags on.

4. St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)

Ally, Judd, Andrew, Emilio and Rob Lowe were joined by Demi Moore in this movie that dropped the same year as The Breakfast Club. But while TBC looked at high school life, St. Elmo’s Fire follows a group of college graduates staring at the possibilities of their future, trying their best to adjust to a life in the working world. The movie was a box office hit, but critics famously hated it upon release. Rob Lowe won a Razzie for his performance, and the movie — to this day — is loathed by loads of people. 

5. Pretty in Pink (1986)

As 1986 comes around, it’s back to high school for Molly and Andrew, who were joined by Harry Dean Stanton in this John Hughes co-write. You might see this movie, about a teenage outcast who no one pays attention to becoming the doe-eyed companion of the hottest guy in high school, as something of a well-worn cliche. That’s because you’re likely to have seen a dozen riffs of this made in its wake. A cult classic. 

6. About Last Night (1986)

What comes after college? Those seemingly endless years of floating, trying to find your feet in the world. This, naturally, became the next chapter in the Brat Pack’s movie careers. Based on the David Mamet play Sexual Perversity in Chicago, About Last Night reunited Rob Lowe and Demi Moore again to play a couple falling love — a first time for each of them. Of course, no matter how star-crossed they may be, they have a dysfunctional connection, paired with a sea of friends who know how bad they may be for each other. Cue a messy rom-com for the ages.

7. Wisdom (1986)

An objectively poor movie, Wisdom earns a spot here for bringing together two of the Brat Pack’s biggest stars who were, at that point, in a relationship: Emilio and Demi. In a self-serving project written and directed by Emilio, who also starred in the lead role alongside Demi, this is a movie about a former felon and his girlfriend on a road trip(!), robbing banks(!) to help farmers(?). Widely panned upon release and a box office bomb, it’s at least an important part of the Brat Pack narrative.

8. Betsy’s Wedding (1990)

The film that marked the end of the Brat Pack era was 1990s romcom Betsy’s Wedding, starring Molly and Ally, alongside Joe Pesci and Schitt’s Creek icon Catherine O’Hara. A movie about a working class Long Island family trying to scrape together the cash for their daughter’s wedding to a man from a more affluent family, it was a moderate box office success but middlingly-reviewed, with both Molly and Ally earning Razzie nominations for their work on it. 

By this time, many of the Brat Pack clan had become victims to the so-called ‘curse’, appearing in lower budget projects that were released to little fanfare, or in more minor roles. Some went into television, some got embroiled in sex tape scandals (like Rob Lowe) -- but one went onto become box office gold. Demi Moore, off the back of Ghost, became the highest paid actress of the 1990s before fading into a less hectic lifestyle by the end of the decade. 

Today, many of them are still working, but their most memorable work — no matter how patchy the reviews were — can still be found in that decade of coming-of-age, working-your-shit-out classics.