John Hughes and “The Breakfast Club” – Forever Quotable
In tribute to the awesomeness and lasting legacy of John Hughes, I’m reposting this essay I wrote a few years ago. Share, enjoy, and dammit, never, ever stop quoting “The Breakfast Club.”
The Breakfast Club:
Demented, Sad, and the Most Quotable Movie Ever.
I first saw The Breakfast Club with my first girlfriend. Her dad (we weren’t old enough to drive) had taken us roller skating for our first date, and now we were back at her house watching the movie with her parents. Her mom and dad said despite the movie’s R-rated dialogue, they thought it had a good message. Still, ask me to define “awkward,” and I’m likely to think, “Sitting with your 14-year-old girlfriend and her parents and having a half-second to decide whether or not to laugh at the phrase ‘you fuckin’ dildos.’”
More than twenty years later, I’m driving home after work, listening to All Things Considered on National Public Radio. In the middle of a geek-perspective story on the Dungeons & Dragons online game, the reporter drops the line, “…demented and sad, but social.” He provides no further context.
It hits me harder than ever that with those of us who did most of our growing up in the 1980s now in our 30s The Breakfast Club is quite possibly the most quotable movie of our generation.
Don’t get me wrong: The likes of Airplane!, Caddyshack, Fletch and so many more have their share of classic punchlines and quotes that can be put to good use. But for sheer volume and variety, nothing touches The Breakfast Club. It’s the Swiss Army Knife of John Hughes scripts.
Not long after the NPR smack-upside-the-head, I caught The Breakfast Club late at night, probably ten minutes into the movie. After watching for a bit, I thought, “Wow. I bet there’s not a minute that goes by without a quotable line.”
Being a total geek, I thought it would be fun to test that theory.
I dug up my old HBO-recorded VHS tape of the movie. (Digression: This is the second videotape I ever claimed for myself back when both cable television and the VCR were new to my family. The first – which I also still have – featured the triple bill of Raiders of the Lost Ark, From Russia with Love and Strange Brew. This one’s got another classic set: The Blues Brothers, The Breakfast Club, and Cannonball Run.)
At first, I tried to track the quotes and their times by hand on a legal pad. Whoa. Waaaaay tedious and knuckle-swelling just ten minutes in. So I hit the Internet and printed out the screenplay. Before watching the movie, I went through the script and highlighted all the quotes and moments I felt were the most recognizable. With that in hand, I watched the movie and jotted down the approximate time of each occurrence, having set the clock to zero at approximately the moment the passage from David Bowie’s “Changes” appeared on the screen.
After logging all the lines and times, I divided them up into three categories, because I didn’t feel like enough of an 80s nut job yet. I settled on A- and B-level quotes, and a catch-all “Other” category for scenes that are memorable but lack dialogue. A-level quotes are the ones that reach the level of the one that sparked this whole thing, “Demented and sad, but social.” (Again, if you can let this one fly on NPR, it’s easily my generation’s “One word. Plastics.”) B-level quotes aren’t the marquee-getters, but I still think most people who are part of what’s roughly the 80s generation could easily recognize and respond to them. (In Star Wars terms, these would be, say, “I thought they smelled bad on the outside”-type quotes, as opposed to the “May the Force Be With You.”)
Yes, I realize that all this pushes dangerously close to the poetry appreciation graph that Robin Williams mocks near the beginning of Dead Poets Society. On the other hand, even given the level to which I’ve worked this out, how seriously can I possibly be taken, considering I’m pondering the pop cultural footprint of phrases like “hot beef injection?
Of course there’s a degree of subjectivity here, but after checking a few of my picks and categorizations with friends, I seemed to be on solid ground.
So, here’s The Breakfast Club by the numbers: 36 B-level lines, 24 A-level lines, and 11 memorable scenes/images. That’s a total of 71 moments. And while there are stretches over the movie’s 133-minute length where they’re sparse (the Scooby Doo-esque hallway chase scene, for instance), The Breakfast Club still averages out to about one keeper every 1.9 minutes. Not quite the literal laugh-a-minute I’d thought, but still more than respectable.
Before I list them, here’s a character/actor rundown – though if you’ve read this far, I seriously doubt you need it.
Richard Vernon – Shermer High School principal, played by Paul Gleason, who died just this year and was also famous for another great prickish role as Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson in Die Hard.
John Bender – The Breakfast Club’s resident criminal/burnout, Judd Nelson.
Brian Johnson – The nerd, Anthony Michael Hall.
Claire Standish – The rich, popular girl, Molly Ringwald.
Andrew Clark – The wrestler, Emilio Estevez.
Allison Reynolds – The black-eyeliner wearing “basket case,” Ally Sheedy.
Carl – The janitor, John Kapelos.
All set? Then start humming “Don’t You Forget About Me,” and we’ll begin.
(All quotes are considered B-level unless I’ve labeled them otherwise.)
It’s more than four full minutes before our first line of real dialogue, outside of the set-up vignettes that frame each character. My opinion is that the movie really starts with the first quotable line:
4:08 – Vernon: Well, well … Here we are.
5:23 – Vernon: …is that clear, Mr. Bender?
Bender: Crystal. The value of this one is strictly in Bender’s response, and it’s all in the delivery – over-the-top nonchalance with an abnormally strong emphasis on the second syllable.
5:34 – Brian: You know, I can answer that right now, sir. That’d be no. No for me. Another response quote, this one to Vernon’s inquiry about whether they’d like to come back to detention again. Handy for many occasions.
5:50 – A-level – Bender: Yeah, I got a question. Does Barry Manilow know you raid his wardrobe? It’s almost six minutes before the first A-line, but this one has held up over the years, and come in handy on many occasions, with appropriate substitutions for ‘Barry Manilow’ when needed. It’s also pretty obvious by this point that Bender’s going to get to deliver most of the lasting quotes.
6:03 – A-level – Vernon: Don’t mess with the bull, young man, you’ll get the horns. Throw the index finger/pinky devil horns with this, but point them at the recipient. You’re threatening, not rockin’.
7:00 – Brian (to himself): Who are you? Who are you? (attaches ballpoint pen to lip, puts top in his nostril) I am a walrus. Wherever boredom and ballpoint pens mix, this moment will be reborn.
8:08 – Other: Bender sings the “Sunshine of Your Love” guitar riff. I can’t be the only person my age who knows this as The Breakfast Club song first, and the Clapton tune second.
8:32 – Bender (faking a pee under his desk): Don’t talk, don’t talk – it makes it crawl back up.
8:57 – Andrew: If I lose my temper, you’re totalled
9:30 – A-level – Bender to Claire: Sweets? you couldn’t ignore me if you tried. I have the world’s most patient wife, because she’s heard this one from me a bajillion times, give or take.
9:54 – A-level – Bender: Come on Sporto, level with me: Do you slip her the hot … beef … injection? Thus is born an ‘80s euphemism. This one’s also great on broadcast television because they butcher it into ‘hot … wild …affection,’ which, when you know the actual line, somehow makes the tame version even funnier.
11:21 – A-level – Bender: Well, I don’t know any lepers either – but I’m not gonna run out and join one of their fuckin’ clubs. Hands-down, my own absolute favorite. Versatile and hilarious, and suitable for countless conversations.
12:08 – A-level – Bender: So it’s sorta social. Demented and sad, but social. If there were a class of Double-secret Ultimate A-level Breakfast Club quotes, this would be there.
12:25 – Bender: You load up, you party…
Brian: Well, no, we get dressed up, I mean, but we don’t, we don’t get high.
13:08 – A-level – Bender: I have such a deep admiration for guys who roll around on the floor with other guys.
13:19 – Bender: I wanna be just like you. I figure all I need is a lobotomy and some tights.
Brian: (to Andrew) – You wear tights?
Andrew: No, I don’t wear tights. I wear the required uniform.
14:18 – Other: Vernon’s caveman grunt after he checks his reflection in the fire extinguisher glass: “Huggadugga!” Or something like that.
16:10 – Bender: If he gets up, we’ll all get up! It’ll be anarchy! And the flick’s educational, too. I learned what “anarchy” meant.
16:29 – Bender: That’s very clever sir, but what if there’s a fire? I think violating fire codes and endangering the lives of children would be unwise at this juncture in your career, sir.
16:42 – Brian: You know the school comes equipped with fire exits at either end
of the library. If quoted, this line must be delivered with dual-hand airline stewardess gestures.
17:14 A-level: Bender – “Eat. My. Shorts.” Years before Bart Simpson put it on a T-shirt.
17:54 – Bender: Not … even … CLOSE …BUUUUD!
18:47 – Vernon: The next time I have to come in here, I’m cracking skulls!
20:14 – Other: Allison shaking dandruff onto her winterscape sketch.
21:36 – Bender: It’s such fun to read. And Mo-lay really pumps my nads.
23:50 – A-level: Bender: Can you hear this? Want me to turn it up? Because in the 1980s, giving the finger wasn’t for real unless you had a clever line to go with it.
24:04 – Brian: I don’t like my parents either. I don’t get along with them. Their idea of parental compassion is just, you know, whacko.
24:27 – A-level: Bender: You’re a Neo-maxi-zoom-dweebie. What would you be doing if you weren’t out making yourself a better citizen?
25:03 – A-level: Claire: Claire. It’s a family name.
Bender: No … it’s a fat girl’s name.
25:10 – A-level: Bender: Well, not at present, but I could see you really pushing maximum density.
25:30 – A-level: Bender: You’re gonna get married, you’re gonna squeeze out a few puppies, and then (bwwwwooommm, bwoooommmp…)
25:38 – A-level: Bender: Ooh. Obscene finger gestures from such a pristine girl.
29:03 – Bender: I just want to know how one becomes a janitor, because Andrew here is very interested in pursuing a career in the custodial arts.
29:35 – Carl (the janitor): I am the eyes and ears of this institution, my friends. Be honest – how many times did you watch this movie before you realized that a high school photo of Carl the janitor as “Man of the Year” appears in the opening montage?
29:56 – Other: Bender starts whistling the worksong from The Bridge on the River Kwai. As with “Sunshine of Your Love,” I suspect most of my generation identifies this more strongly with The Breakfast Club than with its original source.
30:46 – Bender: Uh, Dick? Excuse me – ‘Rich’ – will milk be made available to us?
30:56 – A-level: Andrew: I’ve seen her dehydrate sir. It’s pretty gross. Love this one. You’d be surprised how often it comes into play.
31:54 – Andrew: Vodka? When do you drink vodka?
Andrew: A lot?
33:23 – Bender: Claire, would you ever consider dating a guy like this? I mean, if he had a great personality, was a good dancer, and had a cool car – although you’d probably have to ride in the back seat, because his nuts would ride shotgun.
34:12 – Bender: Well, Brian’s trying to tell me that in addition to the number of girls in the Niagara Falls area, that presently you and he are riding the hobby horse.
33:53 – Bender: You won’t accept a guy’s tongue in your mouth, and you’re gonna eat that?
36:47– Other: Allison makes her famous Cap’n Crunch & Pixie Stix sandwich. The foley artists who recorded the munching sound in this scene are geniuses. It somehow sounds good.
37:58 – A-level: Bender: Well, Brian, this is a very nutritious lunch. All the food groups are represented. Did your mom marry Mr. Rogers? Bonus points if you use this one and someone responds, “No. Mr. Johnson.”
38:14 – A-level/Other – Bender’s entire sugary description of ‘Life at Big Bri’s house,’ from “Hey, son, how’d you like to go fishing this weekend?” to “You can do it on the boat!”
39:48 – A-level: Bender’s re-enactment of his own home life, with its crescendoing exchanges of: “What about you, Dad?” and “Fuck You.”
40:44 – Bender: See, I don’t think – that I need to sit – with you Fucking Dildos anymore. You’ve got to deliver it with the capitals. Yes, you can pronounce them so they’re somehow audible. Ask anyone who’s read Winnie the Pooh to explain. Also, this is another great line that gets funnier when edited for broadcast, because it becomes “you Stinking Dummies.”
42:38 – Andrew: You ask me one more question and I’m beating the shit out of you.
47:09 – A-level: Vernon: What if your home, what if your family … what if your DOPE was on fire?
Bender: Impossible, sir – it’s in Johnson’s underwear.
48:57 – Vernon: “They love me around here. They think I’m a swell guy.
50:21 – A-level/other: Bender’s joke about the blonde and the poodle and the two-foot salami, which he tells to himself while crawling above the ceiling tiles. When the punchline should come, he falls through. Supposedly, there’s no ending to this joke. It was made up for the movie.
51:14 – A-level: Brian: Could you describe the ruckus, sir?
51:18 – Other: Bender’s scene where he’s trapped under the desk and staring up Claire’s skirt. Includes the ‘shave-and-a-haircut’ knock when he hits his head, and the entire group faking coughs to cover up for him.
51:59 – Vernon: I will not be made a fool of! (He storms out of the library with a paper toilet seat cover sticking out of his waistband.)
52:30 – Other: So, Ahab – Can I have all my doobage? Worth noting because hardly anybody I know understood anything of the line, thanks to Judd Nelson’s quick half-mumbled delivery, other than ‘doobage.’ Years later, thanks to the magic of close-captioning, all was revealed.
54:30 – A-level: Brian: Chicks cannot hold dey smoke – dat’s what it is!” An awful close second to “demented and sad,” in the Ultimate Breakfast Club Quote Contest.
58:52 – Andrew: what do you need a fake ID for?
Brian: So I can vote.
59:30 – Brian: Do you always carry this much shit in your bag?
Allison: Yeah, I always carry This. Much. Shit. in my bag.
1:00:19 – Allison: I can go to Israel, Africa, A-A-Afghanistan. If you don’t time the stutter properly, you’re wasting this one.
1:06:19 – Other: Claire’s ‘virgin-admission’ scene, wherein everyone else badgers her into answering the question once and for all.
1:08:04 – Allison: I’m not a nymphomaniac. I’m a compulsive liar.
1:11:59 – Andrew (mimicking his dad): Andrew, you’ve got to be number one! Win! Win! WIN!
1:13:57 – Brian: have you seen some of the dopes that take shop?
Bender: I take shop.
1:14:10 – A-level: Brian: Bender, did you know without trigonometry, there’d be no engineering?
Bender: Without lamps, there’d be no light.
1:14:36 – Andrew: I can, uh, tape all your buns together.
1:15:14 –Other: Claire’s talent – applying lipstick using her cleavage.
1:15:38 – Bender (with a slow clap): That was great, Claire. My image of you is totally blown.
1:17:02 – Bender: It was a banner fuckin’ year at the old Bender family. I got a carton of cigarettes. The old man grabbed me and said, “Hey, smoke up, Johnny!”
1:17:48 – A-level: – Bender: Who cares?
Allison: I care. Allison’s line is the A-lister here, and it’s got to be delivered with a voice-cracking half-choke.
1:23:20 – Brian: It was a flare gun. It went off in my locker. Like Carl the Janitor, how long did it take you to connect this revelation with that firebombed locker in the opening montage?
This is where we hit the wrap-up montage. Memorable quotes disappear down the stretch, but there are still some well-referenced images: (We’ll count these as two more for the ‘Other’ category.) Bender nodding to Claire while saying ‘No,’ for one; Brian writing the group’s essay, then giving himself a congratulatory punch on the arm for another. We get to his final voice-over, which concludes, naturally, with:
1:32:48 – Brian (VO) – Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club.
Clearly, the only possible closer is to say that this has been fun.
Demented and sad, but fun.
Addendum: This is the only time I’m doing this. It’s a very subjective list, especially regarding the level of various quotes – but just an hour or so after posting this piece, I’ve been taken to task for leaving off the freeze-frame at the end of Bender throwing his fist skyward. Because the point comes from Adam, I’ll concede I should have noted it as an A-level Other. All right. That’s it. I mean it. The next time I have to come in here, I’m cracking skulls.