Twenty-five years ago today marked the end of a brief, but incredibly significant era -- the partnership of John Hughes and Molly Ringwald. Their final collaboration, 'Pretty in Pink,' hit theaters on February 28, 1986 (see what the cast has been up to here), and within a year, the Hughes high school experience was over. It started with 'Sixteen Candles' in 1984, and ended with 'Some Kind of Wonderful' in 1987; three years, only six films and yet the Hughes teen ouevre still reigns supreme.
Furthermore, to this day, no teen star earns the lasting notoriety Ringwald gained. Though she only starred in half of Hughes' popular teen fare, she defines the generation, as well as the idea of the high school heroine. Hollywood hasn't forgotten high school turmoil and continues to revisit it, though where is today's teen archetype who defines a generation?
When Ringwald wrote her eulogy for Hughes, she noted:
There was a magic to Hughes' work that transcended art -- it was success through adoration. He created the teen world he wanted to live in, and loved his actors so much that the audience couldn't help but mimic him. (Think Cameron Crowe with work like 'Singles' and 'Almost Famous.') Ringwald was his Wendy. Whether playing the popular or the awkward, she was a star with vulnerability who seemed both beautifully cinematic and palpably real. She wrote: "He continually told me that I was the best, and because of my undying respect for him and his judgment, how could I have not believed him?"
I wanted to grow up, something I felt (rightly or wrongly) I couldn't do while working with John. Sometimes I wonder if that was what he found so unforgivable. We were like the Darling children when they made the decision to leave Neverland. And John was Peter Pan, warning us that if we left we could never come back. And, true to his word, not only were we unable to return, but he went one step further. He did away with Neverland itself.
She helped create the world with 'Sixteen Candles,' which quickly barreled into a whirlwind of teen classics: 'The Breakfast Club,' 'Weird Science,' 'Pretty in Pink,' 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' and finally, 'Some Kind of Wonderful.' Though we can't say for certain, it was as if working with Ringwald put Hughes on a perma-high. While she was in his cinematic world, the classics kept coming.
Hughes wanted her to play Watts in 'Wonderful.' As she told The Atlantic, "I declined because I felt like the script wasn't strong enough and was too derivative of the other films I'd already made with John." Though there was another in the works with Matthew Broderick -- 'Oil and Vinegar' -- the partnership was over. Ringwald wanted to move on, and Hughes not only stopped talking to her, he also closed the high school world, moving onto other highly successful films ('Home Alone') and leaving the youth in the past. As Ringwald remembered, his following films "were funny, yes, wildly successful, to be sure, but I recognized very little of the John I knew in them, of his youthful, urgent, unmistakable vulnerability."
Nevertheless, having proven that teen fare could be more than 'Porky's' skin fests, Hughes opened the road for films like 'Heathers' and heroines who could not only attack high school tropes, but also take charge of their destinies. Then grunge rose to prominence and the alterna-girl became the new Ringwald ... to an extent.
Samantha Mathis' Nora faced Happy Harry Hard On for 'Pump Up the Volume,' as both heroine and artsy malcontent. 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' literally gave its star the most power, albeit in a floofy way that would have to be improved upon later for the television show. 'Clueless' allowed its star to fight popularity from the inside. 'Empire Records' reveled in malcontents and allowed Robin Tunney, Liv Tyler and Renee Zellweger to embody three extremes of the female experience. 'Foxfire' saw Angelina Jolie lead a group of marginalized teen girls to find their voices. 'Scream' defied every female expectation in a horror film. 'Can't Hardly Wait' dove through every typical teen stereotype while digging into the very Hughes/Ringwald-esque story of angsty love. The decade continued on with the likes of '10 Things I Hate About You,' 'Cruel Intentions,' 'American Pie' and 'Election,' not to mention more ponytails-and-overalls type fare like 'She's All That.'
Without the adoring filmmaker and young, continual ingenue, however, the '90s was without its top, lone icon. No actress stuck to teen fare, let alone with the watchful eye of one director. But what the decade lacked in regularity, it made up in volume. It was as if John Hughes unlocked the door to high school life, and the '90s dug into it every which way. Instead of one, there was a group to define the generation with spunk, smarts and awesome uniqueness.
By the 2000s, however, the magic was gone. Films like 'Drive Me Crazy' strangled the formula, and Melissa Joan Hart simply wasn't Molly Ringwald. For the few alterna-gems like 'Ghost World,' 'Mean Girls' and 'Saved,' there was a sea of easily forgettable offerings free of that nostalgia-inciting charm. 'Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist' was sweet, but without that lasting punch. It wasn't until 2010 and 'Easy A' that there was a heroine the masses couldn't help but love and follow; but Emma Stone isn't sticking with teen fare. She's moved on -- two films before Ringwald -- and 'A' looks like a lone wolf in a sea of high school fare that doesn't excite more than singular, very niche audiences.
Before 'A,' it would be easy to say that we just aren't interested in these stories anymore, but Stone's Olive Penderghast was refreshingly modern while also wonderfully classic (and '80s-homaging), and we loved it. It's clear Hollywood is no longer very interested in that memorable girl who stands in the face of high school politics. Here is a system viciously ripping through the past to remake old properties, but what about revisiting the themes we're still gushing over 25 years later, like 'Easy A'? Or, instead of remake-paloozas, a collaboration between director and ingenue that allows us a new face of youth?
Hughes created films that were familiar, and fit together, but still existed in their own space, even when half were led by the ginger girl Ringwald. Perhaps instead of a billion 'Twilight' rip-offs that try to capture some of that young-girl mania through supernatural pectoral muscles, Hollywood will realize that its young, moviegoing public (not just female), could use some great high school stories and high school heroines that everyone loves -- ladies who can lead a melange of pictures and define a new generation by becoming a worthy heroine.
And if not that, maybe just a collection of great teen girls who are actually rich and diverse characterizations, rather than Hollywood's current watered-down embodiments?