For anyone who loves a good comedy, especially from the ’80s, they will have seen a film written or directed by the late great John Hughes at some point in their lives. John was an absolute juggernaut in the ’80s and ’90s film making industry, collaborating with some of my favourite actors and directors such as John Candy, Chevy Chase and Chris Columbus.
John had a knack for storytelling and heartfelt comedy, setting trends and bringing some truly iconic and influential stories, characters and laughs to the big screen. If you’ve seen some of John’s films before then you’ll know he has the ability to bring some truly poignant moments mixed in with sometimes outrageously funny comedy, and a lot of Chicago!
Here I am going to break down my personal top 5 in no particular order, however, I would love for you readers to get in touch and tell us which ones are your favourites. I also hope that this will inspire you to go watch some of them, if you haven’t already, and let us know if you enjoyed them. Here goes:
1. Planes, Trains and Automobiles
OK, OK, I said I wasn’t going to list them in order but this film is a must. This is possibly (as it changes like the weather) my favourite film of all time. Both written and directed by John way back in 1987, this is a tale of an unlikely friendship forged over a common goal, getting home for thanksgiving.
The lead actors are two powerhouses of comedy, John Candy and Steve Martin. Chalk and cheese doesn’t come close when describing the characters they bring to life for this film. Steve plays an advertising executive (Neil Page), while John plays a shower curtain ring salesman (Dell Griffith), yes you heard that right. Their aim, to get to their family by any means possible, even if that means in a burnt-out un-drivable car.
This film has it all, a grumpy cantankerous snob, a loveable, caring but sometimes dumb idiot and a scene with the brilliant Edie McClurg which has more ‘fucks’ than you can shake your fist at. This film is storytelling and comedy at its best, portrayed but two truly gifted actors.
2. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Early on in his career, John wrote for National Lampoon, an American comedy magazine which ran from the ’70s to the late ’90s. The magazine inspired many other adventures, notably National Lampoons Animal House staring the spectacular John Belushi, it was also co-written by the equally brilliant Harold Ramis and co-produced by Ivan Reitman.
There have been a few ‘Lampoon’ films involving John, Vacation, European Vacation and Christmas Vacation. I love them all but Christmas Vacation is my favourite, and also my favourite Christmas movie ever. The film came out in 1989 and was written and produced by John. It stars the ludicrous Chevy Chase, chasing (see what I did there?) the impossible task, the perfect family Christmas. Chevy plays Clark W Griswold, a true family man who would do anything to ensure he and his family spend quality time together and make some great memories, but this rarely works out for him. He’s a hapless idiot, clumsy buffoon, but most importantly, has a heart of gold. Like many of Johns films, this has some truly belly-laughing moments, undercut by a relatable story that gets you in your heart. A magical mix.
There are so many quality comedic moments in this film that just writing about it makes me want to watch it again, it’s not just for Christmas! There’s also a great support cast, a young Johnny Galecki and Juliette Lewis, plus the ever-present Beverly D’Angelo. But let’s not forget the best support in this film, the brilliant Randy Quaid who brings a new direction to the story with his filthy, repulsive character who’s as dumb as an Ox. He delivers the iconic ‘shitters full’ line that I’m sure many of you will know.
3. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Hitting the big screen in 1986, this gem is what many would consider ‘the’ iconic teen movie of the ’80s, well that and the breakfast club but we’ll get to that later. It was written, directed and produced by John. Ferris (played by Matthew Broderick) is basically a cocky American slacker high school teen who wants to get by in life with his wit, charm and charisma, definitely not hard work.
He decides he needs a day off from school so feigns illness in order to be left to his own devices. He drags along his somewhat reluctant friends, well Cameron anyway and goes on an adventure into the centre of Chicago. They borrow a Ferrari, dine in a posh restaurant and even take part in a parade through the city centre. All this while they are being chased down by the exceptional Jeffrey Jones who plays the hapless but determined school principal Ed Rooney.
This has relatable humour for anyone who’s ever wanted to escape from the mundane school environment, although I’m sure many of us don’t have access to a vintage Ferrari. There’s some great support in this, Cameron (played by Alan Ruck), Ferris’ sister (Jennifer Grey) and once again Edie McClurg pops up playing the excellent ‘grace’, Ed Rooney’s receptionist.
4. Uncle Buck
One of my favourite films ever, with possibly my favourite actor ever, John Candy. Released in 1989, this was once again written directed and produced by John. John really has a soft spot for the hapless idiots of the world, and there’s no one better to play them than John Candy. Candy plays the title character who is basically put ‘a bit of a fuck up’, he’s jobless, gambles, drinks, smokes and likes to bowl. The ideal candidate for your wealthy brother to ask to watch the kids while he and his stuck up wife visit her heart attack recovering father.
Buck doesn’t have kids or even been around kids before. He’s not exactly what you would call ‘homely’, he dries clothes in a microwave. What Buck does have though is a ‘big ol’ heart’ and quickly learns to be less shellfish and think of other people. Helped in part by his nieces and nephew who he is looking after. Most notably the easily recognisable Macaulay Culkin, who plays the usual smart witted cocky kid that we know and love. Buck definitely has his work cut out trying to run house and home, and also from keeping his teenage niece Tia out of the grips of her sleazy boyfriend ‘Bug’, even resorting to a power drill to scare him off. There are some truly funny scenes in this film, one of my favourite being his altercation with the youngest’s principle who criticises his young niece, it’s hilarious. Like many of Johns films, this has plenty of comedy but a whole lot of heart too.
5. Home Alone 1 & 2
Released in 1990 and 1992 respectively, I’ve bunched these two together as I feel they are brilliant in equal measure. Written and produced by John and directed by Chris Columbus, these films follow a wealthy family who decide to go on vacation during the Christmas period, leaving their son Kevin (Macaulay Culkin once again) to fend for himself by accident. There’s some great support cast in these films too, Tim Curry who played a determined but bumbling hotel manager and also Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern who play the idiotic burglars Harry and Marv in both films.
Kevin is an intelligent but cocky 9 year old who is left in on his own during Christmas (the premise for both films is essentially the same), and while on his own he has to protect himself from the burglar’s who want to rob and hurt him. He comes up with some ingenious traps and ruse’s that will make you howl with laughter. Home Alone has some brilliant physical comedy and slapstick that will make you wince and almost feel sorry for the bad guys. These are excellent films and are considered some of the best Christmas movies ever, but I could watch them any time if the year. These are Macaulay at his best.
I’ve kept this short and sweet but there are some notable mentions that are worthy of a top-five and are films I watch at least a few times a year.
The Breakfast Club
The original ‘never judge a book by its cover’ film follows a group of teens who share detention at school. They’re not the people you see from the outside, again it’s funny, and poignant but not slapstick or hilarious like Johns other movies. It’s more of a coming of age school story about what’s beneath the skin. If you’ve heard the term ‘Brat Pack’ then this is it.
Two teenage boys create a woman, played by the stunning Kelly LeBrock using their home computers. Every young shy boy’s dream yeah?
I love this film which follows Samantha, played by the very ’80s Molly Ringwald on her 16th birthday. Lots of laughs, relatable weirdness about growing up and being unnoticed and unlucky in love.
OK, that wraps up my love for John! Writing this has brought up a lot of fun memories watching these films as a kid with my siblings, and now with my own children to whom I can pass on the baton. Sadly John died in 2009, as have a few of his collaborators. John Candy, John Belushi and Harold Ramis, all sadly gone from our screens but most definitely not from our hearts!
Their legendary comedic status will last forever and luckily I can see my old friends any time I wish.