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Ah, the 1980s! The decade full of flashy styles and trends, good music, and the birth of teen movies that would influence many of the coming-of-age teen films that we see today. And with that, I will be bringing you a breakdown of the classic 1985 movie The Breakfast Club. Directed by the legendary John Hughes, the movie centers around five high school students, each a member of a different clique, who spend a Saturday in detention together and realize that they all have a lot more in common than they imagined. The teens also face strict, disciplinary actions from their Assistant Principal Vernon. Starring Emilio Estevez, Paul Gleason, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, and Ally Sheedy, The Breakfast Club is considered one of the greatest coming-of-age films of all time and is considered Hughes’s greatest work. So let’s break down how The Breakfast Club came together.
Act 1: Set-Up
Saturday, March 24th, 1984, five students report to Shermer High School at 7:00 am for an all-day detention. Each of the five students come from different cliques, which in the rules of high school mean that you don’t really interact with one another but you know some of the stories about them.
Our five delinquents consist of pretty girl Claire Standish (Ringwald), state champion wrestler Andrew Clark (Estevez), geek Brian Johnson (Hall), outcast Allison Reynolds (Sheedy), and rebel John Bender (Nelson). They are watched by their militant assistant principal Richard Vernon (Gleason) who instructs them to not speak, move, or sleep until detention ends at 3. He then assigns the students to write a thousand word-essay on who they think they are.
The character introductions are important in the Breakfast Club as well, and employs the rule of “show don’t tell” effectively. Though we could give examples of the character’s backgrounds while in their parent’s cars, the characters approaching the tables and chairs is an excellent example of a simple yet effective character introduction. Claire and Andrew sit near each other in the front. Though different, they’re from similar groups. Bender, right after fiddling with desk toys, bullies the meek Brian out of his seat. And Allison, very much a character who exists in the “background” of life, sits in the back. In their first actions, without even speaking words, we know who these characters are.
Act 1: Catalyst
Also known as the inciting incident, the catalyst is the event that takes place that causes the protagonist to take action. In the case of The Breakfast Club, we have five protagonists. We do have a hero, and that is Bender.
Bender is the one that gets the story going. He, himself, is the catalyst. He fights back against Vernon’s rules to which Vernon replies “Don’t mess with the bull, you’ll get the horns”.
Act 1: Debate
Here we see Bender argue with Claire and Andrew about clubs and activities. Is this because Bender is more of a loner and how these clubs separate high school students into different cliques?
From Bender’s point of view, he could be correct. I remember my high school experience of everyone being in different groups (jocks with jocks, all the music and theater kids with one another, the smart kids with one another).
Claire tells Bender that he would never fit into any clubs, but Bender argues that someone like Brian (who is in Math club) would never fit into the clubs and activities that herself and Andrew are in.
Break into Act 2. The Transition from Act 1 to Act 2A
The group discusses their feelings and thoughts about their parents. All of them come from broken homes and long for a better life outside of where they live. Allison is ignored by her parents, Andrew’s dad is constantly criticizing him, Bender’s father beats him, Brian is pestered about his grades, and Claire is put in the middle of her parent’s arguments. We also see signs of this at the very beginning of the movie.
Act 2A: Fun and Games
At this point, we finally get to die down from the intensity of the movie and watch as the group gets to sympathize with one another after hearing about their personal lives. They’re still somewhat at odds with each other, but they become more comfortable with one another.
Act 2A-Act 2B Transition: The Mid-point
Now to the good stuff! Tired of putting up with Vernon’s rules, Bender fights back and is given several weeks worth of detention for talking back. Claire even tries to stop Bender, but he just wouldn’t quit. What else would you get from the only hero of the movie?
The Midpoint is often called “the Switch” in which goals or desire of the character(s) change. In Act 1 and 2A, Bender was antagonistic towards the four teens and Vernon. Now, as Bender and co. sympathize with each other, they are now on each other’s side and more open to each other.
Tired of his unruly actions, Vernon locks Bender in the storage closet with the intention of keeping him there for the rest of the day. Bender eventually escapes and is covered by the rest of the gang.
Act 2B: Tensions Rise
All of the group members open up about their dark secrets. Allison is a compulsive liar, Andrew’s can’t think for himself, Bender comes from an abusive household (see Break into Act 2), Brian attempted suicide, and Claire is uncomfortable with the fact of being a virgin proving what Bender had said from the beginning to be true.
Act 3: The Finale
With the group knowing each other’s personal lives, we finally get to see some friendships developing within the group. Claire gives Allison a makeover, to which Allison confesses her love for Andrew. Claire eventually breaks her “pristine” image and kisses Bender in the closet and even gives him a hickey.
Act 3: Epilogue
The students leave detention as changed individuals. Andrew and Allison kiss and Allison takes a piece of Andrew’s jacket to keep. Bender and Claire kiss and Claire gives Bender her earring which he puts in his ear
Brian finishes the assigned essay with the other four signing their names. Vernon reads the essay in which Brian talks about how Vernon judged all five students by stereotypes. The essay ends with all five students addressing who they really are
“But what we found in each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal”.
Brian signs the letter “The Breakfast Club” and we see a shot of Bender walking across the football field with his fist in the air.
The Breakfast Club addresses themes such as the struggle of being a teenager and stereotyping. It dug deep into the world of high school addressed many of the issues that teens face not only from their peers and teachers at school but from their parents at home. It’s the constant struggle of striving to do better, something that still lives up to this day.
33 years after its release, The Breakfast Club has gone on to become one of the greatest films of the 1980s and inspired many filmmakers to create stories that speak to young adults.
Daniel Zuaro is a graduate of Buffalo State College with a Bachelor of Arts in Media Production with a minor in Film Studies. He has always loved studying film. He wishes to pursue a career in which he can write about film or even teach about film and its history. He is a Long Island native who loves music, spending time with family and friends, food, and his cat Harvey Milk.
For another script breakdown from John Hughes, check out the screenplay breakdown of Home Alone.
Looking to study screenplay structure in teen movies? Check out our breakdown of Mean Girls.