The Breakfast Club Scene Molly Ringwald Wanted John Hughes To Cut

John Hughes' 1985 teen drama "The Breakfast Club" was released in theaters to very positive critical response. Hughes' film was praised for its focus on conversation and character, as opposed to falling into the lazy screenwriting tropes connected to sex and violence. As time passed, "The Breakfast Club" only grew in estimation, eventually becoming a regular watch at suburban sleepover parties. 

"The Breakfast Club" is about five teenagers who have been ordered to spend a Saturday at school as part of their detention. The five kids mostly don't know each other and all seem to come from a different "caste" within their school's social system. Judd Nelson plays the dangerous outsider, Emilio Estevez plays the sports star, Ally Sheedy plays the odd, quiet Goth girl, Anthony Michael Hall plays the nerd, and Molly Ringwald plays the "popular" rich girl. While they are not meant to talk to one another, the five kids end up conversing about why they're there, the pressures each of them are under, and the way they feel about the cliques each of them appear to represent. It was funny and insightful in ways rarely seen in teen dramas of the era. 

However, according to Ringwald, as she revealed in an all-encompassing article she wrote for The New Yorker in 2018, the original draft of the "Breakfast Club" script bore elements of Hughes' less savory comedic instincts. Hughes began his career with National Lampoon, she notes, and his movies were often crass and overtly sexual. Immediately prior to "Breakfast Club," Ringwald worked with Hughes on the coming-of-age comedy "Sixteen Candles," and both scripts contained objectionable scenes that Ringwald — and her mother, who petitioned for the actress, only 16 at the time — found objectionable. 

'You wear the pants in the family'

Ringwald's article in The New Yorker was written to expand upon an audio interview she did with "This American Life," recorded in response to her 10-year-old daughter seeing some of her films for the first time. Watching them in her 40s, in the post-#MeToo era, Ringwald was a little shocked at the way her characters were treated and how, in 2018, they are now irresponsible. She recalls a time when "The Breakfast Club" contained a voyeurism scene, and when "Sixteen Candles" tried to make a crass joke about her character's underthings (which were already a central feature in one of that film's storylines). The actress remembered:

"I had what could be called a symbiotic relationship with John during the first two of those films. I've been called his muse, which I believe I was, for a little while. But, more than that, I felt that he listened to me — though certainly not all the time. Coming out of the National Lampoon school of comedy, there was still a residue of crassness that clung, no matter how much I protested. In the shooting script of 'The Breakfast Club,' there was a scene in which an attractive female gym teacher swam naked in the school's swimming pool as Mr. Vernon, the teacher who is in charge of the students' detention, spied on her. The scene wasn't in the first draft I read, and I lobbied John to cut it. He did, and although I'm sure the actress who had been cast in the part still blames me for foiling her break, I think the film is better for it."

Ringwald's mother was in her corner for "Sixteen Candles," however. 

"In 'Sixteen Candles,' a character alternately called the Geek and Farmer Ted makes a bet with friends that he can score with my character, Samantha; by way of proof, he says, he will secure her underwear. Later in the film, after Samantha agrees to help the Geek by loaning her underwear to him, she has a heartwarming scene with her father. It originally ended with the father asking, 'Sam, what the hell happened to your underpants?"' My mom objected. 'Why would a father know what happened to his daughter's underwear?' she asked. John squirmed uncomfortably. He didn't mean it that way, he said — it was just a joke, a punch line. 'But it's not funny,' my mother said. 'It's creepy.' The line was changed to 'Just remember, Sam, you wear the pants in the family.'

The Breakfast Club and #MeToo

One of the arcs in "The Breakfast Club" is the eventual romantic bonding between Ringwald's character Claire and Bender, the "troublemaker" character played by Judd Nelson. Claire is rich and comfortable and popular. Bender is angry, impoverished, abused at home, and bitter. He's also the most outgoing, unafraid, and crass of the characters, freely cussing and making sexual references. In one notable scene, Bender has to hide from Mr. Vernon (Paul Gleason), angrily searching for him. Bender hides under the table where Claire is sitting, and there is an infamous shot of what he can see of Claire from underneath. Without Claire's consent, the distracted Bender touches her. In 1985, this was meant to be played for laughs. In 2018, Ringwald acknowledges, this was an all-too-casual depiction of sexual harassment: 

"My mom also spoke up during the filming of that scene in 'The Breakfast Club,' when they hired an adult woman for the shot of Claire's underwear. They couldn't even ask me to do it — I don't think it was permitted by law to ask a minor — but even having another person pretend to be me was embarrassing to me and upsetting to my mother, and she said so. That scene stayed, though. What's more, as I can see now, Bender sexually harasses Claire throughout the film."

The romance between Bender and Claire became a little gross when Ringwald was able to put their relationship into a bigger context: 

"When he's not sexualizing her, he takes out his rage on her with vicious contempt, calling her 'pathetic,' mocking her as 'Queenie.' It's rejection that inspires his vitriol. Claire acts dismissively toward him, and, in a pivotal scene near the end, she predicts that at school on Monday morning, even though the group has bonded, things will return, socially, to the status quo. "'ust bury your head in the sand and wait for your f***in' prom!' Bender yells. He never apologizes for any of it, but, nevertheless, he gets the girl in the end."


Both "The Breakfast Club" and "Sixteen Candles" are worthy of re-visitation, but also need to be reconsidered when it comes to the kind of content that was once considered perfectly acceptable, but plays as sexist, racist, or encouraging of assault. The character of Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe) is a broadly stereotypical role, and the treatment of women as commodities for the male characters runs strongly throughout (the underwear scene in particular), leading to a scene where two teen boys essentially "swap" girlfriends without the girlfriends' input. This all seemed normal to the teen cast in the mid 1980s, but Ringwald took a much different view in 2018: 

"If I sound overly critical, it's only with hindsight. Back then, I was only vaguely aware of how inappropriate much of John's writing was, given my limited experience and what was considered normal at the time. I was well into my thirties before I stopped considering verbally abusive men more interesting than the nice ones. I'm a little embarrassed to say that it took even longer for me to fully comprehend the scene late in 'Sixteen Candles,' when the dreamboat, Jake, essentially trades his drunk girlfriend, Caroline, to the Geek, to satisfy the latter's sexual urges, in return for Samantha's underwear."

What was meant to be a sweet bonding moment between the "geek" (Anthony Michael Hall) and Caroline (Haviland Morris) ended up being a dark tale of potential assault: 

The Geek takes Polaroids with Caroline to have proof of his conquest; when she wakes up in the morning with someone she doesn't know, he asks her if she "enjoyed it." (Neither of them seems to remember much.) Caroline shakes her head in wonderment and says, "You know, I have this weird feeling I did." She had to have a feeling about it, rather than a thought, because thoughts are things we have when we are conscious, and she wasn't."

No film will play the same way it does in the present as it did when it first opened. Every single film is the result of the contemporaneous politic from which it emerged and is made by people who cannot help but make pieces of art from within a particular cultural context. As such, films once considered classics may age poorly. It's important to give constant critical reappraisal to our favorite movies, constantly ask if they are edifying us and reinforcing us in healthy ways. "The Breakfast Club" is a sensitive, funny, and excellent film about the mid-'80s teen experience, and in many ways it still feels vital and universal. But it also contains a scene of sexual assault that is played for laughs. We will always have to contend with that moving forward.