With the passing of John Hughes on August 6, 2009, the Cinema has lost one of its modern masters. Hughes was the architect behind a canon of memorable films that have famously passed into the social lexicon. Having launched the careers of numerous young stars, Hughes’ contribution to the world of film cannot be underestimated.
A Lansing, Michigan native, Hughes’ early career was in copywriting and advertising. Later, he wrote and sold jokes to various comedians and established himself as a gag writer of some note. He took a job with the National Lampoon after crafting a story about a chaotic vacation that would later yield cinematic gold as National Lampoon’s Vacation in 1983. During the National Lampoon years, Hughes began crafting the ideas that would inform his most famous works in years to come.
As the Me Generation and their newly disposable income took to the movie theatres, John Hughes responded as the creative force behind films that depicted a teenage wasteland unlike any that had been seen before. Problems like acne and lack of access to the family car were still present, but were now joined by frank discussions about sex and popularity, fitting in, and being a misfit. Beaver Cleaver’s America was still present, now tempered with a darker underside that many regarded as a more realistic view of modern teenage problems.
And yet, the able writer and director always managed to find the bright side of life, and kept us laughing along the way. Whether at his most surreal (Weird Science) or at his most serious (Some Kind of Wonderful), the realistic undercurrent, speech patterns, and the ever-present Murphy’s Law, spoke to the masses in new and exciting ways. Hughes’ contributions sparked a flurry of imitation films meant to capitalize on this new, loyal teen mega-market. While many were clever (Real Genius), none could equal the charm of such classics as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Sixteen Candles.
In the late 80’s, Hughes began to branch away from his decidedly teen-oriented roots and created new films that dealt with younger protagonists (Home Alone) and older, more cynical adults (Planes, Trains, and Automobiles). He proved that his films could be just as entertaining without being restricted to one genre alone. While Hughes’ work was definitely derivative of itself, he always managed to bring something fresh to the table with each outing. As the 90’s dawned, Hughes gradually retired from the public eye, leaving his filmography to speak for itself.