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‘Sixteen Candles’ 40th anniversary: Revisiting John Hughes’ classic teen movie

It’s been four decades since Samantha Baker bemoaned the fact that everyone had forgotten her 16th birthday amid the chaos caused by her wacky sister’s impending nuptials. On May 4, 1984, “Sixteen Candles” was released, the success of which prompted a string of hits by filmmaker John Hughes, launched the careers of several performers and inspired the glory years of teen movies in the 1980s. Read on for more about the “Sixteen Candles” 40th anniversary.

After the success of two movies based on screenplays he had written, “Mr. Mom” and “National Lampoon’s Vacation” (1983), Hughes was given the opportunity to direct one of his scripts. Up to this point, “teen movies” had largely evolved from cautionary “rebellion” films in the 1950s to the beach party films of the 1960s to slasher films of the 1970s to sex comedies in the early 1980s. Hughes wrote a script that truly reflected the life of an average teen, and he did so in a touchingly funny and wholly relatable way. Headed by a cast of unknowns, “Sixteen Candles” debuted to critical and commercial success, and made household names of some young performers.

SEE Watch our lively chats with dozens of 2024 Emmy contenders

Molly Ringwald had acted for several years, most notably on the first season of “The Facts of Life” (1979-1980), when Hughes picked her headshot out of several in contention for the role of Sam, who is one of the most relatable teen characters ever put on film. From Grandma Helen feeling her perky “boobies” to having to take Long Duk Dong to her school dance to The Geek selling views of her underwear, poor Samantha suffers one mortification after the other on her 16th birthday. Ringwald won a Best Young Artist Award for her heartfelt performance, and became a muse for Hughes for two more of his teen classics, “The Breakfast Club” (1985) and “Pretty in Pink” (1986).

Ringwald wasn’t the only winner at the Young Artist Awards, with Anthony Michael Hall bringing home the Best Young Actor Award for his role as Ted “The Geek” Farmer. He had already worked on a Hughes film, playing Chevy Chase‘s son in “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” Several actors tried out for The Geek, including Ralph Macchio (who did okay with another movie this same year, “The Karate Kid”), but everyone who auditioned played a stereotypical nerd. Hall captured the role when he played him like a typical kid, as opposed to the nerd with pocket protectors and thick glasses. He endeared himself to audiences, with a crush on Samantha that is just as genuine as her longing for Jake, and with his leadership role among geeks that leads to hilarious frustration. Like Ringwald, Hall would go on to star in “The Breakfast Club,” as well as another Hughes standard, “Weird Science” (1985).

Possibly the most well-known of the child performers in “Sixteen Candles” at the time of its was release was the actor playing Samantha’s bratty younger brother Mike. Five years prior, Justin Henry had become the youngest Oscar nominee of all time, with a Best Supporting Actor bid for his debut performance in “Kramer vs. Kramer.”

SEE Oscar Best Picture gallery: History of every Academy Award-winning movie

Much of the supporting cast of “Sixteen Candles” is a virtual “who’s who” of 1980s cinema, with John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Jami Gertz and Brian Doyle-Murray listing this among their earliest film appearances.

Samantha’s crush Jake, who epitomizes the dream guy many a teenage girl has pined for, is played by Michael Schoeffling, a model who also received his first big acting gig. However, unlike the rest of his costars, Schoeffling quit acting after making a handful of films, ending with “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken” in 1991. He married and had a couple of kids, settling down in his native state of Pennsylvania to make handcrafted wood furniture, and dodging any attempts at celebrity. His daughter Scarlett has begun a modeling career.

Hughes spent the next two decades crafting definitive films from that era, including “She’s Having a Baby” (1988), “Uncle Buck” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (1989) and “Home Alone” (1990), before his untimely passing in 2009. “Sixteen Candles” started a legacy of Hughes films that not only spoke to that generation, but continues to find new fans with their timeless messages. My husband and I enjoyed introducing our own children to these movies (their favorite is “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”), and I hope they pass it on to their children one day. Here’s to 40 candles for “Sixteen Candles.”

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