Name: John Hughes
Description: Chicago-based writer-director-producer carved a niche as a teen movie titan in the 1980s then faded to the background as the ’90s unfolded.
Last Seen: Writing the Jennifer Lopez romantic comedy “Maid in Manhattan.”
HOLLYWOOD — A decade after John Hughes vanished into the mists of the Reagan era, leaving behind a legacy of teen movies that were as an indelible a mark of 1980s culture as Ray-Ban sunglasses and “The Preppy Handbook,” he appears to be staging a comeback.
In recent years, Hughes has quietly amassed a roster of writing credits for the big and small screens — often under the pseudonym Edmond Dantes — including the Jennifer Lopez hit “Maid in Manhattan” and 1996’s “101 Dalmations.”
His name has emerged as a potential producer, writer or director of many a project around town, though none has yet materialized. Some of these projects are quintessential John Hughes — stories of teen angst and family dysfunction in the vein of “Breakfast Club” and “Uncle Buck.” These include a feature adaptation of the Charles Schulz “Peanuts” cartoons at Warner Bros.; a project called “Big Ticket” at Fox, about a group of Chicago teens camping out for concert tickets; and “The Grisbeys,” the story of a rich family forced to relocate to a poor neighborhood during the Christmas season.
Hughes’ greatest success was as writer and producer of the “Home Alone” franchise, which grossed more than $400 million in the U.S. before running out of air with “Home Alone 3.”
But for a generation of film-goers — one that’s steadily gaining power in Hollywood — the seminal Hughes films were “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” — a triptych of films Hughes wrote and directed in a white-hot burst of creativity between 1984 and 1986.
“Ferris Bueller is still my hero,” says “American Pie” franchise screenwriter Adam Herz.
“I’d like to say I grew up on Preston Sturges,” says “Old School” director Todd Phillips. “But I truly grew up on Ivan Reitman and John Hughes.”
Hughes’ 1987 Steve Martin-John Candy comedy, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” Phillips says, “is one of the greatest comedies of all time.”
Not all his films were teen movies, but for many Hughes fans, his lasting legacy is the high-school realism of pics like “The Breakfast Club,” which detailed the music, fashion, and language of 1980s suburban teendom as precisely as a Victorian travel writer.
Produced on an indie budget and shot near the director’s home in Chicago, “Breakfast Club” benefited, like many of Hughes’ pics, from a large measure of creative autonomy.
“His voice was given tremendous support,” says Paramount co-prexy of production Tom Jacobson, who produced “Ferris Bueller” and later ran Hughes’ production shingle. “They were made at a certain scale, and John was creatively allowed to hire the crew for the right look, choose the music and cast.”
Why Hughes’ hot streak ended with the 1980s remains a mystery. Hughes won’t address the issue. He lives on an enormous farm outside of Chicago and won’t talk to the press.
But it’s clear that as the culture shifted in the 1990s, as his fans grew up and as Hollywood comedies grew more cynical and edgier, Hughes’ movies grew more wholesome and guileless. He milked the “Home Alone” franchise for all it was worth, and wrote four “Beethoven” pics about a plucky St. Bernard.
But Jacobson also points out that, in his heyday, Hughes enjoyed the full support of studio execs who are no longer in power, particularly Ned Tanen, first at Universal, then at Paramount.
“His scripts connected to people who wanted to greenlight movies at the time and act in them,” Jacobson says.
That support system was crucial for a controlling director who often demanded personal approval of production minutiae.
But the Zeitgeist is shifting in Hughes’ favor. A new breed of Hollywood execs, raised on a steady diet of his movies in the 1980s, has gained power, and a new wave of comedy has followed — movies like “The Wedding Singer,” “Van Wilder,” “Orange County” and “Old School” — paying homage to the unpretentious youth comedies that for years were a John Hughes trademark.