Celebrating Sixteen Candles 35 Years Later

Molly Ringwald was the indisputable Queen of the ‘80s Teen Flick. That red-headed girl-next-door could do no wrong thanks to hit roles in 1985’s The Breakfast Club, 1986’s Pretty in Pink, 1988’s For Keeps, and many, many more. But it all started when she met the infamous director John Hughes. On Friday, May 4, 1984, theaters opened their doors on the coming-of-age Dramedy Sixteen Candles, and the world was introduced to Ringwald and a cast of unforgettably comedic characters — including that super hottie Jake.

Sixteen Candles still. © Universal Pictures

As we all know, Sixteen Candles is the story of Samantha “Sam” Baker (Ringwald: The Breakfast Club 1985, Riverdale series) and her near calamity of a sixteenth birthday — wherein her entire family forgets her special day, much in thanks to her elder sister Ginny’s (Blanche Baker: Raw Deal 1986, The Girl Next Door 2007) wedding. What’s more, at school a “sex quiz” with her answers ends up in the wrong hands, and she’s convinced that hunky senior Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling: Vision Quest 1985, Mermaids 1990) is now aware that she’s a virgin. Worse still, there’s the nagging school geek (Anthony Michael Hall: The Dark Knight 2008, War Machine 2017), who makes a bet with friends that he can score with her.

This all culminates in a raucous collection of ridiculous events that unfold before those birthday candles ever get lit! Serving as Hughes’ directorial debut, Sixteen Candles introduced teenagers to a cast of colorful characters that also included blonde beauty Caroline (Haviland Morris: Gremlins 2: The New Batch 1990, Max Payne 2001), and everyone’s favorite foreign exchange student, Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe: Gremlins 2: The New Batch 1990, Mulan 1998).

Thirty five years ago, Sixteen Candles opened to American theaters, an in its opening weekend, the film grossed nearly $4.5-million in the U.S. and Canada alone, placing it second at the box office behind the breakdancing-themed Breakin’. But by the end of its run, the film had grossed nearly $24-million, which, believe it or not, was actually considered to be only a modest success. It was the film’s VHS release that skyrocketed Sixteen Candles into the teen stratosphere and helped it to gain its cult classic status.

Although the importance of Sixteen Candles in the ‘80s Teen Comedy oeuvre isn’t so much in the film itself — it was decent but flawed — but rather in its introduction of both Director Hughes and Actress Ringwald. The pair would go on to own the mid-’80s, with Hughes directing and/or producing some of the decade’s biggest classics — 1985’s The Breakfast Club, 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 1989’s National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation  — and Ringwald taking the starring role in quite a few of his films, including the aforementioned The Breakfast Club and 1986’s Pretty in Pink. Together, the pair were nearly unstoppable!

Sixteen Candles still. © Universal Pictures

For years Sixteen Candles was seen as a must-see coming-of-age classic, but times they do change. In our hyper-aware age, can the teen classic hold up? Probably not for new viewers. Some of the glances backward are negative — as the film contains racist slang and quite a few scenes that do not hold up in the modern era. Additionally, one of the funniest and most memorable characters in the film, Watanabe’s ridiculous Long Duk Dong is a veritable host of conundrums unto himself. Sitting here in 2019, it’s hard not to note that his entire character was a racist stereotype, so much so that the Asian-American community offered a backlash — one that seriously taints that ‘sexy girlfriend.’

There’s a world of conversation that can be sparked from Sixteen Candles, which had that hypersexuality that was common of the ‘80s and, needless to say, much of the film’s plot revolves around sex. In April 2018, Ringwald wrote an article for The New Yorker that touches on this very topic, and explores the film from a modern standpoint. Now a mother, she makes some great points and offers some behind-the-scenes insight into the making of the movie.

Ringwald herself points toward a particular scene in the film that has not stood the test of time — one that was questionable even back in the ‘80s. In it, dreamy Jake states that he has his drunken, passed out girlfriend (Caroline) in the bedroom, and “could violate her 10 different ways if I wanted to.” He goes on to trade his girlfriend to a stranger (Ted the Geek) for Samantha’s underwear. Of course, Caroline will go on to wake up from her fog beside the Geek, and the pair will debate if they’ve had sex.

It’s crass, sure, but the teen comedies of the 1980s often had this oversexualized, delightfully ignorant take on life in the ‘burbs. Not that this is something that should simply be overlooked, though all we can do now is to move forward and learn from the mistakes and lewdly-crafted humor of the past. However, it would be a disservice to Hughes’ legacy as a filmmaker to say that his work was all negative or simply crass. As Ringwald noted in her article: “No one in Hollywood was writing about the minutiae of high school, and certainly not from a female point of view.” Hughes gave teenagers a voice. Sure, like everything else it had some flaws, but it was a voice and one that is reflective of the ‘’80s culture.

Sixteen Candles still. © Universal Pictures

Here’s the thing: sometimes a classic from your childhood will forever hold a very special place in your heart — though it might not fully translate to newer generations decades later. If you grew up with Sixteen Candles, it’s doubtful that any current conversation can truly affect your memories of the film. If it holds a special place in your heart, that’s not likely to change even if you can acknowledge that, yes, it has some glaring flaws. If you’re currently a teenager looking for yucks, well, Sixteen Candles might not stand up to the test of time. But that’s alright: it’s just a movie.

Universal Pictures

Purchase Sixteen Candles:

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Jeannie BlueAuthor posts

Jeannie likes to joke that she is little, yellow, blue, and different. She seemingly popped out of her mother's womb with a pen in her hand and has been writing ever since. Many moons ago - in what feels like a separate lifetime - Jean was co-editor of an online music magazine that afforded her great opportunities to interview and photograph some of her favorite bands/musicians: Tommy Lee, Good Charlotte, Warrant, Bring Me The Horizon, My Chemical Romance, Sevendust, New Found Glory, Deftones, Poison, VH-1 "Band On the Run" Flickerstick, an endless list of unsigned locals, and so many others. These days, she can usually be found hiking aimlessly through the woods in her favorite Technicolor sneakers with a Nikon in hand and her rescue dog, Molly, who is a bit hare-brained.

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