It was spring 1985 when a writer for New York Magazine nicknamed a group of young celebrities the Brat Pack. The group consisted of up-and-coming actors who starred in successful Hollywood flicks usually written or directed by John Hughes, who had a reputation for partying.
While the Brat Pack is tinged with nostalgia today, it surprisingly wasn’t flattering to be part of the group at the time. The creation of the name was extremely damaging to the career of several young actors. Their off-screen antics were almost as dramatic as the movies they starred in. Let’s look at the rise and fall of the Brat Pack.
Who’s Really in the Club?
While the exact members of the Brat Pack is up for debate, there is generally an agreed-upon roster that includes Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, and Ally Sheedy. However, other names have been associated with the group.
Occasionally stars like Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, James Spader, and Robert Downey Jr. have been grouped together with the Brat Pack, but they didn’t share the screen as frequently as the core group. These actors worked and partied hard together, which created a close bond between all of them.
Emilio Estevez’s Entitlement Started the Brat Pack
In the spring of 1985, Emilio Estevez was being profiled for New York Magazine. The 23-year-old co-star of St. Elmo’s Fire had signed a deal to write, direct, and star in his own feature, That Was Then… This Is Now. It was a rare opportunity for someone his age.
New York Magazine writer David Blum followed Estevez around LA for several days to gather material for the story. Estevez wanted to see a screening of Ladyhawke but didn’t want to pay for a ticket, so he used his star power to get in for free, and Blum thought he was acting entitled.
“You’ve Ruined My Life”
It’s likely Estevez was just having a little fun with his celebrity status, but after spending more time with the actor and his group of friends, Blum assessed that Estevez was being “bratty.” The modest profile turned into a cover story declaration titled “Hollywood’s Brat Pack,” and it caused criticism.
Blum’s label was a spoof of the 1960s Rat Pack, but the Brat Pack had a reputation for squeezing every last drink, perk, and joke they could out of their celebrity status well into middle age. When the article hit the stands, Estevez called Blum to tell him, “You’ve ruined my life.”
Requirement for Admission
The general criteria for being in the Brat Pack was either starring in The Breakfast Club or St. Elmo’s Fire, both released in 1985. The two films, which centered around groups of young people, jumpstarted the group’s phenomenon. The actors formed friendships both on and off-screen and were cast together often.
Estevez was close friends with Rob Lowe and Tom Cruise because they appeared in 1983’s The Outsiders. Then Lowe and Estevez worked together again in St. Elmo’s Fire, a coming-of-age drama featuring Andrew McCarthy and Judd Nelson. Nelson and Estevez gained attention for The Breakfast Club too. Estevez appeared to be the nucleus of the group.
A Swarm of Angry Publicists
After Blum’s story came out, he started getting calls from angry publicists for every actor mentioned in the article. Blum said Lowe and Nelson were the lieutenants; John Hughes was the “go-to geek,” Anthony Michael Hall the “mascot,” and Timothy Hutton was on the verge of being kicked out for his film “bombs.”
They wanted to expand their careers beyond their initial success. But it hurt the actors because they were all pursuing serious careers, but producers, directors, and casting agents who saw the article didn’t think they were taking their craft seriously.
They Were Encouraged to Stop Being Friends
Nelson said the blowback was immediate. His manager told him to stop hanging out with his friends in fear that he’d be branded as unreliable. Nelson said, “These were people I worked with, who I really liked as people, funny, smart, committed to the work.”
None of them were professionally irresponsible, but the group was encouraged not to work with each other again. For the most part, they didn’t. One article changed their world.
The Name Stuck With Them
Although the members of the Brat Pack spoke out against the article publicly, the name stuck with them. It was infectious and covered all young stars emerging in the ‘80s who were in multiple ensemble movies. It still makes people feel nostalgic today.
Some of the actors went on The Phil Donahue Show to criticize being called the Brat Pack. Lowe told the media that Blum had burned bridges and used comments that they said off-the-record. McCarthy added that Blum was a lazy journalist. They wanted it to go away.
Rob Lowe’s Scandal Almost Destroyed His Career
While being a member of the Brat Pack didn’t help his career, Lowe wasn’t helping the situation with his wild lifestyle. In 1988, Lowe filmed himself being intimate with a 16-year-old girl, and the tape became public. Luckily, the world wide web wasn’t invented yet.
While it was legal for Lowe to be with the girl because the age of consent in Georgia was 14 at the time, filming it was illegal. The scandal embarrassed and scared Lowe enough to get himself together and clean up his image.
Living the High Life
When Lowe was Sodapop Curtis in The Outsiders and Billy Hicks in St. Elmo’s Fire, he thrived on the attention he got from being a teen idol. However, he got the reputation of being the party boy of the group who liked to drink and go out a lot.
Lowe would socialize with his many fans, and a friend of his said that women would throw themselves at him. He didn’t mind and enjoyed being the center of attention. He also dated numerous actresses like Fawn Hill and Nastassja Kinski.
Brats by Association
While the Brat Pack had its core members, Blum said the first Brat Pack film was Taps, a 1981 movie starring Timothy Hutton, Sean Penn, and Tom Cruise. It was about a group of military school students who staged a coup to prevent their school from being shut down.
No one who was closely associated with the Brat Pack label was in the film, but Penn and Cruise frequently worked with those people on other movies. Therefore, they are occasionally lumped in with the rest of the gang.
McCarthy Was Never a Brat Pack Member
While many people believe McCarthy was a member of the iconic group, that is false, according to him. Although he starred in Class, St. Elmo’s Fire, and Pretty in Pink, he insists that he never hung out with his castmates after the movies wrapped.
He also said he never even met Anthony Michael Hall. McCarthy wanted to make sure he wasn’t associated with the group because of what the nickname did to their reputations. However, even after all these years, he is linked to the Brat Pack despite his protests.
Although Molly Ringwald was and still is one of the most iconic members of the Brat Pack, she was reluctant to party with the group. Being five years younger than the rest of them made her feel a bit disconnected from the group when they would go out.
Ringwald was closer in age to Anthony Michael Hall, so she would hang out with him more frequently than anyone else in the group, but she was still friends with everyone else in the Brat Pack.
What Could Have Been
In the late ‘80s, Hall was a rising star because of his Brat Pack films. Naturally, directors were pursuing him to be in their projects, and one took a particular interest in him. Legendary director Stanley Kubrick wanted Hall to be the lead in his new film.
Kubrick was casting for his Vietnam War film Full Metal Jacket, and he wanted Hall to be the star. He even went as far as saying that Hall has the most promising debut into the industry since Jimmy Stewart. Sadly, the role went to Matthew Modine instead.
The Cake Has More Candles
While some argue that Taps or The Outsiders were the first Brat Pack movies, others say that the Brat Pack era began with the film Sixteen Candles. It starred Ringwald and Hall, who were two members of the pack, and it kicked off a special time in film.
Sixteen Candles started off the age of ‘80s movies explicitly aimed at teens. The film also launched the careers of Ringwald, Hall, and the film’s director John Hughes. While it didn’t have all the Brat Pack members, the movie helped create momentum for the following films.
Although Ringwald and Hughes formed a strong bond while working on Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, they drifted apart towards the end of the 1980s. Between that and Ringwald’s film career stalling, she decided to take a step away from the spotlight.
Ringwald decided to pack up her things and move to France for five years while thinking about her next career moves. She didn’t know if she would get prominent roles again and needed a break before returning to Hollywood.
The Leader of the Pack
Estevez was dubbed “the unofficial president” of the Brat Pack, so people assumed that he was the life of the party, spearheading the group in all its fame and decadence. As the son of Martin Sheen, he was used to being in the spotlight.
Lowe’s ex-girlfriend, Melissa Gilbert, said Estevez had a good head on his shoulders and was the most down-to-earth out of the whole Brat Pack. He always knew when to stop partying and was professional on film sets.
No Audition Necessary
While casting for The Breakfast Club, Hughes had already worked with Ringwald and Hall on Sixteen Candles. He knew their acting abilities and thought they would be perfect for this movie too. Most people would have had to audition regardless of their connection to the director, but not them.
Ringwald and Hughes didn’t have to go through the audition process like everyone else in the movie. Hughes gave them their roles, and it was the easiest way they ever got a job. The film took their careers to the next level, and they owe it to Hughes.
Anthony Michael Who?
While he has had minor roles in various films and TV shows over the years, Hall admits that his career came to a crashing halt due to his arrogance as a young adult. He would often get into fights and cause trouble because he thought he was above everyone.
He spent a year on Saturday Night Live, and then he was barely seen in anything significant. He later regretted his actions because he was a promising young star who could have continued a steady flow of prominent roles.
Love in the Brat Pack
Moore and Estevez were both members of the group, and they dated for over three years. Their relationship was serious, and they got engaged. She even appeared in Estevez’s directorial debut, Wisdom. Everyone thought it was the perfect Hollywood love story, but it didn’t last.
While they had plans to get married, Moore and Estevez ended their relationship. She got married to Bruce Willis shortly after that in 1987. She was quick to move on from Estevez, but it didn’t affect their working relationship like people thought it would.
They Continued to Work Together
Although their relationship failed, Moore and Estevez maintained their professional relationship. In 2006, Moore was part of the sizeable A-list cast for Bobby, Estevez’s Robert F. Kennedy film. In a strange turn of events, Estevez and Moore played a married couple whose marriage falls apart.
Maybe Estevez wanted to fulfill some fantasy he had about their potential future together. To make things even more bizarre, Moore’s then-husband, Ashton Kutcher, was also in the movie, but he didn’t have any scenes with the other two because that would have been awkward.
Leaving It All Behind
Moore was quick to leave her Brat Pack friends in the dust as she adjusted to adult stardom. With films like GI Jane, Striptease, and A Few Good Men, she was carving out a place for herself in Hollywood without them, and they picked up the vibes she was putting out.
Ally Sheedy might have been a bridesmaid at Moore’s wedding to Willis, but by 1991, Sheedy realized she didn’t have a place in Moore’s life. Sheedy was also annoyed about Moore’s new status as a sex symbol because of her own personal struggles.
Ally Sheedy Struggled With Her Image
When Sheedy rose to fame with The Breakfast Club, she was only 23-years-old. The young actress was thrust into the spotlight, and everyone compared her to the other women in the Brat Pack. She sometimes had to compete with them for roles.
Sheedy felt pressured to look a certain way, which caused her to battle with bulimia and anorexia. She later became addicted to sleeping pills, and Moore led an intervention in 1989 to get her the help she needed. However, Sheedy wasn’t the only one who battled addiction.
No More Drugs!
When Moore got Sheedy the help she needed, she came from a place of personal experience. In 1985, Moore almost lost her chance to be in the Brat Pack while filming St. Elmo’s Fire because she struggled with substance abuse behind the scenes.
Moore didn’t hide her problems well, prompting director Joel Schumacher to give her an ultimatum. He said he would kick her out of the movie if she didn’t get clean. He didn’t want to give her money to kill herself. Fortunately, Moore got herself sober and finished the movie.
Going Behind the Camera
While it has been a few decades since his (non) Brat Pack fame, McCarthy has had a steady career. He might not have reached the same level of stardom since the ‘80s, but he has created a successful career behind the camera as a director.
McCarthy has found a lot of his recent success as a TV director. He is credited for six episodes of Gossip Girl, ten episodes of The Blacklist, and 11 episodes of Orange Is the New Black. McCarthy wasn’t the only Brat Pack member (or non-member) who went behind the camera.
Estevez in the Director’s Seat
As the leader of the brat pack and the son of Martin Sheen, Estevez was expected to have a long career in front of the camera. However, like McCarthy, Estevez traded in acting roles for writing and directing jobs, but he hasn’t entirely given up acting.
Estevez embraced an indie film career by working on passion projects that he makes on his own time. Some of his movies include The War at Home and The Way. He also released The Public in 2018, which was an underrated gem.
Don’t Forget About Us
Although they weren’t considered main members of the Brat Pack, Robert Downey Jr. and James Spader were both frequently connected to the group. They worked with McCarthy in Less Than Zero, and Spader was in Pretty in Pink with Ringwald.
Meanwhile, Downey Jr. was in Weird Science and joined Hall for that unfortunate season of Saturday Night Live. However, Downey Jr. and Spader have had much longer and more successful careers than most Brat Pack. Downey Jr. is one of the highest-paid actors because of his starring role in the Avengers movies.
They Were Like a Family
According to people who dated members of the Brat Pack during the peak of the group’s popularity, being a member of the group was an intimate experience. Melissa Gilbert, who was dating Rob Lowe, said that they went everywhere together and supported each other.
All the core members would go to each other’s birthday parties, premieres, and appearances. However, that changed once their opportunities dried up and the movies stopped being as successful. It was nice while it lasted, but they eventually went their separate ways.
Nothing a Little Nostalgia Can’t Smooth Over
Although negative connotations were associated with the Brat Pack, people looked at the group kindlier after a few decades. When The Breakfast Club first came out, it got lukewarm reviews. However, in 2012 it was named the best high school movie ever by Entertainment Weekly.
Sadly, we will never see Estevez, Nelson, or McCarthy in another movie together because people thought of the Brat Pack as a bad thing. They decided not to work with one another because they feared people wouldn’t take them seriously again.
Judd Nelson Was a Real Bad Boy
Fans of 1985’s The Breakfast Club are familiar with bad boy John Bender played by Judd Nelson. In real life, Nelson embodied that image by partying with Lowe. He also had a wicked sense of humor and liked acting like the cool tough guy everyone saw in the film.
Ringwald reportedly tried to have Nelson fired from the film because he was bullying her. He claimed that he was trying to get in touch with his character’s “criminal” nature, but Ringwald felt like that was just an excuse to bother her.
If you take a close look at the license plate on the vehicle in Sixteen Candles, you’ll notice something interesting. Jake Ryan’s slick red 944 Porsche’s license plate reads “21850,” referring to John Hughes’ birthday on February 18, 1950.
Also, the license plate on Samantha’s father’s car reads “V58,” which stands for “Vacation 58.” This was a reference to a story Hughes wrote while working for the magazine National Lampoon, and it was eventually adapted into the film National Lampoon’s Vacation. He did this in many of his movies.
The Group Dance Almost Didn’t Happen
Most people are familiar with the iconic group dance scene in The Breakfast Club. After smoking and having a heart-to-heart, the group dances to Karla DeVito’s “We Are Not Alone.” It’s one of the most memorable scenes, and it is a fan favorite, but it wasn’t always supposed to be a group dance.
At first, Ringwald’s character, Claire Standish, was supposed to dance on her own. However, Ringwald was too embarrassed to dance alone, so Hughes redid the scene to make it a group dance. It would have been awkward to see Ringwald dance alone.
Molly Was Always Meant to Play Andie
After working with Ringwald on Sixteen Candles, Hughes wrote the script for Pretty in Pink. He knew that he wanted Ringwald to play Andie as he was writing, so he basically wrote the part for her. However, the studio had other ideas and auditioned other actresses, like Jodie Foster, for the role.
Luckily, Ringwald was chosen for the part. This wasn’t the first time Hughes wrote a part for Ringwald. During the planning stages of Sixteen Candles, he requested headshots of promising actresses. When he saw Ringwald’s photo, he knew she was his star.
Lowe Turned Down a Huge Role Later in Life
After his days in the Brat Pack, Lowe turned to some more dramatic roles, starring in the miniseries The Stand and as Sam Seaborn on The West Wing. However, one of the biggest roles he was offered was to play Derek Shepherd on Grey’s Anatomy. He lives up to the Dr. McDreamy title.
While we can’t imagine anyone playing Doctor Shepherd besides Patrick Dempsey, it would have been a fitting role for Lowe. Instead, he joined the cast of Brothers & Sisters. He later switched gears to play upbeat Chris Traeger on Parks and Recreation.
Estevez Reprised His Mighty Ducks Role
Estevez mainly works behind the camera these days, with episodes of Cold Case, CSI: NY, and Numb3rs under his belt, but he has also taken back his Mighty Ducks role. Estevez has been in many iconic films and even played a younger version of his father on The West Wing throughout his career.
In March 2021, Estevez returned to the hockey rink to once again play hockey coach Gordon Bombay in The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers. The new film also starred Lauren Graham, who is determined for her son to play hockey.
Molly Ringwald Came Back After a Break
After moving to France to think about her career, Ringwald starred in several French films before returning to the United States. She received positive reviews for her small-screen role in Stephen King’s 1994 The Stand and starred in Cabaret on Broadway.
In recent years, Ringwald has focused on the small screen with roles in series like The Secret Life of the American Teenager and Riverdale. While she might not be making significant movies like in the ‘80s, she keeps her career going. Ringwald is also a jazz singer and released an album in 2013.
Anthony Michael Hall Is Unrecognizable
After years of playing the same geeky roles, Hall played a jock in films like Johnny Be Good and Edward Scissorhands. After his stint on Saturday Night Live, he went through a rough patch but made a notable comeback in the early 2000s.
After he nabbed the starring role in Stephen King’s The Dead Zone, he was on his way back into the spotlight. In recent years, Hall has appeared on shows like Community, Murder in the First, Riverdale, and The Goldbergs. He might not have the same babyface, but he is doing well for himself.
Andrew McCarthy’s Son Is an Actor Too
While McCarthy decided to focus more on his work behind the camera, his son wanted a shot in the spotlight. McCarthy’s son Sam, whom he shares with his wife Dolores Rice, stars in the Netflix series Dead to Me as Charlie.
Sam also played Ringwald’s son in All These Small Moments, which let Pretty in Pink fans see what might have been. McCarthy helps his son navigate the industry and gives him advice whenever it is necessary. McCarthy is encouraging despite his tough experiences in the spotlight.
Demi Moore’s Career Stalled
After divorcing Bruce Willis in 2000, Moore began dating Ashton Kutcher, and the two later got married and then divorced. Career-wise, Moore’s stalled after the ‘90s. She starred in some flops like LOL and Very Good Girls, which didn’t get great reviews.
Moore had a few successes with Rough Night and the show Empire. Most recently, Moore was in the pandemic thriller Songbird and the TV version of Brave New World, which was canceled after only one season. Her 2019 memoir Inside Out detailed her time in the Brat Pack.
Judd Nelson Hasn’t Had Any Blockbuster Hits
Although Nelson continued to act steadily in TV films, straight-to-DVD films, and voiceover roles, nothing has been as successful as his work in the ‘80s. In a nod to his early roles as an actor, Nelson appeared in the 2018 movie Billionaire Boys Club as the father of the character he played in 1987.
Unfortunately, the 2018 role was overshadowed because it is now known as Kevin Spacey’s last film before he was accused of sexual misconduct. Nelson has had roles in Psych, Nikita, and Empire, and he has also written multiple books.
Ally Sheedy Has a New Series Coming Out
While Sheedy’s career has slowed down in recent years, she reunited with her Breakfast Club co-star Hall for an episode of The Dead Zone in 2003. She later went on to appear in Kyle XY, Psych, and most recently SMILF in 2019.
Sheedy also made a cameo in the 1980s-set X-Men: Apocalypse as a nod to her ‘80s fame. Soon, Sheedy will appear in the upcoming Freeform series called Single Drunk Female as the overbearing mother. It will be nice to see her back on our screens again after some time out of the spotlight.
An ‘80s Story
McCarthy can try to deny that he was in the Brat Pack all he wants, but he seems to be embracing the connection now for someone who worked so hard to deny it. In May 2021, McCarthy released the memoir Brat: An ‘80s Story and will produce a documentary adaptation.
He thought about what it meant to him to be an integral member of the iconic group of stars known as the Brat Pack for a long time. While writing the book, McCarthy answered many of the questions he wrestled with throughout his life and brought up more.
Who Will Be in the Documentary?
The documentary Brat will follow McCarthy across the country as he seeks out other Brat Pack members to find out what it meant to each of them to have been a part of such a famous acting group. He will reconnect with former friends he hasn‘t seen in years to discuss their iconic films.
Hopefully, we will get to see the core group like Ringwald, Estevez, Lowe, Moore, and Sheedy, to name a few. McCarthy said the documentary is a journey of self-discovery, and he wants to know if the other Brat Pack members have felt the same or had a different experience.
Robert Downey Jr. Is the Richest of the Group
While he might not have been a main member of the Brat Pack, we can’t discount RDJ’s connection to them. After cleaning up his act and getting sober, RDJ slowly began appearing in films like Zodiac, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and Charlie Bartlett. In 2006, he hit the jackpot when he was cast as Ironman.
Ironman set off the cinematic Marvel universe that now has over 20 films, multiple TV series and makes billions of dollars at the box office. RDJ reached an unimaginable level of stardom as the leader of the entire thing. He closed his MCU journey in Avengers: Endgame, which was the highest-grossing film of all time for two years.