When you think of '80s teen movies, you're probably thinking of John Hughes, the filmmaker whose run of six high school comedies/dramas are among the most influential films of the decade. They helped shaped the way people talked and dressed, and what they listened to. During his peak years, Hughes filled his movies with alternative rock and pop, much of it from the UK, that wasn't getting airplay on Top 40 stations, though his soundtracks would end up giving some of those bands big hits. His soundtracks were gateway drugs for kids who didn't live near a major city or a college with a radio station. A lot of people first heard The Smiths, New Order and Echo & The Bunnymen thanks to John Hughes. Having come up in advertising, Hughes also knew how to use a song in a film, how to up the energy and emotion, and helped pioneer the music montage that would become an '80s movie cliche.

Hughes also covered the walls of his characters' rooms with posters of even more artists. I bought albums by Cabaret Voltaire and Easterhouse after seeing posters for them in Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Some Kind of Wonderful, respectively. It's hard to overestimate the influence his films and soundtracks had.

With that in mind -- and with the release of new compilation / box set Life Moves Pretty Fast: The John Hughes Mixtapes -- we've ranked John Hughes' 1980s films according to their soundtracks. Specifically, rankings reflect not just the quality of the songs but also how well they were used in the films. We stuck to 10 films, the seven Hughes wrote and directed from 1984 - 1989, as well as the three he wrote that were directed by his most frequent '80s collaborator, Howard Deutch. (That excludes all three Vacation movies and Mr Mom.) A ranking of these films just as movies would be a little different but not that different.

Head below to see how we ranked them.

You can pick up 'Life Moves Pretty Fast: The John Hughes Mixtapes' as a double LP vinyl set , a 6-LP vinyl box, and 4-CD/cassette/7" box set in the BV shop.



great outdoors

10. The Great Outdoors (1988)

John Hughes wrote all three Vacation movies, which felt more like paychecks than passion projects, but he brought a little more of a personal touch to The Great Outdoors which was directed by his Pretty in Pink / Some Kind of Wonderful collaborator Howard Deutch and stars John Candy and Dan Aykroyd as the heads of two very different households who are forced to share a cabin on a family vacation at a lake resort. Perhaps under the influence of the film's Blues Brothers co-star Aykroyd, the soundtrack is full of oldies rock n' soul ("Yakety Yak," "Farmer John"), plus a few vintage-sounding soul contributions from "The Elwood Blues Revue" (yep, Ackroyd). Hughes' love for then-current British alt-rock does rear its head with the inclusion of two songs by Pop Will Eat Itself (including their hip-hop punk cover of The Wild Knights' 1965 sleazy garage rock obscurity "Beaver Patrol").

Most memorable musical moment: There aren't a lot, to be honest, but the film ends with Candy, Aykroyd and the rest of the cast cutting a rug to Wilson Pickett's "Land of 1000 Dances":


uncle buck

9. Uncle Buck (1989)

A lot of people forget John Hughes wrote and directed this sweet 1989 film starring John Candy as a lonely bachelor who's left in charge of his nephew and nieces during a family crisis. It was Hughes' second-to-last film he directed before transitioning into one of Hollywood's most successful screenwriters, and it was where he first cast MaCaulay Culkin,  who plays precocious nephew Miles -- a role that feels like a warm-up to Home Alone's Kevin McCallister. Uncle Buck feels transitional: with niece Tia there was still a teen element, but you can feel Hughes being pulled toward family entertainment. The soundtrack is somewhere in between, too. Flesh for Lulu, whose "I Go Crazy" was the hit from Some Kind of Wonderful and were past their sell-by date in 1989, have two songs here, and there's also some hip hop courtesy Young MC and Tone Loc. Much of the film, though, is full of pre-rock-n-roll pop, from the blues and boogie-woogie to big band and Perry Como.

Most memorable musical moment: there really isn't one but here's the scene where Buck crashes a high school party looking for Tia and with Young MC's "Bust a Move" playing he asks "Is this The Grass Roots?"


planes trains and automobiles

8. Planes Trains and Automobiles (1987)

The best of John Hughes' non-teen work, and maybe the best Thanksgiving movie ever, Planes, Trains And Automobiles is not as reliant on its soundtrack as his other work, but it is no less considered. Hughes gets Music Supervision credit this time, along with Tarquin Gotch, and the film mixes Hughes' love for '80s new wave as well as classics from the '50s and '60s. In keeping with road movie theme -- as Steve Martin tries to get home to his family for the holiday, both helped and hindered by traveling salesman John Candy -- the soundtrack album is broken up into sides Town and Country: "Town" features synth-heavy tracks by The Dream Academy, Book of Love, and more; while "Country" has twangy songs from Steve Earle, Dave Edmunds, Emmylou Harris (a wonderful cover of Patsy Cline's "Back in Baby's Arms") and more. One track could've been put on either side: a synthpop instrumental cover of "Red River Valley" by new wave cult group Silicon Teens (aka Mute Records founder Daniel Miller).

Most memorable musical moment: Dialogue from the film by Steve Martin and John Candy is chopped up for the "Rock-It"-style electro-hip-hop number, "I Can Take Anything," by E.T.A. -- which was actually David Steel and Andy Cox of Fine Young Cannibals and The (English) Beat -- and is used a few times in the film, usually during scenes of Martin's intense frustration.


weird science

7. Weird Science (1985)

John Hughes agreed to write and direct this sleazy science comedy -- which came out the same month as Real Genius and My Science Project -- so that Universal would let him make his passion project, The Breakfast Club, which also starred Anthony Michael Hall. In it, Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith played sex-crazed nerds who, inspired by The Bride of Frankenstein, use a computer to create the perfect woman:  Lisa (Kelly LeBrock), a bombshell with the brain of Albert Einstein and magical powers. (Or as LeBrock later accurately described her character: "Mary Poppins with breasts.") Weird Science was the first film where Hughes' new wave / alt-rock obsession fully bled into the soundtrack with Oingo Boingo writing and performing the memorable, horn-filled theme song that almost cracked the Billboard Top 40. The soundtrack also includes songs by Killing Joke (their first appearance in a movie), OMD, Lords of the New Church, General Public, and Kim Wilde.

Most memorable musical moment: Oingo Boingo's theme song couldn't be more '80s but in the best possible way. The video is pretty fun, too:


breakfast club soundtrack

6. The Breakfast Club (1985)

Without a doubt, Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me)" is the biggest, most memorable song from any John Hughes film, in what is probably the best film of the writer-director's career. It's a song that from its opening seconds, even before Jim Kerr's "Hey, hey, hey, hey!," you recognize it immediately and sends people of a certain age to a specific time, place. (The Shermer High School library, 1985). Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff, who produced The Breakfast Club soundtrack and scored the film, wrote the song with Simple Minds in mind, but the Scottish band initially turned it down, as they didn't want to perform songs they didn't write themselves. It was then offered to Bryan Ferry, Billy Idol, Corey Hart and others before Kerr's wife at the time, The Pretenders' Chrissy Hynde, convinced him they should do it. Hynde knew a hit when she heard one and the song was a worldwide smash that changed the career trajectory of Simple Minds, who were previously more of an art-rock band. It's an iconic '80s song from an iconic '80s movie -- so why is The Breakfast Club so low on this list? Name another song from the soundtrack. You can't. The rest is filled with lesser Forsey/Schiff-penned songs sung by Wang Chung, The Time's Jesse Johnson (he's also on the Pretty in Pink soundtrack), and others.

Most memorable musical moment: While "Don't You (Forget About Me)" is the obvious choice whether in the opening credits on the final scene with freeze frame of Judd Nelson's character, but the "Detention Dance" montage is a classic even if the song used -- Karla DeVito's Laura Brannigan-esque "We Are Not Alone" -- is not.


shes having a baby soundtrack

5. She's Having a Baby (1988)

By the end of 1987, John Hughes had had enough of teen films and was ready to head into adult waters. He had a hit with the R-rated Planes, Trains & Automobiles and for his next project he pulled inspiration from his own life as a husband, father and former advertising copywriter. She's Having a Baby was his most ambitious, personal film yet, tackling love, yuppie ennui and what it meant to grow up and start a family. It's only about half successful but Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth McGovern both give great performances, and there are some terrific scenes, including a few fantasy sequences. The film also has John Hughes' most underrated soundtrack, featuring great songs by Love & Rockets, XTC, Everything But the Girl, Dr Calculus (aka Stephen Duffy), and Kirsty MacColl who does a great cover of The Smiths' "You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby." The weak link, though, is the title track by Dave Wakeling whose former bands General Public and The (English) Beat were favorites of Hughes. Wakeling's way with a lyric and melody are still strong, but the synthy '80s production couldn't be any more bland.

Most memorable musical moment: The highly emotional birth scene, where Kevin Bacon reflects on his marriage as Elizabeth McGovern undergoes emergency surgery during labor, is set to Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" which makes the scene all the more affecting.


sixteen candles

4. Sixteen Candles (1984)

To say that Sixteen Candles, once a staple of weekend cable TV programming, has not aged well is probably an understatement, but John Hughes' directorial debut still has a lot of things going for it: winning performances from most of the cast (Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, and Paul Dooley in particular), Hughes' ear for teenage dialogue, and a soundtrack that actually sounds like what in-the-know kids in 1984 might've listened to, mixing popular groups (Night Ranger, Spandau Ballet, Wham, Billy Idol, David Bowie) with music that was only getting played on college radio and KROQ, groups like The Specials, Oingo Boingo, and The Rezillos. The songs are well used, too, though Hughes was never shy of Mickey Mousing -- where the soundtrack mirrors what's happening on screen, often for comic effect -- especially in Ira Newborn's punchy score and in using cues like The Twilight Zone and Dragnet themes, but with a broad comedy like much of Sixteen Candles it works. Sadly, the actual vinyl soundtrack album feels like an afterthought and only contains five songs!

Most memorable musical moment: Among those five songs on the soundtrack album is The Thompson Twins' wonderful "If You Were Here" that sets just the right romantic tone for Samantha and Jake's candlelit kiss that ends the film.


some kind of wonderful

3. Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)

John Hughes never liked that he had to change his original ending of Pretty in Pink so that Molly Ringwald's character Andie chooses preppy Blane (Andrew McCarthy) over quirky Duckie (Jon Cryer) so he wrote another teen film, Some Kind of Wonderful. This one had almost the same love triangle plot but with the genders reversed and Hughes' intended outcome intact. Here, shy, thoughtful Eric Stoltz ends up with his "outcast" drummer best friend (Mary Stuart Masterson) over popular girl Lea Thompson. Hughes, who handed directorial reigns over to Howard Deutch for both this and Pretty in Pink, also made Masterson's character, Watts, a much stronger, more appealing character than Duckie (who, let's face it, is a bit of a petulant sad-sack). Some Kind of Wonderful is a better film than Pretty in Pink, but they couldn't quite repeat the magic on the soundtrack. There are great songs -- The Apartments' "The Shyest Time," Furniture's moody "Brilliant Mind," The Jesus & Mary Chain's "The Hardest Walk," and Flesh For Lulu's frothy "I Go Crazy" -- but nothing here that quite scales the heights of "If You Leave" or "Bring on the Dancing Horses." Stephen Hague, who worked with Pet Shop Boys, OMD and New Order, was brought in to produce every song on the album which gives it a uniformity but the '80s Overproduction makes it all a little samey.

Most memorable musical moment: There are two. The drum break in Stephen Duffy's "She Loves Me" that soundtracks Stoltz and Masterson's "kiss that kills" practice, and the film's earned romantic ending set to Lick the Tin's still-wonderful celtic cover of Elvis' "I Can't Help Falling in Love WIth You."


Pretty In Pink

2. Pretty in Pink (1986)

When you think of "John Hughes soundtrack music," you're probably thinking of Pretty in Pink, the 1986 dramedy starring Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, Jon Cryer and James Spader that features not only some of the most enduring British alt-rock artists of the '80s, but also some of their best songs. Chief among them: OMD's "If You Leave" which written and recorded in 24 hours when John Hughes asked the synthpop band to write a song for the film's new ending. (Test audiences did not like Ringwald's character Andie ending up with Cryer's Duckie.) The song became their biggest US hit, climbing all the way to #4. (Keeping it from the top spot: Patti LaBelle & Michael McDonald's "On My Own," Madonna's "Live to Tell" and Whitney Houston's unstoppable "Greatest Love of All.") But the soundtrack also featured The Smiths ("Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want"), Echo & The Bunnymen ("Bring on the Dancing Horses," written just for the film), and of course The Psychedelic Furs whose 1981 single inspired the title of the film. Hughes convinced them to re-record it, complete with de rigueur '80s saxophone, and while the new version was a hit, the original is by far superior. New Order have three songs in the film: "Shellshock," which is on the actual soundtrack album, as well as the atmospheric "Elegia" and an instrumental version of "Thieves Like Us" which is used in the prom dress sewing montage. There's also Suzanne Vega's wonderful "Left of Center" (featuring Joe Jackson on piano), INXS' "Do Wot You Do" and "Get to Know Ya" by Jesse Johnson of The Time. Not on the actual soundtrack, somehow, is "Positively Lost Me" by The Rave-Ups who were Molly Ringwald's favorite band (frontman Jimmer Podrasky dated her sister, Beth) and play the song in the film's club scene. Low point: a milquetoast cover of Nik Kershaw's "Wouldn't It Be Good" by former Three Dog singer Danny Hutton -- they didn't want to pay for the original which was already a hit -- that is nearly as lame as the dress Andie frankensteins together for the prom. As a soundtrack album, this is far and away the best of the bunch, which reflects the note Hughes wrote on the back cover: “The music in ‘Pretty In Pink’ was not an afterthought. The tracks on this album and in this film are there because [director] Howie Deutch and I believe in the artists, respect the artists, and are proud to be in league with them.”

Most memorable musical moment: For all the new cool British bands on the soundtrack, the scene where Duckie mimes Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness" in the record store Ande works at sticks the most, though when "Please, Please, Please" soundtracks his unrequited heartbreak, that's not too far behind.


attachment-ferris beuller's day off john hughes box set

1. Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)

Released just a few months after Pretty In Pink, Ferris Bueller's Day Off does not have the alt-rock classics that that film does, or a massive hit like The Breakfast Club's "Don't You (Forget About Me)," and more than any other of Hughes' films it's full of artists who've never had much of a footprint or even much of a discography. (Looking at you, The Flowerpot Men and Blue Room.) Yet, music is basically as big a character in the film as Ferris, Cameron, Simone and Principle Rooney. It's so intrinsic that you can listen to the soundtrack, full of mostly obscure songs, and you'll know what scene they were from, whether it's: Sigue Sigue Sputnik's "Love Missile F1-11' in the opening montage, The Flowerpot Men's "Beat City" that blares as they drive Cameron's father's Ferrari into Chicago, The Dream Academy's baroque instrumental cover of The Smiths' "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want" which plays in the wonderful museum scene, The English Beat's "March of the Swivelheads" that soundtracks Ferris' mad dash through his neighborhood's backyards, trying to beat his parents home, to Yello's "Oh Yeah" that follows Rooney's humiliating defeat in the closing credits. Ferris Bueller's Day Off is probably John Hughes' funniest, most quotable film, and what puts it at the top of this list is you couldn't imagine it with any other songs.

Weirdly, Ferris Bueller's Day Off is the only peak John Hughes film to not get a physical soundtrack album at the time. The closing credits did promise one, but it never happened. The only release was a 7" single with The Flowerpot Men's "Beat City" and Blue Room's "I'm Afraid" that was sent to members of the John Hughes Fan Club.

Best musical moment: Of course it's the parade sequence where Ferris first mimes to Wayne Newton's "Danke Schoen," and then sends downtown Chicago into hysterics with The Beatles' "Twist & Shout."


Pick up Life Moves Pretty Fast: The John Hughes Mixtapes on double vinyl and as a deluxe 4-CD/cassette/7" box set.

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