Thomas A. Christie is the author of John Hughes and Eighties Cinema: Teenage Hopes and American Dreams (Crescent Moon, 2009) and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: Pocket Movie Guide (Crescent Moon, 2010). (Visit his website here.)
He is a member of The Royal Society of Literature, The Society of Authors and The Federation of Writers Scotland. He has written several other books including The Spectrum of Adventure: A Brief History of Interactive Fiction on the Sinclair ZX Spectrum (Extremis, 2016), Mel Brooks: Genius and Loving It! (Crescent Moon, 2015), The James Bond Movies of the 1980s (Crescent Moon, 2013), and The Cinema of Richard Linklater (Crescent Moon, 2008).
Christie kindly spoke to The Bits about the popularity of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and its enduring and cross-generational appeal.
Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): In what way is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off worthy of celebration on its 30th anniversary?
Thomas A. Christie: It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is still being watched and talked about all these years after it was first released. It’s one of those rare films that manages to completely transcend its time of production and keep drawing in new audiences year after year. You can easily find people born in the nineties and noughties who relate to it just as much as someone who was a child of the eighties, and I don’t think there are all that many films of the same period that have stood the test of time quite so thoroughly.
Coate: When did you first see Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and what did you think of it?
Christie: I first saw the film on a flickery rental VHS tape back in 1987. I was immediately struck by how fresh and appealing the whole thing was, and it has remained one of my favorite movies ever since. How could anyone attend high school and not dream of being as cool and smart as Ferris or Sloane, even if secretly we knew that we probably had more in common with the hopeless Cameron? Who didn’t know a teacher like the pompous boggle-eyed Ed Rooney, or had to deal with a stroppy sibling like Jeannie? It’s hard not to admire the breeziness of the plot, or the way that Ferris is able to pack so much into a day to enjoy with his friends. Plus there is the fact that Ferris Bueller’s Day Off arguably features more quotable dialogue than any other John Hughes production, which is really saying something.
Coate: How is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off significant among teen-oriented films?
Christie: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is probably one of the most philosophical teen movies ever made – and I mean that in the most complimentary of terms. It features characters who are clever, believable, sympathetic and sensitive: the very antithesis of a lot of the ribald, unsubtle teen comedies that were doing the rounds at the time. John Hughes used his cycle of teen movies to quite markedly reinvent the genre, and part of his overall strategy was to feature realistic dialogue and present relatable situations – something which became a big part of his films’ appeal. With Ferris he was going for the diametric opposite of cheap laughs and hackneyed subplots; there’s a real poignancy at the heart of that film, a sense of making the most of the present because life is short and – when the freedom of your youth is spent – there’s no getting it back again. So it definitely upped the ante for what was expected of a teen movie, and I’d say that it’s still a gold standard for the genre even now.
Coate: Where do you think Ferris Bueller’s Day Off ranks among John Hughes’ body of work?
Christie: It seems that for all his huge contribution to the cinema of the eighties and nineties, both in terms of his screenplays and his directorial efforts, John Hughes will always be remembered for the huge success of his teen comedies, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off saw him at the very apex of his powers. Many would claim that The Breakfast Club, which was released the previous year, may have been the more iconic of the two films. But there is a universal quality to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off which has helped it to appeal to vast numbers of people over many years. The Breakfast Club held up a mirror to the people that we were, but Ferris Bueller’s Day Off offered us a glimpse of something that we really wanted to be – and that, I suspect, is the main reason why it’s still among Hughes’s most-watched films today.
Coate: Where do you think Ferris ranks among Matthew Broderick’s body of work? Was Ferris Bueller Broderick’s best performance?
Christie: I’m not sure if you could claim it was hands-down the best of all his performances – there are a good few roles that could compete for that accolade – but it surely has to be amongst his most memorable. Certainly I think it will always be the role that he will be most immediately recognized for. You could make a convincing case that his appearance as David Lightman in John Badham’s WarGames was more quintessentially eighties, or that his role as Colonel Robert Shaw in Edward Zwick’s Glory was more dramatically taxing. But even after all those stage and screen performances over the years, people still associate him with Ferris Bueller, and I think that has to be seen as an enormous compliment; it says something about how confidently he was able to balance the tongue-in-cheek comedy and the subtle drama of the role at a relatively young age, and in such a way that people remember it so fondly decades later.
Coate: Are you surprised, given the movie’s popularity and the state of the film industry, that there has never been a sequel?
Christie: I suspect that it would be a very brave director who would even try to pick up where John Hughes left off, given the sheer level of expectation that would be facing them. Some years ago, stories would regularly surface on the Internet of belated sequels to Hughes films being discussed that were allegedly to have been set many years after the originals. It seemed that everything from Sixteen Candles to The Breakfast Club was being tentatively mooted for a follow-up at one point or another, but in the case of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off the sequel idea that surfaced most often was one which focused on a middle-aged Ferris (now a successful entrepreneur, and still as independent a thinker as ever) breaking Cameron out of a nursing home for one last day of glorious freedom. Following Hughes’s untimely death in 2009, these accounts seem to have completely dried up, and it’s hard to imagine any attempt by another creative team to recreate the unique charm of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as being anything other than a hopelessly ambitious exercise in catching lightning in a bottle.
Coate: What is the legacy of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?
Christie: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off set the bar very high for teen comedies, and I suspect that a major factor in its enduring success has been its continuing ability to reach out to everyone. If you’re in your teens when you watch it, there’s a message about making the most of your youth while it lasts. If you’re an adult, there’s a nostalgic reminder of what it was like to be in a more carefree stage of your life and maybe, just maybe, re-embracing some aspect of our old independence. Ferris’s take on life is refreshingly liberating, and there’s something relevant to everyone in his message – live for the moment or conform to the expectations of others; the choice between the daily grind or a road trip in a Ferrari is yours alone. Hughes gives us a potent reminder not just that everyone was young once, but that that your attitude defines you more than your age does, and that’s a message that anybody can relate to. Not bad for a thirty year old teen movie!
Coate: Thank you, Tom, for sharing your thoughts about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on the occasion of its 30th anniversary.
Selected images copyright 1986 Paramount Pictures Corporation. Thomas A. Christie photo by Eddy A. Bryan.
- Michael Coate