Movies + TV

10 Things I Love About Molly

No one holds a candle to the quintessential Teen Queen.

Image via David MacDowell

Sixteen Candles is my favorite movie of all time. I was 14 when it came out, and I went to see it with my mom and my best friend Jaime at the local cineplex in Bremerton, Washington. We saw it twice in the theater and once a week on VHS for probably a good year. Afterwards, we wrote notes to each other and signed them “Jakie” after Jake Ryan, the hunk that Molly’s character Samantha lusts after in the movie. I promptly got a job working at the only video store in my town, dusting VHS boxes for five dollars an hour, in part so I could watch Molly’s movies over and over again. And by her movies, I mean the holy trinity, the three she did with writer-director John Hughes: Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), and Pretty in Pink (1986). (Later, I paid my meager wages to be disappointed by The Pick-Up Artist, For Keeps, and Fresh Horses.)

I was 26 when I wrote 10 Things I Hate About You with Karen McCullah, who shared my enthusiasm for teen flicks (her go-to movie was Grease). I don’t remember actively thinking it at the time, but in some ways, the character of Kat (Julia Stiles) is the love child of the three Mollys: Samantha, the girl next door; The Breakfast Club’s snotty Claire; and Andie, the indie-music-loving outsider from Pretty in Pink.

I can’t tell you how many times a studio exec has invoked the Ringwald/Hughes trifecta when talking about a script for a teen movie that they’d like to develop, encouraging us writers to recapture that magic—which is like telling someone to design a building by looking at the Eiffel Tower (a reference I think Ringwald, who lived in France for many years, would appreciate). And, let me tell you, it’s impossible. Molly, like Hughes, is singular. In 1986, she graced the cover of Time, a magazine that really MATTERED in the grown-up sense. She was THE teen queen. With three consecutive roles, she managed to become the most iconic teenager of a generation, and created some of the most authentic high school characters ever to grace the screen. Why do I love her so much? Let me count the ways:

1. She effortlessly bridged the gap between nerd and goddess, outlier and insider. She went from an average girl (Sixteen Candles) to a popular prom-queen (The Breakfast Club) to a shabby-chic misfit (Pretty in Pink), and she was totally believable as all three. As a teenager watching her, I felt like she was saying, Actually, you can be whomever you want to be. Don’t limit yourself. Even as unconventional Andie, she was relatable in her individuality; she was never tyrannical about her uniqueness. In this post-Gaga era, I sometimes feel like being “different” means you have to be “weird,” the architect of your own over-the-top eccentricity. But what if you don’t look good wearing a dress made of meat?!

2. Her clothes, duh. Some people might remember the deconstructed prom dress in Pretty in Pink or the pink cotton top and brown skirt she rocked in The Breakfast Club, but for some reason, it’s the layered, gauzy pink dress with the jagged hemline that she wore to the dance in Sixteen Candles that I coveted the most. It seemed casual and feminine and soft and sexy, and not as stiff as the Pink dress. I loved that she carried a matching pink clutch. I never carried a clutch. I was never as sophisticated as Molly, but man, how I wanted to be.

3. Her taste in music. As Andie, she hung out in a record store and listened to the Psychedelic Furs, Echo and the Bunnymen, and the Smiths, but in real life, she was just as savvy. She dated Dweezil Zappa and the Beastie Boys’ Adam Horovitz—and, as the daughter of a jazz musician, I got the sense that her taste was not faddish or circumstantial. When she interviewed John Hughes for Seventeen magazine in 1986 and asked him how he came up with the story for Pretty in Pink, which he wrote but didn’t direct, he responded, “You told me about the Psychedelic Furs’ song. And the title just stuck in my head.” And she said, “I just love that song,” as if influencing directors to write movies based on her favorite song was the most casual thing in the world. (According to this article, her creative opinion was so valued that Molly was the reason Andie didn’t end up with Duckie, but we won’t hold it against her!)

4. Her gift for expressing raw vulnerability. One of my favorite scenes in Sixteen Candles is when she runs out of the auditorium after a humiliating encounter with the Geek (Anthony Michael Hall) on the dance floor. She sprints out into the hall and bangs her fist on the fire extinguisher. (Maybe that’s why Knicks player Amar’e Stoudemire punched that fire extinguisher during the NBA playoffs this year! He was re-enacting this scene from Sixteen Candles!) She then has a slide-down-the-wall crying jag, which I loved. Sure, she was kind of over-reacting, but that’s how it is when you’re 16—small instances of humiliation become huge very quickly. I remember bleeding through some khaki pants in high school and sobbing in the bathroom for a good five minutes. It felt like a catastrophe, when all I really had to do was wrap a sweatshirt around my waist and call it a day. Molly’s tears validated my own. Also, she was 16 at the time. Where lots of movies simulate adolescence by casting people well over the age, Molly looked and seemed and WAS 100% legit.

5. She’s a redhead! At the time, I remember people constantly commenting on this, like she was such an unlikely star because of her hair color, or like she wasn’t traditionally attractive. Her hair was monumentally cool. Personally, I think it may be why Lindsay Lohan was able to briefly court teen queen status in the early aughts (well, and Mean Girls is awesome), and possibly even helped Emma Stone become the go-to actress of her peers.

6. She made creeping cool. OK, let me explain: As an only child, I sometimes clammed up socially. At birthday parties, I felt more comfortable off to the side watching while other girls were playing Truth or Dare. Maybe that’s why Samantha Baker is my favorite Molly character. She spends most of Sixteen Candles wordlessly ogling Jake Ryan. And he actually APPRECIATES her for it. To his jock friend: “I catch her lookin’ at me a lot. It’s kinda cool, the way she’s always lookin’ at me.” Her gorgeously gigantic baby browns made eye contact an art form. I have to confess that the night I met my boyfriend, we were sneaking glances at each other from across the crowded room of a cheesy bar, and I felt a little like Samantha watching Jake at the dance.

7. Her dance in The Breakfast Club. That side-to-side kick maneuver seemed both self-consciously artful and totally free-spirited, with her hair whipping back and forth with every bob of her head. And then she throws in that adorable little spin. I cop Molly’s moves when listening to anything from New Order to Katy Perry, and have been totally busted by my friends for doing so.

8. She could put on lipstick with her cleavage. Or at least Claire did, and it seemed like something Molly could actually do! After seeing the movie, I spent several weeks making failed attempts to do this. I tried just now, again, in the name of research. It is quite difficult and results in uncomfortable chin-strain.

9. Contrary to the infamous Brat Pack moniker, Molly didn’t travel in packs. Unlike a lot of teen movies where the girls grouped together in sets of three or more—Clueless, Mean Girls, Jawbreaker, The Craft—Molly portrayed girls who were loners or had a single best friend, like Duckie, or Randy in Sixteen Candles. Plus, it seemed that Molly would be the type to make friends with people who were interesting, like she did Annie Potts’ character in Pretty in Pink. (Incidentally, I just found out that Annie Potts lived in the house that I own sometime in the late ’80s, when this movie was released, which brings me even closer to Molly’s orbit.)

10. She left Hollywood and moved to Paris. When, sometime in the early ’90s, I read that Molly was moving to France, I remember being impressed. She was doing something unexpected and brave. She was setting herself free from what her audience wanted her to be. She wasn’t letting people define her. Her departure signaled a bittersweet reality: she was going to grow up, and as painful as it was, so were we.

Given the remake-happy culture of Hollywood right now, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before someone sets their sights on rebooting one of these movies. I’ve even entertained the possibility on a few occasions, before coming to my senses and asking myself the question: who could ever fill Molly’s tall, laced-up, brown boots? Absolutely nobody. All I can do is be inspired by the work she gave me at a critical moment in my life, create accessible characters that she could’ve at one time played, and know that I’ll be writing for her forever. ♦

Kirsten Smith is a screenwriter and filmmaker living in Los Angeles. Her credits include Legally Blonde and The House Bunny. She is currently working on Camp Rules. You can find her on Twitter here: @kiwilovesyou.

48 Comments

  • Roo May 17th, 2012 3:07 PM

    I love Molly Ringwald!

    She’s really effortlessly cool. I’ve seen The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink, but I’ve only watched the crappy Disney Channel remake of Sixteen Candles :(

    I better put the real one on my agenda …

    http://iamvivaciousdammit.blogspot.com/

  • PearlFog May 17th, 2012 3:09 PM

    Yay redheads! I grew up in the west highlands of Scotland and I STILL got made fun of for having red hair, you’d think it’s the one place you might be safe.

    I’ve only seen ‘The Breakfast Club’, so clearly I need to see these other films and be inspired to go back to my roots, literally (I’m blonde at the moment).

    http://www.etsy.com/shop/PearlFog

  • sn0wwhite May 17th, 2012 3:10 PM

    Molly is the poster child for all of us,
    I think.

  • Jessie May 17th, 2012 3:13 PM

    Yey,I love Molly!Pretty In Pink is the first film I saw her in,and I fell in love with it.Regarding the ~music she likes,I’m pretty sure it’s in Sixteen Candles where she has a poster of Squeeze?They’re a great band,I recommend them to anyone.

    Also,I would’ve chose Duckie.

  • Bug May 17th, 2012 3:14 PM

    Her style!!! Especially in Pretty in Pink. I’ve been thinking about double-piercing my ears so I can do the flower stud+one dangly earring thing.

    BRB gonna go watch all three of those movies now.

    http://h-y-p-h-e-n.blogspot.com/

  • Lou922 May 17th, 2012 3:15 PM

    She can actually do the cleavage-lipstick thing… I remember it being the first thing my best friend told me about The Breakfast Club, back when we were too young to try it out for ourselves!

    ticklingsleepingdragons.tumblr.com

  • Cosmo Beatrix May 17th, 2012 3:22 PM

    Oh the hours i have spent trying to perfect that side-to-side kick maneuver in The Breakfast Club, it puts me in a trance to watch! i wish peeps still danced like the 80′s

    WRITER OF 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU YOU ARE INCREDIBLE, i eternally thankyou for that amazing piece OF ART it’s the best film ever along with all these…and mean girls o.b.v

  • purplebabaushka May 17th, 2012 3:24 PM

    breakfast club= best movie ever other than harold and maude

    http://purplebabaushka.wordpress.com/

  • Susann May 17th, 2012 3:26 PM

    I’m going to have to catch up with those Molly Ringwald movies after reading how awesome she is :)

    http://fashioninpepperland.blogspot.com

  • Isobel-cat May 17th, 2012 3:28 PM

    this is so perfect!!!! Molly is all I want to be in life! also, I don’t want to be ~that person~ (and also one of the house rules is “don’t be a jerk” so I’M SORRY!) but I’m sure her name is Samantha Baker in Sixteen Candles, and not Samantha James? I could be wrong – and this would be awkward. But yes, everything about this article is beautiful – Thank you!!xxxx

  • assatagrrrl May 17th, 2012 3:32 PM

    OMG I relate to this soo much! Andie is my ultimate inspiration. I just finished an art project based on her today!

  • ArtemisCadeau May 17th, 2012 3:33 PM

    I looove Molly! ♥
    And this article was just another eyeopener for how awesome she indeed is!

    // Kira
    artemiscadeau.tumblr.com
    http://virginnights.blogspot.com/

  • eireann May 17th, 2012 3:41 PM

    This is so great- I love all of Molly’s movies! Her characters are so unique and believable. Awesome article!!

  • junebug May 17th, 2012 3:43 PM

    I don’t mean to fangirl but I kind of have to: THE WRITER OF 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU AHHHHH FAVORITE MOVIEEE EVERRRR <333

    I also love Molly Ringwald, holy hell. Sixteen Candles was my life story freshman year of high school.

    • ali May 18th, 2012 3:14 AM

      10 things i hate about you + molly ringwald = one of the best articles ever!

  • SpencerBowie May 17th, 2012 3:55 PM

    TODAY IS MY BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!!

    Annnd when I was getting dressed for work I did something I did a whole lot in high school, I put Sixteen Candles in my DVD player!

    I would always get dressed to it or Pretty In Pink, or most especially The Breakfast Club my favorite movie OF ALL TIME!!!

    But on my birthday it’s always gonna be Sixteen Candles!

    Althought today it’s 22 candles! :P

  • Sssophiabh May 17th, 2012 4:05 PM

    This is actually so funny because my friends and I are planning on having a prom movie marathon before prom, and we’re gonna watch 10 things i hate about you and pretty in pink!

  • Lascelles May 17th, 2012 4:16 PM

    …and 11. She could sing :D

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ue1txJONRdU

  • teenager May 17th, 2012 4:18 PM

    this is making me so haaaaaappy, I adore Molly! I especially agree with “her gift for expressing vulnerability”… touches my heart

    http://interstellarsuburbia.wordpress.com/

  • maureen7 May 17th, 2012 4:37 PM

    as amazing as duckie was, and even though his dancing was mindblowing, andrew mccarthy is still andrew mccarthy. and he wore blazers like the whole movie. can you blame andie? i don’t think i could.

    FARMER TED on the other hand, she should have dated. He was perfect.

  • Parks May 17th, 2012 4:38 PM

    Molly Ringwald is the reason I wear so much pink.

  • GlitterKitty May 17th, 2012 4:41 PM

    OMG OMG OMG WRITER OF 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU!!!!!!!! Yesterday I was just telling my friend about how much I love this movie. Like seriously, I can’t go and buy it on DVD because I would watch it every single day. And OMG Sixteen Candles. I love that movie, it’s just so good. I seriously want to own the bridesmaid dress. Ahhhhh this post is amazing. Ahhhhhh

  • Sterling87 May 17th, 2012 5:32 PM

    AH AHHHH AHHHH 10 things I hate about you is so incredibly awesome and so is Molly ringwald! I love breakfast club. I think it’s my favorite of the trifecta.

  • ShakespeareRules May 17th, 2012 6:04 PM

    I love The Breakfast Club and I’ve wanted to see Pretty in Pink for ages. Her style is so cool, and i have totally tried to put lipstick on using my cleavage too!

  • breezyeazy May 17th, 2012 6:24 PM

    Love,
    but seriously-
    Andie should’ve TOTALLY ended up with Steph. I mean, c’mon, teenaged James Spader? Nice.

  • lilghostie May 17th, 2012 6:31 PM

    song is not actually about molly ringwald but still. also i met these guys when they came thru my town and they really are in love with molly ringwald! it was kinda cute.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=coGeEJwfto0

  • Quistiadess May 17th, 2012 7:26 PM

    I just watched ‘Breakfast Club’ a couple months ago, and while I generally enjoyed it, I think it’s worth noting that the guy Molly’s character ends up making out with sexually assaults her, and harasses and verbally abuses her throughout the film. What I mostly took away from seeing it, was that a generation of girls were taught to take serious violations as signs a boy ‘is into you’, or worse, that he’s better than you, and you should submit. Call me on it if I’m wrong, but I really thought that was pretty disgusting.

    • Mags May 17th, 2012 10:53 PM

      I agree with you. I thought it was odd and disturbing, and I hate how the guy is a hero-like figure at the end. I remember wishing Claire would talk back and defend herself but she never did. It kind of rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t think I appreciate that movie the way others do.

    • Parks May 18th, 2012 6:05 AM

      I get this too – I especially hate the line about ‘impregnating the prom queen’ – but what I mainly take away from The Breakfast Club is how they all act the way they’ve been told they have to because of where they ‘fit’ in the school when it’s not really what they want to do. That’s why I think you can interpret the ending as Claire not believing his bs persona rather than being charmed by his awful behaviour.

      I don’t know – I love this film but I have a lot of issues with it as well which actually makes me love it more in a way? The fact that pretty much every character is morally ambiguous and doesn’t absolutely represent a wrong or right.

      And I think it’s significant that it’s Molly’s character who actually makes the move at the end, not Judd Nelson’s.

  • missblack May 17th, 2012 7:48 PM

    WHHHAAAT?!?!?!?! The writer of 10 Things I Hate About You?!?!?! I LOVE THAT MOVIE!!!
    When I first discovered it I literally watched it once a day for two weeks.

    I’m dying right now because this is just so COOL.

    Little&Trivial

  • myy May 17th, 2012 8:03 PM

    This article is so great! Molly Ringwald is such an inspiration! I remember when I first watched Pretty in Pink, I cut up most of my clothes in order to make them look more like Molly’s outfits. (However, in my case, I just ended up having to buy a ton of new clothes.)

    http://mygenerationmusic.blogspot.com/

  • Ben May 17th, 2012 9:29 PM

    I need to add all these movies to my list of movies to watch. I hate when there’s a movie I want to see and it’s not on Netflix watch instanly! UGH!

  • edieneon May 17th, 2012 9:53 PM

    yes!!

  • MissKnowItAll May 17th, 2012 9:59 PM

    Love her to death. The only reason I watch Secret Lie is because she’s on it.

  • chelsear May 17th, 2012 10:08 PM

    What I brilliant article. I adore Molly Ringwald. I have to say, 16 Candles didn’t quite do it for me but The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink are definitely up there with my favourite movies.

    xo
    http://couturecultureblog.blogspot.com

    P.S. I’m a big fan. 10 Things I Hate About You is such a great movie!

  • peanutbutter May 17th, 2012 10:12 PM

    This article was great! Even though I have only seen one of the three movies (I’ll have to do something about that…) what I really enjoyed was reading about the movies that influenced the person partially responsible for the ULTIMATE 90′s teen movie. It was interesting to see the connection drawn between the two generations of classic high school movies. Hopefully there’s people out there right now watching these movies and planning equally awesome and relevant movies for the current generation!

  • Caden May 17th, 2012 10:34 PM

    THESE ARE MY FAVOURITS MOVIES OF ALL TIME!! Including 10 Things I Hate About You.

    Caden x
    http://www.etsy.com/shop/pinkpoppies1991

  • Filia-Zissy May 18th, 2012 8:41 AM

    I love Lisztomania (though this video is not available in my country)! Of these three movies I only know “Pretty in Pink” and I really like it. I got red hair too (I’ve dyed it red…) so Andie got extra sympathies.

    ordinarypeopleadorable.tumblr.com
    ordinarypeopleadorable.blogspot.com

  • Nikilodeon May 18th, 2012 10:14 PM

    Whoa, I saw that painting like a year ago on deviant art! It’s so cool you guys are using it now!

  • beca May 19th, 2012 10:39 AM

    omg that video. i´m gonna rewatch it all day
    i think nowadays emma stone may be a good actress to remake those movies. jennifer lawrence is pretty weird in real life so maybe her too?

  • back2thepast May 20th, 2012 7:39 PM

    Duuude totally made a shrine to Molls that was in that creepy-shrine post a couple months ago!! Ringwald 4eva <3

  • boyfights May 21st, 2012 1:14 PM

    PLEASE do a how-to post on Molly’s Breakfast Club dance! Some of us need a thorough step-by-step run through. Badly.

    Another awesome ’80s redhead: Corey Flood from Say Anything. I just did a post on her here:
    http://hannahandelise.blogspot.com

  • Tambourelle May 21st, 2012 7:10 PM

    I didn’t know that Molly Ringwald dated Adam Horovitz! They are both looked so cute. Oh and also, I don’t mean to be a jerk but you spelt Horovitz with a ‘w’ instead of a ‘v’.

    Breakfast Club is such a classic. I will definitely be watching Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles.

  • lavendersparrow May 21st, 2012 8:44 PM

    I loved Molly in the Breakfast Club the best, but I have yet to see Sixteen Candles. Breakfast club is one of my favorite movies ever….definitely

    http://lavendersparrow.wordpress.com/

  • Mars77 August 6th, 2012 1:52 PM

    I love 80′s high school/teen movies, and Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink are some of my favorites! I realize now that high school isn’t really like it is in those movies, but I first saw Sixteen Candles when I was 12, and it got me really excited to become a teen!

  • April 29th, 2013 5:51 PM

    I love Molly i think she is so talented, and this is just the reality about her, everything that you write it’s so real!