Molly Ringwald celebrates her 48th birthday this year on February 18, but in her classic 1980s films, and the generation that grew up on him, this radiant, redheaded, defiantly unique multi-talent will always be the ultimate teenager.
Although today’s Millennials largely know of Molly only as a Generation X nostalgia icon—if at all—Ms. Ringwald broke boundaries with her iconic movie roles and set a template for independent high-school age girls that still resonates today. That will last will forever.
Let’s celebrate the Sixteen Candles star’s life and career with a handy roster of reasons why Molly Ringwald matters.
With Sixteen Candles, Molly Crashed the Teen Movie Boys’ Club
As dude-centric youth farces such as Porky’s, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Last American Virgin, and Spring Break swarmed multiplexes and video stores, Sixteen Candles dared to focus on a teenage heroine—and won. Although John Hughes wrote and directed Candles, it’s impossible to imagine anyone but Molly Ringwald in the lead role of Samantha Baker. And that’s the true reason for the 1984 classic’s enduring success.
That Rich Girl in Class Everyone Hated? The Breakfast Club Humanized Her
John Hughes’ 1985 opus The Breakfast Club impacted teens hugely upon arrival and still hits home with every generation. The film is about five seemingly disparate “types”—a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal—who are able to see through their own prejudices and experience one another as peers and as people. Molly plays Claire Standish, the “princess,” and makes her pain and passion all too palpable.
Pretty in Pink Scored One for the Weird Kids
Dramatically switching gears after playing a pampered rich girl in The Breakfast Club, Molly brilliantly embodied Andie, a creative misfit from the wrong side of the tracks in the Hughes-scripted, Pretty in Pink. Although much is made of Andie choosing mainstream Blane (Andrew McCarthy) over her colorful admirer Duckie (Jon Cryer), that’s just one more way Molly communicates how true the character is to herself. Plus, in regard to the Duckman, Andie may have had really good, early gaydar.
Molly’s Movies Covertly Championed Gay Teens
“Duckie doesn’t know he’s gay,” Molly told Out magazine about the Pretty in Pink dynamic.” She also added that in his teen movies, “John wrote a lot of gay characters. But it was something that we never talked about. I would say in just about every movie he did, he had a character that easily could have been gay.”
The ’80s being the ’80s, Hughes’ seemingly gay teens—such as Brian (Anthony Michael Hall) in The Breakfast Club and Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson) in Some Kind of Wonderful—existed in an almost secret code, true to how so many kids like them remained closeted back then.
Molly further told The Advocate: “If those films were done today, those characters probably would’ve been gay… You know how some kids can be gay and not know it? Or maybe they kind of know it but aren’t facing it? I feel like maybe John was writing those characters like that.”
Molly’s Face on the Cover of Time Magazine Meant Gen-X Had Arrived
“Ain’t She Sweet” observed the front of America’s dominant newsweekly just before Pretty in Pink debuted. Molly was all that and much more. The very same month, Molly appeared as the face of “Teenage America” on the cover of Life.
Molly Co-Starred in Season One of TV’s The Facts of Life
Although it seems beyond quaint now, NBC’s long-running sitcom The Facts of Life actually did a good job of developing young female characters and confronting real-life youth issues of the time. Although Molly only appeared on the show’s markedly different first season, she won fans early as a budding, ukulele-strumming folk singer named—what else?—Molly.
Molly Grew Up to Be an Assured, Funny, Wise Example of Adulthood, Too
Molly Ringwald has never stopped acting. Millennials are most likely to recognize her from ABC Family’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager, where she cannily played mom Anne Juergens from 2008 to 2013. Aside from her top-notch performances, Molly’s presence on that show functioned a wink to her original fans, kind of saying, “How about this—even Molly Ringwald is a grown-up now?”
Most audaciously (and hilariously), Molly cameos at the end of Not Another Teen Movie, spoofing her own high-school movie icon status. As an outraged airport worker, Molly socks it to Not Another’s knuckleheaded romantic leads, dressing down their character clichés, then rolling her eyes and snarling, “We all know where this is going… f—ing teenagers!”
We’ll never forget Molly Ringwald in the throwback classic movie The Breakfast Club. We asked Michelle Buteau and Jade Catta-Preta which Breakfast Club characters they would be. Find out what they said in the clip below and tell us, which character(s) would YOU pick?