That John Hughes might be almost solely responsible for not only the way high school is depicted today, but even for the way we think about the high-school experience only sounds like an overstatement. By now, it doesn’t matter whether you were actually around in the ‘80s to watch the rise of Molly Ringwald in person because the revival of flicks like Sixteen Candles and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off introduced a whole new generation to John Hughes’s special brand of teen comedy. In fact, The Breakfast Club has directly inspired episodes of everything from Community to Dawson’s Creek. Can Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” even be separated from the iconic film anymore? Unlikely.

But while high-school hallways and teenage shenanigans might dominate popular perception of Hughes’s body of work, his career actually focused just as much on a specific section of suburban America and family as a whole. Inspired by his own Midwestern upbringing, it was that connection to family and to the area that gave him his first hit, which in turn gave National Lampoon their second: National Lampoon’s Vacation. Based on the piece “Vacation ‘58” that Hughes penned for the magazine, it spawned the successful Chevy Chase vehicles including the holiday classic Christmas Vacation (also written by Hughes).

It was only after cutting his chops on these outlandish family comedies that he turned his sights to teens, putting out five movies in just three years, all of which have gone on to be considered classics of the teen-film genre: Sixteen Candles [1984], The Breakfast Club [1985], Weird Science [1985], Pretty in Pink [1986], and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off [1986]. With Ringwald’s career thoroughly cemented at this point, Hughes became eager not to get pigeonholed, despite the enormous success of the films.

In 1987, he shifted gears putting out the only true Thanksgiving classic, Planes, Trains and Automobiles—an odd-couple-esque buddy comedy starring Steve Martin and John Candy that was greeted with widespread critical acclaim. What followed was a renewed focus on family with a series of films that blended saccharine messages with slapstick from Uncle Buck [1989] to Home Alone [1990] to the remake of Miracle on 34th Street [1994]. 

He slipped into a sort of semi-retirement in ‘94, coinciding with the sudden death of his longtime friend and collaborator John Candy. Withdrawing from the public eye, he moved back to Chicago, but continued his work in film in a reduced capacity. By the end of his career, he’d even stopped writing under his own name, penning the scripts of duds such as Drillbit Taylor under the name Edmond Dantes.

Unfortunately, Hughes never got the true comeback he deserved when, in an almost eerily similar manner to Candy, he died of a sudden heart attack in 2009. Thankfully, though, not only does Hughes’s best work live on, it helps define teen angst, family, and the holidays with tenderness and wit.

The Breakfast Club [1985]

An obsession of mine in high school, The Breakfast Club might be the most respected of the John Hughes brat pack flicks. Focusing on a rag tag group of teens forced to spend a Saturday in detention together, it embraced the archetypal labels other films merely used. Here, the pretty popular girl, the jock, the rebel, and the nerd all get the chance to be fleshed out, to become more real than simply some sort of cardboard cutout or caricature. This is undoubtedly what audiences are responding to; I know it’s certainly what I was responding to as a teen. It just had that uncanny ability to make you feel understood at a point in life when it’s easier to believe that no one understands at all.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off [1986]

Detouring slightly from the more serious Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off showcases its two stars with equal measure: young, boyish Matthew Broderick and the glitz and bluster of the Windy City. All of Hughes’s films feel like a love letter to Chicagoland on some level, but it’s Ferris Bueller with its grand tour of the city’s most iconic sights to be re-created in engagement photos for decades to come (as a Chicago native, I can admit that we’ve all left a forehead print on the glass in the Sears, strike that, Willis Tower at some point) that shines brightest. It’s also arguably Broderick’s best role, bursting with charm and humor and a little bit of compassion, too.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles [1987]

Yes, we’ve dedicated this week to Hughes’s holiday classic Home Alone, but I actually think that Planes, Trains & Automobiles is one of the greatest holiday films of all time. Set during Thanksgiving instead of Christmas, the pressure of consumerism is off the table and the whole crux of the film is just about trying to get home to spend time with your family, nothing more. While Steve Martin is in top form as the buttoned-up businessman Neal Page, it’s John Candy as Del Griffith that infuses the film with that perfect blend of humor and sentimentality that makes my heart nearly explode every time I watch it. Written and directed by Hughes, it shoots to the top of the list for me as one of his best films, period.

Carly Sue [1991]

Something of a blip in Hughes’s filmography, this somewhat bizarre Jim Belushi flick nevertheless defined how I ate pizza as a child from the ages of 4-6 or so. When this movie came out, my household of three girls under the age of 5 was in love with this movie. It unfortunately in no way represents Hughes at his best. Relying on the outdated archetype of the “lovable tramp” it’s a fairly shallow story that while entertaining enough, lacks the heart and soul of his better work.

Drillbit Taylor [2008]

A critical and commercial failure, Drillbit Taylor might have been the last film Hughes worked on before his untimely death, but it wasn’t the last one written by him. Rather, it was written under his pen name Edmond Dantes. Starring Owen Wilson as low-rent bodyguard for teenage nerds, it had the potential for kind of humorous take on high school Hughes built his career on. Unfortunately, it falls far from the likes of Sixteen Candles, painting its characters with a broad brush and relying on lazy physical comedy resulting in a shallow picture. Thankfully, it’s been largely forgotten by the public, while John Hughes’s other works only continue to shine.