The Best Music From John Hughes Movies

John Hughes movies rely heavily on pop music to help tell stories that blend comedy and drama arguably as well as any other Hollywood soundtrack. But Hughes was no one-trick pony, and employed music in disparate ways to help make every cinematic experience feel fresh. The filmmaker's premature death in August 2009 saddened many admirers, but it also served as a reminder of the permanence of Hughes' output, especially when music and storyline worked together as a team. Here's a chronological look at some of the songs that have helped make so many of these films unforgettable.

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"Holiday Road" by Lindsey Buckingham From "National Lampoon's Vacation"

The soundtrack cover of "National Lampoon's Vacation" has the film's fantastical poster, painted like a science fiction or romance novel

Universal Music Group

Hughes first hit major success as a screenwriter with a broad and quirky comedy, represented quite well by the brief and perky solo track from the longtime Fleetwood Mac lead guitarist. A bouncy, spirited tune that reflects the light-hearted, fun-focused tone of the movie, "Holiday Road" features Buckingham's characteristically inventive guitar, and manages to succeed as both a stand-alone pop song and an appealing soundtrack theme. Though in his later films—particularly those he directed as well as wrote—Hughes provided a much more intricate marriage of pop music and film narrative, this early example shows the smooth, cooperative relationship between music and cinema that often fueled his work.

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"If You Were Here" by the Thompson Twins From "Sixteen Candles"

The "Sixteen Candles" soundtrack cover depicts the romantic leads gazing into each other's eyes over a birthday cake

 MCA Records

Within a few years of "Vacation," Hughes perfected his trademark: memorable synth-pop and new wave tunes in pivotal scenes at romantic high points of his films. That uncanny sense of selectivity first makes its presence known in a scene at the end of his directorial debut, "Sixteen Candles," when the lead female protagonist, Samantha (played by Hughes muse Molly Ringwald), first realizes that she might actually get the unattainable guy she's been pining after, Jake Ryan. While this would be a memorable moment no matter the soundtrack, Hughes gives the scene greater heft by using the atmospheric pop of "If You Were Here" to skillfully maintain the fragile balance of the film, which blends teen angst and romantic growing pains with elements of screwball comedy.

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"Don't You Forget About Me" by Simple Minds From "The Breakfast Club"

The soundtrack cover for "The Breakfast Club" is the iconic movie poster with the main characters assembled


This iconic bop is a staple of any '80s playlist and is impossible to omit from this list. A prefabricated soundtrack tune performed by an artist less than enthusiastic about recording someone else's song, this tune became a No. 1 pop hit and one of the most-heard songs of 1985. It builds a sturdy thematic foundation as an instrumental leitmotif in several scenes before Judd Nelson's famous walk-off scene that concludes the film. Written especially for "The Breakfast Club," "Don't You Forget About Me" works organically as appropriate accompaniment for the universal coming-of-age themes and Hughes' signature blend of comedy and inspirational drama.

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"Eighties" by Killing Joke From "Weird Science"

The "Weird Science" soundtrack cover image is the movie poster featuring the three leads


Hughes kept his personal life under wraps, choosing instead to reveal himself through his film and music choices. While he may not be on record pontificating about the merits of post-punk and early alternative music, selections like "Eighties" speak volumes about his influence both on filmgoers' impressions of music and music lovers' tastes in cinema. A punchy guitar nugget, this intriguing herky-jerky document of the times doesn't set the scene or capture mood quite like other Hughes offerings, but its presence in the era's key retro playlists owes a debt of pop culture gratitude to appearing in "Weird Science."

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"Pretty in Pink" by the Psychedelic Furs From "Pretty in Pink"

The "Pretty in Pink" soundtrack cover features its three leads in black and white, and Molly Ringwald's sweater highlighted in pink


In the same way that a wrapping vine depends on a sturdy branch, a film's narrative surely forges a powerful symbolic link with a pop song when they share a title. Neither the Psychedelic Furs' excellent, moody signature track "Pretty in Pink" nor the stylish and romantic film would have felt the same impact without Hughes' steady hand combining them. Ringwald once again plays the leading lady, and the genre-defying Furs perfectly fit the individuality of her multidimensional, quirky, and very human character with a song that deftly blends horns with Richard Butler's shadowy croon.

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"If You Leave" by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark From "Pretty in Pink"

The single cover for "If You Leave" depicts four silhouettes on an amusement park swing ride

Virgin Records

Synth-pop critics frequently argue that it suffers from an over-mechanized and passionless approach. Hughes, however, successfully attached the pivotal romantic scene from "Pretty in Pink" to a deeply emotional and optimally commercial song from OMD, one of synth-pop's foremost creative influences. This tune became a pop hit for many reasons, like its impeccable melody and affecting vocal performance, but as the backdrop for the resolution of the Duckie/Andi/Blane love triangle at prom, "If You Leave" becomes transcendent. Hughes' corny notion that true love can to neutralize class warfare becomes more sincere to the sounds of OMD.

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Yello - "Oh Yeah" by Yello From "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"

The soundtrack cover of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" features a close up of the relaxed title character

EU Import

A silly novelty song can benefit from careful inclusion by a filmmaker, and Hughes transforms this goofy musical trifle into solid cinematic commentary on material and carnal excess. When "Oh Yeah" helped introduce the unattainable and dangerous flash of Cameron's dad's prized Ferrari, it instantly became the textbook tune of the era for any film that required lascivious or hedonistic accompaniment. Though becoming an evergreen in the pop culture forest isn't easy, Hughes planted several enduring saplings, pop music thoughtfully elevated when incorporated into his plots.

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"Brilliant Mind" by Furniture From "Some Kind of Wonderful"

The album art for "Brilliant Mind" by Furniture features the band appearing in long, narrow, dark rectangles, suggesting the form of piano keys

Stiff Records

Although did not direct the 1987 classic "Some Kind of Wonderful," the film and its musical selections stand among Hughes' most extraordinary cinematic achievements. The filmmaker's magic—his musical touches and deft writing—puts a new spin on the classic love triangle. He was a full-tilt advocate for '80s Britpop during his peak, and "Brilliant Mind" is used in a relatively quiet scene involving the villainous Hardy. It adds immeasurably to the story's earnest and misdirected sense of longing. Eric Stoltz and Mary Stuart Masterson confidently take their places among the best of Hughes' romantic heroes.

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"She Loves Me" by Stephen Duffy From "Some Kind of Wonderful"

The soundtrack cover for "Some Kind of Wonderful" features its three leads staring intently at the viewer


All of Hughes' teen films up to this point skated rather innocently around the idea of sex, but Watts taking Keith through a dress rehearsal kiss to prepare for his date with Amanda Jones depicts plenty of heated passion that goes well beyond the merely emotional. Although the scene depends on chemistry between the actors, it benefits from the backing music supplied by the instrumental, subtle "She Loves Me." The music builds to the scene's payoff when Watts wraps her legs around Keith during the practice kiss. The moment is made stronger when this gem of a song comes in at full volume. Wake up anytime now, Keith!

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"This Woman's Work" by Kate Bush From "She's Having a Baby"

Both sides of the soundtrack album for "She's Having a Baby" are minimalist and feature white borders

IRS Records

Many who grew up on '80s teen films have mixed feelings about Hughes' attempts to explore more adult themes as the decade closed. Yet as writer and director of 1988's "She's Having a Baby," the man proved again his unique knack for melding scenes with music. Accompanying the life-flashing-before-his-eyes moments Jake (Kevin Bacon) spends waiting for news of his wife's dicey delivery, Bush's stark "This Woman's Work," written for the feature, perfectly communicates the poignant helplessness of the character's experience. Hughes' turn toward the serious ultimately failed to connect with larger audiences, but the music nonetheless hits every emotional beat.