The Brat Pack classic first hit theaters 35 years ago this week, and we're taking a behind-the-scenes peek

By Drew Mackie
Updated June 26, 2020 11:56 AM
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Credit: Everett

Booga booga booga!

For those who saw it in theaters, it offered a snapshot of a specific type of ’80s culture. For the generations who grew up with it on VHS, it became a favorite alongside the likes of The Breakfast Club. And this week (official U.S. release date June 28, 1985), St. Elmo’s Fire turns 35.

So what is there to know about these seven yuppies, more than three decades later?

1. It was the first Brat Pack movie to be called a Brat Pack movie.

True, The Outsiders, Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club all hit theaters earlier, but the term “Brat Pack” was coined in a June 10, 1985, article in New York Magazine, and therefore St. Elmo’s Fire was the first movie to come out after that label had been applied to its stars and their frequent collaborators.

2. Some of those Breakfast Club kids went from high school to college graduates in mere months.

In February 1985, Ally Sheedy, Emilio Estevez and Judd Nelson starred in The Breakfast Club. By the time St. Elmo’s Fire was released, they were playing college graduates. In real life, Sheedy and Estevez were both 23, and Nelson was 25. Call that versatility or call that the magic of being bankable stars. Either way, the three were cast in Elmo thanks in part to a recommendation from Breakfast Club director John Hughes.

3. It didn’t exactly wow critics.

Though it made back the cost of filming three times over and is today considered an ’80s classic, St. Elmo’s Fire was not well-received by critics. In New York Magazine, the same publication that coined the phrase “Brat Pack,” David Denby deemed it “peculiarly adolescent gossip,” writing that “nobody above the moral age of 15 is going to like what [the actors] have done.” The film currently has a 44 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. (The Breakfast Club, for comparison’s sake, has an 89 percent rating.)

4. And Rob Lowe won a Razzie for his performance.

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Credit: Everett; Lucas Rossi/Retna

I guess they didn’t like his saxophone stylings? Lowe beat out Raymond Burr in Godzilla, Herbert Lom in King Solomon’s Mines, Robert Urich in Turk 182 and Burt Young in Rocky IV to win 1985’s Worst Supporting Actor award.

5. The struggles of Demi Moore’s character mirrored ones she had in real life. (Warning: Brief NSFW Language.)

Before shooting of the film began, Demi Moore went to rehab for drug and alcohol abuse at the suggestion of the film’s director, Joel Schumacher.

6. A bowling alley birthday party helped induct Andie MacDowell into the Pack.

A relative newbie to the Hollywood scene, MacDowell had only appeared in a single movie, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, before Elmo. As MacDowell explained to PEOPLE back in 1985, “Here were all these young Hollywood actors, and I’m from Gaffney, this teeny tiny little dot in South Carolina.” However, the group celebrating Lowe’s 21st birthday in a bowling alley made her feel like one of the group. She also praised costar Estevez: “I told him I was frightened, and he said not to worry, that acting was like dancing – you just get up and do it.”

7. Estevez was a favorite of the director, too.

Speaking to New York Magazine, Schumacher praised Estevez in particular, saying, “I’ll bet if you asked everyone in the cast who their best friend is, they’d all say Emilio. He’s that kind of guy.”

8. Moore and Estevez had an ‘off and on’ thing.

Moore told Entertainment Tonight she felt she was a newcomer to the group, but that same New York Magazine article noted that she had had an ongoing relationship with Estevez: “He has a reputation in Hollywood as a superstud: Dozens of girlfriends, many of them groupies, latch on for brief affairs; his romance with actress Demi Moore is off and on.”

9. Other actors’ reputations preceded them as well.

The New York Magazine “Brat Pack” article deemed Rob Lowe “the most beautiful face,” whereas Judd Nelson got a less than complimentary title, “the most overrated.” According to the publication, “He made his reputation as a hood in Making the Grade and The Breakfast Club. And now, in St. Elmo s Fire, he shows — with his role as a congressional assistant — that he was better off when typecast.”

10. Age-wise, Rob Lowe and Mare Winningham were the most mismatched of the group.

The movie begins with Lowe and Winningham as a seemingly ill-suited couple: He’s a party boy, she’s a good girl. In real life, Lowe was barely 21 when the film came out. Winningham was 26, had been married since 1981 and had given birth to two children.

11. The theme song was written for an entirely different purpose.

Originally released in 1984, the song was titled “Man in Motion,” and it was written for Paralympian Rick Hansen as the theme song for a world tour he did to raise awareness about spinal cord injuries. Some versions of the music video intersperse footage of the St. Elmo’s Fire cast with Hansen. It displaced the Huey Lewis hit “Power of Love” from the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in September 1985.

12. The instrumental theme has lyrics.

A version of the film’s score featured lyrics sung by Danny Gerrard and Amy Holland. It’s the final song on the official soundtrack, though it is not used in the film.

13. Two of the cast members had been married – and divorced.

Martin Balsam and Joyce Van Patten play the parents of Mare Winningham’s character. In real life, they had been married but divorced in 1962. They have one child, actress Talia Balsam, who played Mona Sterling on Mad Men, opposite her real-life husband, John Slattery.