Remembering the 1980s in Sixteen Candles

The year was 1984. Apple debuted the Macintosh PC. Just two years prior, a TIME magazine cover story was titled “The Computer: Machine of the Year.” Bruce Springsteen would release his seventh album, “Born in the USA,” and Tina Turner begged the question, “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” In New Orleans, a long-anticipated international exposition opened on the city’s revitalized riverfront, replete with a gondola skyride across the Mississippi. The Cold War was still flaring as the Soviet Union announced it would boycott that summer’s Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, at the mall cineplex, teenagers were flocking in May of that year to watch Molly Ringwald reject geeky Anthony Michael Hall while pining for heartthrob Michael Schoeffling. Sixteen Candles, the coming-of-age movie set in a suburban Chicago high school about a girl whose parents forget her “Sweet 16” birthday, was the first in filmmaker John Hughes’ “brat pack” movies that portrayed both the antics and angst of adolesence in the 1980s.

Thirty-three years after its premier, NOMA will screen the definitive ’80s-era film for Movies in the Garden on Friday, November 2, preceded by a lawn party with fashions from the era and music by Sexy Dex and the Fresh, a band inspired by the “Minneapolis Sound” of the late music idol Prince. Nostalgic or wannabe Gen-Xers are encouraged to dust off your raspberry berets and parachute pants, pull on a day-glo sweatshirt and leg warmers—and by all means, feather or mousse your hair—and pay attention to these eight cultural touchstones on the big screen that defined an era more than three decades gone by.

  • Passing notes was the time-tested means of sharing gossip in the eons that predated texting. Lead character Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald) is seen answering a friend’s handwritten questionnaire on paper near the beginning of the film. Her revealing answers about the extent to which she has “done it” with a boy wind up in the hands of her secret crush, Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling).
  • Band posters of Culture Club, Sammy Hagar, and Duran Duran are tacked on the bedroom walls of Samantha and her brother Mike (Justin Henry). The movie’s soundtrack includes such hits as “True” by Spandau Ballet and the theme song “If You Were Here” by the Thompson Twins. The Thompson Twins were part of the “Second British Invasion” that swept the American music scene in the 1980s as British bands dominated the charts. Initially a new wave group founded in 1977, the band adapted to a more mainstream pop sound by the mid-80s and earned great commercial success with such hits as “Hold Me Now” and “You Take Me Up.”

In Sixteen Candles, Michael Anthony Hall was cast as Farmer Ted, “The Geek,” a pesky annoyance for Samantha Baker, portrayed by Molly Ringwald.

  • The insulting label of “geek” derives from the English adaptation of the Middle Low German word geck, defined as a fool or fop. Farmer Ted (Michael Anthony Hall), Samantha’s unwanted and annoying crush, portrayed by Michael Anthony Hall, is listed in the credits as The Geek, a category of socially awkward high schooler that had become well established in the lunchroom social-pecking order by the 1980s. Cassel’s Dictionary of Slang defines geek as “one who acts stupidly or outside the cultural norm.” Other common slang terms of the era are heard in the movie’s dialogue: “totally bitchen,” “dude,” “wease,” and “jacked.”
  • Farmer Ted’s fellow geeks bet him ten floppy disks at a school dance if he can retrieve a pair of Samantha’s underpants. Floppy disks were invented as early as the 1960s to store computer information but became ubiquitous by the 1980s and early ’90s with the advent of home and office computers. They faded from use by the mid-1990s with newer and larger capacity methods of data storage. The average cost of a floppy disk in 1984 was $5.
  • Jake meets Samantha outside a church in a red 1984 Porsche 944 following her sister’s wedding. It’s safe to say that the 944 making an appearance in Sixteen Candles boosted the sale of Porsches. In 1983, more than 14,000 Porsche 944s were produced. In 1984, that number skyrocketed to more than 26,000, the highest production year. Both 1984 and 1985 were the highest production years for the Porsche 944

Jake Ryan, portrayed by Michael Schoeffling, arrives at a church in a red Porsche 944 to meet Samantha near the movie’s end.

  • Sixteen Candles features the requisite high school party gone wild. In one scene, a pizza is seen spinning on the turntable of a record-playing stereo system while beer cans are strewn across the room. Each can features the now antiquated pull or pop-top tab, a peel-and-toss aluminum sealer that was the source of many cut feet and bleeding thumbs until they were replaced by today’s commonly used stay tabs. Pop-top tabs became a menace for pediatricians, too, as numerous children wound up in emergency rooms after swallowing the sharp, metal objects.
  • In 1983 the movie Flashdance inspired a women’s fashion craze of oversized sweatshirts (often off-the-shoulder) in neutral colors and tank tops under sweatshirts, inspired by actress Irene Cara’s workout wardrobe. Samantha wears a drapey double-blouse inspired by the clothing fad. Other distinctly 80s-era fashions seen in the film include Izod shirts, jelly shoes, and robot-wrap sunglasses inspired by the band Devo.

Molly Ringwald and friend Robin appear in typical teenage fashions of 1984.

  • Sixteen CandlesPG rating likely would not apply in 2017. The film includes a brief nude scene in a shower, teen drinking, and foul language, including a few f-bombs and politically-incorrect slurs that might earn the movie a PG-13 rating — a categorization that did not exist until August of 1984.