Movies That Everyone Should See: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”

It makes you happy just thinking about it, doesn’t it?

How could it not?

The movie is the living embodiment of youth. It’s bounding with enthusiasm, energy, optimism, individualism, exuberance… The world of Ferris Bueller is one of infinite possibilities.

And each one of them is cooler than the last

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”.

What if youth were NOT wasted on the young?

What would you do? If you could do it all again? If you DID know then what you know now?

I guarantee you this. Your answer does not include going to school, either.

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” was the brainchild of John Hughes.

Hughes began his career in entertainment as a joke writer, and then a writer for National Lampoon. His first screenplay, “National Lampoon’s Vacation” turned into a such a successful movie that Hughes was allowed the opportunity to direct his own scripts. He made the most of it. “Sixteen Candles” is a classic teen comedy, and was very successful as well. He followed that effort with “The Breakfast Club” and “Weird Science” in succession.

He was putting together a string of hits.

But in the summer of 85, Hughes followed Studio head Ned Tanen from Universal to Paramount. Tanen had greenlit all three of his directorial efforts to date, and Hughes quickly felt friction with his successors at Universal. So when Tanen switched studios, so did Hughes.

A writer’s strike was looming, however. Hughes had less than a week to submit a draft of a movie, or he wouldn’t be able to begin a new project until the strike resolved itself. He pitched the idea for “Ferris” on a Thursday morning, kind of a counterpoint to Sixteen Candles. If that was the worst day in a teenager’s life, “Ferris” would be a movie about the best. He then worked on the script all weekend, and turned it in Monday.

The movie was greenlit Tuesday.

The casting would be critical however.

Hughes reportedly wrote the part with Matthew Broderick in mind. Broderick was a rising young star who had just completed the yet to be released “War Games”, and had been working on Broadway in Biloxi Blues. That didn’t keep the studio from looking at other actors just in case. The list of young actors they tested or looked at for the role of Ferris Bueller reads like a who’s who of Hollywood: Jon Cryer, Nic Cage, Kiefer Sutherland, James Spader, John Cusack, George Clooney, Johnny Depp. But they kept their eye on Broderick.

He had exactly what the movie needed. An innate likeability. Effortless charm. With the wrong actor, it would have been easy for Ferris’ confidence to lapse into arrogance. The audience needed to love Ferris, not loathe him. Broderick was able to bring a boyish charisma to the role that was a necessity.

They wound up getting him for the role.

They got more than that, however. Broderick also brought a friend.

Broderick had worked with Ruck in Biloxi Blues on Broadway, and when he first read the script for “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, he kept picturing Ruck when he read Cameron’s lines.

Ruck had actually auditioned for Hughes before, for “The Breakfast Club”. He tried out for the role of John Bender. Ironically, that wasn’t the only “Breakfast Club” association with the role of Cameron Frye. Producers offered the role to Emilio Estevez, who (thankfully) turned it down. They also tested Eric Stoltz, but the role finally went to Ruck after all.

Which is fortunate, because Alan Ruck was as perfect for Cameron as Matthew Broderick was for Ferris. Though he was 29 at the time, he looked 18. He was slightly awkward, believably shy and extremely funny. He was totally authentic as someone Ferris would choose as his best friend. Besides which, his pre-existing friendship with Broderick gave the two a natural, contagious chemistry. It was easy to buy into the two of them as best friends.

Hughes had the two perfect leads, and a solid supporting cast. Relative newcomer Mia Sara would play Ferris’ girlfriend Sloan (Meg Ryan was actually passed over for the role because it was thought she was too charming. Almost as if she would Ferris’ thunder). Another relative newcomer, Jennifer Grey, would play his bitter, envious sister, Jeanie. She and Broderick would actually develop an on-set romance. With Jeffrey Jones and Edie McClurg providing comedic pursuit from the school, the cast was in great shape.

But getting the movie done was another matter altogether.

Hughes may have been legendarily quick in terms of producing scripts, but he actually never stopped writing. He was constantly doing rewrites, he was the type of director who would show up every morning with new pages. He was also a fan of getting a lot of “coverage”. He would shoot the scripted lines, but then keep the camera rolling and get different line interpretations, and then encourage improv. Enormous amounts of material was shot.

This sort of technique could certainly yield benefits, such as Ben Stein’s legendary, droning history teacher. Stein was originally supposed to simply read the class roll call off-camera, but the teenaged extras playing students kept cracking up. Hughes called an audible and moved Stein on camera. When that worked well, he encouraged Stein (a political speech writer brought in for his monotone voice) to ad-lib a lecture.

So the creative style certainly could yield wonderful results, but the movie was coming in over schedule and over budget. Eventually things got so out of hand, the studio imposed a shut down deadline on shooting. Hughes finished prior to being shut down, but the difficulties continued into post. Reportedly Hughes was enamored of the creative process, not the post production process. By the time “Bueller’s” moved to editing, Hughes was already enthused about “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”, yet he still faced a mountain of footage.

The first cut of the film was two hours and forty-five minutes long. Substantive changes needed to be made. Two younger Bueller siblings? It’s as if they never existed. Louie Anderson’s character? All his lines were left on the cutting room floor. Charlie Sheen’s character’s family and back story? Gone. A trip to a strip club, Ferris playing air guitar. Gone. Gone. They used extensive test screenings and made substantive changes based on test audience reactions. Slowly the movie took shape.

The most important changes made during the edit related to the shaping of Ferris’ character. Ferris’ infamous addresses to the audience initially had much more cynicism and snark. He had many darker monologues that needed to be cut – such as one pertaining to the threat of nuclear war. The fear of eventually becoming like your parents and losing your youth was also spoken to much more directly. Even some of Ferris’ behavior was changed, such as excising a scene where he cons his father into revealing where he kept his savings bonds so that Ferris could steal them in order to fund the day.

In the end, Ferris was left confident, easy-going, and enthusiastic. He acknowledges the issues of the world, but never gets caught up worrying about how to face them. Life is easy, doors will open. It was one of Hughes’ intentions to create a character who didn’t take himself too seriously, who didn’t worry so much about the future, who vivaciously enjoyed life. Hughes’ most famous movies spoke to the teen condition, and he wanted Ferris to stand as a counter-point to the problem-beset characters that had previously populated his films.

And how does the world look when it lays at your feet?

Hughes made sure to show us. With plenty of helicopter shots of Chicago, and a one day whirlwind tour of some of the city’s most fun and famous places – the Sears Tower, Wrigley Field, The Art Institute of Chicago – Hughes showed Ferris turning the key to the city. His principal couldn’t catch him, his sister couldn’t stop him, his peers held fundraisers for him, his girlfriend wanted to marry him… a parade wasn’t held in his honor, but he made it wish it was.

He spent the day driving the 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California.

“Ohhhhhh Yeah.”

But the character development in the story belongs to Cameron Frye.

Cameron, almost Ferris’ alter-ego, is a nervous worrier. His hypochondriac sensibilities preclude a true enjoyment of life. It’s only by embracing Ferris’ philosophies throughout the day that he’s able to break free of his anxieties… instead of curling up into a ball of fear when the miles wont roll off the Ferrari, Cameron gets angry and kicks the shit out of it. His hostilities aren’t misplaced, either. The car is both symbolic of his father’s neglect and the place to hit his father where it hurts the most. In the end the car is destroyed, but even if it hadn’t been, Cameron would have damaged it unmistakably anyways. A confrontation with his father loomed.

The cowardly lion found his courage.

Through Cameron, Hughes also slips in a subtle comment about parenting. Ferris’ parents might be a little clueless, but they’re attentive. Doting. Caring. The neglectful environment of Cameron’s museum-like home can have a negative impact on children. Surrounded by love and affection, fully protected and supported, kids have the ability to grow confident and care-free. If ignored and isolated, their outlook on life will certainly not be as positive.  

John Hughes died on Aug 6th, 2009, but not before leaving us with many wonderful films. Movies that are widely adored.

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” may arguably be his best.

It’s still beloved today because it speaks to the desire of for freedom and independence in all of us. We all want to make our own rules, no one wants to be restricted or be taxed with bullshit. It’s an infectious comedy about the joys of youth and the intoxicating power of rebelliousness. Ferris is carpe diem personified. The living embodiment of joie de vive.

The movie leaves you with the feeling that there’s something about the human spirit that’s irrepressible.

Which is why it still resonates with us today.

It’s definitely a “Movie That Everyone Should See”.


52 thoughts on “Movies That Everyone Should See: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

  1. One of my favorites…… this movie has special meaning to me! I know I’ve mentioned it before (but it’s worth repeating) Johnny made me watch this whole movie to get “the message” at the end. That is how I found out he intended to marry me. 🙂

  2. Wanted to give a special shout out to Mark “Digger” DiBella, who was gracious enough to provide this week’s leading artwork. I think it’s freaking sharp. You’re the man, Diggs, thanks for contributing! 😀

    • Come on Fogs, no thanks necessary. Anything for a friend and it was fun so again, no thanks needed. Do we get to start ragging on True Blood soon? I have a feeling that this year’s gonna be full of stuff for us to rag on. Keep up the great work and good luck with the Lammy’s!

      • I’m debating on the Tru Blood.

        Things are a little different here from last year at this time. 😀 In a good way of course. It was fun… a lot of fun. I just dont know if it would fit in now. Have to think it over a bit more.

    • Thanks Adam, appreciate that.

      All of those were strange. It’s one of those roles where I can’t consider anyone else but Broderick playing him, but I mean, Nic CAGE? Cmon… LOL

  3. Possibly one of the most enjoyable movie experiences for me.

    I really like this flick, and the cast is phenomenal from Ruck to Jeffrey Jones to Jennifer Grey and even Charlie Sheen (staying up 3 days to get the look right). The genius John Hughes delivers a fantastic film; thanks John. I did not know all the detail behind Hughes prior to this post; way cool. The film wouldn’t be the same without all his efforts and those of his cast; certainly Broderick IS Ferris especially with a prior Ruck friendship as Fogs highlighted. Great post Fogs!

    “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. ” – Ferris Bueller

    • Thanks S. 😀

      Classic line choice. The sagest line from the movie, although I suspect that the Bueller, Beuller, Beuller… is actually probably the most used. LOL. I mean, how many times have you found yourself doing THAT at something repetitive. LOL

      The cast IS phenomenal. They all just seemed to be SO perfectly suited for thier roles. Much props to the casting on this film, it was brilliant.

      Glad you enjoyed, as always

  4. I never watched it when I was younger and finally got around to seeing it for the first time last year and personally I just couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s not a movie I feel the need to rewatch in the future. So I’m wondering if having seen this for the first time at a certain age might have something to do with it….

    • There might be an element to that. That maybe you have to see it when you’re a teen in order to envy all the great things that are happening for him, etc.

      I saw it as a teen, so I may have to recuse myself from that.

      I really suspect not though. I find it hard to imagine that anyone couldn’t admire Ferris’ charm and gusto, so to speak. I think its an all ages flick.

  5. Oh my days, what a FANTASTIC blog post. Amazingly written. And, of course, Ferris Bueller is definitely an epic film. “Pardon my French, but Cameron is so tight that if you shoved a lump of coal up his ass, in 2 weeks you’d have a diamond.” I wouldn’t mind having a fun day out like they do!

    • 😀

      Thanks YANLYAH!! 😀 I appreciate getting the positive feedback.

      Great flick, isn’t it? It just makes me happy whenever I watch it. One of my favorite moments is when they’re at the ball game, and Feris says, Hey Cameron, do you realize if we played by the rules right now, we’d be in gym? And then they laugh like mad, while the movie cuts to the kids doing laps.

      That’s genius. 😀

  6. Ah, such a nice choice for a recommendation Fogs! I don’t think this movie could get old. Cameron was my other favorite character, he was so awkward and adorable!

  7. Great movie. Of course, I’ve expressed fondness for a few John Hughes films myself (even though I still need to see several of his biggest ones), but it’s quite possible that this is indeed his best. Ferris is the antidote to melancholy and depression. Let me float a theory by you — Cameron represents all those teenagers in all the teen drama films. All the kids that are sad and depressed and convinced that the whole world’s problems are theirs and theirs alone, that the minor setbacks that make up their day are major problems that obstruct any possible joy. (And, by extension, all the adults that live the same way, working 9-to-5 in a cubicle job they hate and then hitting the bar to drink their frustration away.) And Ferris, like you say, is the counterpoint to those stories. The irrepressible, joyous, cheerful — but never once obnoxious or in your face — “screw that” to that type of life.

    • Having watched about 3 hours worth of special features and interviews this week, I can confirm that theory. However, even though it may APPLY to adults, Hughes was definitely thinking of teens.

      He started with Ferris and the concept of Ferris, just a “World is his Oyster” type of dude, It was very much a known, intentional thing to have him be the antithesis of the sad depressed, self obsessed teen. Absolutely.

      And then Cameron – like so many characters wound up coming about through the need for a counterpoint, a sounding board etc. You know, “Well, thats great, the main character is a great idea, but what? Who’s he hang out with” So Hughes drew inspiration from his own friends (he reportedly related more to Ferris than Cameron) and Cameron was developed.

  8. What I loved about this film (which is in my collection) was the fact that he didn’t do drugs or booze to have a fun time. One of the best jobs Broderick has ever done.

    • He almost did though. I heard this week that some draft or early version had him smoking and drinking…

      Thankfully they did the right thing and cleaned up his act! 😀

  9. A word about the “car”. A recent episode of Top Gear(British version, of course) has reviewer James May begging like a man on death row to borrow a 61′ Ferrari California for a test ride. Seems May has dreamt of this car always but has never laid hands on one. As rare and valuable as this car is, this particular one is moreso ! Once owned by James Coburn who bought it while filming the Great Escape on suggestion from Steve Mcqueen. Cars value, 3 million pounds(don’t know in dollars but lots more). Reluctantly the owner agreed and May drove the car panting and moaning the whole time(this from a man who thinks nothing of driving a million dollar Vayron) while nearly scratching it on city streets! Makes you realize Ferris’ father’s concern. Reading you review, I couldn’t help but think that you, like John Hughes, are a “philosopher of adolescence”. Methinks so!

    • From what I learned this week, they used kit cars for everything but the “Insert Shots” because it was too expensive to insure, even for a couple of days of shooting.

      So basically they forged a Ferrari. 😀

      Yeah, Hughes definitely wanted to speek about teenagers and what they go through. It shows in his movies, they still have great points to make about growing up, even 30 years later, you know?

  10. I like how the principal is perceived as the villain, when all he is trying to do is expose a problem-student for being truant. And here we are, as the audience, rooting for a kid to break the rules and get away with it. Of course, if you tried this in real life, expect a grounding and merciless beating from you parents.

  11. I’m going to have to stop reading this segment so that I don’t spend all of my time re-watching these movies.

    I can’t picture those other actors as Ferris, although I do kinda want to see an alternate version with Nic Cage mostly too see how he does the asides to the audience.

    Can’t beat Alan Ruck as Cameron. Always made me want to call people and mimic his voice.

    • Ha! Well, that’s what they’re there for, you know? Remind people how much they love them and make them want to see them again! 😀

      Wouldnt that be a trip? Like if they had all those screentests or something? I could almost imagineClooney being able to pull it off. But I’m not sure.

      But these two characters are legendary… I wouldnt change a thing. 😀

  12. I agree that “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is Hughes’ finest moment. Since I was also a teen in the 80’s, growing up in the Chicagoland area, this film will always have a special connection for me. To me, this film (along with Landis’ “The Blues Brothers”) wonderfully captures the beauty of the Windy City like no other. And it’s Chicago as I remember it…the city of my youth.

    • Welllllllll Squonk. In fairness, I did say arguably his finest hour LOL.

      I couldnt make up MY mind between this and Breakfast Club. Probably this, but catch me on the right day and I’ll argue that one. They’re both awesome classics.

      It sure is a love letter to Chicago. Intentionally. I guess Hughes grew up there too and wanted to tryt to capture it as best he could. I think he did a damn fine job. 😀

    • Thanks John!

      They’re not all created equal, but this is what I try to do in my Sunday MTESS pieces. Hopefully you’ll take a look around, see if there’s any others that you’d enjoy. 😀

      This is one of the categories where we’re not facing off agianst each other, so maybe you could throw a vote my way come Lammy time! 😀

  13. Great review as usual, Fogs. Of course I whole-heartedly agree with the selection. That aside, to me you can tell how great a movie is and how it has stood the test of time by the amount of parodies. This movie probably has at least six scenes that has been parodied in television, commercials, or other movies.

    Wonder how much the Superbowl ad impacted DVD sales this year? Many of us got a nostalgic feeling after that. 😀

    • Wellllll…. mmmnnnn….

      (Gritting teeth)

      Ok. Moment passed. Many of us felt very angry at the Superbowl spot. LOL

      It absolutely is a film that’s worked its way deep into pop culture, and that’s something that is an indicator of greatness to me, too. And a factor in making these selections. This one could have gotten in on its quality, as well, but it’s really a case of having both here!

  14. Love all the history on this movie. It’s so great to hear how accidental some brilliant movies are made. Love, love that the dark version was cut as it wouldn’t have been so classic. Cheers.

    • Well cool yaykisspurr, Glad you enjoyed it. 😀 Love putting them up for people to read and learning about all that stuff, myself!

      That was my thoughts exactly as I learned about “The Darker Side” of Ferris, LOL. I felt relieved! So glad they cleaned him up… now he’s kind of a modern day Tom Sawyer type. Mischevious without being BAD. You know?

      They got it just right. 😀

  15. I’m voicing the unpopular opinion here, but I strongly, strongly, strongly dislike this film’s smug upper-middle class sense of entitlement. Why does Ferris get a day off? Because he thinks he deserves one and for no other reason, so he tricks every single authority figure (in some cases deceiving them for the whole film) close to him and then goes about doing whatever he wants for the rest of the film. There’s something really attractive about that, but the whole conniving angle inclines me to despise the little shit more than anything else.

    Not to mention how little regard he shows for his friends’ feelings. I did read a really neat little essay which argues that Ferris is just a delusion in Cameron’s mind. Which makes the movie play very, very differently. I don’t know if it holds up but it’s a lot of fun.

    • It doesnt hold up well at least, there’s a lot of potential holes in it to be poked. But its fun. I thought of that several times as I watched (the Cameron/Ferris delusion)

      Aside from that buddy, boooooooooo.

      I dont know that we’d have gotten along well in High School. 😀

      • Well, in high school I liked Ferris more. Because I was a teenager and that fantasy was more attractive to me then. As an adult, the whole movie just rubs me wrong.

  16. Ferris is just one of those films that embodies films of the 80s so very well. Everything from the music to the way this kid was thinking. Everyone dreams of having just one day like this.

    Great insight into the film and the production side of it.

    • Thanks Jaina. And yeah, it’s got some eighties to it. Definitely.

      The day he had was awesome, no doubt. Absolutely everyone would like a day like that. Aside from being in the parade and driving the ferrari, I wonder how many people HAVE done it. You know, just been in Chicago and did the Sears tower, the art institute and Wrigley plus a really fancy restaraunt, just because Ferris did. 😀 That would be awesome.

  17. Awesome selection and writeup! I just saw this for the first time not too long ago and I loved the hell out of it. It’s still a lot of fun today, plus I got a huge kick out of Cameron wearing a Red Wings jersey while gallivanting around Chicago. 😀

    • Nice! See? That’s the kind of experiment we needed here, cause there was some debate about that earlier… if someone saw it for the first time, as an adult, now does it hold the same charm?

      Eric’s answer? YES.

      Alright, alright 😀

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