A whole generation wanted to be just like them — or at least look like them. Sure, they were unhappy, but they were beautiful, a group of twentysomethings with no desire for anything they couldn’t put on their credit cards. In St. Elmo’s Fire, director Joel Schumacher’s ode to the young and the restless that opened on June 28, 1985, Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Judd Nelson, Andrew McCarthy, Ally Sheedy, and Mare Winningham walked in and out of one another’s lives as easily as they did their Georgetown bar hangout. The last of the yuppies embraced them as role models — and the more sardonic press termed them members of ”the Brat Pack” (along with a few others of the era, including Matt Dillon, Anthony Michael Hall and Molly Ringwald). The film itself was a hit, taking in $38 million and becoming a staple at the video store.
But the ’80s ended and the audience grew up; a taste for angst became fashionable, and the actors’ white-toothed, feckless good looks were no longer an acceptable substitute for substance. Who knew that Moore had battled alcoholism? That in 1989 Lowe would be sued for a hotel-room romp with a minor, his pants down and a video camera running? That Estevez would break up with fiancee Moore in 1986 and go on to marry and divorce Paula Abdul?
They would go on to stumble professionally, too. The only cast members Columbia had originally approved for Fire — Lowe, Sheedy, and Winningham — would soon see their easy access to choice roles evaporate. Disappointments ensued: Sheedy’s Short Circuit, in which a robot stole the show; Winningham’s disappearance from the cultural radar until 1995’s Georgia; the dismal grosses of Nelson’s From the Hip and McCarthy’s Fresh Horses. Meanwhile, the ultrastardom of Moore and Fire bit player Andie MacDowell was perhaps as unexpected as their comrades’ fall from grace. ”I had to fight for Moore, Nelson, Estevez, and McCarthy,” says Schumacher. ”The biggest resistance was [to] MacDowell, because she’d been in [1984’s] Greystoke and had to be revoiced by Glenn Close, so there was a myth that she couldn’t act. I guess she showed them.”
In the end, most of the stars of Fire embodied little more than the values of being 21, a shallowness many might have shared but weren’t eager to embrace again. ”I always thought the poster should say, ‘St. Elmo’s Fire: a story about people just like you and me, only better looking,”’ says Schumacher. Alas, some things never change. The audience may have outgrown the Brat Packers’ appeal, but chances are they’re still better looking.
Time Capsule: June 28, 1985
Radio listeners found themselves in ”Heaven” with Bryan Adams; Clint Eastwood rode into movie theaters as a Pale Rider; fiction readers memorized John Irving’s Cider House Rules; and Cagney & Lacey kept order on TV.