You’d be hard-pressed to find a director that did more with the theme of suburban life in the 1980s than John Hughes. The writer/director was an expert at injecting comedy into the monotony of the everyday American middle-class existence. As such, Hughes’ movies were often filled with black sheep, underdogs and, of course, an abundance of flat-out jerks.
Usually, these jerks were outright bullies who enjoyed nothing more than tormenting their victims, but other times they were simply obnoxious buffoons, oblivious to the headaches they caused for those around them. Hughes could skillfully craft just the right part for the jerks in his movies, whether making them supporting characters that you loved to hate or simply inserting them into a single scene to maximize their dickish personality. Even better, he pulled off the trick of making some of his most popular protagonists almost-jerks, seemingly likeable characters whose unlikeable traits required closer inspection to discover.
But which jerkbag stands out in a category all their own among the writer/director’s films? That’s what we’re here to answer with this ranking of the many pricks and assholes in the Hughesiverse.
12) Bug — Uncle Buck (1989)
Bug (Jay Underwood) may be on the back end of our list, but he’s a jerk that needs straightening out all the same. John Candy’s loveable Buck has it rough with his older niece Tia from the start — actress Jean Louisa Kelly told Vanity Fair that she didn’t have to practice much when it came to channeling Tia’s teenage angst and disdain for having a babysitter: “The look came pretty naturally for me, and from what I hear that’s par for the course for teenagers.”
Tia’s pretentious, beret-wearing boyfriend Bug doesn’t help matters. We don’t see a lot of Bug in the movie and it’s really not until the end that we truly learn what an insect Bug is, when Buck catches him trying to get lucky with a random girl at a party behind Tia’s back. There’s an easy fix for pests like Bug, though, and it involves a power drill and a ride in the trunk of a 1977 Mercury Marquis, before being pelted with golf balls.
Standout Jerk Line: “My dad’s a lawyer, man, you’re history!”
11) Neal Page — Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)
In Steve Martin’s defense, his character, Neal Page, does have to put up with a lot of annoyance from the socially oblivious Del Griffith (John Candy). But as pestering as Del might be, he means well, while Neal is often downright mean. When it comes down to who’s the bigger jerk, it’s unquestionably Neal, who seems incapable of laughing at his unfortunate predicament and rolling with the punches. The f-bomb tongue-lashing he gives the rental car agent alone is enough to land him on this list, relatable as it unfortunately is. Hughes reportedly based the idea for the movie on his own hellish trip from New York to Chicago and one has to wonder, was he more of the Del Griffith or Neal Page in that situation?
Standout Jerk Line: “If I wanted a joke, I’d follow you into the john and watch you take a leak.”
10) Uncle Frank — Home Alone (1990)
Yes, Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) was a destructive little pipsqueak, but man, did he have some obnoxious family members. His big brother Buzz (Devin Ratray) probably wasn’t the easiest to live with, but the guy deserves a little slack — nobody wants their nine-year-old kid brother rummaging through their Playboys. The biggest jerk of Kevin’s clan, however, was without question his Uncle Frank (Gerry Bamman). The guy calls Kevin a “little jerk” in front of the entire family just because some Pepsi got spilled on his slacks. Like, chill, dude, JCPenny isn’t going to run out of Dockers. Frank later feigns sympathy when Kevin’s mom realizes she’s forgotten her child and compares the situation to forgetting his reading glasses. You really can’t blame Kevin for not wanting to spend a week in Paris with this ass.
Standout Jerk Line: “Look what you did, you little jerk!”
9) John Bender — The Breakfast Club (1985)
Principal Vernon (Paul Gleason) is clearly intended to be the prize jerk of this film, but when you consider that he probably had to deal with Bender’s antics on a weekly, if not daily, basis, you don’t really blame the guy for being such a hard-ass. Granted, Bender didn’t have the prettiest home life, based on his story about the cigar scar on his arm, but he also spends half the movie either ridiculing or sexually harassing his fellow detention mates. Nobody wants to hang out with somebody who has a chip on their shoulder that’s visible from a mile away, but somehow he still manages to win Claire’s affection in the end, furthering the dumb belief that women always go for jerks.
Standout Jerk Line: “Oh, are you medically frigid or is it psychological?”
8) Cousin Eddie — The Vacation series (1983, 1989, 1997)
At this point, Cousin Eddie actually seems more stable than Randy Quaid, which is really saying something. Eddie isn’t nearly as terrible or unlikable as some of the jerks on the list, but in the running for “the most obnoxious relative,” he’s in a class by himself. The pebble in Clark Griswold’s (Chevy Chase) shoe, he was only avoided by crossing the Atlantic in European Vacation — it’s a surefire sign that one’s popularity is lacking when their family literally travels to another continent to avoid spending time with them.
Quaid revealed to People magazine in a 1989 interview that he based Eddie’s pig-at-the-feed-trough eating habits on one of his own cousins. “Just shovel it in and finish it,” Quaid said. “No conversation. Just a bunch of eating sounds.” That’s what makes Eddie such an identifiable jerk — nearly every family has one slob-y relative who long outstays their welcome. Hopefully, your’s isn’t in the habit of dumping RV waste in the sewer.
Standout Jerk Line: [After parking his RV in Clark’s driveway.] “Don’t you go falling in love with it now, because we’re taking it with us when we leave here next month.”
7) Roman Craig — The Great Outdoors (1988)
Roman Craig (Dan Aykroyd) might have more money than National Lampoon’s Cousin Eddie, but he’s just as obnoxious. While Eddie just wants to have a good time and seems to get away with his bad behavior with an, “Oh shucks, Clark,” Roman lacks any sort of dimwitted charm.
After he and his family crash on Chester Ripley’s (John Candy) family lake vacation, it’s one tension-building mishap after another. Chester simply wants to show his family all the fun that a week at the lake has to offer — meanwhile, Roman’s only goal seems to either be criticizing Chester or one-upping him. You know someone’s a jerk when you literally have to save them from a bloodthirsty grizzly bear to bring out the best in them.
Standout Jerk Line: “Put a cork in it honey, I’m on the phone!”
6) Kevin McCallister — Home Alone (1990)
Macaulay Culkin might have been the cutest kid in America in 1990, but when we really take a hard look at little Kevin McCallister, the kid was a menace. Yes, he had criminals trying to burglarize his home, but that’s to be expected of criminals. And sure, the Wet Bandits had already ransacked multiple homes, but did they really deserve to have paint cans lobbed at their heads or irons dropped on their faces? It takes a special kind of twisted jerk mind to decide that setting a burglar’s head on fire with a blowtorch is a better alternative than dialing 9-1-1. And let’s not forget, Kevin did tell his mom that “families suck” and that he hoped they would disappear — all because he didn’t get a slice of cheese pizza. The kid was a sociopath in training.
Standout Jerk Line: “I hope that I never see any of you jerks again!”
5) Ferris Bueller — Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
Matthew Broderick himself described his character, Ferris Bueller, in a 1986 interview on Today, as “manipulating,” “shifty” and “dishonest.” With those attributes, there’s no doubt that Ferris later enjoyed either a career in politics or selling used cars — clearly, his sister (Jennifer Grey) and Principal Rooney (Jeffery Jones) were completely justified in trying to bust his preppy ass.
Let’s run through a list of Mr. Bueller’s offenses, shall we? Bullies his so-called best friend into stealing his father’s car, which leads to the destruction of the 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California — that alone should have landed him in jail. He lies to his parents every chance he gets (who both seem like very nice people, btw). Add to that, breaking the law by hacking the school computer system. Oh, and the guy totally cheated Abe Froman, the “Sausage King of Chicago,” out of his lunch reservation.
Save Ferris? Nope.
Standout Jerk Line: “Pardon my French, but Cameron is so tight that if you stuck a lump of coal up his ass, in two weeks you’d have a diamond.”
4) Ian and Max — Weird Science (1985)
You gotta feel for Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) and Gary (Anthony Michael Hall). It was bad enough that Wyatt had to live with the cigar-chomping psycho that was his brother Chet (Bill Paxton), but the guys can’t even enjoy a day at the mall without being tormented by Ian (Robert Downey Jr.) and his bullying sidekick Max (Robert Rusler). The mall was supposed to be a place of sanctuary for all 1980s teens, and yet, for Wyatt and Gary, it’s more of a public square for humiliation thanks to Ian, Max and an ICEE.
Ian and Max may not pose the physical threat of Chet, but they pose a much greater danger to teenage Wyatt and Gary — complete social status annihilation. No wonder the guys were desperate to create a computerized dream woman/accidental nuclear missile — being drenched in strawberry slush will drive a person to desperate measures.
On a side note, Downey Jr. seemed to embrace Ian’s dickheadedness in real life at the time, admitting to Howard Stern that he defecated in the trailer of one of his fellow co-stars. When producer Joel Silver demanded to know who was responsible, Downey kept quiet.
Standout Jerk Line: [After pantsing Wyatt and Gary in gym class.] Ian: “Hey, check us out!”
3) Hardy Jenns — Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)
There’s no mention of the characters in Some Kind of Wonderful knowing the characters from Pretty in Pink, but if they had, you can bet Steff McKee (James Spader) and Hardy Jenns (Craig Sheffer) would be an unstoppable douchebag duo. Hardy Jenns has all the upper-class superiority of Steff, plus the physical stature to do some real damage to any nerds or dweebs who cross his path. He’s a misogynistic elitist and thinks nothing of humiliating his ex-girlfriend at a party by telling her that she has to beg. The guy literally barks at her like a dog — if that’s not asking for a bloody nose, I don’t know what is. Jenns does get a well-deserved slap in the face, and according to Lea Thompson, they worked on that slap several times to get it just right.
Just like some of the other bullies on the list, when it comes down to it, he’s a coward — especially when faced with the probability of having to man-up against a rowdy group of metalheads led by Elias Koteas.
Standout Jerk Line: [To Keith regarding Amanda] “The one thing I’m glad about is that you get her used.”
2) Chet — Weird Science (1985)
Armed with a shotgun and barrage of highbrow insults like “buttwad” and “monkey dick,” Bill Paxton’s aforementioned Chet is a militaristic anti-government nutjob in training with zero qualms about extorting his brother. Saying that Chet’s just a jerk does a disservice to the phrase “total psycho,” as Chet has more in common with members of an underground militia than your Stef McKees or Cousin Eddies.
Paxton said Hughes allowed him to improvise some of those biting insults from Chet and even develop his character’s flattop haircut. The director was such a fan of Paxton’s portrayal of Chet that he used the character as inspiration for creating Buzz in Home Alone. So really, you get two jerks for one, here.
Chet, of course, gets a lesson in manners the only way a bully of Chet’s caliber can — by being transformed into a giant, talking toad/testicle/who the hell knows what?
Standout Jerk Line: “Boy, I wouldn’t give a squirt of piss for your ass right now.”
1) Steff McKee — Pretty In Pink (1986)
Next to Stan Gable from Revenge of the Nerds, James Spader’s Steff McKee might have been the biggest on-screen jerk of the 1980s. Vanity Fair goes so far as to claim Spader’s performance as Steff is the only reason to re-watch Pretty in Pink, and they’re not entirely wrong — his character really is fantastically terrible.
An over-privileged rich kid seemingly incapable of empathy, the guy makes it clear to everyone that if you’re not wearing a white linen suit and driving a sports car, then you’re not worthy of his time. And while his girlfriend is nearly as snobbish, Steff might just be the most unlikable jerk ever written by John Hughes. He may not walk around stuffing nerds into lockers like the stereotypical teenage bully, but the guy unleashes one snide verbal attack after another — he was unlikeable as any corrupt stockbroker in Wolf of Wall Street and he wasn’t even out of high school.
Spader said that in regards to himself, he didn’t have much in common with Steff and was more of an oddball in high school. The actor did admit at the movie’s 1986 premier, though, that “It’s always fun playing the bad guy.” It showed.
Standout Jerk Line: “That girl was, is, and will always be nada.”