The True Story Of The Brat Pack, The Group Of Young Actors Who Shaped 1980s Hollywood

Published April 29, 2023
Updated May 1, 2023

Throughout the '80s, actors like Emilio Estevez and Molly Ringwald starred alongside each other in a dozen coming-of-age films like The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo's Fire while earning themselves the nickname the "Brat Pack" for their seemingly entitled behavior.

It wasn’t the most flattering of nicknames, but it stuck.

The “Brat Pack,” a group of young, up-and-coming actors, took 1980s pop culture by storm. The fresh-faced talents starred in at least a dozen of the most popular coming-of-age films from the decade, including The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, and St. Elmo’s Fire.

Jon Cryer, Molly Ringwald, And Andrew McCarthy
The Breakfast Club Set
Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez, and EG Daily
Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, And Emilio Estevez
The True Story Of The Brat Pack, The Group Of Young Actors Who Shaped 1980s Hollywood
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The term was coined by New York Magazine writer David Blum, who wrote a feature about the "unofficial president" of the group, Emilio Estevez, in 1985. However, it was this very article that first introduced the world to the Brat Pack that ultimately led to its demise.

Above, look through 33 iconic images of the Brat Pack. And below, delve into the group's dramatic rise and fall.

Who Were The Brat Pack Members?

According to most sources, there were eight core members of the Brat Pack: Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, Ally Sheedy, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, and Judd Nelson. At least two of these actors starred in almost every major teen film of the '80s.

Then there were others who circled the pack and were often involved in the same projects, like Robert Downey Jr., Matthew Broderick, Tom Cruise, and John Cusack.

As to whether or not it was better to be inside the pack than out, it's vital to understand how the term "Brat Pack" was coined. It was born from an article printed in the June 10, 1985 edition of New York Magazine. While writing a feature story about Emilio Estevez, journalist David Blum was invited to a night out in Hollywood with Estevez, Rob Lowe, and Judd Nelson.

Blum summarized some of the actions of the group as entitled and "bratty." He thought up the nickname for the exclusive young party tribe as a callback to the Rat Pack of the 1960s. The article was not a good look for the stars, and the term stuck, growing to include those who weren't even present that night.

Brat Pack In New York Magazine

Twitter/Old Schools 80sThe cover of the New York Magazine issue in which David Blum coined the term "Brat Pack."

"The 'Brat Pack' thing is warm and fuzzy now, but at the time, it was a very scathing thing," Andrew McCarthy told Yahoo! in 2022.

Blum's description of the Brat Pack members caused major strife within the group. According to Esquire, Estevez called the journalist the day the story was published and told him, "My friends hate me now and won't speak to me."

Ally Sheedy said that the article "destroyed" the sense of camaraderie she'd experienced as a member of the pack. "I had felt truly a part of something, and that guy just blew it to pieces."

And Judd Nelson noted of Blum, "I would have been better served following my gut feeling and knocking him unconscious."

However, despite the strong reactions from some members of the group, others have maintained that the entire concept of the Brat Pack was simply a "media ploy" to sell movie tickets.

Why The Brat Pack Wasn't What It Seemed

There were certainly friendships, feuds, and romantic trysts between members of the Brat Pack, but the eight actors weren't necessarily the close-knit clique that the media made them out to be. In fact, two of the core members have still never even met.

Perhaps the most well-known Brat Pack couple was Emilio Estevez and Demi Moore. The pair dated for six months and were even engaged to be married. However, Estevez got an ex-girlfriend pregnant while they were together, and they never made it down the aisle.

Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall dated during the filming of The Breakfast Club after catching each other's eye when they co-starred in Sixteen Candles the year prior.

Hall's mother, Mercedes, later recalled Ringwald coming up to her on set and telling her, "I think I'm falling in love with your son." She responded, "That's so sweet — why don't you tell him?" The very next day, according to Mercedes, "they were walking around holding hands."

Cast Of St. Elmo's Fire

Silver Screen Collection/Getty ImagesThe cast of St. Elmo's Fire (1985). Left to right: Rob Lowe, Ally Sheedy, Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez, Mare Winningham, Judd Nelson, and Andrew McCarthy.

While theirs was puppy love that soon faded, Ringwald was also involved in another dramatic relationship within the Brat Pack. During the filming of Pretty in Pink, she and co-star Andrew McCarthy were at each other's throats.

"They hated each other," director Howard Deutch told Den of Geek. "They hated each other because Molly had a crush on him and he did not have a crush on her. And then he resented that she was the foundation of it, and then it escalated."

"That relationship was filled with conflict," he continued. "You can't manufacture that."

There were plenty of other notable dynamics among Brat Pack members, as well. Rob Lowe and Demi Moore had fiery onscreen chemistry — that they allegedly tried to carry out in real life for one night before regretting it. Lowe and Estevez had a "bromance" and were always hanging out together even outside of filming.

But perhaps the most shocking relationship within the Brat Pack was the one that didn't actually exist. According to Insider, Anthony Michael Hall and Andrew McCarthy have never met. Hall once even went as far as to say that the Brat Pack itself "didn't exist."

Whether it was a media ploy or not, however, the Brat Pack still left a lasting mark on millions of teens who watched the actors' films in the 1980s.

The Enduring Legacy Of The Brat Pack

It all began with a handful of successful films. Then, an ill-fated magazine article betrayed a group of young actors by assigning them a label they loathed. Before, they were regarded as talented artists. After, many considered them an unprofessional club of entitled brats.

Most members of the Brat Pack still went on to find varying levels of success. Emilio Estevez starred in The Mighty Ducks franchise and wrote and directed a film of his own in 2010. Rob Lowe had a sex tape scandal in 1988, but he made a successful return to the public eye with roles in Wayne's World and the hit television series Parks and Recreation.

Anthony Michael Hall joined the cast of Saturday Night Live for a season and has appeared in films from Edward Scissorhands (1990) to Halloween Kills (2021). The fellow Brat Pack member he never met, Andrew McCarthy, moved on from acting to directing. In 2021, he released a memoir entitled Brat: An '80s Story.

Ally Sheedy And Molly Ringwald

Universal Pictures/Getty ImagesAlly Sheedy and Ringwald in a scene from The Breakfast Club (1985). Sheedy has said that the Brat Pack never hung out in a big group.

Judd Nelson earned roles in movies like Billionaire Boys Club and TV shows like Suddenly Susan and Empire. Molly Ringwald also went on to star in several hit TV series, from The Secret Life of the American Teenager and Riverdale to Netflix's Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.

Demi Moore took a break from Hollywood to raise her family, but she returned in the early 2000s to star in Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. And the final Brat Pack member, Ally Sheedy, made appearances in movies like High Art and TV shows like Kyle XY and Psych.

While some of the actors are better known today than others, the Brat Pack of the '80s defined the era for many teens and young adults of the time.

As McCarthy put it, "These movies are meaningful to a generation of people, because they remind them of their own youth. When they talk to me about the Brat Pack, they're really talking about that own moment in their youth when they were in their basement... watching one of my movies for the 10th time. It's about them, and I'm just the avatar that represents that to them."

"Over time, it's become this warm and fuzzy phrase for this iconic moment in the '80s," McCarthy said of the thorny nickname. "[It's] a time capsule for a certain demographic of a certain generation."

After looking through these images of the Brat Pack, check out these vintage '80s photos of the height of arcade culture. Then, revisit the rise and fall of the shopping mall.

Erin Kelly
An All That's Interesting writer since 2013, Erin Kelly focuses on historic places, natural wonders, environmental issues, and the world of science. Her work has also been featured in Smithsonian and she's designed several book covers in her career as a graphic artist.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Kelly, Erin. "The True Story Of The Brat Pack, The Group Of Young Actors Who Shaped 1980s Hollywood.", April 29, 2023, Accessed June 25, 2024.