Over the course of his legendary career, writer-director John Hughes created some of the most beloved characters of all time with names like Del Griffith, Ferris Bueller, and my personal favorite, Kevin McCallister. But for every reasonable, likable, and genuinely good character in his movies, Hughes balanced the equation with jerks like Edward Rooney, Chet Donnelly, and everyone's least favorite family member Uncle Frank in the 1990 classic Home Alone.
From rude bosses in films like Mr. Mom to unnecessarily cruel school administrators in Ferris Bueller's Day Off and The Breakfast Club, the iconic filmmaker really knew how to write a foil for his greatest heroes. And while most times people like to focus on the best characters from his movies, with so many examples of power-hungry and all around cocky villains, I have to focus on the biggest jerks from the mind of John Hughes. The only hard part is settling on 10 characters that fit that description.
10. Howard and Dorothy Baker - Sixteen Candles
John Hughes' 1983 directorial debut Sixteen Candles is an all-time classic, but a lot has changed in the worst over the past 37 years and there are certain aspects of the movie that just don't age well when looked at through a modern lens. One of the biggest issues is with Howard and Dorothy Baker (Edward Andrews and Billie Bird), Samantha Baker's grandparents, who essentially treat their foreign exchange student Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe) like a slave for most of the movie and constantly berate him in front of their family.
9. Roman Craig - The Great Outdoors
The Great Outdoors is one of those movies that my brother and I would watch whenever it was on TV, so I probably watched it at least 96 times, and it's not just because of Dan Aykroyd's amazing ability to pull off a rich jerk better than anyone. Speaking of which, Aykroyd's performance as the successful and lavishly wealthy (at least he appears to be) Roman Craig, the brother-in-law and foil of John Candy's Chester "Chet" Ripley. From the first time you meet the guy until his revelation in the final moments, Roman is a Class-A certified jerk. He does everything from telling his wife to put a cork in it while checking himself out in the mirror to calling everyone "deadasses" with so much disdain and cockiness in his voice, it's hard to believe it's the same actor from Ghostbusters.
8. Neal Page - Planes, Trains And Automobiles
I feel kind of bad putting Neal Page from Planes, Trains and Automobiles on this list, but not since The Jerk has Steve Martin played such a convincing and detestable jerk than in this 1987 Thanksgiving classic. Whenever given the opportunity to be a decent person and keep his mouth shut, Neal consistently does himself in, whether it be in New York, St. Louis, or even Wichita, Kansas. And yeah, Neal learns a thing or two along the way, especially when he figures out what's going on with John Candy's Del Griffith, the marketing executive spends most of the movie going on long tirades aimed at taxi drivers, car rental clerks, and worst of all, his companion on the road.
7. Margo And Todd Chester - National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
There are annoying movie neighbors and then there are Margo and Todd Chester (Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Nicholas Guest) in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. John Hughes had written plenty of great yuppies up to this point, but the 1989 Christmas classic features the greatest husband-wife combo of that era. And sure Clark Griswold is responsible for a lot of the couple's worst moments, but their reactions ("And why's the carpet all wet, Todd?" "I don't know, Margo!") make them some unlikable you can't help but root against them.
6. Ron Richardson - Mr. Mom
I could have put any number of horrible bosses from John Hughes' filmography here, but the best example of a greasy, womanizing executive is found in Martin Mull's performance as Ron Richardson in Mr. Mom. As soon as the character is first introduced when Teri Garr's Caroline Butler gets a job in advertising leaving Michael Keaton's Jack Butler home alone with the kids. Whenever Ron is in the picture he is either being aggressively flirtatious with Caroline or demeaning to Jack. And the idea that Ron is just being friendly with his new employee goes out the window when he tries to convince Caroline to leave her husband and children before trying to seduce her.
Being a jerk is bad enough, but now he's just a creep.
5. Richard Vernon - The Breakfast Club
Now it's time for the heavy-hitters, the worst of the worst, the scum between my toes. Starting off we have Vice Principal Richard Vernon (Paul Gleason) in the John Hughes classic The Breakfast Club. From the jump Vernon is a full-on jerk and only gets worse as the movie goes on, especially when it comes to the treatment of John Bender (Judd Nelson). There's the scene where Vernon verbally assaults high school student in front of the rest of the teenagers in Saturday detention, but then it gets worse when he locks Bender in the storage closet, threatens him, and then calls him a gutless turd.
4. Steff McKee - Pretty In Pink
You can't have an '80s movie without having the hero, or heroine in the case of Andie Walsh (Molly Ringwald) in Pretty in Pink being constantly picked on by the rich, popular kids at school. And you can't have a group of rich kids with an easy-to-hate leader like Steff McKee (James Spader). Steff's treatment of everyone who doesn't have uber-wealthy parents is turned up a notch when his friend Blane begins to fall for Andie. There's one scene after the big blowup at Steff's party where the yuppie sits behind a fancy desk, rolling a joint, and berating the guy who used to be his best friend. And whenever Blane tries to call him out, Steff does the jerk move of acting like the victim and like he is in the right.
3. Edward Rooney - Ferris Bueller's Day Off
You would think that Richard Vernon would have a higher ranking than Edward Rooney from Ferris Bueller's Day Off, but while Vernon was a certifiable dick to the students of Shermer High School, he never chased one around Chicago like Rooney did with Ferris. Not only does Rooney neglect the other 1,000 or so students under his watch, he begins to act like a creep and common criminal when sneaking around Ferris' house looking for a guy who was just trying to have some fun before going off to college in the fall. There's no sign of remorse and no changing on Rooney's part, even as he is carried back to school on a crowded school bus.
2. Uncle Frank - Home Alone
When we first meet Uncle Frank in the beginning of Home Alone, he pretty much says it's not his house and not his responsibility when asked to to pay for the pizza and talk to Harry Lime (when he's dressed up like a cop). But then we get the crème de la crème of being an ass after Kevin and Buzz (another jerk, but he comes around in the end) cause a series of catastrophic events. Without missing a beat, Frank looks at his nephew and calls him a little jerk in front of the whole family. Frank needs to look at himself in the mirror before berating little kids like that. Go off and steal the utensils from your first class seats that you didn't pay for, you cheap prick. I'm done with you!
Honorable Mention: Hardy Jenns - Some Kind Of Wonderful
Before we get to the biggest jerk in a John Hughes movie, let's take a moment reflect on Craig Sheffer's performance as Hardy Jenns, the self-absorbed ex-boyfriend of Lea Thompson's Amanda Jones, in Some Kind of Wonderful. He's not as much of a dick as James Spader's Steff McKee in Pretty in Pink but Hardy isn't such a good guy either. The serial narcissist is such a jerk throughout the entire movie you can't help but jump and cheer when Keith Nelson (Eric Stoltz) tells the bully that he is "over" before Amanda comes in and finishes the job.
1. Chet Donnelly - Weird Science
You don't know how hard it is to find just one Chet Donnelly moment to show the dastardly behavior of the biggest jerk on his list, but the extortion, "Wyatt's panties," and "You're Dead Meat, Pilgrim," are all good places to start when discussing Weird Science. John Hughes' dialogue and Bill Paxton's acting chops created the gold standard of evil older brothers in this 1985 sci-fi comedy, and the character remains the top of its class 35 years later. When Chet and Wyatt's parents go out of town, the older brother with a mean flattop lets the power go to his head and doesn't stop even when he's turned to giant blob. That takes commitment to being an undeniable jerk.
Those are the biggest jerks in all of John Hughes' movies and probably the biggest jerks in all of movies for that matter. Like I said in the beginning, John Hughes was a master at writing a believable and multi-dimensional foil for each of his heroes, and few have come as close to the greatness that he brought to his scripts and movies. Make sure to sound off in the comments and let everyone know your favorite jerk from these timeless classics.
Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.
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