The Lasting Impact of Ferris Beuller

Jen Chaney joins Tim to talk about a cult classic film that its fans have to watch over and over. Ferris Beuller’s Day Off. Jen is a TV critic and pop culture journalist who’s contributed to the Washington Post, the New York Times, New York Magazine’s Vulture specialty publication, and WTOP Radio in Washington, D.C. In this episode we talk about how a teen movie left an indelible mark on pop culture.


Filmmaker and Director John Hughes made more than his share of movie favorites that spanned generations.

All we need to hear are just some of the titles of some of his films, to find ourselves taking a trip back to a certain time in our lives: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Home Alone, Mr. Mom and others.

In this episode, we to talk about the lasting impact of one of Hughes’ films, one that many of its fans said they just couldn’t watch one time. Ferris Beuller’s Day Off.

The movie debuted in 1986. Matthew Broderick played Ferris, a free-spirited teenager with a quick wit.

In Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, he cuts school and goes out on the town in Chicago with two of his girlfriend and his best friend.

As with many cult classics this movie contributed some things to culture that have lasted decades.  In fact, Jen Chaney wrote an article in the Washington Post where she documented 25 contributions to pop culture lore.

The Plot

Ferris is played by Matthew Broderick. He lives in the suburbs of Chicago. He decides to fake being sick so he can cut school for the day.
He recruits his best friend Cameron to join him, and Cameron, who is played by Alan Ruck, actually does have a cold that day. And Ferris recruits his girlfriend Sloane, who is played by Mia Sara.

There are other memorable characters like Ferris’s little sister played by Jennifer Grey, Jeffrey Jones who plays Principal Ed Rooney, and of course Ben Stein, who plays one of Ferris’s teachers. Charlie Sheen even made a memorable appearance.

The movie shows us how cleverly Ferris convinces his mother he’s sick, and then it shows us how he is able to get Cameron and Sloane away from school.

The movie starts to build to a point when the three decide to take a joy ride in Cameron’s father’s 1961 Ferrari 250 GT. There were only 100 of those cars ever made. They escape from school and explore Chicago, including a little culture – the museum.

The kids make a series of decisions that leave you wondering what’s going to happen next, and sometimes what you fear might happen actually does.

Ferris Beuller in Pop Culture

It’s not just that certain lines stood out in the movie, but that they came to mean things outside of the movie:

  • When Ben Stein drones Beuller’s name three times in class.
  • When the 1961 Ferrari enters the picture, the soundtrack plays a song from Yello called Oh Yeah. Now shorthand for something you really want in other films, TV and advertising.
  • The movie revived Twist and Shout by the Beatles and Wayne Newton’s 1960s hit Danke Schoen.
  • Rock bands took their names from the movie: Save Ferris, Rooney.
  • Two 1990 TV shows: NBC’s Ferris Beuller (Jennifer Anniston played Ferris’s sister in that;” and Fox’s Parker Lewis Can’t Lose.

Things We Didn’t Know

  • Alan Ruck, who played Cameron, was 30 years old at the time. Broderick was 23.
    In real life Matthew Broderick and Jennifer Grey (his on screen sister) got engaged before the movie’s release.
  • The couple who played Ferris’s parents actually met on the set and got married. (Cindy Picket and Lyman Ward)
  • Ben Stein was supposed to be off-camera, but the student extras laughed so hard during the filming that John Hughes decided to put Ben Stein in front of the camera for his speech on supply-side economics.
  • Stein selected that topic himself when Hughes told him to talk about something he really knew about.
    Stein had been a speechwriter for Presidents Nixon and Ford.
  • Cameron wore a Red Wings jersey in Chicago because John Hughes was from Detroit originally before moving to Chicago when he was 12, and grew up a Red Wings fan.
  • Hughes called it a tribute to Chicago. “Chicago is what I am.”
  • Th film shows the best of Chicago: Sears Tower Skydeck; ballgame at Wrigley Field, the Art Institute, and the parade on Dearborn and Adams.


About this Episode’s Guest Jen Chaney

Jen Chaney has been writing about movies, television and popular culture since she got her first “journalism job” in 1983, as the film critic for her elementary school newsletter. (She gave A Christmas Story three stars. She stands by that review.)

She currently writes reviews, features and essays about film, TV, books and pop culture for numerous publications, including New York Magazine’s Vulture, The Washington Post, The Dissolve, Esquire, Yahoo! Movies and Salon, among others. She is also currently working on a book about the movie Clueless, slated for publication in 2015 by Touchstone Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster.

Prior to becoming a freelance writer in 2013, Jen spent 12 and a half years working at The Washington Post, where, among other things, she wrote the popular Celebritology blog originally founded by her friend and colleague, Liz Kelly. In 2011, she contributed several essays to A Friday Night Lights Companion: Love, Loss, and Football in Dillon, Texas (Smart Pop), allowing her to finally explore the deeper meaning of Tim Riggins in semi-literary form.

In addition to her work, Jen derives pleasure from family, friends, the sight of her napping beagle and American Top 40 broadcasts from the 1980s.