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Why People Love To Hate ST. ELMO’S FIRE

No movie gives an aura of eighties nostalgia better than St.Elmo's Fire. The Joel Schumacher directed film is somewhat of an underappreciated 'masterpiece'.

No movie gives an aura of eighties nostalgia better than St.Elmo’s Fire. The Joel Schumacher directed film is somewhat of an underappreciated ‘masterpiece’.  To start off, this film is what gave Schumacher his start in the industry. He would of course go on to do bigger and better things in his career, but everyone has to start somewhere.

Unfortunately for him, it wasn’t too well received. With an all-star cast of young ‘Brat Pack‘ members, a typical eighties soundtrack and a plot that leaves you scratching your head at times – this movie is the quintessential eighties coming-of-age drama. So that leaves you asking the question: why is it so irrationally hated?

What Is A ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’?

St. Elmo’s Fire follows seven Georgetown graduates who refuse to find new friends who are struggling to survive life after college. The movie starts off with five of the friends convening at a hospital to visit two of their other friends who’ve been in a drunk driving accident: a homely young lady named Wendy (played by Mare Winningham) and the driver of the vehicle, slacker Billy (played by the never-aging Rob Lowe).  After brushing off all concern of the well being they ever had about their two dearest friends being in an accident, the seven friends quickly decide to go to their favorite watering hole (see: How I Met Your Mother) conveniently called “St. Elmo’s Bar.”

St. Elmo's Fire (1985) Source: Columbia Pictures

source: Columbia Pictures

Throughout the film, there’s a series of unfortunate events that happen to each character, and it very well may be a character study on the lives of young college graduates. But, it comes off as if these characters were just at the wrong place at the wrong time – all the time. So, because of this, each character has a fully developed plot line and they tend to intertwine, creating complex situations that, at times, confuse you. The story arc, in the end, makes all the sense in the world. But you have to be very patient and see how these arcs culminate in the end.

Alec, Leslie and Kevin

This first crop of people are probably the most interesting group of characters in the whole movie. They’re the first characters whose storylines were introduced in the film, and understandably, their arc ends in probably one of the most unbelievable endings I’ve seen in a movie since Titanic (why would she dare throw that stone overboard?).

Alec and Leslie are your usual couple fresh out of college: young and in love, and 1/2 of the party has a fear of commitment, and it probably isn’t the gender you assume it to be. Their whole story arc involves the two of them involved in a cat and mouse game of commitment. Alec (played by Judd Nelson) is a yuppie, politician’s intern whose trying to work his way up the ladder, while his other half Leslie (played by Ally Sheedy) is an aspiring architect. Alec is incessantly trying to get her to marry him, much to the annoyance of Leslie – until Kevin (played by Andrew McCarthy) comes in to alleviate some of that pressure.

St. Elmo's Fire (1985) Source: Columbia Pictures

source: Columbia Pictures

Kevin is a writer who can’t seem to get his thoughts together on paper; therefore he never publishes anything. This leads to hours upon hours moping around not knowing what to write. The catch is, Kevin hasn’t really been in love and that’s the origin of his writing woes. Everyone assumes he’s gay, but the girl he actually wants belongs to his best friend: Alec. In typical movie fashion, Alec and Leslie get into a fight over presumed infidelities. This triggers Leslie to flee to Kevin’s apartment to tell him what happened; per usual they end up having a one night stand that goes on for hours. Eventually, Leslie returns to Alec, only to realize her mistake, and for the rest of the film she just bounces back and forth between the two guys.

Here’s the catch: in the end, Leslie must choose between Kevin and Alec and I kid you not, she insists that the two of them remain friends. The most mind boggling thing is that these guys, who were just fighting over her a few days ago, are perfectly fine with it.

Kirby Is A Psycho

Kirby (played by Emilio Estevez) is that one guy you said no to when he asked you out, yet he can’t take a hint. The perpetual state of infatuation he’s in is echoed throughout the entire movie. This girl named Dale (played by a young Andie MacDowell) that he went on one date with during college is his obsession, and it never really goes away.

You start to assume this guy believes in love at first sight, and he does. At one point he decides to stalk her at a dinner party she’s at while it’s pouring rain outside. Not only does he find her, he then proceeds to stare at her though a window. After that, he goes into the party soaking wet, and confronts her for standing him up at the date they were suppose to be going on. He asks her what’s going on and she tells him that “she barely knows him.” Even more baffling, she invites him to her apartment where they talk it out. While she goes inside to change, Kirby picks up her bed sheets and then begins to smell them. If that’s not serial killer material, I don’t know what is.

source: Columbia Pictures

Kirby is probably the most unlikable character in the whole film. He doesn’t get any hints, he’s very hot headed, and that inevitability gets the best of him. He doesn’t get the girl, so he just come to terms with it, and unfortunately, that’s how his story arc ends.

Wendy and Billy (specifically Billy)

source: Columbia Pictures

source: Columbia Pictures

Billy is a bum. Not only is he a deadbeat dad, but he can’t keep a job and also flirts with anything that breathes, despite having a wife and kid. He’s also very lazy and literally none of his so-called friends really do anything about it, except for Wendy. Wendy is the only one out of their group of friends who really seems to give a crap about Billy. This may have to do with the fact that Wendy is completely smitten with Billy; the only problem is they’re on complete opposite sides of the spectrum.

Wendy is a social worker, and keeps her job steady. She lives with her parents and wears clothes that even religious folks would say is a bit too much, and she never really wears any makeup. It’s a big mystery to why they even spend so much time together in the first place. Eventually this “friendship” gets ruined by Billy’s stupidity. Wendy invites him to a dinner party at her parents’ house, and everything goes without incident until the party ends. The two ‘lovebirds’ get drunk and Wendy ends up accidentally telling Billy that she’s a virgin. Of course Billy, being himself, is going to insist that the two have sex. Well, Wendy doesn’t like that too much and she ends up quickly telling Billy to get out.

After that, the two never really meet until the end of the movie. When they do meet, Billy is divorcing his wife, and moving to another city to find better job opportunities, and Wendy finally moves out of her parents’ house to discover her new found freedom. As a going away ‘present’ for Billy, Wendy decides to sleep with him in order to show that she’s a changed woman now – humbly, Billy accepts.


Demi Moore is a wonderful actress, but this role (actually this movie) doesn’t do anybody her any justice. Moore plays typical eighties party girl Jules – she’s a lot like Billy, but in female form. Jules can best be described as haughty, and a little bit out of touch with reality. She parties hard and falls even harder. She’s that one friend in the group that no one takes seriously, until she gets in serious trouble. At one point, Leslie and Wendy stage an intervention for her only for it to fall on deaf ears. Her list of vices seem to have no end; not only does she have an affair with her boss that turns sour (and a cocaine addiction) she’s also seriously in debt and by the end of the movie she has to pawn off everything in order to not be evicted.

St. Elmo's Fire (1985) Source: Columbia Pictures

source: Columbia Pictures

At her wits end, in the middle of her apartment, windows open, curtains flying so artistically it doesn’t even look real, crying her eyes out, Jules finally comes crashing down to earth. This is the climax of the movie. Similarly to the beginning of the film, everyone has to come together to save another one of their friends – and this time it was her. Many techniques were used to coax her out of the room, but out of all the ideas that were used, Billy was the one to prevent her from killing herself.

Why People Hate It

St. Elmo’s Fire can best be summarized like this: it is a solid film with one too many cringe-worthy moments that screw up the whole movie. The many plot lines and subplots not only make for a confusing write up, it makes for a confusing watch. This is pretty much a discount version of The Big Chill. It was Joel Schumacher’s first shot at directing, and it shows. The confusing plot, the unbelievable situations, and the weird pacing make for a very perplexing film to sit through.

So, it’s not the perfect film, but it doesn’t matter. It encapsulates that certain nostalgia about the 80s that’s only prevalent in John Hughes’s films. If you want, watch this film just purely for the year it was made in; if not, watch it because it’s a movie that every film fan should watch once in their lives. It won’t disappoint.

What’s a film that the general population hates, but you love? Let me know in the comments!

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Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.

Alexzandria is a college junior who has an unhealthy obsession with classic films. She believes in order for a movie to be a true 'classic', it has to have been released before the year 1993. Living in Miami, Florida, she spends most of her time listening to BTS, and purging the world of communists.

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