'Give people what they expect’: John Hughes’ family films and seriality in 1990s Hollywood

  • Holly Chard (Presenter)

    Activity: External talk or presentationOral presentation


    This paper explores serial production strategies and textual seriality in Hollywood cinema during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Focusing primarily on the production and promotion of John Hughes’ family films, including the Home Alone series (1990-1997), Dennis the Menace (1993), Baby’s Day Out (1994), I examine how Hughes exploited the commercial opportunities offered by serial approaches to both production and film narrative.

    As a writer, director and producer, John Hughes played a significant role in two major Hollywood production trends: the teen movie cycle of the mid-1980s, and the family film cycle of the early 1990s. From the late 1980s onwards, he adopted a production strategy that utilized many of the features of serial film production. Through his Chicago-based production company, Hughes Entertainment, he sought to control and, arguably, to standardize the production of his screenplays, capitalizing on his prolific output as a scriptwriter. Although he depended on several major Hollywood distributors for financing, Hughes found that by reducing his reliance on their facilities and avoiding the interference of studio executives he could ensure relatively fast turnaround times on his productions and respond swiftly to proven audience demand.

    Hughes’ ability to both shape and react to audience demand at a textual level was a major factor in his success as a commercial filmmaker. Time and again, he showed an aptitude for creating films that replicated successful formulas from his previous box office hits. Accordingly, this paper will examine how Hughes’ family films of the 1990s negotiate the demands for familiarity and novelty. It will also reflect on how this interplay between repetition and innovation was discussed in promotional discourses and in critical responses to the films. Drawing on an extensive range of primary sources, including trade journals, newspapers and publicity materials, this paper will provide new perspectives on the significance and operations of seriality in New Hollywood cinema.
    Period9 Sept 2016
    Event title22nd SERCIA Conference: Cinema & Seriality
    Event typeConference
    LocationParis, FranceShow on map
    Degree of RecognitionInternational