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The Bud Bowl: A Definitive History

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On the subject of the greatest football dynasties of all-time, the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers, 1980s San Francisco 49ers, 1990s Dallas Cowboys and 2000s New England Patriots likely all come to mind. You would be remiss, however, if you failed to mention a less heralded and, uh, less human team that dominated its competition in, quite frankly, unbelievable fashion: Budweiser.

From 1989-1997, the self-anointed "King of Beers" dominated Anheuser-Busch's Bud Bowl, the yearly clash between animated bottles of Bud and Bud Light that was featured in a series of commercials during the Super Bowl. The advertising campaign, which persists today in the form of Bud Bowl-themed packaging and promotional events, remains one of the most popular ever.

The Bud Bowl Architect

Grant Pace wrote the six original Bud Bowl ads that appeared in 1989 while working at D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles. Pace said he developed the ads under the assumption that Bud Bowl would be a one-year phenomenon, but Anheuser-Busch representatives liked the prototype so much that Pace actually changed the original ending to leave open the possibility for a sequel. We interviewed Pace this week—here's a transcript.

More Exciting Than The Actual Super Bowl

bud-light.jpgThe first spots were an instant hit with viewers, as reflected by an amazing 17% surge in January beer sales. This guaranteed a grudge match the following year. As the cost of air time, production and other expenses grew from $5 million in 1989 to $8 million in 1991, so too did sales and Bud Bowl's popularity. Inflatable helmets and other related paraphernalia dominated liquor store and supermarket displays, while fans and sports columnists opined that the annual "Battle of the Bottles" was more exciting than the actual Super Bowl. (Considering that the average margin of victory in Bud Bowl history was less than three points, that notion held more than a little bit of truth.)

Tapped Out

By 1994, when Bud announced a new advertising deal with DDB Needham Worldwide, it was clear that the Bud Bowl idea as Pace and his colleagues had originally conceived it was nearly tapped out. The game took a one-year hiatus in 1996 before making an unsuccessful comeback attempt in 1997. The buildup to Bud Bowl 8 featured a sweepstakes, inviting fans to go online and vote for their all-time favorite Bud Bowl players and moments. Though I was only 13, I managed to score an official football.

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Television spots for the Bud Bowl were abandoned for good in 1998, as Anheuser-Busch brought back the Budweiser frogs campaign, which debuted two years earlier.

Today, the Bud Bowl's legacy endures in stores [photo courtesy of MauryStory]...

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...on eBay...

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...at BudBowl.com...

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...and even in Glendale, Arizona, the site of Super Bowl XLII. Snoop Dogg and Kid Rock will headline the Block Party at

Bud Bowl 2008, while the Budweiser Clydesdales will also make an appearance. Similar events have been held in other Super Bowl host cities in recent years, including a 2006 shindig at Detroit's Tiger Stadium. But while the modern Bud Bowl remains a marketing success, it hardly compares to the stop-action awesomeness that fans came to know and love in the events formative years. To watch every Bud Bowl commercial in its entirety, along with thousands of other commercials, I highly recommend the nominal one-week membership to commercial-archive.com. The fine folks behind that site have granted us permission to use their screenshots.

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Continue reading for a look back at Bud Bowls I-VIII...

Bud Bowl I
January 22, 1989: Budweiser 27, Bud Light 24

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Narrated by Bob Costas and Paul Maguire, the game that started it all unfolded over six spots during Super Bowl XXIII and proved almost as riveting as the Joe Montana-led San Francisco 49ers' 20-16 comeback win over the Cincinnati Bengals. The inaugural Bud Bowl was billed as a thunder and lightning showdown between two beers with contrasting styles. Bud, which boasted the vaunted "Beechwood Backs," favored a rushing attack, while Bud Light's pass first, ask questions later attack was led by a QB with Tom Brady-like numbers (49 touchdowns, 8 interceptions).
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The back-and-forth game featured all sorts of excitement. Bud Light executed a flea-flicker to perfection, while Bud's "Appliance of Defiance," the Freezer, gave Bud Light defenders headaches all night. With two seconds remaining and the game tied at 24, Budsky, Bud's seven-ounce "nip" bottle placekicker, wobbled onto the field to attempt a 42-yard field goal. The kick bounced off the crossbar and left upright before falling through, sending the boozed-up crowd of Bud beer cans into a tizzy, or fizzy as it were.

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Watch Bud Bowl I at commercial-archive.com.

Bud Bowl II
January 28, 1990: Budweiser 36, Bud Light 34

The following year proved no better for the bottles in blue. Bud, no doubt fired up by an emotional pre-game speech that concluded with the line, "You guys are the king, now let's go turn out their lights," earned its second consecutive dramatic win in the series. This one was wrought with controversy.

In snowy conditions at scale-sized Busch Stadium, Budweiser overcame a gritty performance by Bud Light quarterback Budway Joe and scored the winning touchdown as time expired when an offensive player advanced a fumble, which is illegal by NFL rules. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Anheuser-Busch received hundreds of telephone calls about the play over the course of the next week, prompting the St. Louis-based brewery to respond thusly:

"In the National Football League, of course, the offensive team cannot advance a fumble in the final two minutes of a game unless the ball is recovered by the same player who fumbled it. However, no such rule exists in the BFL (Budweiser Football League)."

I was unable to get my hands on a copy of the official BFL rulebook, but there are some other subtle hints that the Bud Bowl wasn't governed by NFL rules. Like, for instance, the fact that its participants didn't have any hands.

Watch Bud Bowl II at commercial-archive.com.

Bud Bowl 3
January 27, 1991: Bud Light 23, Budweiser 21

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By the time the foam settled in one of two Bud Bowls to shun the use of Roman numerals (Bud Bowl 8 was the other), there was a new ruler of the cooler. Don Meredith and Keith Jackson called the action, while Chris Berman handled studio duties for the game. Bud Light scored first, using a bottle opener as a spear to clear a path to the end zone.

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Filling in for the injured Budway Joe, top draft pick Bud Dry staked Bud Light to a fourth quarter lead, but a Longneck caught a touchdown pass with 3 seconds remaining, giving Bud a 21-17 edge and setting up the most memorable finish in Bud Bowl history.

In a parody of "The Play" at the end of Cal's victory over Stanford in the 1982 Big Game, Bud Light used multiple laterals to weave its way up the field and through the Bud band, which had wandered onto the field prematurely to celebrate what they thought was a sure third straight title. Jackson bellowed, "The band is on the field!" seconds before a Bud Light bottle sporting a tuba reached the end zone. Bud fans have lamented the fluke loss to this day, but like their Stanford brethren, can find solace in their team's superior all-time record against its rival.

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Watch Bud Bowl 3 at Retrojunk.

Bud Bowl IV
January 26, 1992: Budweiser 27, Bud Light 24

By previous Bud Bowl standards, this was one to forget. Rather than showing bottles run and throw footballs across a field for a fourth straight year, Chris Berman narrated one fan's quest to retrieve a Bud Bowl sweepstakes ticket that his girlfriend had mistakenly thrown away. (Fans had a chance to win up to a million dollars if the final score of the Bud Bowl matched the score on their game card were a staple of the later Bud Bowls.)

After a predictably disastrous turn of events that involved a trashcan, a police car and a pigeon, the pitiful hero managed to retrieve his ticket and arrived home just in time to catch the final score of the Bud Bowl. Lo and behold, he was a winner! After he put the ticket down to celebrate with an ice cold Budweiser and began recounting his ridiculous story to some friends, the shot panned to an adorable dog that had wandered into the room. You can guess what happened next.
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Watch Bud Bowl IV at commercial-archive.com.

Bud Bowl V
January 31, 1993: Budweiser 35, Bud Light 31

General Hospital heartthrob Corbin Bernsen led Bud Light into Bud Bowl V, while the Bud team and head coach Joe Namath arrived in the Budweiser blimp just minutes before kickoff. Ahmad Rashad and former MTV VJ Karen "Duff" Duffy provided quarter-by-quarter updates of the game, which featured some of the most absurd characters and events in the series' history.

Bud answered a touchdown reception by Bud "Neon" Light with a kickoff return for a touchdown by Namath's secret weapon, the Budweiser Rocket. After Bud built a 35-7 lead, Rashad asked a stone-faced Bernsen, "Coach, is there light at the end of the tunnel?" Help arrived in the form of a runaway Bud Light beer truck, which transformed into the Aluminator, an unstoppable offensive weapon.

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Trailing 35-31, there was no question who would get the ball for Bud Light on the final play of the game. As the Aluminator barreled through would-be Bud tacklers, an improbable, come-from-behind Bud Light victory seemed inevitable. Instead, a conniving Namath signaled to the Budweiser blimp above. A mechanized claw descended from the blimp and snatched the Aluminator into the air, which led to a fumble that Bud recovered to preserve the win.

After the game, Entertainment Weekly wrote, "Bud Bowl V had big-league special effects and bold commentary by MTV's Duff, looking buff in black, but this never-ending battle of the bottles has become a real clinker."

Watch Bud Bowl V at commercial-archive.com.

Bud Bowl VI
January 30, 1994: Bud Light 20, Budweiser 14

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With Marv Albert in the Bud Bowl studio and Mike Ditka and Bum Phillips as the head coaches of Bud and Bud Light, respectively, this game had the makings of a classic. It wasn't. Bud Light took an early lead on a "Naked Reverse" after its quarterback shed his label at the line of scrimmage. Bud countered with a kickoff return for a touchdown by the Basher, a 24-ounce can of aluminum dominance, who was penalized for excessive celebration and then ejected for cursing at the referee.

A windstorm blew into the stadium early in the second half, making things difficult for both offenses. The situation at a nearby bar, where patrons were nearly out of Budweiser, was more serious. Several Bud blimps combined forces to physically lift the stadium into the cozy confines of the bar, leading Albert to deadpan, "I don't know where this game is headed, but this is what I call a beer run!" Predictably, Bud Light scored the winning touchdown after a man in the bar grabbed a Bud defender from the playing field and proceeded to quench his thirst.

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"My biggest problem with the whole Bud Bowl thing is that they never really have any good teams playing," syndicated sports humor columnist Norman Chad once wrote. "I mean, if the Anheuser-Busch bigwigs had any brass at all, they'd get, say, Heineken and Samuel Adams every once in a while. Heck, Bud Lite's (sic) like Notre Dame "“ it doesn't matter what their record is, they're bowl-bound." The Bud Light-Notre Dame comparisons don't end there. Like the Fighting Irish, Bud Light's last bowl win came in 1994.

Watch Bud Bowl VI at spike.com or commercial-archive.com.

Bud Bowl VII
January 29, 1995: Budweiser 26, Bud Light 24

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Anheuser-Busch probably should've sent its bottles to the recycling plant after Bud Bowl VI. Instead, they gave us 60 seconds of Iggy, Biff, and Frank, castaways who watched Bud Bowl VII unfold from a desert island. With Bud trailing late in the game, Iggy was transported off the island and into the game, where he caught a pass and began rumbling toward the end zone. Eighty yards later, following a dream-like montage of press clippings and cereal boxes commemorating his newfound celebrity, Iggy gave Bud its fifth Bud Bowl win.

Watch Bud Bowl VII at commercial-archive.com.

Bud Bowl 8
January 26, 1997

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After a one-year hiatus, Bud Bowl VIII returned with another single, forgettable spot. Howie Long and Ronnie Lott provided coverage, holding Fox Sports microphones no less, from a bar in the Louisana bayou. After a fan stole his microphone and opened a fridge to reveal the Bud Bowl in action, Lott threw him out of a bar window and into a swamp. Lott proceeded to reveal the final score before the spot ended with a familiar refrain from the fan, who was sharing space in the swamp with an alligator: "I love you, man."

How does the Bud Bowl stack up in your hierarchy of greatest Super Bowl commercials? Share your thoughts below, and check out the transcript of Scott's e-mail exchange with Bud Bowl writer Grant Pace.

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25 Things You Should Know About Tucson
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The west is still wild in Tucson. Surrounded by breathtaking mountains, Arizona’s second-largest city attracts artists, astronomers, outdoorsy types and at least one rare cat. Read on for more Tucson trivia.

1) Some of the earliest evidence of corn cultivation in North America comes from Pima County, Arizona, where Tucson is located. Archaeologists have recovered kernels estimated to be 4000 years old within 60 miles of the city.

2) Towering above the downtown area is an iconic mountain called Sentinel Peak. Look at it from a distance and you may notice that the base is darker than the summit. The native Tohono O’odham people called this landmark Ts-iuk-shan—which is a corruption of their word for “black base.” Spaniards later turned Ts-iuk-shan into Tucson.

3) On March 20, 1880, a passenger train rolled into Tucson for the first time. Mayor R.N. Leatherwood sent out telegrams to dignitaries to publicize the occasion, writing to Pope Leo XIII that the railroad now linked "this ancient and honorable pueblo" with the rest of the Christian world. Newspapers began calling Tucson “the A. and H. Pueblo,” which gradually shrunk to its current nickname, “the Old Pueblo.”

4) If you’re a stargazer, Tucson is one of the best spots in the U.S. for astronomy. In 1972, Pima County enacted a “dark sky” code to regulate the brightness and number of outdoor bulbs in an effort to help local observatories like one at Kitt Peak. Now Tucson suffers from far less light pollution than most cities do, allowing stars and planets to shine through the darkness.

5) Above Broadway Boulevard, you can walk through the belly of a giant metal snake. A covered bridge for pedestrians and cyclists, this serpentine structure is designed to look like a diamondback rattlesnake, whose gaping jaw and fangs form the entrance.

6) By day, it looks like a big plastic doughnut. But after sundown, the solar-powered Desert O sculpture lights up in an array of vibrant colors. The ring, owned by the city of Tucson, is 6 feet in diameter and uses LED lights to create a brilliant display with a different color combo for every night of the week.

7) In 1970, then-mayor Jim Corbett called Tucson's East Speedway Boulevard the "ugliest street in America." At the time, it was enveloped by garish billboards that obscured the city's beautiful vistas. Then Life magazine ran a two-page photo of the forest of road signs and advertisements. The embarrassing spotlight led to Tucson's sign code, passed in the 1980s, which gradually limited billboards and tacky signage.

8) According to Guinness World Records, Davis-Monthan Airforce Base in Tucson has the largest aircraft repair shop and storage facility on Earth. Covering 2600 acres, it could house 4200 aircraft and 40 aerospace vehicles at one time, while still leaving room for 350,000 production tools.

9) In 2013, a new species of scorpion was discovered in the Santa Catalina Mountains, which are visible from downtown Tucson. Biologist Rob Bryson Jr. discovered the species in the Santa Catalinas' "sky islands"—isolated mountaintop habitats known for their biodiversity.

10) Cyclists should consider dropping by on the last Saturday before Thanksgiving for El Tour de Tucson, Arizona's largest and longest-running cycling event. The series of races attracts more than 9000 bike enthusiasts per year and usually raises about $2 million for local charities.

11) Hugo O’Conor, an Irish colonel in the Spanish army, is regarded by some as the founder of Tucson. Although a Spanish mission had been operating in present-day Tucson since 1692, and Native American communities before that, O’Conor arranged to have a military base for Spain's army set up on the site in 1775, resulting in a population boom for the city. O'Conor's red hair and courage in battle gave him the nickname “The Red Captain.”

12) The United States Handball Association Hall of Fame is located on North Tucson Boulevard.

13) Five years after peace was declared in the Mexican-American War, the U.S. bought the lower third of Arizona, which included Tucson, from Mexico. The $10 million transaction, known as the Gadsden Purchase, was finalized in 1854 and added a 30,000-square-mile territory to the United States. The expansion allowed Gadsden, a railroad promoter, to build a transcontinental railroad through the new territory.

14) One of the largest rock shows in the country, the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show attracts around 50,000 people annually. In addition to hosting gemstone scholars and dealers, the annual convention has exhibited the most dazzling rocks in existence—like the Hope diamond, lunar rocks collected by NASA astronauts, and the eye-popping Logan sapphire.

15) The Arizona State University Sun Devils and the University of Arizona Wildcats have a longstanding rivalry that dates back to their first meeting in 1889. Each year, the teams compete for the Territorial Cup, the oldest rivalry trophy in college football. The Wildcats play regular home games in their 56,000-seat stadium in midtown Tucson.

16) Speaking of the University of Arizona, it was founded in 1891—21 years before Arizona achieved statehood.

17) Tucson's world-class culinary scene was recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2015 as a “Capital of Gastronomy.” Only 18 cities around the world have been given this title, and no other American city has cracked the list yet. Jonathan Mabry, a historic preservation officer in Tucson, filed the application for the city. “There are more heritage foods grown within 100 miles of Tucson than any other city in North America,” he told Smithsonian.com.

18) The Fourth Avenue Underpass doubles as a one-of-a-kind photo gallery. Roughly 7000 tiles bearing black and white portraits of 21st-century Tucsonans line the walls.

19) Four national flags have flown over the Old Pueblo. Spain ruled Tucson and the rest of Mexico until 1821. Then Mexico itself took over, but sold Tucson and much more territory to the United States in 1854 (see #13). When the Civil War broke out, the city joined the Confederacy and flew the Confederate flag from February to June 1862. Then Union forces, bearing the American flag, took the city back

20) Tucson is the oldest incorporated city in Arizona (and has been since incorporating in 1877).

21) For a few weeks in 1933, radio listeners in Tucson could enjoy a local show hosted by a very young Ray Bradbury. At age 12, he landed a gig at KGAR reciting comic strips on the air every Saturday night. “My pay was free tickets to see King Kong, Murders in the Wax Museum, and The Mummy,” he later reminisced. “You can’t do any better than that.”

22) El Charro Café is the oldest Mexican restaurant in the U.S. continuously operated by the same family. It may also be the birthplace of the chimichanga. As the legend goes, they were invented by Monica Flin, who established El Charro in 1922. She once flipped a burrito right into the fryer, splattering oil everywhere. Since kids were within earshot, she resisted the urge to curse and yelled “chimichanga,” a slang word that means thingamajig, instead.

23) The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures is truly larger than life. A gallery of scale models, it boasts more than 300 tiny room boxes and houses. Some examples predate the Revolutionary War.

24) Downtown, a street known as Calle Carlos Arruza honors one of the greatest bullfighters in history, Mexican-born Carlos Arruza, whose nickname was El Ciclon (The Cyclone). According to historian David Leighton, Calle Carlos Arruza is one of the very few streets—possibly the only street—in the U.S. named after a bullfighter.

25) Only two non-captive jaguars, the largest cats in the New World, are known to reside within the U.S. One of them, nicknamed El Jefe, is a Tucson celebrity. Discovered in 2011, he can be found stalking the Santa Rita Mountains 25 miles south of the city. Jaguars are a near-threatened species: biologists estimate that about 15,000 are left in the wild.

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The Night the Brat Pack Was Born
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If Emilio Estevez had opted to pay for his movie ticket, the Brat Pack might never have been born. It was spring 1985, and Estevez—then the 23-year-old co-star of St. Elmo’s Fire—was being profiled in New York Magazine. The angle was that Estevez had just signed a deal to write, direct, and star in his own feature, That Was Then... This is Now, an opportunity that was rarely afforded to young Hollywood talent. Estevez was two years younger than Orson Welles was when he performed similar duties for 1941’s Citizen Kane.

That youthful exuberance was on display as New York writer David Blum followed Estevez in and around Los Angeles for several days gathering material for the story. With Blum in tow, Estevez decided that he wanted to catch a screening of Ladyhawke, a fantasy film starring Matthew Broderick. For reasons not made entirely clear, he preferred not to have to pay for a ticket. According to Blum, Estevez called the theater and politely asked for free admission before entering an 8 p.m. screening.

It's likely Estevez was just having a little fun with his celebrity. But to Blum, it was indicative of a mischievous, slightly grating sense of entitlement. Blum’s assessment was that Estevez was acting “bratty,” an impression he felt was reinforced when he witnessed a gathering of other young actors at LA’s Hard Rock Cafe for the same story.

What was supposed to be a modest profile of Estevez turned into a cover story declaration: Hollywood’s “Brat Pack” was here, and they had decided to forego the earnest acting study preferred by their predecessors to spend their nights partying instead.

The day the story hit newsstands, Blum received a call from Estevez. “You’ve ruined my life,” he said.

The June 1985 cover of New York magazine
New York, Google Books

Blum’s label had its roots in the Rat Pack of the 1960s, so named for the carousing boys' club led by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. Whether it was accurate or not, the performers developed reputations for squeezing every last drink, perk, and joke they could out of their celebrity well into middle age.

That dynamic was on Blum’s mind when New York dispatched him to cover Estevez. After he arrived in California, Blum took note of the fact that a tight cluster of actors seemed to have formed a group, both on- and off-screen. Estevez was close friends with Rob Lowe and Tom Cruise, and all of them appeared in 1983’s The Outsiders; Lowe and Estevez were co-starring in St. Elmo’s Fire, a coming-of-age drama that also featured Andrew McCarthy and Judd Nelson; Estevez and Nelson gained a lot of attention for 1984’s The Breakfast Club.

To Blum, Estevez was more than just a multi-hyphenate; he appeared to be the nucleus of a group that spent a lot of time working and playing together. And in fairness to Blum, Estevez didn’t dissuade the writer from that take: Fearing he was coming off as too serious in the profile, Estevez asked Lowe and Nelson to hang out with him at Los Angeles’s Hard Rock Cafe so Blum could see the actor's lighter side.

Nelson would later recall that he felt uneasy around Blum. “Why is this guy having dinner with us?” he asked Estevez. Lowe, meanwhile, was busy flirting with women approaching their table. The group later went to a "punk rock" club, with a Playboy Playmate tagging along.

As celebrity hedonism goes, it was a tame evening. But Blum walked away with the idea that Estevez was the unofficial president of an exclusive club—attractive actors who were soaking up success while idling late into the night.

Blum returned to New York with a different angle for his editors. He wanted to capture this “Brat Pack,” a “roving band” of performers “on the prowl” for good times. Although the magazine had just run a cover story about a teenage gang dubbed “the wolf pack” and feared repetition, they agreed.

As far as Estevez and the others were concerned, Blum was busy executing a piece on Estevez’s ambitions as a writer and director. When Estevez, Nelson, and Lowe appeared on the cover—taken from a publicity still for St. Elmo’s Fire—with his newly-coined phrase, they were horrified.

Blum began getting calls from angry publicists from each of the actors mentioned in the article—and there had been a lot of them. In addition to Estevez, the de facto leader, and lieutenants Lowe and Nelson, Blum had dubbed go-to John Hughes geek Anthony Michael Hall the “mascot”; Timothy Hutton was said to be on the verge of excommunication for his film “bombs”; Tom Cruise, Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage, and Matt Dillon were also mentioned.

To the actors, the effect was devastating. Independent of how they spent their free time, all of them were pursuing serious careers as performers, with producers, directors, and casting agents mindful of their portrayal in the media. Being a Brat Packer was synonymous with being listless, or not taking their craft seriously.

Nelson recalled the blowback was immediate: Managers told him to stop socializing with his friends for fear he’d be stigmatized as unreliable. “These were people I worked with, who I really liked as people, funny, smart, committed to the work,” he said in 2013. “I mean, no one was professionally irresponsible. And after that article, not only [were] we strongly encouraged not to work with each other again, and for the most part we haven’t, but it was insinuated we might not want to be hanging out with these people.”

Universal Pictures

Some of the actors went on The Phil Donahue Show to criticize the profile, asserting that their remarks to Blum had been off-the-record. (Blum denied this.) Lowe told the media that Blum had “burned bridges” and that he was “no Hunter S. Thompson.” Andrew McCarthy called Blum a “lazy … journalist” and found the idea of an actor “tribe” absurd—he had never even met Anthony Michael Hall.

Unfortunately, the name stuck. “Brat Pack” was infectious—a catch-all for the kind of young performer emerging in the ‘80s who could be seen in multiple ensemble movies. While Blum would later express regret over the label, it’s never quite left the public consciousness. In 2005, Universal released a DVD boxed set—The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, and Sixteen Candles—as The Brat Pack Collection.

Nelson, Estevez, and Lowe never again appeared in a movie together. “Personally, the biggest disappointment about it is that ‘Brat Pack’ will somehow figure in my obituary at [the] hands of every lazy and unoriginal journalist,” Estevez told a reporter in 2011. “Warning: My ghost will come back and haunt them.”

Nelson was slightly less forgiving. In a 2013 podcast, he chastised Blum for his mischaracterization of the group of young actors. “I would have been better served following my gut feeling and knocking him unconscious.”

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