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Molly Ringwald Movies: A Look Back Through the ’80s Teen Icon’s Best Films

Discover her standout roles and what she's doing today!


Molly Ringwald was the girl we all wanted to be BFFs with in the ’80s. The star of Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink, three decade-defining teen movies from beloved writer/director John Hughes, the young redhead was a plucky, fashionable presence who perfectly captured the ups and downs of being a teen. Now 55, Ringwald remains in the spotlight and while she’s naturally progressed from playing high schoolers to moms, she’s remained eternally likable.

Famous for well over half her life, Molly Ringwald has managed to avoid many of the pitfalls so common to those who go into the spotlight at a young age. Even before she was a teen star, she was making waves: She sang on an album by her father’s jazz band when when she was just six years old, and acted in plays like Alice in Wonderland and Annie.

In 1979, at 11, she appeared in two episodes of Diff’rent Strokes, and her character then appeared in the first season of the sitcom’s spinoff, The Facts of Life before being written off of the show.

Related: ‘The Facts of Life’ Cast Then and Now: Catch Up With The Ladies of Eastland Academy

In 1982, Ringwald had her first film role, playing the daughter of indie-film icons (and real-life couple) John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands in Tempest, a loosely adapted modern-day version of the Shakespeare play. The next year, she starred in a kitschy sci-fi movie, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone. While the movie didn’t make much of a splash, her next part, in the 1984 teen movie Sixteen Candles, would catapult her to stardom.

Molly Ringwald in 1986
Molly Ringwald in 1986Getty

Molly Ringwald movies

Almost 40 years after Sixteen Candles debuted (we can’t believe it’s been that long either!), we’re taking a look back at some of the best Molly Ringwald movies, from the teen classics to lesser-known titles deserving a closer look.

1. Sixteen Candles (1984)

Molly Ringwald and Michael Schoeffling in Sixteen Candles, 1984
Molly Ringwald and Michael Schoeffling in Sixteen Candles (1984)Channel Productions/Universal Pictures/MoviestillsDB

In Sixteen Candles, Ringwald plays a high school girl whose family has forgotten about her 16th birthday. Audiences empathized with the character as she dealt with crushes and feelings of social awkwardness, but looking back at this film and her other collaborations with John Hughes, Ringwald has said, “I feel very differently about the movies now and it’s a difficult position for me to be in because there’s a lot that I like about them.”

2. The Breakfast Club (1985)

Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club, 1985
Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club (1985)Universal Pictures/A&M Records/MoviestillsDB

What do you get when you stick a nerd, a social butterfly, a goth, a jock and a delinquent in an all-day Saturday detention? The Breakfast Club, of course! In this quintessential teen hit, often cited as Hughes’ best movie, Ringwald plays the spoiled, popular girl who gets punished for skipping class to go shopping at the mall.

Over the course of the film’s runtime, Ringwald and her peers (fellow ’80s “brat pack” icons Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy) come to realize that despite their differences, they have far more in common than they ever realized. The movie was highly influential on the coming-of-age genre, and remains well-loved by multiple generations of viewers.

Related: ‘The Breakfast Club Cast’ Then and Now — Catch Up With The 80s Teen Icons

3. Pretty In Pink (1986)

Jon Cryer, Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy on set of Pretty In Pink, 1986
Jon Cryer, Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy in Pretty in Pink (1986)Getty

Pretty in Pink marked Ringwald’s last role in a Hughes movie. She plays a girl from a working-class home who struggles to fit in at school. Her hodgepodge, pastel-heavy wardrobe inspired many a teen girl to raid the thrift shop, and the new-wave soundtrack was perfectly of the moment.

In an NPR interview, Ringwald said that while she’s conflicted about some of her teen roles in retrospect, when it comes to Pretty in Pink, “I love my character. I think that she’s a strong woman and I’m proud of the choices that she makes.”

4. King Lear (1987)

In 1987, Ringwald made a shift from teen movies to esoteric arthouse dramas when she played Cordelia in acclaimed French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard‘s experimental take on Shakespeare’s King Lear.

5. The Pick-Up Artist (1987)

Molly Ringwald and Robert Downey Jr in publicity portrait for The Pick-Up Artist, 1987
Molly Ringwald and Robert Downey Jr. in The Pick-Up Artist (1987)Getty

Ringwald starred opposite Robert Downey Jr. (in one of his first lead roles) as a woman in debt to the mafia. The movie didn’t make nearly the same impression as her previous work, and was met with mixed reviews and poor performance at the box office.

Related: Young Robert Downey Jr.: A Look at His Dramatic Hollywood Journey From Bad Boy to Three-Time Oscar Nominee

6. For Keeps (1988)

Molly Ringwald and Randall Batinkoff in For Keeps?, 1988
Molly Ringwald and Randall Batinkoff in For Keeps (1988)TriStar Pictures/ML Delphi Premier Productions/MoviestillsDB

In For Keeps, Ringwald’s final teen movie, she plays a high schooler who becomes pregnant.  While the film received mixed reviews, Ringwald’s performance was praised. In a 2010 interview, she said she strove for realism in the role, recalling, “I was a very, very famous teenager and I thought a lot of teenagers were looking up to me and emulating me, and I really didn’t want to make a movie that said in any way that having a baby at that age was going to be easy.”

7. Fresh Horses (1988)

Publicity still for Fresh Horses, 1988
Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy in Fresh Horses (1988) Molly Ringwald moviesGetty

Ringwald and her Pretty in Pink co-star Andrew McCarthy once again played love interests in this coming-of-age movie. Ringwald’s character is a young woman who catches the well-off McCarthy’s interests — only to reveal she’s harboring some dark secrets. The film wasn’t successful, but it showed Ringwald’s capacity for drama.

8. Strike It Rich (1990)

This ’50s-set rom-com features Ringwald as an American woman living in London and is mostly noteworthy for its troubled production history, which Ringwald detailed in a 2017 New Yorker article.

9. Betsy’s Wedding (1990)

Ringwald plays the title character, a woman from a humble background who is about to wed a wealthy man, in this rom-com. The film features a noteworthy cast including Alan Alda (who also wrote and directed it), Catherine O’Hara, Joe Pesci and Madeline Kahn

10. Face The Music (1993)

In this comedy, Ringwald and Patrick Dempsey star as musician exes who agree to write a love song for a movie. What could possibly go wrong?  

Related: The Movies and TV Shows That Prove Patrick Dempsey Has Always Been Dreamy

11. Baja (1995)

In this gritty straight-to-video movie, Ringwald plays half of a couple whose big drug deal has gone bad, leading them to flee to Baja, Mexico. Her dad sends her ex to talk sense into her and urge her to come back home, but somebody else has sent a hit-man there to settle the score.

12. Malicious (1995)

In this erotic thriller, Ringwald plays a disturbed woman who has a brief affair with a college star baseball player. The athlete gets more than he bargained for, as she stalks him and shows she’ll stop at nothing to destroy his life. Watch out for the surprise ending!

13. Office Killer (1997)

Ringwald stars as an ill-fated office worker in this his offbeat cult horror-comedy. The film is notable for being the sole feature directed by the famed photographer Cindy Sherman.

14. Requiem for Murder (1999)

Publicity still for Requiem for Murder, 1999
Molly Ringwald and Christopher Heyerdahl in Requiem for Murder (1999) Molly Ringwald moviesEcho Bridge/MoviestillsDB

In this thriller, Ringwald plays the host of a popular classical music radio show. She becomes implicated in a murder plot when multiple victims are found killed with poisoned wine while a radio is playing her show in the background.

15. Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1999)

On set of Teaching Mrs. Tingle, 1999
Molly Ringwald and Katie Holmes in Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1999) Molly Ringwald moviesDimension Films/Konrad Pictures/Miramax/Interscope Communications/MoviestillsDB

Ringwald proved she could still act in teen movies (albeit now in grown-up roles) in this dark comedy. The film follows a trio of high school seniors who have to prove their innocence after being accused of cheating. 

16. Not Another Teen Movie (2001)

Ringwald’s hilarious cameo in this teen-movie spoof proved she had a sense of humor about her ’80s teen icon status, and we love her for it!

What Molly Ringwald’s been up to lately

In the ’00s, Molly Ringwald began taking on more TV roles, and played the mom of the main character in The Secret Life of the American Teenager from 2008 to 2013. She then played Archie’s mom in Riverdale, the teen drama series based on the classic comic books. More recently, she played the stepmom of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in the Netflix miniseries Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.

Molly Ringwald in Riverdale, 2017
Molly Ringwald in Riverdale (2017)Warner Bros. Television/CBS Studios/Berlanti Productions/Archie Comics/MoviestillsDB

On top of her decades-long acting career, Ringwald is also something of a Renaissance Woman. She’s starred in Broadway musicals like Sweet Charity and Cabaret, and released her debut jazz album in 2013 (in a full-circle moment, it included her cover of The Breakfast Club theme song “Don’t You Forget About Me“).

Related: Kirsten Dunst Movies, Ranked: 10 of the Luminous Star’s Greatest Roles

She’s also an accomplished writer whose essays have appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Guardian and Vogue, and she’s written two books, Getting the Pretty Back and When It Happens To You. If that’s not enough, she’s also fluent in French, and has translated two books, Lie With Me and My Cousin Maria Schneider, from French to English!

Ringwald will next be seen in the highly-anticipated miniseries Feud: Capote vs. the Swans, which also features A-listers like Naomi Watts, Demi Moore and Diane Lane. We’ll definitely be watching!

Molly Ringwald in 2023
Molly Ringwald in 2023Getty

While she’ll always be best-known for her ’80s teen roles, Ringwald has proven herself time and again as a mature actress whose many skills go far beyond the screen. As a generational icon, actress, writer, singer and translator, she’s a creative force to be reckoned with.

Keep reading for more of your favorite ’80s actresses!

From ’80s Teen Star to Boutique Owner: A Look at the Surprising Career of Phoebe Cates

Michelle Pfeiffer Young: A Look Back Through Her Glamorous Hollywood Evolution

Winona Ryder 80s: Fabulous Photos of the Star Who Defined Gen-X Cool

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