St. Elmo's Fire (film)

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St. Elmo's Fire
St elmo's fire.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJoel Schumacher
Written byJoel Schumacher
Carl Kurlander
Produced byLauren Shuler
CinematographyStephen H. Burum
Edited byRichard Marks
Music byDavid Foster
Channel-Lauren Shuler
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
June 28, 1985 (1985-06-28)
Running time
108 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$10 million[1]
Box office$37.8 million

St. Elmo's Fire is a 1985 American coming-of-age film co-written and directed by Joel Schumacher and starring Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Andie MacDowell and Mare Winningham. It centers on a clique of recent graduates of Washington, D.C.'s Georgetown University, and their adjustment to post-university life and the responsibilities of adulthood. The film is a prominent movie of the Brat Pack genre. It received negative reviews from critics but was a box office hit, grossing $37.8 million on a $10 million budget.


Recent Georgetown University graduates Alec, Leslie, Kevin, Jules, and Kirby are waiting to hear about the conditions of their friends: Wendy, a sweet-natured young woman devoted to helping others, and Billy, a former fraternity boy and now reluctant husband and father, after a minor car accident caused by Billy's drinking. At the hospital, Kirby spots a medical student named Dale, with whom he has been infatuated since college.

The group gathers at their favorite college hangout, St. Elmo's Bar. Billy, trapped in an unstable marriage, has been fired from the job that Alec helped him secure. At their apartment, Alec pressures Leslie to marry him, but she thinks they are unprepared to make such a commitment. Kirby is telling Kevin of his love for Dale when Billy shows up, asking to spend the night as he cannot cope with his wife. Jules accuses Kevin of being gay and loving Alec. When Kevin visits Alec and Leslie for dinner, Alec, during a private moment with Kevin, confesses he recently had sex with a lingerie saleswoman.

Billy and Wendy get drunk together, and Wendy reveals that she's a virgin. They kiss, and Billy, tugging at her clothing, makes fun of her girdle. Wendy insists they just remain friends because she thinks that he's trying to take advantage of her. At St. Elmo's, Jules reveals to Leslie she is having an affair with her married boss. Billy sees his wife with another man in the crowd and attacks him. Billy is thrown out of the bar but reconciles with his wife. The women confront Jules about her affair and reckless spending, but she insists that everything is under control.

Kirby takes a job working for Mr. Kim, a wealthy Korean businessman, and invites Dale to a party that he's holding at Mr. Kim's house (which he is using without Mr. Kim's permission). Wendy arrives with Howie, an ungainly Jewish boy whom her parents want her to marry. Alec announces that he and Leslie are engaged, upsetting her. She confronts him about her suspicions of his infidelity, and the two break up. Alec accuses Kevin of telling Leslie about the tryst with the lingerie woman. Jules gives Billy a ride home, and Billy makes a pass at her. Furious, Jules orders him out of her car, and Billy's wife witnesses the confrontation.

When Dale skips the party, Kirby drives to the ski lodge where she is staying and meets her tall, handsome boyfriend. Kirby's borrowed car gets stuck, and Dale and her boyfriend invite him in. The next morning, as Kirby prepares to leave the lodge, Dale tells him that she's flattered by his interest in her. He kisses her, and then poses for a photo with her (taken by her boyfriend) before leaving. Dale watches Kirby as he drives off.

Leslie goes to Kevin's apartment to spend the night after the breakup and discovers photographs of her. Kevin confesses his love for her, and the two sleep together. Alec goes to the apartment to apologize to Kevin and finds Leslie there, and then Alec and Leslie argue.

Wendy tells her father that she wants to be independent and move into her own place. Jules has been fired from her job, fallen behind on her credit card payments, and her possessions have been seized. Jules locks herself in her apartment and opens the windows, intending to freeze to death. Her friends attempt to coax her out, but she is unresponsive. Kirby fetches Billy, who landed a job at a gas station courtesy of Kevin, to calm Jules down. Billy convinces Jules to let him in, and the two share a very tender talk about the challenges of life, overheard by the rest of the gang.

Wendy moves into her own place, where Billy visits and informs her that he is getting a divorce and moving to New York City, and the two have sex. At the bus station, the group gathers once more to say goodbye to Billy. Billy urges Alec to make up with Leslie, but she declares that she does not want to date anyone for a while. Alec and Kevin make up, and the group makes plans to meet for brunch. However, they decide not to go to St. Elmo's and instead choose Houlihan's because there are "not so many kids" there.




The film was announced in July 1984. It was executive produced by Ned Tanen.[2] Tanen also produced The Breakfast Club and it and St. Elmo's Fire were dubbed "The Little Chills", in reference to the film The Big Chill. "These are both movies that no one has ever seen before," said Tanen.[3]


According to Schumacher, "a lot of people turned down the script...the head of [one] major studio called its seven-member cast "the most loathsome humans he had ever read on the page."[1] The producers interviewed "hundreds of people" for the cast, including Anthony Edwards and Lea Thompson.[4] According to Lauren Shuler Donner, she found Estevez, Nelson, and Sheedy through recommendations from John Hughes, who had cast them in The Breakfast Club;[5] Schumacher said he had to "push hard" to get the studio to agree to cast the three.[6] Demi Moore had to go to rehab before shooting.[7]

"I think there are people who go to college because it's kind of what's accepted," said Lowe. "I feel unfortunately sometimes it's used as a holding tank, waiting to go into the real world, instead of for education. I think there are people who can go into the marketplace after high school and do well."[8]

"I think I'm probably going to be criticized a lot," said Nelson. "My character is very straight, very conservative, very career-oriented. After Breakfast Club, I think people will say I should have played another street punk. They'll criticize me for not doing what I'm good at, for trying something new."[9]

"It's refreshing to play someone who isn't defined by who her boyfriend is or what her body looks like," said Sheedy.[3]

"I did feel a little like the new kid in class," said Moore.[10]


Principal photography began early October 1984, just after executive producer Ned Tanen had been appointed as president of Paramount Pictures' motion picture division.[11]

The private Catholic, Jesuit Georgetown University would not permit filming on campus, with their administrators citing questionable content such as premarital sex. As a result, the university seen on film is the public University of Maryland located 10 miles away in College Park, Maryland.[12]

"I loved wearing the clothes," said Moore, "I've always been such a tom boy."[10]


Critical response[edit]

David Denby called Schumacher "brutally untalented" and said that "nobody over the moral age of fifteen" will like the work of the Brat Pack actors in the film:[13]

St. Elmo's Fire isn't drama, it's gossip, and peculiarly early-adolescent gossip— a movie designed to be picked apart on the telephone. The turbidly self-important treatment of these vacuous college graduates, each one a 'type', is like a TV sitcom without jokes. St. Elmo's Fire is so depressing a portent of Hollywood's teen sycophancy because it not only devotes itself to stupid kids, it accepts their view of the world without any real criticism....The sole survivor of the general disaster is Ally Sheedy, who manages to make something charming out of the yup petulance.

According to Janet Maslin:

In the realm of films about close-knit bands of school friends, St. Elmo's Fire falls midway between The Big Chill and The Breakfast Club. Its characters are old enough to enjoy the first flushes of prosperity, but still sufficiently youthful to keep their self-absorption intact. But soon enough, they will be forced to give up their late-night carousing at a favorite bar and move on to more responsible lives. In the film's terms, which are distinctly limited, this will mean finding a more sedate hangout and learning to go there for brunch....St. Elmo's Fire is most appealing when it simply gives the actors a chance to flirt with the camera, and with one another. When it attempts to take seriously the problems of characters who are spoiled, affluent and unbearably smug, it becomes considerably less attractive.[14]

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 42%, with 19 positive reviews out of 45. The site's critical consensus reads: "St. Elmo's Fire is almost peak Brat Pack: it's got the cast, the fashion, and the music, but the characters are too frequently unlikable."[15] On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 35 out of 100, based on reviews from 15 critics.[16]

Rob Lowe won a Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actor for his work in this film.[17]

In a 2015 retrospective review, Justin Gerber of Consequence of Sound said that he was "prepared to say it’s the worst movie of all time, with all the necessary stipulations lined up and accounted for,"[18] going on to criticize the characters, plot, set, direction, and even score.

Box office[edit]

The film opened strongly, earning $6.1 million in its first week.[19]

The film ended up making $37.8 million. It outperformed other Columbia disappointments that year including Silverado, The Bride and Perfect.[20]


It was the first soundtrack written by Canadian composer/producer David Foster. "When I was writing the score to St. Elmo's Fire, I loved it," he said. "But for that month and a half or so that I had to write the songs, it just felt like doing my regular job."[21]

The theme song "St. Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion)" was written by Foster and English musician John Parr, and also performed by Parr. Foster had been impressed by Parr's song "Naughty Naughty" and invited him to perform the title track. Originally another song was chosen which Parr disliked. "That song sounded like 'Fame II' or 'Flashdance II,'" said Parr later. "I thought the movie was supposed to have more class than that. It was a regurgitated song and I didn't really want to sing it."[22]

Parr urged Foster to try another song. They wrote it together, "very fast, between 2 and 4 on Friday afternoon," Parr recalled. "We wrote it together, with David sitting at the piano." Schumacher had given Parr rough guidelines for the lyrics. "He wanted a song about determination," Parr recalled. "He wanted a song about kids who are growing up and have to make decisions about what to do with their lives. That's what the movie is about." Schumacher told them not to use "St Elmo's Fire" in the lyrics but Parr did it regardless. "I thought it fit in the song," he said. "In the movie, St. Elmo's is a bar. But to me St. Elmo's Fire is a magical thing glowing in the sky that holds destiny to someone. It's mystical and sacred. It's where paradise lies, like the end of the rainbow."[22]

Parr was inspired to write the lyrics not by the movie (which he had not seen) but by the Canadian athlete Rick Hansen who, at the time, was traveling around the world via his wheelchair to raise awareness for spinal cord injuries, a trip called the "Man in Motion Tour."[23] The song did not appear on any Parr album until Letter to America was released in July 2011.

The song "Give Her a Little Drop More", which plays during the movie when the characters enter St. Elmo's Bar & Restaurant, was written by British jazz trumpeter John Chilton.

"St. Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion)" hit No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart for two weeks in September 1985, and "Love Theme from St. Elmo's Fire" (the instrumental theme to the movie by David Foster) reached No. 15. Another version of the "Love Theme from St. Elmo's Fire" with lyrics, titled "For Just a Moment", was performed by Amy Holland and Donny Gerrard, and was included as the final song on the soundtrack album.


Chart (1986) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[24] 90

Music Video[edit]

The music video of "St. Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion)" serves as a mini-sequel to the film, which features all seven of the main cast reuniting and looking sadly through the broken and dirty windows of a run-down and fire-damaged St. Elmo's Bar. The video was directed by Kort Falkenberg III, who devised the concept with the film's director, Joel Schumacher.

Potential adaptation[edit]

In August 2009, Sony Pictures Television received a "script commitment with a penalty attached to it" to adapt the film into a television series, which would "use the movie as a takeoff point and as an inspiration as it introduces six new friends: three boys and three girls."[25][26] Topher Grace and Gordon Kaywin of Sargent Hall Productions proposed the idea to Jamie Tarses; the three of them then recruited Dan Bucatinsky to write the pilot and got Schumacher to agree to the idea.[25] In August 2019, it was reported that NBC was developing a television series with Josh Berman attached as writer and executive producer.[27]


  1. ^ a b Gora, Susannah (2010). You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried. Crown Publishers. p. 87. ISBN 978-0307408433.
  2. ^ FILM CLIPS: SCRIPTS TAKING FLIGHT IN THE WRITERS' WING FILM CLIPS: NEW STABLE London, Michael. Los Angeles Times 27 July 1984: f1.
  3. ^ a b TEEN-AGE FARE TAKES A COURSE IN SERIOUSNESS: FILM CLIPS London, Michael. Los Angeles Times 14 Nov 1984: h1.
  4. ^ Gora, Susannah (2010). You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried. Three Rivers Press. p. 88.
  5. ^ Priggé, Steven (2004). Movie Moguls Speak. p. 91. ISBN 0786419296.
  6. ^ Gora, Susannah (2010). You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried. Three Rivers Press. p. 90.
  7. ^ Cormier, Roger. "Facts about St. Elmo's Fire". Retrieved July 17, 2017.
  8. ^ AT THE MOVIES: [INTERVIEW] Van Gelder, Lawrence. New York Times 24 Aug 1984: C.6.
  10. ^ a b Caulfield, Deborah. DEMI MOORE SAVORS ROLE IN 'ST. ELMO'S': DEMI MOORE IN 'ELMO'S' Los Angeles Times. 3 July 1985: oc_e2.
  11. ^ Tusher, Will (October 9, 1984). "Tanen Par Pic Group President". Daily Variety. p. 1.
  12. ^ "St. Elmo's Fire Locations". 80s Movies Rewind. Retrieved November 12, 2018.
  13. ^ Denby, David (July 15, 1985). "Time Warp". New York. p. 66. Retrieved August 26, 2012.
  14. ^ Maslin, Janet (June 28, 1985). "St Elmo's Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved August 26, 2012.
  15. ^ St. Elmo's Fire at Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2022-04-05.
  16. ^ "St. Elmo's Fire". Metacritic.
  17. ^ "1985 RAZZIE Nominees & 'Winners'". Archived from the original on August 31, 2012. Retrieved May 9, 2011.
  18. ^ Gerber, Justin. "St. Elmo's Fire Might Be the Worst Movie Ever". Consequence of Sound. Retrieved July 24, 2015.
  19. ^ PALE RIDER' HEADS LIST IN THEATERS ALJEAN HARMETZ, Special to the New York Times.3 July 1985: C.9.
  20. ^ STUDIOS END SEASON OFF $160 MILLION: [Home Edition] Mathews, Jack. Los Angeles Times 6 Sep 1985: 1.
  21. ^ 'My job is to make songs fit for the radio' Lacey, Liam. The Globe and Mail 29 June 1985: E.9.
  22. ^ a b `FIRE' PUTS JOHN PARR ON THE FRONT BURNER: [Home Edition] Hunt, Dennis. Los Angeles Times 18 Aug 1985: 86.
  23. ^ "John Parr Rewrites 'St. Elmo's Fire' As Valentine To Tebow". Retrieved May 11, 2015.
  24. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 284. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  25. ^ a b Andreeva, Nellie (August 14, 2009). "'St. Elmo's Fire' Headed to TV". Retrieved August 26, 2012.
  26. ^ Eng, Joyce (August 14, 2009). "St. Elmo's Fire TV Series Heats Up at ABC". Retrieved August 14, 2009.
  27. ^ Otterson, Joe (August 14, 2019). "'St. Elmo's Fire' Series in Development at NBC". Variety. Retrieved August 14, 2019.

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