18 Little Known Facts About 'St. Elmo's Fire'

Martha Sorren | Jul 1, 2020 Movies
18 Little Known Facts About 'St. Elmo's Fire'

The cast of St. Elmo's Fire
Columbia/TriStar

It's been 35 years since the 1980s classic St. Elmo's Fire premiered on June 28, 1985. (We're old!) The movie was not an instant classic, but it did become a cult favorite -- and now, it represents one of the best films of the '80s. That's a pretty sharp swing from when it premiered to critical disdain. The New York Times review at the time said, "The film is edited so skittishly that the actors are barely able to complete their sentences, let alone their thoughts." 

Yikes.

But now, viewers are able to look fondly back at the film, a snapshot of the '80s, with the core members of the beloved "Brat Pack" of actors -- like Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, and Emilio Estevez -- who also all starred in The Breakfast Club, and Andrew McCarthy who was also in Pretty in Pink.

The film's anniversary is made a little bit sadder by nature of the director Joel Schumacher's recent death. (The famed director and costume designer died on June 22, 2020, just days before St. Elmo's Fire turned 35.) Joel was 80 when he died from cancer.

Rob Lowe, who played Billy in St. Elmo's Fire, mourned his friend in a statement given to Variety. "Joel saw things others could not. When casting St Elmo's Fire, everyone thought I should play the yuppie, but Joel knew I could play the Bad Boy. He was hilarious. He had extraordinary taste. The images from his films are timeless snapshots of their era. He was a larger than life original; I will never forget him," he said.

In honor of both the film's 35th anniversary and Joel's legacy, we've collected some fun facts about the now-iconic '80s flick.

  • 'St. Elmo's Fire' Is Based on a True Story

    1

    Script writer Carl Kurlander told MovieHole hhe idea for St. Elmo's Fire came from the time he worked as a bellhop at the St. Elmo Hotel and fell madly in love with a waitress who didn't love him back. The idea of that unrequited love became the center of the movie's plot, and the St. Elmo Hotel became the St. Elmo's Bar where the characters hung out.

  • The Bar is Based on a Real Place

    2

    Because the characters went to Georgetown University, the St. Elmo's Bar was based on a real Georgetown watering hole for college kids called The Tombs in Washington, D.C. (The set was modeled to look like the real bar and everything.) Decades later, Tombs is still standing, cemented forever in pop culture, thanks to the movie.

  • Georgetown Wouldn't Allow Filming on Campus

    3

    The characters are all graduates of Georgetown University, but none of the movie was shot there, because the college feared the film's adult themes -- like sex and drugs -- would reflect badly on the school. Instead, the campus scenes were shot at the nearby University of Maryland, and the bar was painstakingly recreated to look like the Georgetown bar.

  • The Title Has a Scientific Meaning 

    4

    According to LiveScience, St. Elmo's Fire is a weather phenomenon where a blue glow appears nearby pointy objects during storms. It's more akin to lightning -- or Northern Lights than fire, though. LiveScience also reports that since it often appeared atop the masts of ships, the phenomenon was named after St. Elmo, the patron saint of sailors.

  • The Movie Almost Had a Different Title

    5

    The definitive Brat Pack history book You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried reports that the studio didn't like the title, because it feared viewers wouldn't know what it meant. The studio gave alternate options to Joel, like Sparks, and The Real World (the latter of which hadn't yet been a reality TV show). In the end, the director stuck with the writer's vision and went with the original title.

  • Emilio Estevez Wanted Rob Lowe's Role

    6
    Emilio Estevez
    Splash News

    Carl Kurlander also told MovieHole that Emilio had wanted to play Billy in the movie, but that Rob had already been cast. (Womp, womp.) Instead, the casting directors offered Emilio and his "huge talent" the role of Kirby, the character that was based on the writer's own story. That's a pretty high honor to receive.

  • Rob's Acting Wasn't Appreciated

    7

    We loved Rob Lowe in the movie, but not everyone did. In fact, almost no one did at the time. In 1986, Rob won a Razzie award for "Worst Supporting Actor" for his portrayal of Billy in St. Elmo's Fire. (Yikes.) Maybe they should have let Emilio play the role after all? Or, maybe Robert Downey Jr., who was reportedly also in contention for the role, according to Entertainment Weekly.

  • In Fact, Critics Hated the Whole Movie

    8

    St. Elmo's Fire has become a cult classic, but no one really appreciated it back when it came out in the '80s. According to Entertainment Weekly, one review in New York magazine said "nobody above the moral age of 15" would enjoy it. But Andrew McCarthy, who played Kevin, thinks the youth appeal is what ended up giving it a cult status. 

    "None of those [young adult] movies at the time got great reviews. But they became what they became because they were the first generation of films that people could take home on VHS. Young people could take ownership of us in a way that no generation ever did before," McCarthy told EW

  • Demi Moore Was Sought After for the Role of Jules

    9
    Demi Moore
    Splash News

    Carl Kurlander told MovieHole that the director had seen Demi Moore leaving from an audition in the office next door, and that Carl had been ordered to go get her for the movie. "I ran after her. That may have been one of the few times I ran after anything in my life -- and it seem so hoaky," Carl said. "There I was panting, saying, 'Excuse me, we are doing this movie…'" But he's glad he did it, because Demi turned out to be a great fit for the film. 

  • Demi Struggled With Drugs, Just Like Her Character

    10

    Demi played Jules, a gal who was a heavy cocaine user in the film. In real life, Demi was also struggling with using drugs, and even had to be ordered off the set once when she showed up high, according to Yahoo. She ended up doing a short stint in rehab to get clean before she could properly take on the role of Jules.

  • Demi Dated Emilio

    11
    Demi Moore and Emilio Estevez
    The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

    Yahoo also reported that Demi struck up a romance with Emilio after meeting him on the set of the movie. The pair dated for two years, and Demi reportedly later said he was her first love. That's kind of a dig at her first husband, Freddy Moore, whom she'd been married to for five years prior to dating Emilio.

  • Mare Winningham Played a Virgin While Pregnant in Real Life

    12
    Mare Winningham
    Splash News

    A large part of the Wendy Beamish character's story line was that she was still a virgin even after having graduated college. But in real life, actress Mare Winningham was pregnant while playing the role. Writer Carl told MovieHole that the movie embraced the actress' growing belly by having Wendy struggle with her weight.

  • Mare's Brother Was in the Movie

    13

    The band that Billy (played by Rob Lowe) plays the saxophone in was called The New Breed Band, and actress Mare Winningham's brother, Patrick, was one of the members. He's a singer and guitar player in real life, too. (How fun that he got to be in his sister's movie -- if only for a minute.) It's his only acting role to date, but a pretty major one.

  • Ally Sheedy Accidentally Destroyed a Shower on Set

    14

    In the scene where Ally Sheedy's character, Leslie, hooks up with Andrew McCarthy's character, Kevin, the shower, she accidentally knocked the shower door out of its frame. That wasn't in the script, according to You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried. "It was my real laugh there," Ally said of her surprised giggle after the accident in the scene.

  • The Boys' Weird Chant in the Movie Was an Inside Joke

    15

    The "booga booga" chant the male characters do in the film came from a real-life hangout between Emilio, Judd, and Rob. Rob told EW, "We were always so pissed off about how there would be really rich foreign guys off in the corner, stealing the girls we were interested in. They would huddle together and talk, like, 'buggala buggala buggala, ha ha ha.' It was an inside-joke moment that made sense only to us."

  • One of Demi's Scenes Really Embarrasses Her Today

    16

    Toward the end of the film, a distraught Jules opens the windows in her apartment to try to freeze herself to death. Demi told EW that it's cringeworthy to watch that scene today. Director Joel Schumacher defended the moment, saying, "That part was satirical and tongue-in-cheek. She's so ... dramatic all the time. Demi did it fantastically but it was ridiculous," he said. "Do you know how long it takes to freeze herself in a Georgetown apartment? She's not in the Antarctic."

  • 'St Elmo's Fire' Started the 'Brat Pack' Name

    17

    A group of actors from the '80s got nicknamed the Brat Pack because they were all starring in the same sorts of movies together. The nickname stemmed from an article written by New York magazine's David Blum ahead of the St. Elmo's Fire release. Some of the actors from the movie that are considered in the Brat Pack are Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Andrew McCarthy, and Ally Sheedy.

  • The Movie Poster Was a Candid Photo

    18

    According to You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried, the cast photo in front of St. Elmo's Bar was slyly taken as the actors were just waiting for the set to be lit. The photo captures the cast as they truly were: Friends who would have hung out -- even if they weren't in a movie about friends who hang out. The picture went on to be used in the movie's poster.

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