Being Bad Feels Pretty Good- Top 5 Roles of Judd Nelson
When Judd Nelson first caught our attention and captured our hearts in the John Hughes film, The Breakfast Club, we were certain that we would be seeing big things from him. It didn’t quite turn out that way. Nelson’s contemporaries, like Robert Downey Jr., Michael J. Fox and, to a lesser degree, Emilio Estevez, have all attained Hollywood legend status. Nelson, meanwhile, continues to churn out lower-budget films that are only good because Judd Nelson is in them (we’re lookin’ at you, Lost Voyage). Still, Nelson is a charismatic, enigmatic performer who has had a solid career with a few extremely notable highlights. We’re not just talking about John Bender, either.
5) Gaston — Tales from the Crypt; What’s Cookin (1992)
Tales from the Crypt had a reputation for bringing in the big names. Stars like Brad Pitt, Martin Sheen, Billy Zane, Tim Curry and more all offered their talents to the Crypt Keeper. An episode of the show’s fourth season, entitled “What’s Cookin,’” featured an all-star cast, including Christopher Reeves AND the legend known as Meatloaf. It was our friend Judd Nelson, however, that really stole the show as Gaston, a seemingly good-hearted busboy who just wanted to see the restaurant he worked at flourish. In order to do so, Gaston starts providing steaks of…questionable origin. Despite where they come from…or what they’re made of…these steaks prove to be a recipe for success and soon the restaurant is a hit! We find out very quickly, however, that Gaston is anything but the hero of this story and, in true Tales from the Crypt fashion, he is definitely served his just desserts (See what we did there?).
4) Rodimus Prime — Transformers (1986, 2017/2018)
Did you know that Judd Nelson was one of the original voices of The Transformers, voicing fan-favorite Rodimus Prime? Did you know that he also reprised the role in 2017 and 2018 and didn’t sound like he had missed a beat from the first time he portrayed the role, all the way back in 1986? You knew Judd Nelson was a big part of the ’80s, but you didn’t know just how big. Rodimus Prime was, at first, an energetic hot head, just like any ’80s protagonist. After being bestowed the honor of holding the Matrix of Leadership (an honor given to him by his mentor, and ours, Optimus Prime), his personality shifted a bit. While still a bit brash and rough around the edges, Rodimus begins to show the wisdom and maturity of former holders of the Matrix. He also begins to seriously doubt himself, never knowing if he will achieve the same greatness as Optimus. But he does.
3) Alec Newbury — St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)
Judd Nelson has been the ultimate good guy and the ultimate bad guy (if you consider the murder and harvesting of young women in an underwater grave to be, like, bad) but it’s his roles as characters with shades of gray that seem to make the biggest impacts. Take Alec Newbury, from the 1985 ‘Brat Pack’ film, St. Elmo’s Fire. Alec isn’t a bad guy, per se. But he does make some mistakes. Whether it’s risking his friendship with Kevin or sleeping with a lingerie saleswoman, Alec isn’t perfect. But really, none of us are. The beauty and power of St. Elmo’s Fire is that it doesn’t showcase typical “good guys” and “bad guys.” Because none of us are ever really one or the other. Nelson gives a pretty subtle yet heartbreaking performance as Alec, the boyfriend of Leslie. Neither Alec nor Leslie are sure where their relationship is going, but they know something important is about to happen. Both characters are flawed but still lovable. Nelson pulls off this dichotomy perfectly and, were it not for another ‘Brat Pack’ film, this would have been his best film of the ’80s.
2) Stanley — Cabin by the Lake (2001)
This ‘made-for-television’ movie, presented by the USA Network, is a forgotten gem in the world of psychological thrillers. Focusing on a screenwriter named Stanley, who is currently penning as a script about a serial killer who murders young women and harvests them in an underwater garden. Incidentally, the reason why Stanley’s script is so life-like is that Stanley himself is a serial killer who murders young women and harvests them in an underwater garden. Cabin by the Lake is one of this writer’s favorite movies. It is tense and scary but funny and satirical as well. Nelson gives a tremendous performance as “just a writer,’ and he portrays a serial killer pretty exceptionally, showing how often the worst among us are hidden in plain view.
1) John Bender — The Breakfast Club (1985)
For better or worse, this is the role that Judd Nelson will always be defined by. This speaks to how iconic the role is and how well Judd Nelson performed it. In applying Breakfast Club roles to our actual lives, Andy Clark is how we felt, Brian Johnson is who we actually were and John Bender is who we so desperately wanted to be. Bender was “anti-authority” before being “anti-authority” was in. Bender was the epitome of “cool” in the 1980s. He still is, quite frankly. Yes, he was a little rapey in a couple scenes, but that’s seemingly every character in a John Hughes film, now that we’re looking at them through a #metoo filter. Unwanted advances of Molly Ringwald’s character aside (until the advances were actually wanted), John Bender was the real hero of Breakfast Club. He was the boy “from the wrong side of the tracks” who “stuck it to the man”. At least, that’s the image he tried to project. In reality, Bender was a kid from a broken home who was “anti-authority” because that’s the only way he could survive. Really, Bender was a scared, lonely, insecure little kid and it took a Saturday morning detention for him to finally come face-to-face with his own life.
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