In 1985 Judd Nelson scored back to back hits with The Breakfast Club and St Elmo's Fire. Two movies that, back in the days of VHS rental stores, I paid a couple of quid for each and took home together. Wow, what a Saturday night that was! I now refer to it as the double whammy weekend!
Of all the talented young brat-packers in the cast it was Judd Nelson who stuck out for me in both the films. As John Bender, he was the ultimate dude in The Breakfast Club - and although he was a bit of an arse, I could relate to him, I was likely an arse too! He was cheesy, but man, that fist pump (combined with Simple Minds, Don't You Forget About Me) was the stuff of legends.
On to the next tape, and to this day the main thing I remember about St Elmo's Fire is that Judd Nelson's character liked Billy Joel's masterpiece, The Stranger. So much so that when he splits up with his girlfriend he let's her take any albums except for that one. Dude! The Stranger was my favourite Billy Joel album too! By the end of the night I felt like we were bothers from another mother.
I'd look out for Judd Nelson in just about anything my local video store cared to stock. Also from 1985, there was Fandango, with Kevin Costner, a film Executive Produced by Steven Spielberg. Legend has it the 'Berg was so disappointed with the movie he had his name removed from all promotion. But I don't think it was so bad. It's a coming-of-age type road movie, with Nelson as Cadillac owning Phil Hicks and a great performance by Costner.
Then there was From The Hip, co-staring John Hurt. Nelson played a young lawyer defending Hurt's character, who was accused of murdering a prostitute (didn't 80s movies feature an awful lot of prostitutes?). Nelson was awesome and cocky and crafty and, well Judd Nelson-ish. He all but did a fist pump, and I loved it.
Next up was the quite underrated Billionaire Boys Club, the true story of an investment-and-social club organized by Joseph Gamsky, also known as Joe Hunt. He was convicted in 1987 of murdering con-man Ron Levin. This was actually a two part TV movie broadcast the same year on NBC, something I was completely unaware of at the time because I rented it as a 3 hour VHS release. It's so very 80s, there's a montage to the tune of the Pet Shop Boys song, Opportunities (Let's Make Lots Of Money), it's another cheesy picture but it's compelling viewing, and once again Nelson is excellent in his Nelson way.
Judd Nelson was on his way to becoming one of my favourite actors. Yes, I knew he wasn't exactly a world class thespian, but he made movies that I enjoyed.
And then, all of a sudden, he didn't!
I saw he was in New Jack City in the early 90s. I didn't like New Jack City, wasn't my bag! But apart from that I never saw Judd Nelson again until Cabin By The Lake and Return To Cabin By The Lake popped up on Sky Movies in about 2001. Judd Nelson was back being all Judd Nelson-y. There was no fist pump, but he was emotionless and distant in a John Bender kind of way. Yes, he was a serial killer, but what's a bit of murder between friends, eh?
The sequel was so meta, and that's long before people started using the word meta about everything that's, well, meta! In Return To The Cabin By The Lake, Nelson directs a film based on the murders he carried out in the first film. It's a little confusing, and to be fair, they aren't the best of movies but just seeing Judd Nelson again in something new was a treat, and I remember that I bored my work colleagues going on about how he should be in more movies.
A quick appearance in Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back followed, and then Nelson was gone again. That's it. Whatever happened to Judd Nelson?
Let's just go back a few years to the late 80's. I ended up buying Billionaire Boys Club on VHS, it impressed me that much! But with VHS no longer an option to view - no player anymore - in a moment of madness I logged onto Amazon and spent 11 quid on the DVD. That's actually what prompted this article. I also hopped across to IMDB and was gobsmacked to find out that Judd Nelson has not stopped working at all. He might not be making big Hollywood movies but he's certainly not sat at home with his feet up. (Not that there's anything wrong with sitting at home with your feet up - it's one of my favourite things!).
Nelson spent 3 years on the Brooke Shields 90's sit-com Suddenly Susan (never seen it, not sure if it involved any fist pumping, maybe?), he's made TV movie after TV movie after TV movie, the likes of which just never made it to British shores. He's had guest roles on big shows like CSI, Las Vegas, Psych, Family Guy (playing John Bender!), Two And A Half Men and Nikita. Out of all of them the only one I watched was Nikita, and Nelson was in it just after I gave up on the show, damn!
I still think that Judd Nelson could make a return to mainstream cinema, but I think the problem is 30 years on people struggle to see him as anything other than John Bender. It's that damn fist pump (sorry fist pump - I still love you), it haunts him. I think maybe it's that which has stopped him getting roles he probably deserves. He could still create a nice career as a good supporting actor, in a Kevin Bacon kind of way. Let him come in and just be all Judd Nelson-y for 15 minutes, and let everyone else do the heavy lifting... but no fist pumps!