St. Elmo's Fire is a 1985 American coming-of-age film directed by Joel Schumacher. The film, starring Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, and Mare Winningham, centers on a group of friends, recent graduates of Georgetown University, and their adjustment to their post-university lives and the responsibilities of encroaching adulthood. The film is a prominent movie of the Brat Pack genre.
Recent Georgetown University graduates Alec, his girlfriend Leslie, Kevin, Jules, and Kirby are waiting to hear about the conditions of their friends Wendy, a sweet-natured girl devoted to helping others, and Billy, a former frat boy and now reluctant husband and father, after a car accident. At the hospital, Kirby sees a female 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 has been fired from the job Alec helped him secure and his marriage is unstable. At their apartment, Alec pressures Leslie to marry him, but she is convinced they are not ready. Kirby is telling Kevin of his love for Dale when Billy shows up, asking to spend the night as he cannot deal with his wife.
Kevin worries about his romantic life when Jules accuses him of being gay and loving Alec. When he visits Alec and Leslie for dinner, Alec confesses to Kevin that while buying lingerie for Leslie he had sexual intercourse with the saleswoman.
Billy and Wendy get drunk together and Wendy reveals that she is a virgin. She and Billy kiss but Wendy insists they just remain friends, especially since she realizes Billy is taking advantage of her crush on him.
During Halloween at St. Elmo’s Bar, Jules reveals to a disapproving Leslie that 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 girls confront Jules about the affair and her 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 he is holding at Mr. Kim’s house. Wendy arrives with Howie, a boy her parents set her up with. Alec announces that he and Leslie are engaged, upsetting Leslie. She confronts him about her suspicions of his infidelity and the two break up. Alec is also angry with Kevin, who he believes confessed everything to Leslie. After the party, Jules gives Billy a ride home. As she is about to confide in him, Billy makes a pass at her. Furious, Jules throws him out of her car.
Still pursuing Dale, Kirby drives to the ski lodge where she is staying but learns she has a boyfriend. His borrowed car becomes stuck in the snow and Dale and her boyfriend invites him to come inside. The next morning, as Kirby prepares to leave Dale’s cottage, Dale tells him she is flattered by his affections. He kisses her, and she does not resist. Kirby then takes a photo with Dale and departs the lodge, happy.
Leslie goes to Kevin’s place to stay the night after the breakup and discovers photographs of her. Kevin confesses his love for her, and the two sleep together but the next morning, Alec comes by to apologize to Kevin for attacking him the night before. Alec is shocked to find Leslie there and the two argue over his infidelity.
Wendy meets her father at a café and announces she wants to be independent from her family and move into her own place. Jules has been fired from her job and fallen behind on her credit card payments; as a result, her possessions have been seized. Jules locks herself in her apartment and opens the windows, intending to freeze to death. The 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 come back out.
Wendy moves into her own place, where Billy visits and informs her that he is getting a divorce and moving to New York City. The two have sex as a going away present. At the bus station, the group gathers once more to say goodbye to Billy. Billy urges Alec to make up with Leslie but Leslie declares that she does not want to date anyone for a while. Alec and Kevin make up and the group decides to get brunch. However, they decide not to go to St. Elmo's bar and instead choose Houlihan's because there are "not so many kids" there.
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." The producers interviewed "hundreds of people" for the cast, including Anthony Edwards and Lea Thompson. According to Lauren Shuler Donner, she found Estevez, Nelson, and Sheedy through recommendations from John Hughes, who had cast them in The Breakfast Club; Schumacher said he had to "push hard" to get the studio to agree to cast the three. Demi Moore had to go to rehab before shooting.
Georgetown University would not permit filming on campus, administrators citing questionable content such as premarital sex. As a result, the university seen on film is The University of Maryland located 10 miles away in College Park, Maryland.
"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."
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," going on to criticize the characters, plot, set, direction, and even score.
The theme song "St. Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion)" was written by Canadian composer/producer David Foster and English musician John Parr, and also performed by Parr. The song was written for 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." 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.
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." 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.