Museums & the Movies: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

May 15, 2014


As we have seen in previous editions of Museums & the Movies, a film doesn’t need to be centred entirely round a museum, for the museum scenes to be significant or memorable. A prime example of this is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which packs a punch in under two minutes.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Location: Chicago, USA
Starring: Art Institute of Chicago

The premise of this 1980s coming-of-age comedy is simple: high school senior Ferris Bueller decides to play sick, skip school and spend the day in downtown Chicago instead, together with his girlfriend Sloane and best friend Cameron. Much of the storyline centres around how Ferris tries to trick his headmaster in to believing he is genuinely ill, who in turns goes to great lengths to catch Ferris out. Meanwhile, Ferris and his friends spend a carefree day in Chicago: they ride up the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower (and, at the time the movie came out, the tallest building in the world), visit the stock exchange, bluff their way in to a posh restaurant, see a baseball game, visit the Art Institute of Chicago, and watch a parade.


The scenes at the museum take place about half way through the movie, and while the whole thing lasts less than 2 minutes of the 1 hour 40 minute movie, it has become somewhat iconic and regularly features in lists of the best or most memorable museum movie moments. We first see Ferris, Sloane and Cameron rushing up the Art Institute of Chicago’s front steps (see above).


Once inside, the three friends join hands with a group of school pupils on a field trip – a scene most likely to to evoke school trips, and maybe even the beginnings of a lifelong love affair with museums, for many viewers. Then follows a sequence of iconic artworks from around the museum , including pieces by Edward Hopper, Kandinsky, Picasso, Gauguin, Jackson Pollock and Matisse. His his commentary of the scene, director John Hughes (who sadly died in 2009) says the museum scene was “a very self-indulgent scene of mine” and that the Art Institute of Chicago, when he was in high school, was ” a place of refuge for me, I went there quite a bit, I loved it. I knew all the paintings, I knew the building. And this was a chance for me to go back into this building and show the paintings that were my favorite.”



We then see  our trio of friends posing and pondering in front of various paintings, before Ferris and Sloane slip away to smooch in front of Marc Chagall’s stained glass America Windows, leaving Cameron to absorb himself in Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.  The painting is an example of pointillist style, which Hughes felt was comparable to making a movie – “very very close to it, you don’t have any idea what you’ve made until you step back from it”. Hughes draws parallels between the painting, which features a mother and child, and Cameron’s struggles with his parents. “The closer he looks at the child, the less he sees, of course, with this style of painting. Or any style of painting, really. But the more he looks at it, there’s nothing there. He fears that, the more you look at him, the less you see. There isn’t anything there. That’s him.”



Later on, Ferris and Cameron briefly reflect on their visit to the museum

Ferris: Cameron, what have you seen today?
Cameron: Nothing good.
Ferris: What do you mean, nothing good? We’ve seen everything good, we’ve seen the whole city. We went to a museum, we saw priceless works of art.

I wonder whether Ferris was thinking of the Art Institute of Chicago earlier on in the movie, when he compares Cameron’s house to a museum:

The place is like a museum – it’s very beautiful and very cold, and you’re not allowed to touch anything.

Then again, the paintings they saw were very beautiful, they didn’t touch anything, and whether or not it was cold is hard to tell just by watching.

Here’s a clip of the museum scenes from YouTube, with John Hughes’ commentary:

Fun fact: The museum had never been shot in before the film team approached them.

What’s your favourite museum movie?

Image source: All images are screenshots from the movie, taken on my computer. Available as a DVD from, and (known in German as ‘Ferris macht blau’). Please note these are not affiliate links, I’m just a big fan of the movie. 

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