Could Ferris Bueller Really Pull All That Off Before Dinner?
An hourly breakdown of Chicago’s most famous day of hooky.
Our Movie Mythbusters series answers the age-old question, “Okay, but could that actually happen in real life?”
The one time I summoned the pluck to play hooky, I forged a note saying I’d be out for a funeral. My mother dropped me off at school and I loitered near the entrance until Jake came by to pick me up in his green Honda. We went out to breakfast, saw a movie, then drove around aimlessly until it was safe to go home.
The day was more nerve-wracking than anything — I remember checking my phone incessantly, convinced I’d have an angry voicemail from my mom demanding my whereabouts. In short: I’m no Ferris Bueller.
But then again, who is? Could everybody’s favorite truant really have done everything John Hughes wants us to believe he did in the space of a single day? Let’s find out.
Rise and shine
There’s no way to figure out exactly when Ferris Bueller’s school starts in the morning. But in the spirit of fair play, we’ll give him an early first bell — say, 7:30am. (My own high school homeroom started at 7:15, so this isn’t impossible.)
We see during the opening monologue that Ferris is adjusting his stereo as part of the mannequin-in-bed ruse. This indicates that all the prep — outgoing voicemail, doorbell rig, fake snores — takes place the morning of, not the night before. If he’s real speedy about it, he might be able to get it done in half an hour.
Then we see him shower. Then he plays clarinet. He makes a mocktail and lounges. He calls Cameron. The editing of this scene makes things difficult to time — for the sake of argument, let’s say Ferris and Cameron pick up Sloane by second period.
According to this very helpful map, it would take Ferris & Co. roughly 40 minutes to get into Chicago proper. (Note: The creator of that map does a wonderful job of plotting the locations, but doesn’t seem to account for what we’ll call “lag time” — the non-travel time between activities, like paying for tickets, taking the elevator, etc.)
They begin their drive at the tail end of rush hour, ending at the parking garage on West Madison Street. Remember: Traffic + lag time = 20 minute delay.
The gang’s first stop is a sky-high vista of the Windy City, courtesy of the Sears (now called the Willis) Tower. The walk from the garage to the tower is roughly 6 minutes. Factor in ticket purchases, the elevator ride and the fact that a group of three moves slower than a solo wanderer, and they’re at the top by 10:45. Let’s say they spend 15 minutes observing.
Chicago Board of Trade
A five-minute walk puts the trio at the Chicago Board of Trade, where Cameron practices his best stocks-’n’-bonds sign language. Give them 15 minutes for this stopoff (plus a few extra for dawdling).
Lunch at Chez Quis takes the three troublemakers north to West Schiller Street. (The scene was filmed there using the front of somebody’s home and a prop sign — interior shots were done in LA.) It’s a bit of a hike from the Sears Tower, though: If they walked, it would take 45 minutes. Given that they’re later seen using a taxi, we’ll guess they drove to the white-tablecloth restaurant. That’s about 20 minutes on wheels. Add that to the five minutes Ferris spends duping the snooty maître d’, and they’re seated with menus by noon. Allow them an hour for lunch before they dodge Ferris’ dad and grab the cab he intended to take.
Day games typically start at 1:00 pm, which makes our current timeline seem pretty spot on. Let’s assume the crew catches a cab to Wrigley (15 minutes) and stays for a few innings.
A 25-minute cab ride gets them to the museum by 3:30. Assuming that Ferris’s parents keep normal workday hours, the teenagers would likely start to think about heading home at this point. But they’ve still got some stops to make. In order to give them ample time, let’s say they only hit the museum for 20 minutes.
The parade takes place on North Dearborn Street, which is a 10-minute cab away. After Cameron complains that he’s “seen nothing good today,” Ferris disappears into the crowd, intent on finding his way up on the float to sing two musical numbers for his friend. But here Cameron makes an odd remark. He says: “For all we know, he went back to school.” There’s no way that they could’ve hit the ballgame at 1:00 and the museum shortly thereafter and still had enough time for Ferris to get back to school before the final bell. We can chalk this up to a writing error or an excess of neuroses on Cameron’s part.
Ferris’s renditions of “Danke Schoen” and “Twist and Shout” take no more than five minutes. After this, the gang starts to head back. It should take them 10 minutes (by car) to return to the garage
But then Cameron notices something amiss: The miles on the speedometer are off by a lot.
Once he realizes Daddy’s car has been used and abused by the sketchy valets, Cam has something of a nervous break. Ferris and Sloane stop off at Glencoe Beach to give him time to cool off. But Glencoe is 45 minutes from the parking garage, meaning it’s already 5:30. After spending 10 minutes beachside and a 20-minute drive home, we arrive at the scene in which Cameron kills the car — a 15-minute affair, based on how long it seems they’ve been trying to roll back the miles on the odometer.
By my count, it’s about 6:20 when Ferris drops Sloane off at her house. Onscreen, though, Ferris looks at Sloane’s watch and you can clearly see that it’s 5:55pm. “Oh shit, I have to go,” he says. And then it’s off to the races, with Ferris scurrying home over fences and through yards to make it back to bed in the nick of time.
Time: 5:55pm? 6:20pm?
Going into this exercise, I was sure I’d find Ferris’s timeline impossible. But hats off to Mr. Hughes: My calculations have his story running late by only 25 minutes going into the final stretch. If Ferris and his friends spent a little less time at any of their stops than I estimated (one fewer inning at Wrigley, skipping dessert at lunch), it’s totally possible that he makes it home before Ma and Pa Bueller.
As Cameron says: Ferris Bueller, you’re my hero.