Is there anything better than snuggling down in your sweatpants with a steaming mug of hot chocolate in one hand and the TV remote in the other? You’ve got your favorite chair, a cozy blanket pulled under your chain and – the pièce de résistance – a beloved movie on the tube. Bliss! Until… About halfway through the picture, you begin to wonder: is this classic film problematic now? Come to think of it, are there a bunch of other cherished flicks that have aged terribly as well? And if that’s the case, is it time to stop watching these treasured cinema classics altogether?
20. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
Stanley Donen’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers won over 1950s cinema-goers and reviewers in toe-tapping style. The movie musical even scored five Oscar nominations and took home one for Best Music (natch). These days, though, Brides is not just “Barn Raising,” it’s pretty eyebrow-raising, too…
In 2012 a positive review of the flick in the Chicago Reader called the film “profoundly sexist.” That probably has something to do with the plot involving guys kidnapping women so that the abducted gals will marry them. In short, not the kind of movie that would ever get made today. Yikes!
19. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Directed by Blake Edwards, Breakfast at Tiffany’s bagged a couple of Oscars for its music and made a lasting impression on the American public. The National Film Registry even opted to preserve the romantic comedy as a flick with “enduring importance to American culture.” It seems that the board of selectors must have turned a blind eye to the movie’s depiction of a Japanese man…
The character in question is Mr. Yunioshi, a Japanese photographer played by Mickey Rooney. Yup, a white guy in “yellowface.” In 2008 the Council of Asian Pacific Islanders Together for Advocacy and Leadership said the performance kept alive “offensive, derogatory and hateful racial stereotypes,” much to Rooney’s shock. And even the director has confessed that he should have recast the role.
18. The Goonies (1985)
Everybody loves The Goonies, right? This is a flick that sparked from the brain of movie-making genius Steven Spielberg and has gone on to win over audiences for 35 years. Directed by Richard Donner, the adventure classic was a box-office smash on release and remains a cult favorite to this very day. Yet there’s no denying that it is now seen as being somewhat problematic…
Why? Let us count the ways. First, there’s the “monster” – a guy with facial abnormalities called Sloth (played by John Matuszak). Then there’s the kid named Chunk (Jeff Cohen) who is forced to reveal his stomach and do the “truffle shuffle.” And we haven’t even mentioned the film’s stereotyping of its Italian and Asian characters (oh, wait, we just did!). So while the movie may be a classic, it is also – as described by the Independent – an “item from another time.”
17. Peter Pan (1953)
Disney brought Peter Pan to the big screen in 1953 – and it was far from the first version of this classic tale. The original play came out in 1904, after all, and the novel hit bookshelves seven years later. Yet the animated film – directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson and Hamilton Luske – still earned a cool $7 million at the box office. But these days, the movie is somewhat troublesome to modern eyes.
If you’re thinking that’s because of the movie’s depiction of Native Americans… you’re absolutely right. USA Today had a damning view of the movie’s “portrayal of a band of Indigenous people.” And Marc Davis, one of Peter Pan’s animators, even admitted on an official commentary that the filmmakers wouldn’t use these characters now.
16. West Side Story (1961)
The American Film Institute lists West Side Story as the 51st-best movie in U.S. motion picture history. There are plenty of people who would agree with that ranking, too. Seriously, this is a musical – directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins – that bagged an incredible ten Oscars after its release. It also introduced the world to beloved songs and dances that have been imitated endlessly. So… what’s the problem?
In January 2019 Steven Spielberg found out the answer to that when he fielded questions about his 2021 remake of West Side Story. One critic, Mario Alegre, described the original flick as “a very sensitive film for Puerto Ricans because of their portrayal in it.” According to The Hollywood Reporter, Alegre meant the movie’s immigrant characters being “stereotypically fiery Latinas” and “gang members.” For his part, Spielberg plans to redress the balance.
15. Grease (1978)
What’s not to love about Grease? Randal Kleiser’s hit musical earned $200 million on its initial release and has continued to rake in cash ever since. Its best-selling soundtrack also shifted millions of copies and has been lighting up weddings for decades. Yet if you really stop to consider the plot of the movie, what message is Grease trying to convey to the audience?
According to some critics, it’s a pretty problematic one. Why? Well, you’ve got lyrics such as the notorious “Did she put up a fight?” in the song “Summer Nights” – arguably implying it’s okay to force yourself on a lover. And then you’ve got the ending where Olivia Newton-John’s Sandy effectively transforms into a harlot to get her man. Is that really the kind of attitude we want our children to have?
14. Forrest Gump (1994)
People just love Forrest Gump. The American Film Institute ranks the movie as the 76th-best U.S. picture ever made, and IMDB users reckon it’s the 12th-best film of all time, period. Forrest also ran home to half a dozen Oscars – including ones for director Robert Zemeckis and star Tom Hanks – and scored an incredible $660 million at the global box office. Yes, people sure do love Forrest Gump… right?
Not everybody loves this romantic drama, no. In fact, GQ has called Forrest Gump “poisonous.” IndieWire also claimed that the flick is now “even more problematic than it used to be.” The main issue is that Hanks’ Forrest is celebrated and rewarded for passively following orders, while Robin Wright’s Jenny suffers and dies for questioning authority. For a supposedly apolitical movie, that seems like a loaded message.
13. The Searchers (1956)
The Searchers sees director John Ford reuniting with star John Wayne to produce what is for some one of the greatest movies ever made. Yep, even though the film was only a modest success at the time, its influence has really been felt through the decades. Director Martin Scorsese, for instance, considers Ford’s opus as a “touchstone” of cinema. But even Scorsese admits that the picture is “troubling” to say the least…
The reason is that the film’s central character is… Complicated. After all, the movie sees Wayne’s Ethan Edwards on a mission to basically murder his niece after she’s kidnapped by Native Americans. And because the audience follows this protagonist from beginning to end, it raises a crucial debate. As Roger Ebert asked, “Is the film intended to endorse [the character’s] attitudes, or to dramatize and regret them?”
12. Gone with the Wind (1939)
The long-lasting love for Gone with the Wind really speaks for itself. Victor Fleming’s Civil War epic – which clocks in at almost four hours – has apparently raked in more money than any other picture ever made. It was critically acclaimed, too, taking home ten Oscars (two of which were honorary awards). Yet even at the time of its release, Gone with the Wind proved controversial.
To sum up the issue, HBO Max added a warning to the movie that states Gone with the Wind “denies the horrors of slavery.” The picture has also been accused of presenting a rose-tinted view of the American south before the Civil War. It’s a legacy that has certainly inspired plenty of discussion – and a deeper understanding of the issues involved.
11. American Pie (1999)
American Pie, from directors Paul and Chris Weitz, scored a sensational $234 million at the global box office. The comedy’s outrageous setpieces – such as the infamous “warm apple pie” scene – probably had a lot to do with this. That success also inspired three theatrical sequels as well as a – still ongoing – franchise of spin-off films. Yet not everyone looks back on American Pie fondly.
Even the plot – about four boys doing whatever they can to lose their V-cards – has come under fire in recent times. But the worst offender for many is the spy-cam sequence featuring Shannon Elizabeth’s exchange student, Nadia. In 2019 the star told Page Six, “If this had come out after the #MeToo movement, there would definitely be a problem.”
10. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
The message of the Bill & Ted movies – and yes, there is a message to these comedy titans – is, simply, “be excellent to each other.” Yet these days Stephen Herek’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and its sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (from director Peter Hewitt), come prefaced with warnings that viewers could find them “offensive.” So what’s the problem?
In September 2020 stars Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter explained the issue. Winter told Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review that the warnings refer to “slurs that [they] had in both of the first two movies.” Reeves and Winter endorsed the caveat, with Winter explaining that the words used are “totally disparaging and not appropriate terminology.”
9. Animal House (1978)
Animal House, from director John Landis, was the one of the biggest box-office hits of the 1970s. And its cultural impact was so big that in 2001 it joined the National Film Registry alongside such movie giants as The Sound of Music and Jaws. Yet the Library of Congress had to defend its decision to include the movie at the time. The comedy has only gotten more controversial since too.
In 2018 Vice published an article with the headline, “Celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Animal House by Tossing It in the Trash.” USA Today also asked whether we should still laugh with the movie in the time of #MeToo. After all, this is a flick that sees its “heroes” objectifying women left, right and center. USA Today’s assessment? “We’ll just put Animal House on double-secret probation.”
8. Crocodile Dundee (1986)
Here’s a startling fact for you: Crocodile Dundee is still the highest-grossing Australian movie at the Aussie box office ever. Yep, that’s right: the comedy took in more than AUS$10 million more than its closest rival. And it was a smash in the U.S., too – even picking up an Oscar nomination for its screenplay. These days, though, Peter Faiman’s fish-out-of-water flick leaves a lot to be desired.
One of the eyebrow-raising elements of the original movie – there are, incredibly, three pictures in the Crocodile Dundee franchise – sees the main character twice grabbing people’s crotches. And how are these moments explained away in the movie? The female protagonist says, “It’s okay; he’s Australian.” Well, we’re glad she cleared that up – otherwise we’d be worried!
7. The Breakfast Club (1985)
Star Molly Ringwald credits writer-director John Hughes with creating the teen movie. Before flicks such as The Breakfast Club, Ringwald argued in The New Yorker, there wasn’t much out there for kids to relate to. And plenty of people agree. The comedy’s been ushered into the National Film Registry, after all. Yet even Ringwald says watching The Breakfast Club is “troubling” today.
The main issue for Ringwald is that Judd Nelson’s character, Bender, “harrasses” Ringwald’s Claire all through the movie. And far from being punished, Bender and Claire actually hook up at the film’s feel-good climax. In her New Yorker article, Ringwald ponders whether this is really the right message – especially in the age of #MeToo.
6. Dumbo (1941)
Ah… Where to start with Dumbo? On the one hand, the animated adventure is an Oscar-winning early Disney classic that has – according to the Library of Congress – an ever-relevant message about self-belief. But, on the other hand, the movie – which has at least half a dozen directors – is widely panned as being exceptionally problematic.
Part of the problem is the crow characters, the leader of whom is called Jim Crow – and actually voiced by a white man. But then this is not even the most troubling part of the production. No, this comes during the “Song of the Roustabouts,” in which black characters sing lyrics such as “We never learned to read or write.” Sheesh!
5. Trading Places (1983)
John Landis’ Trading Places made Empire’s list of the best comedies ever made. The flick also ranked highly on Rotten Tomatoes’ tally of the greatest Christmas movies. It propelled Eddie Murphy into the limelight, too, and even scored Jamie Lee Curtis a BAFTA. So it seems likely that this picture holds a warm spot in many people’s hearts. But, looking at it through a 2020 lens, is it too problematic to love?
The scene that even fans of the movie point out as troubling is the one where Dan Ackroyd dons Jamaican garb. There doesn’t even appear to be a reason for this within the world of the movie, making it even more baffling. And that’s probably why Sky tacked on a disclaimer to Trading Places saying that the comedy is “outdated.”
4. Flash Gordon (1980)
Critic Roger Ebert summed up Flash Gordon by calling it kind of “fun” as well as “ridiculous.” It’s this type of half-hearted praise that likely doomed Mike Hodge’s space opera at the box office. Yet the movie has had a prosperous afterlife and is now beloved by a passionate cult audience. This is despite what The Guardian calls the movie’s “‘yellow peril’ paranoia.”
What does the paper mean by this? Simply, the film’s main villain is not a blood-thirsty gang of little green men or one-eyed aliens. No, our heroes are battling to save the universe from… A guy who comes from Asia. It probably doesn’t help that Ming the Merciless is played by Max von Sydow – a very talented, but very white actor.
3. Sixteen Candles (1984)
Star Molly Ringwald and writer-director John Hughes teamed up for beloved teen romance Sixteen Candles in the early ’80s. The film would lead the way for other fondly remembered Hughes hits such as The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. But these days even Ringwald finds Candles hard to watch.
There are two parts of Sixteen Candles that raise the most eyebrows. The first is the terrible treatment of an exchange student called Long Duk Dong (played by Gedde Watanabe). The second is a sequence where an unconscious female character (Haviland Morris’ Caroline) is callously passed from boy to boy. In 2018 Ringwald told NPR that this is “definitely not acceptable now.”
2. Lady and the Tramp (1955)
Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, and Hamilton Luske’s Lady and the Tramp features what AMC called a quintessential movie moment. The scene? Where the lovable Tramp nudges his last meatball over to Lady – and seals the deal with an accidental kiss. But do you know what scene didn’t make it on to the “iconic images” list? Yup, we’re talking about those cats.
In Lady and the Tramp the cats are called Si and Am, and they basically feature every offensive Asian stereotype you could think of. These “Siamese Cats” are also voiced by white star Peggy Lee. It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that their notorious song and appearance were dramatically altered for the 2019 remake.
1. Holiday Inn (1942)
In 2018 former British prime minister Theresa May declared Holiday Inn to be her “favorite festive film.” She described the Mark Sandrich-directed musical as a “real holiday classic.” May’s reasoning likely has to do with the movie featuring the first on-screen appearance of the Oscar-winning song “White Christmas.” But Holiday Inn is more often remembered these days for another musical number…
There’s a chance, though, that you may never have seen Bing Crosby performing the song “Abraham” while watching Holiday Inn. This is because the scene is deemed so offensive that it has been snipped out of many TV prints of the picture. After all, watching actors sing and dance in blackface is hardly what you want when you’re enjoying a roast turkey on Christmas Day.