5 Iconic "cult favourite" films that did not age well
John Hughes, please stop
A lot has changed within the industry in the last few decades—we are now seeing a lot more fair POC and LGBTQ representation (yay!), and a lot more female-driven stories that don't reduce women to either 'the love interest' or 'the plot device'.
In addition to that, a lot of indie projects as of late are ridding themselves of the clichéd formulas of the past, getting more innovative with how they present stories and thus making for more diverse and interesting film. That said, it certainly wasn't always like this–you don't have to look back very far at all to find blatant examples of racism, misogyny and homophobia sprinkled around Tinseltown.
A lot of these films won't surprise you, but some just may–here are a few iconic films that turned out to be problematic. Oh and, FYI: Spoiler alert!
This movie is a cinematic masterpiece, and Reese Witherspoon’s Elle Woods is a national treasure. It dismantles the ‘blondes are dumb’ trope, calls out the abuse of power dynamics by her Harvard professor, celebrates female friendships and so much more. That said, there’s one particular scene in the film that rubs me the wrong way: When she outs Enrique (the pool boy) in court.
Yes, he was lying about having an affair with Brooke to keep her in jail, so good riddance in that respect—however, it doesn’t change the fact that the way she figures his sexuality out is based on outdated stereotypes; he correctly named her shoes as Prada, so he must be gay! That’s how it works! Not to mention–outing people before they’re ready is not okay on so many levels. But apart from that, 10/10 film. Would watch again.
Yeah, we all love Grease—the soundtrack, the costume design, the dancing—it’s a straight up bop. However, like many other films made around it’s time, it's not without its faults. The first red flag comes up with Summer Nights, where Kenickie sings this monstrosity: “Tell me more, tell me more, did she put up a fight?”
...Why is she fighting you Kenickie? Unfortunately, this isn’t the only less-than-consensual encounter in the film—when at the drive-in, Danny forces himself on Sandy despite her many protests, and she responds by storming off (rightly) in disgust. He then goes on to sing about how everyone is going to make fun of him for not getting any when school starts on Monday. Guess what, Zuko—nobody cares how you feel. We want to know how Sandy's doing—poor girl's just been assaulted by her boyfriend in a parking lot.
Not to mention, the slut shaming in this film is so blatant. Rizzo is constantly criticised for being promiscuous, and Marty’s own friends deprecate her for her numerous "pen pals". However, just like in real life, none of the equally (if not more) promiscuous guys like Danny and Kenickie get the same treatment. On the other hand, poor Sandy is ostracised and viewed as the prudish, preppy innocent girl—and the worst part is that these tropes are very much still prevalent today, albeit on a lesser scale.
Others tend to take issue with Sandy’s big makeover at the end, but I disagree. Danny makes his fair share of sacrifices, by losing the T-bird gear and joining the track team to earn her respect again. Now, the real problem with the ending of the film is the flying car that shows up. It’s not problematic, per se, but… who allowed that?
Ah yes, everyone’s go-to Christmas film. Also known as the one where Professor Snape cheats on Nanny McPhee and buys that office tart a gold necklace. I’ve got to say, though, as upsetting as that part is to watch, it’s not the problematic part of the film. No—that would be Mark (played by Andrew Lincoln) effectively stalking his best friend’s wife, Juliet (played by Keira Knightley).
He spends the whole of the film being outright hostile to Juliet, until she finds out how he feels through his creepy little homemade videos of her (taken at her wedding to his best friend). The reason it leaves such a sour taste is because it’s almost as if he’s being mean to punish her for not choosing him. Plus, it’s a little sickening that we’re supposed to think that his cue card moment is cute; it’s little more than a red flag. Just move on, man.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Just because it’s a classic, doesn’t mean that it wasn’t problematic. There is exactly one non-Caucasian character in this film, and he’s played by (the very white) Mickey Rooney in fake teeth and yellowface. Dripping in offensive stereotypes, this ‘comic relief’ character is a derogatory caricature of Japanese culture. The worst part is that the character is so non-essential and non-consequential to the plot that you just wonder why he wasn’t cut out altogether.
Sure, you could argue that it was ‘a different time’ and that racist humour was widely accepted in America in the '60s, but Rooney’s tone-deaf caricature was criticised even at the time of its release. Larry Tubelle of Variety described the portrayal as so: “Mickey Rooney’s participation as a much-harassed upstairs Japanese photographer adds an unnecessarily incongruous note to the proceedings.” Since then, the critique has only become more condemning, with recent critics calling it out for what it is: ‘overtly racist, ‘painfully misguided’ and ‘an inexcusable case of yellowface’.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the film for what it is. It’s incredibly dark and clever in parts (as long as you look past its shortcomings) and Audrey Hepburn’s take on Holly Golightly as a flawed, morally-ambiguous woman is as captivating as they come.
Any John Hughes film
I can’t stand idly by and take it anymore so I’m just going to come right out and say it: John Hughes’ films suck. Big time. Here’s a summary of why: His ‘80s hits all essentially have the same plot (with minor variations) and are riddled with misogyny, racism, toxic masculinity, homophobia and straight-up abuse. If this doesn’t put you off, maybe the drawn-out pacing and insufferably pretentious characters will. Don’t believe me? Even Molly Ringwald, muse to John Hughes, has come out against her past projects recently. If that’s not enough evidence, here are a few examples I could think of.
- Ted relentlessly pursues Sam, despite her repeatedly rejecting him and telling him that she isn’t interested. It’s not cute, it’s not romantic: it’s harassment. But, the film wouldn’t have you think that.
- Racist stereotypes, jokes and characters are rampant within this film. The most poignant example of this is with the portrayal of the foreign-exchange student, who is (offensively) named Long Duk Dong (just why?). This point in itself would warrant a whole essay to discuss every single problematic detail, but I digress. Just trust me when I say it's horrific.
- Sam’s love interest—the golden boy Jake Ryan—has a girlfriend called Caroline. However, that doesn’t stop him from pursuing her all the same. That’s not even the worst thing he does, though. When Caroline blacks out one night, he trades her to Ted for a pair of Sam’s underwear. Let me repeat that: He trades his girlfriend (a human being) to the same creep harassing Sam and tells him to 'have fun' with her. She is clearly too inebriated to consent, yet the next day she and the geek come to the conclusion that they had sex. Or, more accurately, he raped her. Yikes. Just absolute trash.
Pretty in Pink
Again, an insufferable ‘nerd’ archetype is hopelessly in love with the outcast female lead (who happens to be played by Molly Ringwald, again)—oh, but there's a twist this time! He can’t tell her that he loves her because he is too scared, so naturally he instead grows to resent her for showing interest in someone else (god forbid). To top it all off, he’s super possessive and tries to control her every move, manipulating her at every opportunity and going as far to berate her for her apparent ‘lack of self-respect’. Charming. Oh, let's not forget that he also tells her that he, her best friend, won't be there for her if she gets her heart broken. Awful, 2/10.
The Breakfast Club
It’s heavily implied that the bad-boy character, John Bender, sexually assaults Claire when he ducks under her desk while hiding from the teacher. She's clearly outraged by this but all he does is laugh it off, and her peers certainly don't offer any solace. What’s worse is that despite him being pointedly awful to Claire throughout the film, he still ends up with her, which perpetuates the idea that disgusting behaviour should (and will) be rewarded. Gross.
Just don’t. It’s insufferable.