The 80s was an era of crimped hair, leg warmers and, perhaps most importantly of all, brilliant movies. From The Breakfast Club to Ghostbusters, these iconic films have lived on through generations.
Still, some serious issues in these classics have come to light since their release, highlighted by Molly Ringwald’s recent critical appraisal of The Breakfast Club, which she has deemed “troubling” in the era of #MeToo.
Whilst it might be unsettling to revisit these films in the current political climate, it only serves to remind us just how far we as a society have come. Here’s our roundup of the top ten 80s movie moments that have aged incredibly badly.
20. The Breakfast Club
1985 teen comedy-drama The Breakfast Club is one of the most celebrated 80s movies, and with good reason, too. With a stellar cast and a willingness to tackle themes deemed taboo by many screenwriters at the time, this John Hughes classic has entertained generations in the years since its release.
However, despite its quality entertainment value, there are several unsettling themes and moments in The Breakfast Club which simply have not stood the test of time, many of which have since been highlighted by the film’s star, Molly Ringwald herself.
She highlights one key issue: John Bender’s treatment of Ringwald’s character Claire. In one scene, Bender ducks under the table and takes the opportunity to catch a glimpse of Claire’s underwear. He then proceeds to harass and demean her throughout the film. Whilst perhaps considered just another humorous moment at the time, the fact that this sexual harassment is completely ignored is somewhat problematic.
Another bothersome concept is the fact that not all The Breakfast Club’s teens are in detention for trivial matters like pulling a fire alarm. Far from it, in fact. Socially awkward self-professed nerd Brian is in detention for bringing a gun to school.
Perhaps in a pre-Columbine world, his ‘antics’ didn’t seem quite as serious, but today Brian’s actions would be highly scrutinised. In Brian’s favour, the firearm does in fact turn out to be a flare gun, but the point still stands.
19. Mr. Mom
Let’s face it, the title of 1983 comedy Mr Mom is problematic in itself. But then, the film’s whole premise is somewhat troubling.
The comedy in Mr Mom at the time of release was largely found in its shock value, though these days the idea of a stay at home dad is no longer very shocking at all.
The film no longer has the same effect it once had, a fact which can once again be attributed to its lack of controversy – controversy which it previously relied on.
Not only does Jack Butler (Keaton) demonstrate his versatility by taking to child-rearing like a duck to water, but we also see how his wife struggles as a woman in the workplace. Because of course, it can be hard to overcome the crippling maternal instincts women are overwhelmed by during every human interaction.
With a cast full of comedy icons such as Keaton, Teri Garr and Christopher Lloyd, Mr Mom could have become somewhat of a timeless masterpiece. However, its reliance on short-lived themes and controversies means that the film is no longer current or even remotely engaging.
Starring Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, the 1987 comedy Overboard could be quite fittingly placed in a lineup next to the likes of Gone Girl and Girl on the Train.
In other words, thrillers in which things aren’t quite as they seem, though Overboard more troublingly presents such a premise as light-hearted and funny.
In the film, Russell plays local carpenter Dean, who one day on a job meets wealthy heiress Joanna Stayton.
After Joanna suffers a traumatic incident causing her to lose her memory, Dean convinces Joanna she is married to him. She then lives as his wife, doing the housework and raising his children (because, of course, this is a wife’s duty).
Even after Joanna learns the truth about her “husband”, she decides to stay with him and she lives happily ever after as a housewife and mother. Where’s feminism when you need it?
17. Working Girl
1988’s Working Girl is a story about a powerful, career-driven woman on top – the ultimate nod to girl power.
That is, it seems that way, until we consider the lead character’s rather dubious method of acquiring her newfound success.
Although a highly successful businesswoman, Melanie Griffith’s Tess is portrayed as childlike and almost doll-ish, relying on her coquettish nature and flirty demeanour to get ahead.
Not only does Tess resort to less than feminist tactics in order to make the big bucks, but she mocks other women in order to prove her superiority. Take for example Katharine (Sigourney Weaver), who is belittled for being concerned over “women’s issues” such as infertility.
Despite the fact that the film is hailed as a feminist classic, Working Girl is full of contradiction and conflicted messages.
16. Sixteen Candles
We’re just going to say it: 1984 John Hughes movie Sixteen Candles endures solely because of nostalgia, and is a film perhaps best left to quietly fade into obscurity.
For one, the film perpetuates harmful stereotypes, the most notable of which involves the treatment of the film’s only Asian character, Long Duk Dong.
Not only is the character cursed with an unfortunately racist name, but a gong is sounded every time his name is mentioned. The character is constantly mocked throughout the film, and he is the butt of many jokes, purely due to his race.
And that’s not all. Sixteen Candles is not only overtly racist, but also contains themes that appear incredibly sexist in today’s society.
The list is near enough endless, but includes (although is not limited to): a date rape drug joke, casual sexual harassment and eager male commentary on the breast size of a teenage girl.
15. The Goonies
Conceived and produced by Steven Spielberg, 1985’s The Goonies was a big part of childhood for just about anybody who grew up in the 80s. Like most young viewers at the time, we all imagined going off on our own Goonies adventures with our own gang of best pals, and getting into just as many hair-raising scrapes along the way.
We also imagined a world where we could swear as profusely as the young characters here do, without ever incurring any serious wrath from their parents. However, it isn’t such a problem today that The Goonies show us kids swearing, nor that we see them frequently dicing with death: after all, it wouldn’t be much of an adventure if there wasn’t any danger.
Instead, the only scene in The Goonies that leaves us rather uncomfortable today is the sequence when Corey Feldman’s Mouth, being fluent in Spanish, ‘translates’ the instructions of Mary Ellen Trainor’s Mrs Walsh to Lupe Ontiveros’ non-English-speaking housekeeper, Rosalita.
Being a born joker, Mouth deliberately feeds Rosalita utterly inaccurate and increasingly absurd translations of Mrs Walsh’s instructions. The real stinger comes when Mouth lists the variety of narcotics kept by the Walshes, and the order in which Rosalita should stack them in the drawers.
Feldman himself was the first to point out the irony of this scene in the DVD cast commentary for The Goonies, as within a few years of the film’s success the young actor would spiral into drug addiction, with which he would struggle for many years.
14. Crocodile Dundee
With Paul Hogan soon set to (sort of) reprise his signature role in The Very Excellent Mr Dundee, now’s as good a time as any to reflect on his 1986 hit Crocodile Dundee, which saw Hogan break through from Australian comedy star to worldwide big screen celebrity.
It’s easy to forget now just how much of an impact Crocodile Dundee had on release: it was the second biggest box office hit of 1986 behind Top Gun, and it saw Hogan land a Golden Globe for his central performance, as well as netting him a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination (along with co-writers John Cornell and Ken Shadie).
At the time, Crocodile Dundee’s humour hinged on the culture clash between Hogan’s salt-of-the-earth frontiersman, and the metropolitan world of 80s New York; today, however, the central character’s values don’t come off so much ‘old-fashioned’ as outright ignorant and hateful.
One particularly unpleasant scene shows Hogan’s Dundee being chatted up at a bar by a female impersonator, without realising this. On being told the truth of the situation, Dundee’s disgust is clear, and he proceeds to approach and grab the crotch of his new friend to confirm the truth – all of which is regarded as hilarious by the bar’s clientele.
Later, on being introduced to a wealthy older woman at an upmarket soirée, Dundee also grabs her by the crotch, and remarks, “Just making sure.” Again, no one present seems to view the situation as anything but a bit of a giggle.
13. Back to the Future
No list of the greatest films of the 80s is complete without Back to the Future. The 1985 sci-fi comedy adventure from director Robert Zemeckis is frequently hailed for sporting one of the most perfectly crafted screenplays ever.
Now, if we’re talking about things in the movie that haven’t aged well, the first thing that comes to mind is the fact that the 1955 incarnation of Lea Thompson’s Lorraine develops a sexual attraction to Michael J. Fox’s Marty – without knowing, of course, that he’s her future son. However, as unseemly as this plot device might be, it’s not as if incestuous relationships weren’t frowned upon back in the 80s – and Back to the Future certainly doesn’t endorse them.
Still, Back to the Future does have two distinct problems: first, the racist caricatures of the Libyan terrorists early on; second, and most pointedly, it clearly advocates asserting one’s authority by means of physical strength and intimidation – and then gleefully lording that power over one’s enemies indefinitely.
We’re referring, of course, to how Crispin Glover’s George McFly is able to win the heart of Lorraine by saving her from being raped by Thomas F. Wilson’s Biff, and knocking him out with one punch. Obviously saving Lorraine was the right thing to do, but the film plays George’s victory over Biff as being of the greatest significance; then, once Marty returns to a semi-rebooted 1985, he finds his father has remained ultra-confident and kept Biff subservient in the new timeline (lest we forget, the final scene shows Biff waxing George’s BMW).
The idea that the McFlys have secured their own happiness by ensuring the unhappiness of Biff (plus the fact that they’re more affluent in the new timeline, implying you need wealth to be happy) definitely leaves Back to the Future with a slightly sour aftertaste. Zemeckis and co-writer/producer Bob Gale have long since admitted as much, and this is a large part of why Back to the Future Part II gets so grim with the impact of Biff’s subsequent revenge and greed.
12. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Believe us, we’re as pained as you are to have Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure on this list. The 1989 sci-fi comedy starring Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter was one of the last true classics of the 80s, and in terms of the attitudes on display it holds up better than a whole lot of 80s movies, thanks primarily to its main protagonists.
The real joy of the film comes from the inherent good nature of Bill S. Preston Esq. and Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan. Clearly neither of them are especially bright, nor despite their rock star aspirations do they show any particular aptitude for music.
However, the pair’s main redeeming qualities are their overriding positivity, their knack for uniting people from all walks of life (literally, via their time-travelling phone booth), and of course their core philosophies: “be excellent to each other,” and “party on, dudes!”
The duo would appear to not have a bad-natured bone in their body. Which makes it all the more dispiriting that, upon being reunited after Bill briefly believed Ted was dead, the duo share a hug – but then, both feeling insecure about this open display of sensitivity, they call one another “f*gs.”
Unfortunately, this offensive slur would be used again in 1991 sequel Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, once by the evil robot Bill and Ted (well, they’re evil), and once more by Ted when addressing Satan. Not cool.
11. Coming to America
This 1988 comedy starring Eddie Murphy (who also came up with the story) proved to be one of the superstar funnyman’s most enduring hits – to such an extent that belated sequel Coming 2 America is on its way, due December 2020.
Ostensibly a sweet-natured romantic comedy, Coming to America casts Murphy as Akeem, Prince of fictitious African nation Zamunda, who on reaching his 21st birthday (Murphy was actually 28 at the time) is presented with a bride-to-be by his parents. Wanting instead to find real love with a woman who accepts him as a man rather than as a prince, Akeem and his manservant Semmi (Arsenio Hall) flee to Queens, New York in search of a future queen.
A lot of Murphy’s 80s comedy doesn’t hold up well in the modern climate (just try watching any of his notoriously offensive stand-up), and this is certainly the case with much of Coming to America.
For one, the film demonstrates that racist attitudes about Africa aren’t exclusively the domain of white people. African critics have criticised Coming to America’s stereotypical portrayal of the continent, with the over-the-top accents and implications of ignorance on the part of the African characters.
Then there’s also the matter of the bulk of the women in Akeem’s palace being his own personal sex slaves, who we see tasked with cleaning him at bath time – all of which is played for laughs and titillation.
10. Short Circuit
1986’s Short Circuit is the story of a military robot, Johnny 5, who tries to escape his creators. Despite its somewhat bizarre premise, the film was a box office hit and even spawned a sequel.
Along with an adorable ‘bot, the film also features a scientist named Ben Jabituya, an Indian man played in the film by Fisher Stevens.
Whilst Stevens was praised for his performance, there’s just one small issue with this casting decision: in reality, Stevens is white.
Stevens went to great lengths for the role, visiting India to stay with local families in order to fully immerse himself in the character, as well as asking the studio to hire an Indian-Canadian accountant to act as a consultant for the 1988 sequel Short Circuit 2.
However, whilst Stevens’ dedication to the cause is admirable, one simple fact remains: It would have surely been far easier, and infinitely less problematic, to simply hire an Indian actor in the first place.
1984’s Ghostbusters is one of the most celebrated movies of all time, despite the fact that the leading character, Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman, is somewhat of a sleaze. Okay, a complete sleaze.
This becomes apparent in Venkman’s introductory scene, in which we see the college professor giving electric shocks to his male pupil.
Venkman’s motivation in doing so is to seduce the female student who is also participating in his ‘experiment.’
What’s more, later in the film Venkman barges into the home of Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) without permission and then proceeds to profess his love for her, despite the pair being virtual strangers.
Though this has been hailed as a “cute” and romantic moment, Venkman’s behaviour in this scene is creepy, if not downright predatory.
8. Revenge of the Nerds
Nerds are typically thought of as being geeky, skinny young boys with a penchant for video games. In modern culture, they are perhaps more often portrayed as being charmingly innocent with a cute shy side.
However, in 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds, the nerds are stereotyped as being hyper-sexually-aware pests who make it their mission to seduce every female they come into contact with, regardless of the other party’s interest.
The film is intended to be just harmless fun. Nonetheless, its frankly rapey themes and the characters’ pervy antics add a troublesome edge to this 80s favourite.
First, the nerds in one scene break into a neighbouring sorority house on a ‘panty raid,’ and plant hidden cameras all over the place so they can spy on the girls getting changed.
Later, and even more alarmingly, ‘hero’ nerd Lewis (Robert Carradine) disguises himself as the boyfriend of Betty (Julie Montgomery) and tricks her into having sex with him. By modern standards, that’s criminal.
7. Rambo III
At the time of its release in 1988, Rambo III held the record for being the most expensive film ever made. This is hardly surprising considering its diverse shooting locations and notably excessive action sequences.
Rambo III remains a testament to the sheer audacity of action movies throughout the 20th century – there’s just one small, yet ever so amusing problem.
In an effort to fight off the Russian general, in the film Rambo teams up with guerrilla Mujahideen forces in Afghanistan.
This is not dissimilar plot-wise to The Living Daylights, in which Mujahideen forces become James Bond’s allies.
Of course, the Afghan Mujahideen would later evolve into the Taliban, which later allied itself with Al-Qaeda, an organisation whose name might sound somewhat familiar to anyone who’s been paying attention to the East-West conflict that’s been brewing over the last 19 years.
1987’s Mannequin is your typical rom-com, with just one noticeable difference: one of the participants is, as the title suggests, a mannequin.
Despite its lighthearted themes, the film has a troublesome undercurrent which can simply no longer be ignored.
The mannequin that serves as the object of Jonathan’s (Andrew McCarthy) affections is able to come to life on occasion – but only for Jonathan. This perpetuates the belief that women exist solely to serve men, a message which is only aided by the mannequin’s perfect physique and image.
The plot bears somewhat of a resemblance to Lars and the Real Girl, but there’s one obvious distinction. In Lars and the Real Girl, the strangeness of Lars’ relationship with a sex doll is addressed rather than simply deemed acceptable and even celebrated.
Mannequin is a twisted love story, which serves only to belittle and objectify women, surely a trait no longer acceptable in the 21st century.
5. Adventures in Babysitting
There’s plenty about Chris Columbus’ 1987 directorial debut Adventures in Babysitting that we’d struggle to see flying today: namely, a quartet of under-18s in the big city at night, getting in all manner of dangerous and adult situations.
A degree of peril is required for any movie to be considered an ‘adventure,’ so this isn’t too much of an issue. As ever, it’s the dated attitudes on display that make certain moments in Adventures in Babysitting tough to watch now.
Firstly, while lead actress Elisabeth Shue may have been 23 at the time, her character Chris is aged only 17 – which makes it a little unsavoury that a running joke in the movie sees her constantly mistaken for a Playboy centrefold model for whom she is a dead ringer.
Worse yet is how Keith Coogan’s Brad chooses to demean his little sister Sarah (Maia Brewton) by repeatedly referring to her comic book hero Thor with a homophobic slur.
At no point is Brad’s homophobia challenged, something made all the more distasteful given that Coogan’s co-star Anthony Rapp has since come out as gay.
4. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
1984’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom has long been divisive; until 2008’s Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it was widely considered the low point of the beloved adventure series.
It remains a shocking film today, primarily because of how dark and grisly it gets for a film aimed at a family audience.
Only in the 80s could such intense scenes of human sacrifice and torture have been allowed in a movie rated PG: indeed, the controversy these scenes sparked had a large role to play in the introduction of the PG-13 certificate. Perhaps even more troubling, though, are the undeniable overtones of racism in the film.
In Temple of Doom, the peasants of an Indian village immediately venerate Harrison Ford’s Indy as their saviour simply because he’s a white man who fell out of the sky, and he’s immediately entrusted with rescuing their children and retrieving their sacred stones (no one ever asks why the villagers haven’t attempted this themselves).
Once Indy’s quest leads him to Pankot Palace, the Indian aristocracy are portrayed as decadent and brutish, eating beetles, live snakes and monkey brains at a banquet table. Likewise, the followers of the forbidden Thuggee sect are presented as mindless followers of a bloodthirsty cult; and when the occupying British Imperial Army shows up to gun down the revolting natives at the end, they get a hero’s welcome.
3. The Wizard
1989 family drama The Wizard is a film that beggars belief in many respects, not least because the whole endeavour is utterly blatant advertising for Nintendo.
Fred Savage (of The Princess Bride and TV’s The Wonder Years) heads up the cast as young rebel Corey, who runs away from home with his troubled kid brother Jimmy (Luke Edwards). After discovering Jimmy has an uncanny skill at video games, the brothers befriend fellow runaway Haley (Jenny Lewis), and together the trio make their way to a national video game tournament.
We obviously have to question any film that portrays pre-pubescent children running away from home as a big fun adventure, but most alarming are some of the methods these kids employ to keep safe on the road, particularly when Jimmy is almost snatched away from an arcade by Putnam (Will Seltzer), a sleazy bounty hunter who has been hired to find the missing brothers.
First off, it’s troubling that we’re shown a grown man clearly attempting to abduct a frightened child in public, whilst no one around pays the slightest attention; but worse yet is how Haley thinks to defuse the situation, ie by pointing at Putnam and screaming, “he touched my breast!” This prompts nearby security guards to finally take note, and throw Putnam out.
Using child molestation for such a throwaway joke would be troubling today in any film, let alone one aimed at a family audience.
2. Soul Man
From its synopsis alone, there are few films more guaranteed to leave you cringing in agony at the mere thought that anyone ever thought it was a good idea than 1986’s Soul Man.
C. Thomas Howell takes the lead in Soul Man as Mark, a wealthy white college student who suddenly finds himself unable to afford law school – and so disguises himself as a black man (by means of tanning pills?!) in order to win a scholarship for African-American students.
Having beaten out the competition for the scholarship (the clear connotation being that the entitled rich white guy was far smarter and more qualified than any of the actual black students who applied), Mark keeps up the facade of being African-American as he studies at Harvard, and enters into a romance with a black classmate (Rae Dawn Chong) – but gradually has his eyes opened to the realities of racial inequality.
Soul Man does, in its own way, attempt to use its outrageous premise to make a serious point about race relations; actor C. Thomas Howell for one has defended it as “an innocent movie… (with) some very, very deep messages.”
Nonetheless, it’s a trifle hard to watch what purports to be a light-hearted comedy that relies so heavily on a white actor embodying crude racial stereotypes, without anyone involved seeming to recognise how inherently offensive this is.
1. Howard the Duck
To think that, within just a few years of spearheading the immense cinematic success stories of both Star Wars and Indiana Jones, George Lucas then decided to throw the full weight of his powers behind 1986’s Howard the Duck. It really is one of those instances that makes you think, “only in the 80s.”
Of course, the truth is that even when it was still the 80s, no one could believe that Howard the Duck got made at all, and the comparative few who saw it at the time were left wondering what on earth anyone involved was thinking.
Directed by Lucas protege Willard Huyck, Howard the Duck was something of a ground-breaker given that it was the first big screen adaptation of a Marvel comic; but beyond this, the film is notable for all the wrong reasons.
The original Howard the Duck comics had a satirical tone and were geared toward older readers, but the movie is aimed at families, making the abundance of adult humour feel a bit off – not least given that the story centres on the relationship between Howard, the anthropomorphic duck from another world, and Lea Thompson’s very human rock singer Beverly.
The bond that grows between Howard and Beverly plays out very much like a standard romantic comedy, as the two frequently flirt with one another – and, in one particularly alarming scene, come very close to real physical intimacy whilst sharing Beverly’s bed. PG-rated 80s movies displaying outdated attitudes is one thing, but for such a movie to come so dangerously close to showing bestiality…why, it’s the stuff of childhood trauma.