The 80s was an era of crimped hair, leg warmers and, perhaps most importantly of all, brilliant movies. However, it was also a time when certain attitudes were very different than they are today, particularly when it came to matters of gender, race, sexuality and other such sensitive topics.
Because of this, some scenes from our old 80s favourites have aged very badly indeed. Consider the following very dated movie moments…
20. The Breakfast Club
1985 teen comedy-drama The Breakfast Club is one of the most celebrated 80s movies. However, actress Molly Ringwald herself has highlighted the film’s treatment of her character Claire is very troubling. One scene sees Bender (Judd Nelson) duck under the table and violate an unsuspecting Clare. He then proceeds to harass and demean her throughout the film.
Also bothersome is the fact that not all The Breakfast Club’s teens are in detention for trivial matters. Socially awkward bookworm Brian (Anthony Michael Hall) is in detention for bringing a gun to school. Even in a pre-Columbine world, it’s hard to believe that such actions wouldn’t lead to police involvement.
19. Mr. Mom
Nowadays, the notion of the father staying home to look after the kids instead of the mother is not particularly unusual. However, 1983 comedy Mr. Mom (another one written by John Hughes) treats the notion with total incredulity, perpetuating notions about gender which were outdated even at the time, and even more so today.
However, whilst stay-at-home-dad Jack Butler (Michael Keaton) demonstrates his versatility by taking to child-rearing like a duck to water, his ambitious advertising executive wife Caroline (Terri Garr) winds up struggling in her demanding job. The movie seems to imply that men can adapt to anything, but women should stick to their traditional roles.
If it had been played less for laughs, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell’s 1987 comedy Overboard could be quite fittingly placed in a lineup next to the likes of Gone Girl and Girl on the Train. Indeed, Overboard is in some ways the more troubling film as it presents its sinister premise as light-hearted and funny. Russell plays carpenter Dean, who is ripped off on a job by the wealthy Joanna (Goldie Hawn).
After an accident leaves Joanna with total amnesia, Dean convinces Joanna they are married. She’s then forced to do all his housework and raise his children. 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. At least 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, she also 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. Though the film is hailed as a feminist classic, Working Girl is full of contradiction and conflicted messages.
16. Sixteen Candles
1984’s Sixteen Candles may have launched 80s icons Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall and writer-director John Hughes, but it has aged very badly indeed. It perpetuates harmful stereotypes, notably with the unabashedly racist treatment of its only Asian character, Long Duk Dong (Gede Watanabe).
Worse yet, Sixteen Candles is also shockingly sexist (even though it has a female lead), and promotes some thoroughly unsavoury attitudes. Young women are presented entirely as sex objects, slut-shamed, and most shockingly of all a drunk girl is date-raped by Hall’s character with the blessing of her boyfriend.
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. It’s a bit jarring as a kid’s movie today, given how much the young protagonists swear. The profanity may be easy to overlook, but a rather more alarming scene sees Corey Feldman’s Mouth demonstrates his skill at speaking Spanish.
Mary Ellen Trainor’s Mrs Walsh asks Mouth to translate her instructions to Lupe Ontiveros’ non-English-speaking housekeeper, Rosalita. Being a born joker, Mouth deliberately feeds Rosalita utterly inaccurate and increasingly absurd translations, including lists of illegal narcotics and implications of bizarre sexual practices – all from the lips of a middle schooler.
14. Crocodile Dundee
1986 smash hit comedy Crocodile Dundee hinges on the culture clash between Hogan’s salt-of-the-earth Aussie frontiersman, and the metropolitan world of 80s New York; 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 unwitting Dundee chatted up at a bar by a female impersonator.
On being told the truth of the situation, Dundee’s disgust is clear: he proceeds to grab the crotch of his new friend to confirm the truth, 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.”
13. Back to the Future
Back to the Future may be considered one of the true masterpieces of the 80s, but there’s plenty about the film that raises eyebrows today. Most obviously, there’s the fact that Lea Thompson’s Lorraine develops a sexual attraction to Michael J. Fox’s Marty without knowing he’s her future son. On top of this, the Libyan terrorists villains are crude racial stereotypes.
Worse yet is how Crispin Glover’s George asserts his manhood by punching out Thomas F. Wilson’s Biff, then proceeds to lord that power over him even 30 years later. The idea that the McFlys have secured their own happiness by ensuring the unhappiness of Biff (plus the fact that they’re richer in the new timeline, implying you need money to be happy) leaves a rather sour aftertaste.
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 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 affection, they call one another “f*gs.”
11. Coming to America
Ostensibly a sweet-natured rom-com, Coming to America casts Eddie Murphy as Akeem, Prince of fictitious African nation Zamunda, who 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 a monarch, Akeem and his manservant Semmi (Arsenio Hall) flee to Queens, New York in search of a future queen.
Alas, Coming to America demonstrates that racist attitudes about Africa aren’t exclusively the domain of white people. African critics have criticised the film’s stereotypical portrayal of the continent, with over-the-top accents and implications of ignorance on the part of the African characters. There’s also the matter of Akeem’s palace being awash with sex slaves.
10. Short Circuit
1986’s Short Circuit is the story of a military robot, Johnny 5, who gains sentience. The film also features a scientist named Ben Jabituya, an Indian man played in the film by Fisher Stevens. There’s just one small issue with this casting decision: in reality, Stevens is a white American of Jewish descent, with no Indian heritage.
Even at the time, it was obvious to critics and audiences that the role should have been taken by an actual Indian actor rather than a white man in ‘brownface.’ Although Stevens may have gone to lengths to make his portrayal of an Indian man in America seem authentic, it’s hard to take his performance as anything but a crude racist stereotype playing the ethnicity for laughs.
Everyone loves 1984’s Ghostbusters, but let’s be honest, Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman is a real 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 considered bookish and socially awkward yet largely innocent. However, in 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds, they’re hyper-sexually-aware pests who make it their mission to harass every female they come into contact with, regardless of the other party’s interest. This is presented as harmless fun, when it’s anything but.
First, the nerds 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. On top of this blatant crime, ‘hero’ nerd Lewis (Robert Carradine) later disguises himself as the boyfriend of Betty (Julie Montgomery) and has sex with her. The film treats this as romantic: in reality, it’s rape by deception.
7. Rambo III
‘Rambo’ has long been a byword for excessive gun-toting action, and 1988’s Rambo III lives up to that expectation. There’s just one small, yet ever so amusing problem in the action sequel. Set in Afghanistan, the film sees Sylvester Stallone’s John Rambo continue his personal war against the Soviets by teaming up with local guerrilla soldiers, the Mujahideen forces.
Of course, the Afghan Mujahideen would 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 going on since 9/11. There was a similar issue in Bond movie The Living Daylights, which allies Bond with the Mujahideen.
1987’s Mannequin is your typical rom-com, with just one noticeable difference: one of the participants is, as the title suggests, a shop window dummy which comes to life. The idea of Andrew McCarthy’s department store window dresser falling in love with Kim Cattrall’s mannequin come-to-life is inherently very creepy, and hardly appropriate for a PG-rated movie.
To cap it all off, Cattrall’s character only comes to life in the presence of McCarthy. In case we need to spell it out, Mannequin clearly promotes old notions of a subservient, sexually available woman existing solely for the gratification of a needy male. Whether the filmmakers realised this or not, it’s blatantly misogynistic.
5. Adventures in Babysitting
1987’s Adventures in Babysitting is still fun viewing, but with some uncomfortable moments. Lead actress Elisabeth Shue may have been 23 at the time, but her character Chris is only 17 – which makes it a little unsavoury that a running joke 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
Until 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it was widely agreed that the low point of the beloved adventure series was 1984’s Temple of Doom. It remains a shocking film today, primarily due to the intense scenes of human sacrifice and torture which 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. Harrison Ford’s Indy is a stereotypical white saviour; no one ever asks why the Indian villagers can’t look after themselves. Meanwhile, the Indian aristocracy are portrayed as decadent slobs, eating beetles, live snakes and monkey brains, and the occupying British Imperial Army are played as noble heroes.
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. 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.
One scene sees a sleazy bounty hunter try to grab the kids. It’s troubling enough to see a grown man clearly attempting to abduct frightened children in public without anyone reacting, but worse yet is how Haley (Jenny the Lewis) defuses the situation, screaming, “he touched my breast!” Using child molestation for a throwaway joke would be troubling today in any film, let alone one aimed at a families.
2. Soul Man
From its synopsis alone, there are few films more guaranteed to leave you cringing in agony than 1986’s Soul Man. C Thomas Howell takes the lead in 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.
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 has defended it as “an innocent movie… (with) some very, very deep messages.” Nonetheless, it’s nigh-impossible to see crude racial stereotypes played for laughs, without anyone involved seeming to recognise how inherently offensive it all 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 may be something of a ground-breaker given that it was the first big screen adaptation of a Marvel comic; but beyond this, it’s memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Most alarmingly of all, the film largely plays out as a romantic comedy – but the romance is between alien duck-man Howard, and Lea Thompson’s very human. The two frequently flirt with one another, and at one point become rather intimate whilst sharing Beverly’s bed. PG-rated 80s movies may have tended to push the envelope, but we’re hard-pressed to think of any others which imply bestiality.