The world is a clusterf*ck. The polar ice caps are melting, the American government has become an overlong episode of The Celebrity Apprentice, and the Time's Up movement didn't stop people from watching Woody Allen movies. Sh*t's a mess. This won't be remembered as our proudest era, but a quick rewatch of Hollywood's most beloved old films will remind you that things used to be way, way worse.
We can still appreciate these offensive classic movies. We can even still love some of them — at least three films on this list are in *my* top 10 favorites, and I'm the one whining about them. We just have to acknowledge that these films are massively f-ed up every time we mention them in conversation or add them to our Netflix queues. Pete Davidson knows what I'm talking about.
Oh, also, there are spoilers below. Like, a lot of spoilers. Don't say we didn't warn you!
1967's The Graduate still has a lot going for it. Mike Nichols's direction has stood the test of time, Dustin Hoffman's performance made a great role out of a meh character, and Simon and Garfunkel's soundtrack gifted the world with "Mrs. Robinson" and "The Sound of Silence" memes that will surely live on long after we're gone. Where The Graduate fails isn't necessarily in its outdated Gen X apathy, which is Roger Ebert's opinion changed. It's not even in the massive age gap between the leading characters or that Benjamin Braddock hooked up with Mrs. Robinson and then dated her daughter (although, that is icky).
Unfortunately, the way that Mrs. Robinson seduces Benjamin in her home by luring him into a room and then removing her clothes is how every Harvey Weinstein story starts, which should serve as a lesson to all of us that we should only take off our clothes when asked. Later in the film, Mrs. Robinson falsely accuses Benjamin of rape. Only about 8% of rape accusations are fake, according to a little company called the FBI, and storylines like this one perpetuate false reporting myths that lead to fiascos like Brett Kavanaugh becoming a Supreme Court justice.
Loews Cineplex Entertainment
Forget Avengers: Endgame. Gone with the Wind is the most popular movie of all time. When adjusted for inflation, this 1939 film is the most successful movie in box office history, and it's been in the top ten of AFI's list of the top 100 American films every year since their rankings began. Star Hattie McDaniel even became the first African American to win an Oscar.
Ironically, the film's black stereotypes were already being lambasted in the '30s for perpetuating racist Civil War-era myths, so you can only imagine how offensive they are now. There's also Gone with the Wind's pesky marital rape scene that implies women secretly enjoy being assaulted.
Can we still watch American Beauty in the 2020s? This 1999 film won five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor against stiff competition like The Matrix and Girl, Interrupted (neither of which ended up on this list, FYI) despite its Lolita-adjacent subject matter, because Lester Burnham's inappropriate obsession with a teen was rightfully depicted as icky. Unfortunately, we learned in 2017 that actor Kevin Spacey was accused of sexual misconduct. Watching his character flirt with a 16-year-old hits a little differently once you know that art was potentially imitating life.
Chasing Amy remains a cult favorite despite its entire concept being that Ben Affleck has the ability to seduce lesbians with mediocrity and comic books. When Chasing Amy was released in 1997, it sounds like people were just happy to have a movie with a lesbian main character, educational tidbits about how two women have sex, and an explanation as to how virginity is a social construct. Today, people still haven't figured out LGBTQ representation in the media, but we can recognize when someone's gotten it wrong.
Lesbians won't magically become attracted to a man just because he's the "right man." Sexuality is a spectrum, so if you want to make a movie about a woman who likes women suddenly liking a man, do it without Chasing Amy's bi-erasure and slut-shaming. Kevin Smith seems like a good dude, but he was probably the wrong person to explain lesbianism to America.
20th Century Fox
At first glance, Big doesn't give off offensive classic movie vibes. The Tom Hanks blockbuster conjures images of dancing on supersized piano keys with childlike joy and Zoltar machines that grant wishes, but at its core, Big is a movie about a horny 12-year-old who wanted to trick older women into sleeping with him. If all Josh Baskin wanted was a 401k and an 11 PM bedtime, Big would just be an A1 ad for FAO Schwarz or a dude version of the highly-superior 13 Going On 30. Yeah, I said it. Instead, it's a story that asks, "is it still statutory rape if magic is involved?"
We all know what's wrong with Breakfast at Tiffany's: Holly Golightly throws her cat out of a cab. Just kidding! That is massively f-ed up, but Mickey Rooney's role as I. Y. Yunioshi is one of the most extensively cited examples of movie racism in history. The "Y" stands for "yellowface." Both The Hollywood Reporter and Variety noted that Mickey's inclusion was an unnecessary pox on an otherwise delightful film even back in 1961 when Breakfast at Tiffany's was first released, and the offensive classic movie has been picketed during 21st century screenings by the Asian American Media Watch, Change.org, and anyone with functioning eyes.
Apparently, when nerds take revenge, it's on innocent women who did nothing but exist with a vagina. Revenge of the Nerds spawned three sequels and a national fraternity (because we needed more of those) based on a script that has gone from "gross-out humor" to "revenge porn" in just 25 short years. The biggest nerd seducing a cheerleader by pretending to be her boyfriend is now defined as rape by deception, the charming installation of cameras in a sorority house is legally considered unlawful surveillance, and selling nude photos of your acquaintances will get you up to five years in prison.
Another massive miscalculation by the Academy Awards, Green Book won Best Picture over Spike Lee's masterpiece BlackKkKlansman. Oh, sorry, that was history repeating itself in 2019. We *meant* to write about the 1990 ceremony, when Do the Right Thing wasn't even nominated, Driving Miss Daisy took home the biggest award of the night, and the Academy learned nothing. Green Book follows a white man driving a black man around while Driving Miss Daisy is the story of a black man driving a white woman around, but they both get racial relations wrong in increasingly awkward and candy-coated ways. History will have the last laugh. As Spike told The Daily Beast, "That film is not being taught in film schools all across the world like Do the Right Thing is. Nobody’s discussing Driving Miss Motherf*ckin’ Daisy."
Speaking of accidental racism, Avatar was pretty whack. Films primarily lauded for their technological advances are historically doomed. We have Will Smith playing his own son in a movie now, no one's going to care about CGI Smurfs by 2025. Once audience members stop being distracted by the SFX long enough to actually pay attention to Avatar's plot, they'll realize this is another white savior complex film à la Dances With Wolves or Dangerous Minds.
Gizmodo even compared Avatar to America's foundational genocide of Native Americans, but this time, there's a machine that turns the white people blue to better assimilate them into a culture they have no business messing with, and they then use that machine to save those indigenous people from other white people. Also, the Na'vi communicate with their animals the same way that they have sex with each other, and that's creepy AF.
Considering it's a '90s sex comedy, American Pie treats its female characters pretty well. Alyson Hannigan's character is more of a baller than any of American Pie's male leads, most of the jokes are on our leading quartet of virginal nerds, and no one gets sexually assaulted! Most of what works in the films proves that punching up is always the best bet in mass consumption humor, but American Pie's Nadia storyline makes this purposefully offensive classic movie offensive in a bad way.
Nadia, the Czech exchange student, is slut-shamed by adults after Jim broadcasts their hook up to an entire high school. Jim planning to live-stream his tryst to anyone is child pornography, but Nadia is the one who gets punished when her host family sees the footage and sends her home. All the while, we're supposed to feel back for *Jim* because his prom date got shipped back to the Czech Republic.
You've Got Mail isn't an offensive classic movie, it's just a classic movie. It's an adorable love story about bookstore owners featuring at least one black character, no weirdly demeaning sexual scenarios, and the same source material as Broadway's adorable She Loves Me. Still, You've Got Mail doesn't hold up in the digital age.
Dated tech aside, it's hard to watch You've Got Mail in a post-Law & Order: SVU world without worrying that poor Meg Ryan is going to end up catfished, kidnapped, and murdered. Sure, *we* know that her pen pal is the well-meaning Tom Hanks, but she's forging ahead in this chatroom relationship with the naiveteé of a victim-of-the-week. Someone call Mariska Hargitay just to be safe.
Porky's deserves its own 3,000-word dissertation on why every copy should be stored in a vault deep, deep underground, never again to be seen by the human eye. Let's start with the poster art that shows someone looking through a peephole at a showering woman. It's all downhill from there. The central plot finds a group of Florida teens (who will no doubt grow up to become Flordia men) as they attempt to hire a sex worker to take their virginities. When that doesn't work, they stick their d*cks through a peephole in the women's locker room in the hopes that something will accidentally brush them. The n-word is dropped by a white dude within the first five minutes of the film, followed by a joke about "n*gros," a father's main characterization is being anti-Semitic, and there's a ton of fat-shaming as the cherry on top of the worst film of the '80s.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is a triumph for Alan Rickman and a tragedy for literally everyone else. The film isn't "barely watchable," as A.V. Club claimed on its 23rd anniversary, but its extended attempted-rape scene is so uncomfortable that we worry about its filmmakers running amock in the 21st century. The men who wrote about Marian's "ripe" childbearing hips are still out there somewhere, probably in lucrative film careers where they can continue to joke about a would-be rapist having erectile dysfunction, and so is their inconsistent attempt at a feature film.
There aren't many films on this list that have aged poorly for technical reasons. Mostly, it's a bunch of offensive classic movies made before people had the human decency to keep their sexist jokes to themselves and examples of America's enduring racial issues. Superman is the exception. This 1978 Christopher Reeve epic also stars Marlon Brando, speaking of not aging well, and features the worst special effects to ever be deemed "groundbreaking." It's almost heartwarming to see how far filmmaking has come in thirty years, comparing Iron Man's flying suit to the stationary strings holding up Superman as he planks through 143 minutes of heroics.
RKO Radio Pictures
Disney has taken steps to remove certain aspects of their racist history from their filmography, opting to keep the truly horrifying 1946 movie Song of the South far, far away from Disney+ and removing the racist crows from the streaming version Dumbo, but we still know it was there. Anyone who watches Dumbo for fun is seriously disturbed, especially once you take into account its pseudo-minstrel show featuring a crow named Jim Crow and his troupe of offensive stereotypes. Decider points out that the film's "Song of the Roustabouts” has horribly racist lyrics, including a couplet that says black laborers "slave until [they're] almost dead" and throw all of their money away, and while the rest of the film isn't necessarily racist, it's definitely disturbing.
Jim Carrey seems like a good dude. Ace Ventura does not. Slant called Ace Ventura: Pet Detective the most offensive, homophobic football movie ever made for having its villain be a transgender woman who is stripped naked, dunked into water, and shamed for her gender identity. She's not even shamed for being a dolphin poacher! Upon realizing the birth gender of a woman he's kissed, Ace goes into a panic, vomiting in a toilet before burning his clothes and crying naked in a shower, a reaction that's repeated for laughs during her later "unmasking." This offensive classic movie is transphobic — just watch Bruce Almighty instead.
John Hughes contributions to the teen classic canon have never been matched, and Sixteen Candles is filled with '80s charm. Following the initial '80s charm, however, is the introduction of a bizarre Chinese character named Long Duk Dong, who was played by an Asian actor and still managed to rival Mickey Rooney's catastrophic Breakfast at Tiffany's character as "The Most Grotesque Asian Stereotype In Film." Anthony Michael Hall's party subplot hinges on drunk driving, the romantic lead treating his girlfriend like property, and those Robin Thicke-ian "Blurred Lines" we've all agreed equate to date rape. Anthony's character also shows Molly Ringwald's underpants to a group of paying freshmen without her knowledge or permission, and we're expected to believe the worst thing that happened to this girl was her parents forgetting her 16th birthday.
The Raiders of the Lost Arc and The Last Crusade are two of the greatest adventure films ever made. Then, there's The Temple of Doom. This offensive classic film has gotten worse with age, but George Lucas and Steven Spielberg fully knew what they were doing when they made this super racist movie in 1984. Filmmakers weren't allowed to film in North India because the government told them their script was offensive. Instead of wondering if they were, in fact, making an offensive film, the team yeeted over to Sri Lanka and proceeded to frame the goddess Kali as an evil deity (instead of a force for positive change), make Indy into the white savior of a town controlled by the Mola Ram, and pretend Indian people eat monkey brains on the daily. We prefer Indiana when he's fighting off the Nazis.
James Bond is a serial rapist. He also constantly uses his girlfriends as human shields, but we'll let his cowardess take a backseat in deference to 007's career-spanning history of sexual assault. There's actually a YouTube compellation of James Bond being rapey that went viral in 2016, but the most obvious example of James being a predator is in Goldfinger when he runs into Pussy Galore in a barn, forces her legs apart, and thwarts her desperate efforts to fight him off after she's expressly stated her lack of interest. In Goldfinger, Bond is also racist, specifically against Koreans, and Live and Let Die tries to convince us that the entire population of Harlem is illiterate.
There's a lot that can be said about Quentin Taratino, but when Pulp Fiction was first released, it was just a really, really good movie by some dude with a giant chin. Now, we know that Quentin has a weird love for the n-word and isn't afraid to show it. Gawker released a history of the filmmaker saying the n-word in 2015, illustrating that its relentless use in Django Unchained was just the crowning achievement on a career that seems to have been built to allow Quentin to use the n-word in public as often as possible. Tarantino isn't afraid to say it IRL, although he should be, but even after Samuel L. Jackson advised him against it, Quentin wrote his Pulp Fiction character an n-word filled monologue that will permanently scar Pulp Fiction's legacy. It's not an artistic choice here, it's just Quentin Tarantino verbally jerking off on screen.