Almost everyone has a hidden gem of a film they absolutely adore. It’s incredibly liberating to be a fan of something that was once snubbed by critics or overlooked by audiences.
Some of these cinematic treasures have managed to withstand the test of time, remaining just as enjoyable today as they were when they first graced the screen. However, there are others that have clearly aged, showcasing a different era’s sense of humor and storytelling. Unfortunately, some of these films contain elements that are now considered offensive, targeting marginalized individuals based on race, gender, or sexual orientation.
In the following discussion, we’ll dive into these films that are undeniably products of their time. But rather than just taking our word for it, join us in exploring which of these movies might elicit more cringing than cult following.
1. Revenge of the Nerds
The 1980s saw a surge in raunchy frat house comedies, and one standout example of the genre is Revenge of the Nerds. This film revolves around the nerdy protagonists as they clash with the popular fraternities and sororities on campus. Expect lots of sex jokes and immature humor that push boundaries, particularly when it comes to issues of consent.
One storyline in the film involves the nerds setting up cameras to secretly spy on naked sorority women and then selling the resulting images without their knowledge. Another highly controversial scene depicts a protagonist tricking a sorority member into sleeping with him by wearing a Darth Vader mask he stole from her boyfriend. These moments, although meant for comedic effect, are truly unsettling in today’s MeToo era and can even be considered as criminal acts. They reflect the male-centric perspective that was prevalent in 1980s culture, both in terms of the storylines and what was shown on screen.
In response to the backlash, writer Steve Zacharias expressed regret, admitting that he now sees the problematic nature of the masked scene. Director Jeff Kanew acknowledged that although the scene was interpreted differently at the time, it is ultimately inexcusable and he wouldn’t approve of it if it happened to his own daughter.
2. The Gods Must Be Crazy
The Gods Must Be Crazy, like many 1980s films, reflects the time it was made. It tells the story of Xi, a member of the San tribe, Dr. Andrew Steyn, a white scientist, and his assistant Kate Thompson. Their lives become intertwined when Xi’s tribe discovers a Coke bottle on their land.
At the time of its release, the film received criticism for portraying the members of the Xi clan as intellectually inferior to their white counterparts. This perspective was even more disturbing considering that South Africa was still under apartheid during production. The film’s glossing over of these issues was distressing then and is even more unacceptable in 2023.
Jane Fonda, known for her role in Grace and Frankie, made a name for herself in the 1960s through various comedies and films. One of her most memorable performances from that era was in Barbarella, where she played the lead character, a space adventurer. Despite any shortcomings in the screenplay, Fonda’s natural charisma as a performer shines through.
However, it’s important to note that the film’s gender politics fall short when viewed through a 21st-century lens. Barbarella is heavily sexualized throughout the movie, and there is a disturbing scene where she is subjected to a machine that provides deadly pleasure. While some may view this as a product of the exaggerated science fiction and pulp of the late 1960s, it can also be seen as unsettling and uncomfortable.
4. Chasing Amy
Writer-director Kevin Smith tackled the rare subject of a lesbian protagonist in his film Chasing Amy, which was well-received by both audiences and critics. However, the movie’s resonance in today’s society has diminished due to the portrayal of Alyssa Jones (played by Joey Lauren Adams) as a straight man’s fantasy.
Alyssa is depicted as a voluptuous, blonde, and stunning woman who fearlessly displays affection in public with her equally attractive girlfriend. However, she also faces harsh judgment and shame due to her colorful sexual history. Furthermore, her lesbian identity seems to be portrayed as variable, as she eventually enters into a romantic relationship with Holden McNeil (played by Ben Affleck).
While it is true that sexuality exists on a spectrum, it is highly unlikely that Smith intended to explore this nuance. This lack of depth is evident as the word “bisexual” is absent from the script. Instead, it appears that the film uses Alyssa’s storyline as a plot device, inadvertently perpetuating the myth that lesbians simply need to meet the right man.
5. Eight Crazy Nights
Some cult classics gain their status by pushing the boundaries of good taste, sometimes to an extreme level. Eight Crazy Nights is an example of this, and while it’s refreshing to have an animated holiday special centered on Hanukkah, the rest of the film is undeniably juvenile. In fact, it has only worsened in the 20 years since its release.
Apart from featuring outright racist moments, the movie is filled with an excessive amount of bathroom humor. Even for the early 2000s, this kind of humor doesn’t quite hit the mark and appears even more repulsive from a present-day perspective. One scene involves a character being pushed into a Port-a-Potty and then rolling down a hill. This is clearly an attempt to tap into the crude comedy popular during that era, but even by those standards, the film falls short of achieving the success it so desperately seeks.
The early 2000s saw a surge in indie comedies that took pleasure in pushing the limits of good taste. Waiting…, released in 2005, falls perfectly into this category as it revolves around the disillusioned and raunchy wait staff at a chain restaurant. Notably, the film boasts a cast including Ryan Reynolds, Justin Long, Anna Faris, and Luis Guzmán.
However, even for a film of this nature, there are moments that raise eyebrows and border on being downright repulsive. One of the staff’s favorite games involves exposing their genitals to unsuspecting coworkers, accompanied by hurling homophobic slurs. Additionally, the ongoing storyline involving an underage employee is particularly disturbing. These elements were controversial upon release and have only become more morally reprehensible over time. Understandably, Rotten Tomatoes’ overall consensus on the film describes it as “a gross-out comedy that is more gross than comic.”
7. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Hollywood has always been obsessed with portraying the lives of high school students, and one of the classic examples of a teen drama is Fast Times at Ridgemont High. This movie features a large ensemble cast, offering a glimpse into the diverse experiences of high schoolers. It’s undeniably hilarious, but when viewed from the lens of 2023, some aspects can be cringe-worthy.
There’s a prevalent issue of flippant homophobia in the film, which sadly reflects the real-world attitudes of that time. Additionally, the movie’s portrayal of consent raises some doubts. The sex scenes can be uncomfortable to watch, as it’s unclear how much the women truly desire to engage in sexual acts with their male partners.
While the film should be acknowledged for addressing sexuality in a more mature manner, these scenes remain problematic and troubling.
8. Heavy Metal
The film Heavy Metal was released as a game-changer. It consists of several animated shorts linked together by the presence of a dark rock called the Loc-Nar. The film draws heavily from the style of pulp magazines, with some of the stories being adapted from the magazine Heavy Metal itself.
This film definitely pushes boundaries, featuring graphic depictions of blood and women dressed in revealing attire. Unfortunately, most of the major female characters are reduced to mere sexual objects, which is a common convention in pulp magazines. This aspect of the film makes it feel even more outdated compared to other films from the 1970s and early 1980s.
Considering the progress women have made in the world of speculative fiction, Heavy Metal seems like a step backwards, despite being in line with the male-dominated culture of the 1980s.
9. Dazed and Confused
Dazed and Confused, a popular coming-of-age comedy from the 1990s, not only gained recognition for its cast but also for their subsequent rise to fame despite the film’s underwhelming performance at the box office. However, Matthew McConaughey’s character, David Wooderson, is undeniably creepy, even by the standards of that time.
One of Wooderson’s most notable traits is his transparent pursuit of younger women. While McConaughey embraces the sleazy nature of his character, it remains uncertain whether the film intends for viewers to condemn this behavior or simply find it uncomfortably humorous.
Looking back at the film from 2023, it can be cringe-inducing, especially as it fails to explore the perspectives of the young women who are being objectified and leered at by a man who really shouldn’t be hovering around them.
10. The Monster Squad
The Monster Squad, a cult classic from the 1980s, has gained a beloved status for a reason. Its storyline revolves around a group of kids coming together to defeat iconic monsters like Dracula, the Wolfman, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, making it a true product of its time – with both its strengths and weaknesses.
One aspect that falls on the less favorable side is the portrayal of an obese character who becomes the target of bullying from his peers, earning him the derogatory nickname ‘Fat Kid.’ Additionally, the film includes sexual innuendos and overtones that feel out of place and uncomfortable, considering its primary target audience of children. The presence of an older character who attempts to join the younger group in order to spy on a young woman while she undresses is particularly notable. Unfortunately, this reflects the prevalent male-centric perspective that often characterized movies made in the 1980s, even those aimed at children.
11. Adventures in Babysitting
The 1980s was a rad time for cult films, and Adventures in Babysitting totally fits the bill. The movie follows Chris Parker (played by Elizabeth Shue) as her babysitting job turns into a wild adventure. It’s super hilarious and has that classic Chris Columbus touch that made him a hit in the 90s.
But, let’s be real, there are a couple of things in the movie that didn’t age too well. In one scene, Daryl sneaks a peek down Brenda’s shirt while she’s sleeping. Yeah, it’s meant to be funny, but it also shows how 80s movies often had this male gaze thing going on. Not cool.
And then there’s the issue of the Black characters in the film. Most of them are portrayed in a stereotypical way, playing up the whole “dangerous inner city” thing. It’s kind of disappointing, to be honest.
Overall, Adventures in Babysitting is a fun flick, but it definitely has its flaws when you look at it with a critical eye.