Film culture from the 1980’s is now known for perfecting the blockbuster, creating the teen movie, and churning out tons of (somewhat inappropriate) films for kids. And a lot of movies from this decade have gone on to become true classics: Back to the Future, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ghostbusters, and many more. But not all of these “classics” are particularly, well, good.
80’s American culture was relatively unregulated and decidedly not P.C., and as a result there’s a lot of content in movies from back then that would be immediately denounced if they appeared in a modern film. And that’s not always a bad thing: sometimes being a little naughty and risque can add a lot of charm and fun to a movie. But often in 80’s films, some of this content is now regarded as old shame and won’t find a lot of supporters–even among fans of these films–today.
Another problem with a lot of 80’s “classics” is that their characters are often kind of terrible people. And not just “I’m Ferris Bueller and do whatever I want,” but “I’m a morally reprehensible person–and I’m your protagonist!”
Finally, there are some well-regarded 80’s movies that just aren’t very good in hindsight. Maybe fans of these films saw them when they were younger and it left an impression on them and even have emotional attachments to them, but re-watching them today, they’re not exactly good. In fact, they kind of suck. So let’s ruin some childhoods and rile up fans as we look back at 10 beloved films from the 1980’s that actually suck.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1981)
Listen: everything needs to start somewhere. The evolution of the “teen sex comedy” had to happen in the 80’s, and it did–in a garbage comedy called Porky’s. Here’s the thing about Porky’s, though: nobody’s claiming it’s a good movie. Even it knew it was trash. Just like how American Pie resurrected the genre in the 1990’s, and that movie’s barely a film.
But the accolades Fast Times at Ridgemont High gets is truly surprising, mostly because it’s just a teen sex comedy with a serious abortion plot thrown in for good measure. That it’s still praised in the 21st century is shocking, considering that only one character has to face any repercussions for having sex, and it’s a young virginal girl whose first (terrible) sexual experience leads to her being impregnated and cruelly rejected by the guy. Then her brother takes her to get an abortion.
And while teen abortion is a totally real thing in the world, it’s cruel of this movie–where some idiot pothead gets a pizza delivered while sitting in class and everyone else gets the standard goofy, fun plotlines that a teen comedy hands its characters–to dump all of the drama on a single character like that. Besides that, it’s a rather heavy taste of moralistic slut shaming, as if telling the young audience, “don’t have sex because the guy will treat you badly and you’re not going to have a good time and oh, it ends in an unwanted pregnancy. Shame. SHAAAME!” Besides that: it’s not a particularly funny movie. Spicoli is funny because he’s a cartoon, and…that’s pretty much it. But for this to be hailed as a classic is mind-boggling.
The Adventures of ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Look: I know people have a wild sentimental attachment to this movie. But have you actually watched this movie since you were a kid? Because it’s pretty crappy. ET is one of the least appealing alien creatures ever put on film, visually and otherwise. He barely speaks, is ugly as shit, makes weird, annoying noises, and his “friendship” amounts to him using a little kid so he can get an SOS out to his people to rescue him. In short, he’s a selfish jerk.
ET is totally disconnected from all of the problems he’s making for this kid and his family, and he doesn’t care. After ET launches away from Earth forever in his spaceship, what happens to Elliot and his family? My guess is they’re driven to the desert and destroyed by the government to cover up the existence of aliens or else they spend the rest of their short lives tested in a lab until being dissected by the government. Does ET care? No, ET don’t care. ET don’t give a shit. He launches off looking out the window at Elliot and the swarming government agents saying, “Bye, stupids! Thanks for helping me! Yeah yeah, I’ll be right here in your heart–until it’s diced into pieces. Byeee!”
If you want to watch a great Spielberg movie about aliens, watch Close Encounters of the Third Kind. At least those felonious kidnapping aliens aren’t made out to be the heroes of that film.
Let’s talk about the difficulties women face in media. For a woman to secure a position in this incredibly competitive field, especially an on-camera one, they face a severe age cutoff that stops around 40. Besides this, women in media, especially on TV and in movies, need to meet near-impossible beauty standards (set by men, natch) that only a rare 1% of 1% of the population ever can.
So for Tootsie to posit that a male actor is having such a difficult time securing roles that all he had to do is dress as a woman and suddenly finds a wild amount of success and becomes a feminist icon is one of the most insulting concepts for a movie ever made. Oh, and about those aforementioned beauty standards? In drag, Dustin Hoffman is one of the ugliest “women” ever and looks about 50. But Tootsie finds a WILD amount of overnight success nonetheless. Is it because the character is supposedly just that good of an “actress” that show biz simply overlooks “her” below-average looks and age because of it?
Because that’s insanely insulting to literally every single less-than-perfect looking actress and every actress period that faces age discrimination. In a world where a 37-year-old actress is immediately cast as the mother to a 25-year-old character, the very concept that Tootsie becomes one of the most famous actresses on TV overnight is an awful, sexist, and myopic “comment” on show biz. It’s as if the movie’s trying to say, “No, actresses, the problem isn’t that you don’t conform to our beauty standards or that you’ve aged–it’s that you’re not talented enough! See? This ugly older actor just had to dress like a woman and he found success!” Terrible.
Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
It’s shocking to think about now, but once upon a time Eddie Murphy was one of the funniest people on the planet. In the 80’s, Murphy starred in a string of successful comedies, and his wise-cracking street-smart cop character Axel Foley is now an icon of the decade. Too bad the movie itself isn’t funnier.
Oh, it’s plenty funny the first time you watch it. After all, Murphy played the quick-witted Foley to perfection. But then, if you watch the movie again, or you watch it decades after its release, you notice something else: Axel Foley’s a terrible person and a bad cop.
The terrible person part is easily explained: he’s manipulative to the point where he will do and say anything to get what he wants, including threatening to slander a hotel and call them racist if they don’t give him a room, which they do–at a discounted rate, nonetheless. He also has an incredibly negative view of gay people, and at one point puts on an outrageous camp gay act that includes making fun of HIV/AIDS. Anyone that’s listened to Murphy’s stand-up routine from the 80’s will understand that the man really, really didn’t like gay people back then, so seeing our supposed protagonist share the same attitude in Beverly Hills Cop is dismaying.
But what about Axel the cop? Oh, he’s also a terrible police officer. Not only is he investigating way outside his jurisdiction, being from Detroit, but he’s investigating without probable cause or securing search warrants. And it’s not like he’s just doing this because he’s in Beverly Hills: he’s pulling this shit all the time back in Detroit. The first scene of the movie is him running an unregulated sting unbeknownst to his superiors and fellow officers. He lies constantly to nearly everyone, threatens people unless they give him information, conducts illegal searches, and even goes to a strip club while on-duty.
So while a fun movie the first time you see it, it doesn’t hold up upon repeat viewings and shifting social mores over the decades really does bear out both Alex Foley and Beverly Hills Cop as an overrated movie from the 80’s.
Revenge of the Nerds (1984)
There’s a lot to unpack in Revenge of the Nerds. While it’s a fondly remembered film that’s been parodied and referenced countless times in pop culture, there are so many problems with it from top to bottom that anything humorous about it goes out the window if you think about it for a second.
First off: I’m not sure all of the “nerds” qualify as such. In fact, one of them only seems to be a “nerd” simply because he’s gay. Another one seems like he’s a high-functioning autist. Another one is just a genius little kid. Booger is just a drug addict. Outcasts, maybe; nerds, though? Probably not.
But also: they’re not exactly “heroes” but more “sex criminals.” They install hidden cameras in the Pi Delta Pi sorority to spy on the women and then watch this material with an underage kid. And then they sell nude photos of one of the Pi Delta women without her knowledge to the entire school. And then Lewis, the head nerd, has sex with said Pi Delta woman while wearing a disguise, who mistakes him for her boyfriend–which is also known as Rape by Deception. In short, our “heroes” should all be brought up on serious sex offense charges and spend time in jail.
And sure, they get a raw deal by being forced out of the freshmen dorms by the Alpha Beta fraternity, and yes the Alphas and Pi Deltas release a bunch of pigs into one of their parties. But the completely insane things the nerds do in revenge, like putting liquid heat into the Betas’ underwear so they suffer scalding burns on their genitals, is another criminal offense. In short, the Nerds in “Revenge of the Nerds” are actually the bad guys at the end of the day and are some of the most awful protagonists ever put on screen. Only in the 80’s! The unregulated, wildly sexist, homophobic, and altogether inappropriate 80’s!
What town outlaws dancing in the 1980’s? The fictional tiny town of Bomont, Illinois in the ridiculous film Footloose. First off, this is a dumb premise for a movie. Who gives a shit about a kid who just loves dancing so damn much but can’t because of these darn local laws? Who wrote this movie? The answer: a songwriter. More specifically, the guy who wrote the song “Fame” and also co-wrote nine songs on the Footloose soundtrack. Figures that a songwriter wrote the screenplay: it certainly comes across like a 3-minute idea stretched out over two hours.
Another thing: John Lithgow as the conservative preacher in the town that fights so hard to outlaw dancing? He just needed some therapy. Banning music and dancing in the town came out of the deep trauma of losing his son in a car accident. Take him to a therapist. Don’t just start throwing everything in his face suddenly, like when his wife bitches him out that he’s being a bad father and his daughter decides to tell him that she’s been promiscuous. That’s not helping.
And Kevin Bacon? Shut your goddamn mouth. In general, 80’s-era Kevin Bacon had a very punchable face, and in this movie especially so. Need to ding-dang-dance? Stay in that stupid barn and dance away to your heart’s content. Start a dance club. Don’t just cruise into town and start shitting all over these people’s local culture and values. Like the soundtrack? Buy the soundtrack and dance in your own house. Someone ought to outlaw Footloose from ever airing on TV again.
Sixteen Candles (1984)
Oh, teen comedies from the 80’s. When you got it right, you hit the nail on the head: Weird Science, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Real Genius–all fantastic teen comedies from the 1980’s. But when you missed your mark, you couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn. Such is Sixteen Candles, a movie that aired almost constantly on weekend matinees on television in the 1990’s until programmers realized what they were airing and immediately cut that shit out.
First of all: except for Sam (Molly Ringwald), everyone in the movie is an asshole. Ted (Anthony Michael Hall) is a creep that endlessly harasses Sam throughout the film and eventually rapes a blackout drunk girl; Jake, Sam’s crush, is a negligent asshole boyfriend to his current girlfriend, whom he passes off while she’s passed-out drunk to get raped, even going so far to let Ted know that “she’s so blitzed she won’t know the difference.” Yikes!
Even Sam’s family are major assholes–not because they forgot her birthday but because they scheduled a wedding right then. What, did they forget the day she was born 6 months earlier when they were setting the date? Did Sam never bring up to them that her 16th birthday was the day before the wedding? It’s not like there was any urgency for her sister to get married.
Which brings us to the next fault of the movie: all of the only humor derived in the film is from the humiliation of another character. Sam is thoroughly humiliated by her family and by circumstances in social settings. Ted is a skeevy kid that goads her into giving him her panties, which he then sells for $1 a peek in the bathroom at the dance, which is bizarre. Her sister that’s getting married has her period, which is the source of a lot of weird jokes from her own brother. And the character Long Duk Dong is one of the most wildly offensive Asian stereotypes committed to film since Mickey Rooney’s I. Y. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s whose character dances through a number of humiliation conga lines throughout. It’s a mean-spirited film aimed at teens that wrings its humor from making every character the butt of a joke and on the receiving end of awfulness. In short, Sixteen Candles is a terrible, inexplicably beloved movie.
The Goonies (1985)
Like ET, The Goonies is a beloved movie for people of a certain generation. But have you watched it as an adult? It was appealing to kids because it starred kids as the heroes of an adventure, but it also comes across like it was written by kids. It also comes across like a Steven Spielberg movie if his head was caved in and he still had to show up for shooting anyway. You know, like the way the films of director Richard Donner usually come out.
The entire setup is not just preposterous, but to a further point: what the hell was wrong with these kids’ parents that they just lost all of their property en masse? The entire Goon Docks neighborhood is being wiped out for the expansion of a country club? What, does this country club have eminent domain or something? Did every single adult in the area default on their mortgage?
Also: this is just a really sloppy, overcast “Indiana Jones For Kids.” This is Muppet Babies Indiana Jones. How many goddamn characters did this movie need? Apparently 7 protagonists, 3 villains, 1 Sloth, and a treasure that’s somehow been left undiscovered for over 350 years even though it’s hidden in a heavily populated area. They ride their bikes there, fer chrissakes!
Anyway, this movie is perhaps beloved because it was watched by a huge generation when they were kids, it was a movie starring kids, and this kid-sized version of Raiders of the Lost Ark was easy to relate to back then. But now over 30 years since its release, the reputation built around it is absurd once you start investigating the massive plot holes and problems that were easy to overlook when you were just a dumb kid.
Top Gun (1986)
Maybe it’s better known as being a wildly campy film now. Or perhaps not: after all, it was selected in 2015 for preservation by the National Film Registry. Either way, it was a huge hit when it came out and it still has its fans today. But the question is: why?
After all, the protagonist, Maverick (Tom Cruise) is a total asshole. He’s selfish, defiant of authority (which isn’t a great trait when you’re in the Air Force), has a huge chip on his shoulder, and treats the one woman in his life–and one of the few women in this movie–like she’s Marjory the Trash Heap from Fraggle Rock. Despite this, he’s the Big Hero of the movie because…eventually he learns not to be such a huge asshole? But he’s still a total asshole anyway?
Besides this, the film has a lot of homoerotic subtext–which isn’t a problem, necessarily, except nobody in the film is portrayed as gay. Even though they’re often half-naked with each other, fight/flirt constantly, and are always around (almost exclusively) other men, they are supposed to be seen as just the most raging examples of heterosexuality ever. It doesn’t help that the men show way more affection for each other than they do their romantic partners, or that Tom Cruise arguably has way more unresolved sexual tension with Val Kilmer than his ostensible romantic interest.
Finally: outside of the (admittedly awesome) footage of fighter jets zooming around the sky and the kick-ass Kenny Loggins song “Danger Zone,” what do you remember about this movie? And besides the homoeroticism? Not much. Maybe that unbelievably unsexy “sex” scene between Maverick and Lady? Or the volleyball scene (oops, back to homoerotic content)? It may be a well-loved and remembered 80’s movie, but arguably for unintended reasons, and certainly not because it’s a terse drama looking at the high-pressure life of a fighter pilot.
Dirty Dancing (1987)
Listen: there have been plenty of movies made in the 1980’s that appealed to young girls. Pretty In Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, The Princess Bride, Heathers, Teen Witch, the list can go on and on. But Dirty Dancing has inexplicably become a touchstone film for many young women of a certain generation–and they’re wrong for liking it. Why? Because it’s objectively awful.
This is the movie they show girls that were molested to try and jog repressed memories. Think clearly about the themes that this movie runs on: Frances (Jennifer Grey), a 17-year-old girl in the 1960’s who’s referred to as “Baby” by her overbearing father, who also has a very intense, protective relationship with her (meanwhile his dippy other daughter barely factors in except as a running joke throughout the film); a “bad boy” 30-something Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze) whom she starts an illicit romance with, despite this being wildly inappropriate since there’s about a 15-year age difference between them and that she’s underage; it takes place in the isolated Catskills over one summer, so the physical and social isolation from Baby’s normal life is clearly affecting her judgement and sense of appropriateness; and she’s also squired about by the creepy grandson of the resort’s owner. In short, all of the male figures present in this film, and the “implications” that arise from both the setting and their behavior towards “Baby,” could be the subject of a very upsetting academic study on agency, gender, and sexuality.
Even the disturbing relationships on the surface that are evident in the film reveal a closed community of perversion: Johnny’s dance partner needs money for an abortion after getting pregnant by a waiter at the resort who’s also dating Baby’s sister. So Baby gets the money from her father. Just trace the sick Habsburg-like tree this entire plot creates on paper. And then throw that paper away along with your DVD copy of this movie.
This was one of the biggest hits of 1987 and has since become a long-lasting favorite film for many people. Why? Is it the soundtrack? Just buy a Greatest Hits album and be done with it. Some see it as a coming of age film about a young woman’s budding sexuality, but in the context in which it develops, it all seems rather…sick. And weird. And ultimately dysfunctional. In short, it’s what 1980’s films were all about.