As we evolve as a society, popular films tend to lose some of their luster. Whether it's outdated social norms or offensive stereotypes, some movies from the past can be cringe-worthy or even disturbing when viewed through a modern lens. According to modern viewers, these 25 popular movies from “back in the day” have aged horribly.
1. Never Been Kissed (1999)
A journalist goes undercover as a high school student for a story but struggles to fit in and make friends. In the movie, Drew Barrymore plays a 25-year-old with a career posing as a high school student, but her teacher, unaware that she isn't a genuine high school student, continually flirts with her.
2. Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
An eccentric socialite develops a relationship with a struggling writer in this classic romantic comedy. However, the movie's portrayal of a Japanese character, played by a white actor in yellowface, has been criticized for being racist and offensive.
3. Soul Man (1986)
A white man takes tanning pills to appear Black and win a scholarship to Harvard Law School in what people now describe as a misguided comedy. The movie's use of Blackface and racial stereotypes has been widely condemned.
4. Grease (1978)
This popular film sets a high school romance between a good girl and a bad boy to a catchy musical score. Modern audiences accuse the film of endorsing sexism and misogyny. However, I think the most valid criticism is that the film purports to be a sexual liberation film but does a terrible job conveying that idea since Sandy just ends up rejecting her true self to become this performative “bad girl,” so Danny, her peers, and Danny's clique will accept her.
When you re-watch it, it's pretty cringe because Sandy is never pressured by her parents or others to be a “good girl” because of what society tells her. If anything, the opposite happens throughout the film: she's rejected and made fun of for being pure and innocent. Then, at the end of the movie, she randomly rejects her authentic self and virtues to win over a guy who was rude to her for the approval of his clique and her “friends,” who performed a whole musical number about how embarrassing it is that she's a goody-two-shoes.
5. Sixteen Candles (1984)
A teenage girl navigates the ups and downs of high school life and romance in this John Hughes classic. Modern audiences view the film as problematic for many reasons namely for its depiction of sexual assault.
6. The Net (1995)
A computer programmer uncovers a conspiracy while on the run from dangerous cybercriminals in this early internet thriller. However, the movie's portrayal of technology and the internet is now hilariously outdated and unrealistic. The concept is extremely over-the-top, and some audiences point out that it was terrible even when it came out.
However, it's interesting that viewers at the time thought it a ridiculous idea that you could order a pizza over the internet—one big win for technology.
7. 2012 (2009)
A global catastrophe threatens the survival of humanity in this action-packed disaster movie. However, the movie's reliance on stereotypes and cliches and its use of unrealistic and over-the-top special effects has not aged well. It capitalized on a small subset of people's genuine fears that the world would end in 2012. However, one spectator quips, “To be fair, that aged badly over the course of about a ye
8. American Beauty (1999)
In this Oscar-winning drama, a suburban man experiences a midlife crisis and begins an inappropriate relationship with his daughter's teenage friend. However, the movie's portrayal of sexual desire and power dynamics has been criticized for being exploitative and contributing to harmful narratives.
American Beauty is a condemnation of the behavior on screen. Unfortunately, this message has become muddled over time, considering the scandals surrounding its male lead, Kevin Spacey. For that reason, this move has aged like spoiled milk.
9. Crash (2004)
A series of interconnected stories explore issues of race, class, and privilege in this Academy Award-winning drama. However, the movie's simplistic and stereotypical portrayal of racial dynamics has been criticized for perpetuating harmful narratives and an inaccurate portrayal of race in America. There is a lot of controversy surrounding its winning Best Picture in 2005. While it made a splash in the early 2000s, it makes for a cringe re-watch.
10. 40 Days and 40 Nights (2002)
The movie's portrayal of sexual desire and consent has been criticized for many reasons. Gender stereotypes were still ingrained throughout this movie and society it didn't occur to us that an attractive young woman could still assault a man.
11. The Butterfly Effect (2004)
A man discovers he can travel back in time and change events in his past in this mind-bending thriller. However, the movie's depiction of mental illness and trauma has been criticized for being unrealistic and insensitive. Others think it's just straight-up bad.
The Butterfly Effect is a very elementary depiction of the concept of cause and effect and time travel, but it still has a dash of charm that makes it ultimately redeemable.
12. National Lampoon's Animal House (1978)
A raucous fraternity causes chaos on a college campus in this classic comedy. However, the movie's portrayal of sexism, misogyny, and hazing culture has not aged well. Whether you think the movie is endorsing this behavior or not, it captures gross, creepy frat-boy culture to a tee, some believe.
13. Manhattan (1979)
This Woody Allen film explores a middle-aged man's romantic relationships with two much younger women. However, the movie's portrayal of relationships and age gaps is seen as incredibly creepy and exploitative now. In the film, Allen's character (who is 42) falls in love with a girl still in high school. Combine this with what we know about Allen's personal life, and the movie is now very offputting to anyone who is normal.
14. Working Girl (1988)
A secretary seizes an opportunity to rise up the corporate ladder in this feel-good comedy. The film has been criticized for perpetuating the idea that women must adopt traditionally masculine traits and behaviors to succeed in the workplace. While the film's message is ultimately one of empowerment, it has been argued that it reinforces the notion that women must conform to male-dominated norms to achieve success. The film has also been accused of downplaying the seriousness of sexual harassment.
15. Gone With the Wind (1939)
A romantic epic set during the Civil War and Reconstruction era in the American South. While the movie accurately depicts how things were at the time, modern viewers criticize its depiction of race and gender.
16. You've Got Mail (1998)
Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) is the owner of a small bookstore that is about to be put out of business by a big bookstore chain owned by Joe Fox (Tom Hanks). Kathleen and Joe have never met, but they have corresponded anonymously online and developed a friendship through their emails.
As they continue to compete in business, they begin to fall in love with each other online, but when they finally meet in person, they realize that they are each other's business rivals.
17. The Blue Lagoon (1980)
After a shipwreck, two young children, Richard (Christopher Atkins) and Emmeline (Brooke Shields), are stranded on a deserted island in the South Pacific. They must learn to survive on their own and eventually grow up together and fall in love. However, their idyllic life is threatened when they discover that they are not alone on the island and that their future is uncertain.
This one really goes without explanation. The romanticization and sexualization of two young cousins are deeply disturbing.
18. Pretty Baby (1978)
This controversial drama is set in New Orleans in 1917 and tells the story of a 12-year-old girl named Violet (Brooke Shields) who is being raised in a brothel by her mother (Susan Sarandon). Photographer Ernest J. Bellocq (Keith Carradine) becomes fascinated with Violet and begins taking pictures of her, which leads to a complex and controversial relationship between the two.
The movie's depiction of a working girl who is a child and her explicit sexualization is unjustifiable and perhaps the worst aged movie in Hollywood.
19. Darkness Falls (2003)
This horror film tells the story of a small town haunted by the ghost of a vengeful witch who was executed by the townspeople 150 years ago. The witch is said to come back every time a child loses their last baby tooth, and when Kyle (Chaney Kley) returns to town to face his childhood fears, he finds himself being pursued by the supernatural entity.
This movie was so scary when I watched it as a child, but upon re-viewing, it's one of the worst “scary” movies that have ever been made. A total B-movie.
20. The Towering Inferno (1974)
When a fire breaks out in the world's tallest building during its opening party, the guests and workers are trapped on the top floors and must find a way to escape before it's too late. Despite being a much-beloved movie, it has so many plot holes and lousy movie logic.
21. Meatballs (1979)
This comedy follows the misadventures of the counselors and campers at Camp North Star, a summer camp in the woods. The film stars Bill Murray as the lovable and eccentric head counselor, Tripper Harrison, who leads his team to victory against their rivals in a series of zany competitions and pranks.
One film aficionado thinks this movie aged the worst because you have to watch Murray's character “charmingly” sexually assault someone, then make it into a joke about how “she attacked him.”
22. Cape Fear (1991)
After serving time in prison, Max Cady (Robert De Niro) seeks revenge on his former defense attorney, Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte), who he believes did not represent him adequately. Cady begins stalking Bowden and his family, terrorizing them and forcing Bowden to confront his own moral shortcomings.
With a 7.3 rating on IMDb, it's safe to say most people love this movie. However, one contrarian expresses their hatred of the film's “truly questionable cinematography choices and characters exercising inexplicably bad judgment.” There's also the weird sexualization of the 15-year-old for no plot purpose. They also suggest that those violating scenes are filmed in a way that hints women want it on some level.
23. Scanners (1981)
This sci-fi horror film follows a group of people known as “scanners” who possess telepathic and telekinetic powers. When a rogue scanner named Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside) begins to hunt down and kill other scanners, a man named Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) is recruited by a group of scanners to stop him before he can cause more destruction. This one aged particularly badly because of the cringe-worthy computer scenes at the end.
24. The Birth of a Nation (1915)
This highly controversial movie, directed by D.W. Griffith, is based on a novel called The Clansman and tells a story about two families, one from the North and one from the South, and their experiences during the American Civil War and Reconstruction.
The film glorifies the Ku Klux Klan and portrays Black people as savages and criminals, perpetuating harmful stereotypes and promoting white supremacy. Despite its technical achievements and influence on the film industry, Birth of a Nation is widely recognized as a racist and offensive piece of propaganda.
25. Chasing Amy (1997)
Looking back on this movie, Chasing Amy has two different camps: people who believe this movie is wrong and others who think that the movie was trying to say something about society. In the movie, Ben Afflleck's character falls in love with a lesbian, which upset a lot of people because it was set up like she could change her sexuality to be with him. But some people think her response in the movie makes this a commentary on people who think they can turn gay people straight.
Jaimee Marshall is a culture writer, avid movie buff, and political junkie. She spends the bulk of her time watching and critiquing films, writing political op-eds, and dabbling in philosophy. She has a Communication Studies degree from West Chester University of Pennsylvania, where she flirted with several different majors before deciding to pursue writing. As a result, she has a diverse educational background, having studied economics, political science, psychology, business admin, rhetoric, and debate.
At Wealth of Geeks, Jaimee places an emphasis on film and television analysis, ranking the best [and worst] in media so you can find more diamonds in the rough and waste less time on box-office duds. You can find her articles on politics and culture in Evie Magazine, Katie Couric Media, Lotus Eaters, and Her Campus. You can also find her find her episode of Popcorned Planet, where she analyzes the Johnny Depp & Amber Heard trial. She has written extensively about due process, free speech, and pop culture.