For over a hundred years, movies have reflected society’s tastes, opinions and trends, and as those things change, so does Hollywood. What an audience found perfectly acceptable 50, 25, or even 10 years ago may not be today (conversely, filmmakers take risks nowadays that they could never have in the past). Films like The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson in blackface, weren’t considered offensive…in 1927.
For myriad reasons — most of them cringe-inducing — the offensive movies on this list wouldn’t make it past the pitch, let alone get a big-screen release today.
1. Soul Man (1986)
In this blackface disaster of epic proportions, C. Thomas Howell plays the very white son of a psychiatrist who refuses to pay for his Harvard education – so he pretends to be Black on a scholarship application. Altering his skin color and donning a wig bamboozles everyone, including actual Black people.
The sappy ending when Howell apologizes after realizing the error of his ways can’t make up for stereotypical jokes about basketball prowess and the size of a certain something. If this movie had any soul, it's being tortured in Hades.
2. Blazing Saddles (1974)
With its bawdy jokes and over-the-top bigotry, this Mel Brooks buddy Western spoof starring Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder is the poster child for movies that no studio would touch today. But back in 1974, it raked in $119.6 million.
No one can deny Blazing Saddles’ influence on Hollywood, and its biting satire of racism still holds up, but the treatment of gays and women does not. Even Brooks admitted in 2012 that he couldn’t put Blazing Saddles to film today.
3. Airplane! (1980)
This endlessly quotable slapstick gem featuring Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty and Leslie Nielson still brings viewers to tears of laughter (if not howls) to this day. But releasing it today? Not a chance.
No director or actors could pull off the scene with Black passengers talking jive, or casual jokes about abortion, or risqué repartee with little kids, in our current politically correct world – surely no sane movie exec would greenlight it, and don’t call me Shirley.
4. Borat (2006)
Sacha Baron Cohen’s shockumentary sits at 91% on Rotten Tomatoes because it was very, very funny. And offensive .
As Kazakh reporter Borat Sagdiyev, Cohen sets off across the country to make Pamela Anderson his wife – and skewers politicians and Heartland good ol’ boys along the way. But 17 years is a long time, and even Cohen has said the world has become too dangerous to pull his deadpan pranks. Guess he’s hung up the green mankini for good.
5. Sixteen Candles (1984)
Look, hindsight is always 20/20, and this John Hughes classic hasn’t aged nearly as well as Gen X would have hoped. (Honestly, that goes for most of the John Hughes oeuvre.) Did everyone shrug off the grotesque racism? The focus on teenage girls’ chests? The jokes about assaulting a blackout-drunk girl who doesn’t seem to care that it happened?
Everyone sure did, all while being aware that even by ‘80s standards, love interest Jake is a despicable person. Although most of us adored this teen-angst comedy when it came out, today, filmmakers would have to rewrite it almost entirely; what would be the point?
6. Police Academy (1984)
The premise of this affably inane comedy that spawned seven movies, a TV series, and a global theme park attraction involves an understaffed local police academy whose new rules require accepting all recruits, no matter what. Mostly harmless hilarity with slobs and losers ensues.
We’ll probably never see another slapstick comedy about incompetent police simply because, to some, it’s too close to home, while the Blue Lives Matter folks would protest.
7. White Chicks (2004)
This undercover comedy stars Marlon and Shawn Wayans as FBI agents who pose as a pair of blonde socialites in a kidnapper-baiting scheme. Their whiteface masks aren’t even the worst part about this lazy contrivance – plenty of potty humor, cheap jokes, and gross stereotyping go around.
Despite co-star Terry Crews’ insistence that a sequel is coming, it’s doubtful anyone will ever see the Wayans reprise these roles.
8. Song of the South (1946)
The oldest movie (and one of the most insane of all offensive movies) on this list is Disney’s live-action/animated post-Civil War musical about a boy who befriends a worker on his grandmother’s plantation and enjoys his stories about the adventures of Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Fox, and Br'er Bear.
Not only would filmmakers pass on this idyllic portrayal of plantation life today, it isn’t available to watch – Disney has said it will never be released on DVD in the U.S. or on Disney+ (good luck finding it streaming anywhere, for that matter).
9. I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry (2007)
Widower Larry (Kevin James) and Chuck (Adam Sandler) play firefighting buddies who dare to pose as domestic partners so Larry won’t lose his benefits.
In 2007, people apparently considered this kind of relationship front-page news, because the guys must carry on the charade in public to fool a nosy, doubting bureaucrat wanting to call their bluff. The movie treats homosexuality as 90% of the joke, a toast to straight male friendship with a side of chest-beating gay panic. Hollywood still doesn’t always get it right when it comes to LGBT portrayals (a recurring theme among now-offensive movies), but at least nobody will have to see this again.
10. Pretty Woman (1990)
Some might argue that filmmakers could make this sunshiney story about a prostitute saved from the streets by a rich white knight today, but it would take a LOT of updating.
Besides the problematic woman-in-need-of-rescue theme, the Los Angeles-set rom-com features virtually no BIPOC other than Vivian’s sassy Latina friend Kit and the Black man shouting “Welcome to Hollywood” in the beginning (the credits list him only as “Happy Man”).
In 2019, Julia Roberts told The Guardian she didn’t think Pretty Woman would translate to the #MeToo era, and she’s probably right.
11. American Beauty (1999)
Never mind the allegations against Kevin Spacey over the last few years, troublesome though they are – this five-time Oscar winner (including Best Picture and Actor for Spacey) about a dysfunctional suburban family has way too much ick factor to happen in today’s climate.
Spacey’s mopey loser dad lusts for his teenage daughter’s friend (Mena Suvari) and very nearly gets what he wants, only backing off when she admits she’s a virgin. A scene with then-16-year-old Thora Birch as Spacey’s daughter without her top would raise more than a few eyebrows today. Just…ew.
12. Forrest Gump (1994)
Box office success and six Academy Awards don’t help this wide-eyed Robert Zemeckis movie age any better three decades later.
Tom Hanks stars as the wide-eyed man-child Forrest, who breezes through life and sea-changing historical events with all the emotional connection of a jellyfish. People relentlessly shame his longtime love, Jenny, for sleeping around.
The movie condescends to people with disabilities and treats activists and the counterculture with downright hostility. Not only is all this questionable, but the movie cost $55 million ($111 million in 2024!) — no studio’s spending that kind of coin on a crummy box of chocolates like this nowadays.
13. Blame It on Rio (1984)
If American Beauty wasn’t sleazy enough, this rom-com based on a French film takes male lechery all the way, literally.
Two men go on vacation with their teenage daughters to Rio de Janeiro, where both girls hang around without bikini tops on and one (Michael Caine) has an affair with his buddy’s 17-year-old. When the men’s wives learn about the affair, the girl tries to OD on birth control pills, a failed attempt that somehow brings the families together. Overtly sexualizing teenagers wasn’t OK then, and it wouldn’t be today.
14. Pretty Baby (1978)
Imagine filming a historical drama about a young daughter being raised in a brothel by her prostitute mother, starring an 11-year-old Brooke Shields kissing older men – today? The objectification was real, and the obsession with Shields’ youth and sexuality was reflected in her films after this one, The Blue Lagoon (1980) and Endless Love (1981). Nobody would touch any of those today.
15. Gigli (2003)
Given all the ridicule and box office bombing of this Jennifer Lopez-Ben Affleck romantic comedy crime film, viewers may have forgotten Lopez played a lesbian. In the beginning, she talks, talks, and talks about her girlfriend.
But it isn’t long before she falls in love with Affleck’s mobster and never mentions the gal pal again. Sure, fluid sexuality is totally fine, but this is some cis male fantasy trip about getting a lesbian to change her preferences for “the right guy” that nobody needs to take again.