This article originally appeared on gosocial.co
The Breakfast Club
1985 teen comedy-drama The Breakfast Club is one of the most celebrated 80s movies. However, actress Molly Ringwald herself has highlighted the film’s treatment of her character Claire is very troubling. One scene sees Bender (Judd Nelson) duck under the table and violate an unsuspecting Clare. He then proceeds to harass and demean her throughout the film.
Also bothersome is the fact that not all The Breakfast Club’s teens are in detention for trivial matters. Socially awkward bookworm Brian (Anthony Michael Hall) is in detention for bringing a gun to school. Even in a pre-Columbine world, it’s hard to believe that such actions wouldn’t lead to police involvement.
Nowadays, the notion of the father staying home to look after the kids instead of the mother is not particularly unusual. However, 1983 comedy Mr. Mom (another one written by John Hughes) treats the notion with total incredulity, perpetuating notions about gender which were outdated even at the time, and even more so today.
However, whilst stay-at-home-dad Jack Butler (Michael Keaton) demonstrates his versatility by taking to child-rearing like a duck to water, his ambitious advertising executive wife Caroline (Terri Garr) winds up struggling in her demanding job. The movie seems to imply that men can adapt to anything, but women should stick to their traditional roles.
If it had been played less for laughs, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell’s 1987 comedy Overboard could be quite fittingly placed in a lineup next to the likes of Gone Girl and Girl on the Train. Indeed, Overboard is in some ways the more troubling film as it presents its sinister premise as light-hearted and funny. Russell plays carpenter Dean, who is ripped off on a job by the wealthy Joanna (Goldie Hawn).
After an accident leaves Joanna with total amnesia, Dean convinces Joanna they are married. She’s then forced to do all his housework and raise his children. Even after Joanna learns the truth about her “husband”, she decides to stay with him and she lives happily ever after as a housewife and mother. Where’s feminism when you need it?
1988’s Working Girl is a story about a powerful, career-driven woman on top. At least it seems that way, until we consider the lead character’s rather dubious method of acquiring her newfound success. Although a highly successful businesswoman, Melanie Griffith’s Tess is portrayed as childlike and almost doll-ish, relying on her coquettish nature and flirty demeanour to get ahead.
Not only does Tess resort to less-than-feminist tactics in order to make the big bucks, she also mocks other women in order to prove her superiority. Take for example Katharine (Sigourney Weaver), who is belittled for being concerned over “women’s issues” such as infertility. Though the film is hailed as a feminist classic, Working Girl is full of contradiction and conflicted messages.
1984’s Sixteen Candles may have launched 80s icons Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall and writer-director John Hughes, but it has aged very badly indeed. It perpetuates harmful stereotypes, notably with the unabashedly racist treatment of its only Asian character, Long Duk Dong (Gede Watanabe).
Worse yet, Sixteen Candles is also shockingly sexist (even though it has a female lead), and promotes some thoroughly unsavoury attitudes. Young women are presented entirely as sex objects, slut-shamed, and most shockingly of all a drunk girl is date-raped by Hall’s character with the blessing of her boyfriend.
Conceived and produced by Steven Spielberg, 1985’s The Goonies was a big part of childhood for just about anybody who grew up in the 80s. It’s a bit jarring as a kid’s movie today, given how much the young protagonists swear. The profanity may be easy to overlook, but a rather more alarming scene sees Corey Feldman’s Mouth demonstrates his skill at speaking Spanish.
Mary Ellen Trainor’s Mrs Walsh asks Mouth to translate her instructions to Lupe Ontiveros’ non-English-speaking housekeeper, Rosalita. Being a born joker, Mouth deliberately feeds Rosalita utterly inaccurate and increasingly absurd translations, including lists of illegal narcotics and implications of bizarre sexual practices – all from the lips of a middle schooler.
1986 smash hit comedy Crocodile Dundee hinges on the culture clash between Hogan’s salt-of-the-earth Aussie frontiersman, and the metropolitan world of 80s New York; however, the central character’s values don’t come off so much ‘old-fashioned’ as outright ignorant and hateful. One particularly unpleasant scene shows Hogan’s unwitting Dundee chatted up at a bar by a female impersonator.
On being told the truth of the situation, Dundee’s disgust is clear: he proceeds to grab the crotch of his new friend to confirm the truth, which is regarded as hilarious by the bar’s clientele. Later, on being introduced to a wealthy older woman at an upmarket soirée, Dundee also grabs her by the crotch and remarks, “Just making sure.”
Back to the Future
Back to the Future may be considered one of the true masterpieces of the 80s, but there’s plenty about the film that raises eyebrows today. Most obviously, there’s the fact that Lea Thompson’s Lorraine develops a sexual attraction to Michael J. Fox’s Marty without knowing he’s her future son. On top of this, the Libyan terrorists villains are crude racial stereotypes.
Worse yet is how Crispin Glover’s George asserts his manhood by punching out Thomas F. Wilson’s Biff, then proceeds to lord that power over him even 30 years later. The idea that the McFlys have secured their own happiness by ensuring the unhappiness of Biff (plus the fact that they’re richer in the new timeline, implying you need money to be happy) leaves a rather sour aftertaste.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Believe us, we’re as pained as you are to have Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure on this list. The 1989 sci-fi comedy starring Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter was one of the last true classics of the 80s, and in terms of the attitudes on display it holds up better than a whole lot of 80s movies, thanks primarily to its main protagonists.
The duo would appear to not have a bad-natured bone in their body. Which makes it all the more dispiriting that, upon being reunited after Bill briefly believed Ted was dead, the duo share a hug – but then, both feeling insecure about this open display of affection, they call one another “f*gs.”
Coming to America
Ostensibly a sweet-natured rom-com, Coming to America casts Eddie Murphy as Akeem, Prince of fictitious African nation Zamunda, who is presented with a bride-to-be by his parents. Wanting instead to find real love with a woman who accepts him as a man rather than a monarch, Akeem and his manservant Semmi (Arsenio Hall) flee to Queens, New York in search of a future queen.
Alas, Coming to America demonstrates that racist attitudes about Africa aren’t exclusively the domain of white people. African critics have criticised the film’s stereotypical portrayal of the continent, with over-the-top accents and implications of ignorance on the part of the African characters. There’s also the matter of Akeem’s palace being awash with sex slaves.