The stories that movies tell are usually pretty cut and dry as far who we should root for. With most, there’s always some version of a protagonist overcoming an obstacle put in place by an antagonistic entity, and everything usually gets wrapped inside of a few hours. We cheer for the heroes and boo the villains, while crossing our fingers that everything works out (it usually does).
But sometimes, when you watch a movie over and over again, certain things start to come to light that you may not have noticed the first time around. You might notice that character motivations don’t always make sense, or that some particularly amazing coincidences keep plots trudging along. And occasionally, you may even notice more sinister aspects to films. You start to question the heroes, sympathize with the villains, and even come to realize that the “happy ending” the film serves up is anything but.
Turning an overly critical eye to any film can result in some pretty terrible conclusions, but it’s so much more fun to do with feel-good films with supposedly happy endings. And while our list could be absolutely endless with this logic applied, here’s 15 of our favorite relatively happy ending films that ignore some truly horrifying things that are going on.
15. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
You’re damn right we’re starting off strong with a beloved story like Rudolph! Most every child learns the story of Santa’s favorite scarlet-schnozzed reindeer at a young age through songs, storybooks, and a bunch of movies. For those unfamiliar (on the unbelievably rare chance you are), Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer had a very — some would say — shiny nose. And those that witnessed the aforementioned rosy protuberance would — from time to time — even say that it glows.
Rudolph faced teasing, isolation, and the inability to participate in games specifically named for his kind. His bummer of a life continued until Santa himself recognized the value in Rudolph’s bioluminescent beak and placed him at the head of the pack, lighting the way for Santa’s sleigh, and single-nosedly saving Christmas.
Unfortunately, this story isn’t really a happy one, since no real lessons are learned. Rudolph’s community is relentlessly mean to him for his birth defect and only accepts him on the insistence of their boss/owner/rotund overlord. This feel-good story with a happy ending about accepting the differences of others only really applies if that difference is helpful. And, last anyone checked, not many birth defects result in flashlight appendages.
There have been countless articles, essays, and YouTube videos about how terrible the Ghostbusters are at their jobs that it may seem that this entry is beating a dead horse. However, it has to be said that the Ghostbusters, in any other light, are city-destroying maniacs with unchecked and illegal weapons capable of ripping reality itself to pieces.
While it’s true that while watching the films, the audience is aware of the threat ghosts pose to the world, but other than the GBs, Dana Barrett, and Louis “The Keymaster” Tully, the remaining 99.9% of NYC is coming at this with fresh and rational eyes.
The government — in the form of EPA inspector Walter Peck — is seen as an annoying obstacle to the Ghostbusters, when in reality, he’s doing a job that needs to be done. And even though Peck is framed as a complete dick, he’s absolutely right to be wary of a company bandying about with unlicensed nuclear accelerators.
Now, Peck certainly dropped the ball by shutting down the containment unit the way he did, but odds are that not too many people would be jazzed about a facility where “ghost explosion” is a sincere probability anytime the power goes out.
13. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
There are lots of issues with Roald Dahl’s story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the movies made about it. A recluse candy magnate with a penchant for disfiguring children, parents willing to sign away their children’s safety, and a conglomerate utilizing slave labor instead of a local workforce. Listing all the offenses would rival the staying-power of the everlasting gobstobber itself.
However, the worst part of the films comes before anyone ever steps foot inside Wonka’s factory, and it goes by the name of Grandpa Joe. Charlie’s family is so impoverished that all four bedridden grandparents are forced to share one weird double sided (and probably super gross) bed. Yet, once Charlie finds the golden ticket, Grandpa Joe outs himself as an able-bodied liar with a jaunty dance number. His awfulness continues in both films by giving Charlie bad advice at every turn and making snide comments every single time another child meets their doom.
Imagine making ends meet, eating nothing more than watered down cabbage “soup”, and being willing to sell a once in a lifetime experience in order to help your family — only to find out that your invalid grandfather’s love of factory tours outweighs his willingness to get a job and help out.
12. The Sound Of Music
There’s not much one can criticize about a classic film like The Sound of Music. The villains are easy to hate because they’re Nazis and everyone else is easy to love because they’re aren’t.
What’s disturbing about the film is what happens at the end. Fifty+ year spoiler alert! The von Trapps say “so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, and goodbye” to Austria entirely by sneaking out after their festival performance and hiding in Maria’s old Abbey. They evade their pursuers under the cover of night and aren’t followed thanks to some nuns sabotaging the Nazi’s vehicles. Early the next morning, the family is shown hiking in the mountains on their way to Switzerland.
Setting aside the fact that the Nazis probably found out the nuns messed with their cars, the von Trapps may have made a big geographical mistake. The film takes place in Salzburg, Austria, and driving from Nonnberg Abbey to the nearest Swiss border by way of modern Austrian roads these days takes about 4.5 hours.
11. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Not only should E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial go down in history for being the most redundantly titled movie ever, it’s also one of the more heartfelt stories of friendship to come out of the 1980s. In it, the eponymous alien befriends a plucky little boy named Elliot. The two have some product placement adventures, E.T. phones home, and gets picked up by his people who — being honest — can’t be that advanced if they haven’t mastered a simple headcount after leaving a planet.
What’s usually missed in the happy farewell is that Elliot and his friends basically committed planetary treason by allowing a magical alien to communicate with his people and leave. Best case scenario is that Elliot is confined to a government test facility for the rest of his life while they try to figure out what happened when he almost died next to the dried-up white dog turd version of E.T.
And worst case is that E.T. explains his time on the Earth, how easy it is to psychically link to humans, and how he almost got dissected. Bing, bang, boom, the entire planet has alien overlords who can only be satiated by all the beer and Reese’s Pieces we can produce.
10. Return of the Jedi
While it’s fairly easy to pick apart any Star Wars film, the original trilogy is still able to withstand a good deal of criticism. Being the first in what’s now becoming a seemingly endless franchise, the first three films will always remain the touchstone to which all other blockbusters are measured against.
Still, Return of the Jedi sees a certain alliance that should make anyone uneasy. No, it’s not Darth Vader helping out Luke and making up for lost time by becoming the World’s Greatest Dad and the galaxy’s foremost regicidal expert in the span of a few minutes — it’s actually the alliance with the Ewoks that’s super unnerving.
In addition to easily taking out the Empire’s forces with little more than a few Home Alone traps, the Ewoks are straight-up willing to cook and eat anything they find. Had they not been convinced that C-3PO was a god, it appeared that Luke, Han, and Chewie were about to be their next meal.
9. Minority Report
When Tom Cruise isn’t sprinting all over the place in Minority Report, he’s part of a story in which murder has all been eliminated from Washington D.C. thanks to a system that relies on a group of psychic “precogs” that see the crimes before they’re committed. Offenders of these “pre-crimes” are sentenced to a prison where they’re put in a vegetative state for — presumably — the rest of their lives.
As the events of the film unfold, Cruise’s character is suspected of a “pre-crime” murder, and in proving himself innocent, he unravels the flaws in pre-crime itself. The system is shut down and the precogs are allowed to live out their days in peace.
However, with pre-crime permanently shut down, that means that murderers are free to, well, murder. The film states that D.C.’s murder rate is at zero, and it’s been so long since the last one that even some of the pre-crime officers are unsure of what to do when someone actually gets killed.
The “minority reports” only prove that the pre-cogs sometimes disagree, not that murders shouldn’t be stopped. Reassessing the brain dead forever prison and treating the pre-cogs like people was the better answer, not shutting down pre-crime entirely. We imagine crime rates spiked a wee bit after the credits rolled.
8. Fight Club
Fight Club is one of those movies that becomes less life-changing the older you get. What was once a badass tale of forgetting material possessions and knocking the teeth out of life (totally a saying!) has now become a film littered with issues and unanswerable questions. Things like “what’s up with the magic hallway fist fight toward the end?” and “How did Tyler Durden convince others to fight with him when he initially just had to be punching himself in a parking lot?” tend to leave folks scratching their heads.
What’s even more disturbing is the happy ending the film gives the audience, where the narrator, now free from Tyler’s influence, stands with Marla as they watch half a dozen buildings crumble to the ground.
We’re told that the buildings are empty and that no one will be hurt, but that doesn’t take into account the hazards of clean-up in the coming months and/or years. As we’re now painfully aware from things like 9/11, cleaning up fallen buildings leads to countless health issues, even when safety procedures are followed.
Shrek just might be the perfect anti-fairy tale. The 2001 CGI blockbuster seemed to shine a light on just about every kid’s movie trope and expose them for instilling the wrong lessons on the world’s most impressionable minds. And while some may consider breathing new life into the career of Smash Mouth as Shrek’s most horrible deed, it’s really the fact that the film itself doesn’t learn it’s own lesson.
Throughout the movie, audiences are shown that a hero doesn’t have to be what people expect and a damsel in distress can kick more ass than anyone else. Shrek is the gross anti-hero who wants nothing more than to be left alone, and Fiona is simply going through the “damsel” motions in order to break her curse. They’re both strong-willed characters who don’t need each other beyond serving their own individual needs. However, they eventually find themselves attracted to each other on their own terms.
Yet, in the last few minutes of the film, it’s made clear that the only way they can be together is if Fiona permanently changes to match Shrek. The lessons of individuality learned in the film are thrown out in order to match ugly ogre with ugly ogre.
6. The Karate Kid
The dubious nature of The Karate Kid‘s Daniel is nothing new in terms of looking at movies in a different way. In fact, framing Daniel as the film’s real villain and Johnny as the hero is something that works just a bit too well. This idea has sparked countless articles and even some in-depth video essays explaining the ins and outs of Daniel’s wrath.
In the film, Daniel is the new kid in school, and he does everything in his power to instigate problems with Johnny and his Cobra Kai friends. Johnny is by no means perfect, but he’s making an effort to turn his life around during his senior year by spending time with friends and working hard as the star pupil at his dojo.
Now, it is true that he goes too far when dealing with Daniel’s violent transgressions, but he learns his lesson when he gets his ass handed to him by Mr. Miyagi. When confronted the next day, Johnny respects his training enough to settle things at a Karate tournament. There, Daniel wins with an illegal kick to the face and what does Johnny do? He goes above and beyond by insisting he personally hand Daniel his trophy. And yet, history will forever remember him as a jerk.
5. Angels in the Outfield
For some reason, there was a time where audiences were inundated with all sorts of baseball movies, including two that inexplicably involved God’s personal intervention in messing with families. Field of Dreams taught audiences that one need only ruin their family livelihood in order to help James Earl Jones die, and Angels in the Outfield taught the lesson that God is only sort of listening to prayers.
The 1994 film sees Joseph Gordon-Levitt praying for his favorite baseball team, the Angels, to win the pennant because his dad (played by Dermot Mulroney) sarcastically lies to him saying that they can be a family again if they win. JGL prays, and actual angels show up to help the team win.
One could argue that JGL got a real family with the team manager Danny Glover, but it really glosses over how the dad is only seen one more time in family court apparently signing away all parental rights. The team wins after literal proof of angels, heaven, and God appear before the world and the dad — no doubt aware of the literal miracles going on — is like “Nah, not my kid anymore!”
4. Big Daddy
Before Adam Sandler made movies in order to bring his friends and family on vacation, he made decent ones like Big Daddy. The film tells the story of man-child Sonny Koufax learning to finally grow up in just about the worst way possible — gaining custody of a child under false pretenses and breaking dozens of laws.
Through a confluence of Hooters-related events, Sonny assumes the identity of his friend in order to take custody of an orphaned child named Julian. Through the course of the film, Sonny’s special brand of parenting is played for laughs that include the following awful things: criminal impersonation, adoption fraud, criminal negligence of a minor, child endangerment, public urination (with a minor), public indecency (with a minor), reckless endangerment in a public park…the list goes on and on.
When brought to court for his many crimes, Julian’s real father insists the charges against Sonny be dropped. But, you know, that shouldn’t have mattered. Despite Jon Stewart’s confession of paternity, the charges against Sonny shouldn’t have been dropped because he very clearly broke the law. Many of them. Yet, a year later, everyone is happy, and Sonny, despite his crimes, is somehow now a lawyer.
3. Mrs. Doubtfire
The Robin Williams classic Mrs. Doubtfire tells the tale of the lengths one man will go to be with his family as long as it doesn’t involve being a responsible adult.
Williams’ character, Daniel, spends most of his time being the fun parent and not working much, leaving his wife no other choice than to ask for a divorce. Though it’s shown that he doesn’t really respect his wife and is A-OK with her taking on the brunt of the stressful parental responsibilities, it still devastates Daniel.
But instead of cleaning up his act, getting a full time job, and following the court mandated visitation schedule set by — and this can’t be made clear enough — the courts, Daniel decides to infiltrate his family while disguised as Robin Williams pretending to be an old British lady. Despite the fact that Daniel had to have used the Mrs. Doubtfire voice at least a few times in passing, the family is none the wiser until the big reveal at what can only be described as a dinner inside of a sitcom.
There are a few really terrible things in Big that don’t ever get addressed. Most notably is how awfully cool Elizabeth Perkins’ character is at the end of the film knowing she’s been involved in a sexual relationship with a 12-year-old boy, even going as far telling the soon-to-be de-biggened Josh to look her up in a few years. Yet, that’s not even the most terrible thing going on in the film.
At one point, Josh (in Tom Hanks form) pleads with his mother that he’s her son and then writes her letters from the city, framed as if he’s been kidnapped. There’s an entire horrible epilogue that audiences miss out on when Josh (in kid form) shows back up at home wearing an adult man’s suit. If he lies, his parents and police will undoubtedly assume the worst, but telling the truth sounds just as bad.
There’s a kidnapping case that will never be closed, and Josh will likely be in therapy forever if he tells the real story that he worked at a toy company and had sex with an executive after a carnival game made him “big.” Magic or not, there’s no way Perkins corroborates that relationship if questioned by the police.
1. Revenge of the Nerds
Outside of poking fun at most movie plots for the terrible things one can assume might happen, Revenge of the Nerds doesn’t hide any of the downright awful things in it. Most people spent years thinking this film was an “eye for an eye” story of quirky weirdos exacting revenge on the society that picked on them, but it is so much worse.
The nerds of Lambda Lambda Lambda are twisted sexual predators with genius intellects that would be better suited as suspects in episodes of Law & Order than protagonists in a movie. (Ha! Google the main cast! They totally are!)
In addition to assaulting the football team with “liquid heat”, they terrorize a sorority after placing hidden cameras in their bedrooms, and then sell nude photographs of the female students without their consent. And that’s not even the worst thing that happens in the film! Primary “protagonist” Lewis Skolnick tricks a woman into having sex with him by pretending to be her boyfriend. It’s played as just about the coolest thing he’s ever done, and no one seems upset by it.
Every bit of “revenge” the nerds got should have landed them all in prison.
What other beloved big screen classics completely ignored some truly terrible things? Let us know in the comments.