When you’re young, your parents try to teach you how to be a decent human being: work hard, eat your vegetables, help old people cross the street, etc. Then they make you watch films with morals so out of whack, all you want to do is make deals with sea witches and run away with guys you’ve known less than a day (yes, Disney, we’re talking about you).
Things don’t get any easier as you get older. The movies may change, but the morals are just as questionable. You can put a lot of this down to Hollywood and its narrow target audience of white males, but that doesn’t explain away all of the truly bizarre messages movies have put out there over the years. Whether they’re telling you that vampires make the perfect boyfriend, or that magic shoes will get chicks to sleep with you, a healthy dose of common sense is neccessary when sitting in front of the big screen. With that in mind, here are 15 Movies With Truly Messed Up Messages.
15. The Twilight Saga
Ah, the Twilight Saga, the series that gave a whole generation of emo girls unrealistic expectations about love. Still, what’s most troubling about Twilight isn’t the vampires or the fact that the lead character has the personality of a dish cloth, but that Bella decides to give up her whole life, even her family, for her boyfriend. We’re sorry, but no guy is that fine.
On the other hand, even before Edward came along, Bella seemed to have little to nothing in the way of her own life goals. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s okay that all she seems to care about is being with Edward. Plus, the guy isn’t exactly boyfriend goals. He’s manipulative, possessive, not to mention a full-on stalker (he sneaks into her window and watches her while she sleeps). Oh, and he’s an undead vampire. None of these qualities are healthy or romantic, and suggesting otherwise is a very damaging thing for a series aimed at teenagers.
14. The Breakfast Club
For those uninitiated in 1980s teen dramedies, The Breakfast Club is a coming-of-age tale about five kids from different cliques who are forced to spend a Saturday together in detention. There’s Andy the jock (Emilio Estevez), Brian the nerd (Anthony Michael Hall), the outcast Allison (Ally Sheedy), the popular rich girl Claire (Molly Ringwald) and the delinquent Bender (Judd Nelson). The ironic thing is, by reiterating various teen movie tropes, The Breakfast Club actually ends up reinforcing the stereotypes it’s meant to be dispelling.
Despite the fact that he berated her for being a spoiled rich kid throughout the whole movie, Claire kisses Bender at the end. It’s supposed to be a case of opposites attract, but you just know any relationship between them is going to go sour once the credits have rolled. It’s the high school version of “if he bullies you he likes you,” except this one could easily turn abusive. Then there’s the scene where Allison gets a makeover and wins the heart of Andy, the guy who just ignored her the last hour and half of screen time. This is especially annoying considering up until now her “originality” was practically being force fed to us by the writers. Bad morals or lazy storytelling? You decide.
13. Friends with Benefits
As you’ve probably guessed from the title, Friends with Benefits is about two pals — Jamie (Mila Kunis) and Dylan (Justin Timberlake) — who decide to have casual sex on a no strings attached basis. As you’ve probably also guessed, it doesn’t go as planned, and after a few denials and several ups and downs, they eventually become a full-on couple.
Like many other films with this same storyline, the message is clear: play hard to get and guys will like you. Despite Jamie’s feelings brewing for a while, Dylan only really becomes interested in her as girlfriend material when she ends their friendship and starts to move on. When she was willing to sleep with him he wasn’t that bothered, despite him introducing her to his family and basically acting like her boyfriend. However, Jamie isn’t completely innocent in all this either. She never told Dylan how she felt, and just expected him to know that she’d fallen in love with him. If they’d both been more honest along the way, Dylan wouldn’t have needed to pay a dancing flash mob to win her back at the end of the movie.
12. The Little Mermaid
Disney films: no matter how much you love them, you still have to deal with the fact they contain some pretty questionable messages. Case in point, The Little Mermaid. Not only does Ariel fall in love with a guy she’s never actually met, she willingly gives up her cushy life as a mermaid princess to be with him (check your privilege). This includes changing who she is in the process, giving up her awesome singing voice, and making a twisted deal with the sea witch. Plus, Ariel is so infatuated with Eric that she does these things without even knowing if he feels the same way, because teaching kids to take uncalculated risks is always a good thing.
Although, she could have done these things to get away from her emotionally abusive father and his severe control issues. Maybe if Daddy had been a little more understanding and let her human obsession run its course, then she wouldn’t have felt like running off with one. Parents, take note.
11. Jerry MaGuire
Perhaps the most-quoted film ever made, Jerry MaGuire is best remembered for Renee Zellwegger’s now iconic line “You had me at hello.” However, what most people don’t seem to remember is how badly Jerry (Tom Cruise) actually treated Dorothy, or why the hell she’d want to be with him in the first place. Sure, he’s attractive (in a Tom-Cruise-before-Scientology sort of way), but for most of the film, Jerry is going through some sort of nervous breakdown/mid-life crisis. Dorothy constantly tries to build him up, but he doesn’t support her in return, making the relationship as one-sided as they come.
Still, he seems to think this okay because he’s on his own personal moral crusade. He’s not necessarily abusive, but he sucks as a partner and constantly takes, takes, takes. Despite his intimacy issues, Dorothy seems to put up with this because the relationship is convenient and he’s good with her son (Jonathon Lipnicki), which isn’t particularly great either. It’s hard to imagine that this story really had a happy ending, post-credits.
10. The Cobbler
Despite being screened in the Special Presentations section of the Sundance Film Festival, The Cobbler was panned by critics and was a certified box office bomb. We’re sure the terrible storyline and dodgy moral message it portrays had nothing to do with that.
In what was surely meant to be a heart-warming tale, Sandler plays a cobbler called Max, who inherits a magic shoe repair machine as part of the family business. When his regular machine breaks, he gives the old one a whirl, and hey, presto! He discovers he can take on the appearance of somebody else if he’s wearing their newly-repaired shoes. Max then uses his new trick to his advantage in both good (like taking his ill mother out to dinner disguised as his dead father) and bad ways (such as to steal from the local gangster). However, the most troubling part is when Max takes on the form of another man to trick the guy’s wife into sleeping with him. Not cool.
9. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
The majority of kids who went to see this film did so because of the light-hearted ’80s cartoon, but were treated to a much darker tale based on the original comic series. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles focuses on the origin story of marital arts master/giant rat Splinter and the turtles, including how they met and bonded.
Anyway, about halfway through the film, Splinter is kidnapped by Shredder and his Foot Clan (a group of teenage hoodlums/ninjas). While there, Splinter and Danny, a young runaway/trainee clan member, get to talking. Danny tells Splinter that his father doesn’t care about him, which is why he left home, to which Splinter responds with “all fathers care for their sons.”
On the surface, this seems like a sweet sentiment, but it just isn’t true. It’s a sad fact of life, but not all parents care about their children. It’s unlikely Danny wouldn’t have run away if his dad was a good one, so Splinter is basically encouraging this kid to go back to an abusive home based solely on his own positive experience as a surrogate father to the turtles. Bad advice, Sensei.
Part of the reason Frozen was such huge success was because of its message of sisterly love, and the fact that Elsa and Anna handled their own problems rather than relying on a man to do so. That’s great, but that’s not why Frozen is on this list. The issue is Elsa and Anna’s parents. Sure, they meant well, but telling your daughter to hide who she really is can never be a good thing, and it’s basically the reason why everything in Arendelle goes to crap.
It took Elsa a long time and accidentally freezing/unfreezing her sister to be comfortable with who she is, which would never have happened if her parents had been more supportive. Plus, what about the effect all of this had on Anna? The king and queen never told Anna why she and her sister were being kept apart, putting her through an unnecessarily lonely childhood and turning her into a needy as hell adult. A little family chat would have gone a long way at the palace.
7. The Ugly Truth
This 2009 romcom stars Katherine Heigl as Abby, a “romantically challenged” TV producer, and Gerard Butler as Mike, a TV star who has made a name for himself telling women “the ugly truth” of what men want. When Abby’s morning show begins to lose ratings, she is forced to hire Mike to do a segment to help save it, despite the fact that he gives terrible advice and refers to women who disagree with him as “ugly lesbians.”
Although chauvinist, homophobic Mike is a terrible human being, the way Abby is portrayed is almost as bad. She’s the stereotypical lonely career woman, and she’s so desperate for male accompaniment that she actually takes Mike’s “fullproof rules for landing a man” seriously. These rules include laughing at all of his jokes and never criticizing him, as well as faking her level of bedroom enjoyment and working some cleavage. Basically, in this universe, women have to suppress every emotion or desire to get Mr. Right, and even for a smart, supposedly sensible female like Abby, the need for a man overpowers everything else. Not to mention the fact that the film suggests that men are that easily manipulated, just because they’re men. This one is sexist across the board.
6. Superman VI: The Quest for Peace
In this ill-advised 1987 four-quel, Superman becomes so concerned about nuclear war that he crashes a U.N meeting. While there, he announces that he intends to rid the world of nuclear weapons, which he does by catching them all in a net and throwing them into the sun (science is fun). Rather than putting up a fight or debating the issue, the representatives of each country just go along with it. In fact, they stand up and cheer. Is no one in the room concerned about this slightly dictator-ish behaviour?
However, there is a reason for this bizarre storyline, and a political one at that. In exchange for returning to the franchise, Christopher Reeve was given input over the film’s storyline. In recent years, he’d become more politically active, and he wanted Superman to be too. In reality, we doubt many countries would be in favor of giving up their power, even if it was to Superman. Not to mention the fact that this scene sets the precedent that Superman can do whatever the hell he wants. Whatever happened to not interfering with human history?
It’s a good thing the songs are catchy, because Grease has some truly terrible messages. Besides the obvious — smoking is cool, speeding is fun — there’s plenty of darker stuff mixed in with the dip da dip doowop da doobee doos. First up, there’s the fact that Danny has no respect for Sandy. He treats her like a queen (as long as his friends aren’t around) and tells lies about “going all the way” behind her back. Then there’s the Pink Ladies. Rizzo makes fun of Sandy for being a virgin, but hates it when people mock her for being sexually active. Rather than challenging this double standard, she helps to reinforce it, accepting it when people call her a slut and saying it’s better than being a tease (because of course, girls can only be one or the other).
Finally, there’s the big finale, where Danny shows up to the graduation fair dressed as a jock and Sandy rolls up in head-to-toe leather. They reunite, with Sandy offering to ditch her good girl persona if Danny behaves himself from now on. A better ending would have been if they’d just admitted they were a bad match and gone their separate ways, but we’re guessing that that wouldn’t make for a very catchy song.
4. Beauty and the Beast
Beauty and the Beast, everyone’s favorite animated musical about a kidnapper. It’s fair to say that there’s plenty of bizarre moral messages in this film. First of all, if you do the math, it turns out that the fairy turned the prince into a beast at the tender age of eleven – all because he wouldn’t let her into his house in the middle of the night. What kind of lesson is that to teach the kids watching at home? Automatically let random strangers in or be punished? No wonder he was so messed up.
Secondly, Belle clearly has a case of Stockholm Syndrome. If this wasn’t a fairy tale, the Beast would be sent to jail and Belle would be carted off to a psychiatrist the minute she got home. Thirdly, considering the movie is all about not judging a book by its cover, the Beast doesn’t seem to have many redeeming qualities. He has anger issues, he threatens to starve Belle if she doesn’t do what he wants, and he generally treats her like crap. Then he gives her a library, as if that makes all of his previous behaviour okay. Plus, he spends 95% of the film as an animal. Magic spell or not, there’s no getting around that.
3. The Switch
Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) is a 30-something single woman who’s decided that she is ready to be a mom, so she starts searching for a sperm donor. Her best friend Wally (Jason Bateman) offers to do the deed, as he’s secretly in love with her, but she declines his offer as not to ruin their friendship (and because he’s annoying). Kassie finds a handsome professor to be her baby daddy, and she throws an “insemination party” to celebrate. At the bizarrely themed party, however, a drunk Wally accidentally spills the sample into the bathroom sink, and elects to replace it with his own rather than admit his goof. We’re sure you could fill in the remaining blanks from here, but we’ll keep going just to be thorough/so you’re never even tempted to watch this one.
Kassie then unwittingly inseminates herself with the sperm and becomes pregnant with Wally’s baby. Wally somehow forgets the whole thing ever happened, and doesn’t realize Kassie’s child is his until she comes back into town seven years later (awkward). When Kassie finds out, she’s understandably pissed, but of course, Wally reveals his true feelings for her and after some time apart, all is forgiven. Even better, she loves him now too, and the movie ends with everybody living happily ever after.
2. 40 Days and 40 Nights
We bet Josh Hartnett and Shannyn Sossamon are glad that people have forgotten this film exists. For those who need a refresher, 40 Days and 40 Nights is a “comedy” about a guy named Matt (Hartnett), who, after going through a difficult break-up, decides to give up sex for Lent. His best pal Ryan has a bet on that Matt won’t last five weeks without any sexual stimulation, and he makes every effort to derail his pal’s attempts to remain celibate.
Of course, almost immediately after Matt makes his vow, he meets Erica (Sossamon), who is understanding about his decision not to have sex and puts up with his obsession with his ex Nicole (Vinessa Shaw). However, just as it looks like Matt is going to make it to the end, Ryan tells Nicole of the betting pool. She makes a large bet and rapes him in his sleep while he’s handcuffed to the bed, and when Erica finds out, she breaks up with him for being “unfaithful.”
As well as spreading the message that going a month without sex is a bad thing, even if it’s voluntary, there’s the part where a girl rapes him and completely gets away with it – all to win a bet. Couple that with the completely-glossed-over victim blaming, and this one is wrong on so many levels.
1. Dirty Dancing
Dirty Dancing is often cited as one of those films that’s so bad, it’s good. Others just point out the creepy romance between teenage Frances “Baby” Houseman (Jennifer Grey) and 24-year-old resort dance teacher Johnny (played by a then 34-year-old Patrick Swayze). The moral of the story is supposed to be how love can conquer everything. from class differences to overprotective parents (who in this movie were actually right to be concerned), but the statutory rape element is pretty hard to ignore.
It’s even more worrying when you consider what the manager of the resort says to Johnny at the start of the film: “Teach ‘em the mambo, the cha cha… that’s it. That’s where it ends. No funny business, no conversations, and keep your hands off,” which suggests that Baby might not be his first young conquest. Then there’s the fact that at the end of the film, Baby’s dad apologizes to Johnny for “misjudging him.” Sorry Doctor Houseman, but you were right the first time: Johnny’s a bad man.
There are surely a ton of other films out there that send the wrong signals to moviegoers. What other movies do you know of that feature some truly troubling themes? Let us know in the comments.