“Time makes fools of us all,” said the mathematician Eric Bell. It’s a quote you’ve probably a few times, typically when someone is lamenting the loss of the good old days or some current circumstances. It’s a depressing saying made all the more tragic by how true it often proves to be. Film fans know this well. Oftentimes, we remember some older movie from our youth as being great, or hear about an older film that has been deemed a classic, and are disappointed when we check it now for ourselves and discover that it has not survived the test of time.
The part of that quote that tends to get cut out is “Our only comfort is that greater shall come after us.” It’s tempting, at times, to defend classic films over the years as flawless examples of what movies are capable of at their best. We put them on a pedestal so high that we are destined to look up to them forever, never quite reaching their impossibly lofty heights. The truth of the matter is that time can make fools of even the greatest movies (not to mention more modern blockbusters). Rather than ignore it, perhaps it’s better to remember that it paves the way for greater things to come.
Here’s Screen Rant’s take on the 15 Classic Movies That Have Aged Badly.
15. Mean Streets (1973)
Beloved film critic Roger Ebert once referred to Mean Streets as “one of the source points of modern movies.” Many fans, however, simply choose to remember it as the first true Martin Scorsese film. While that’s not accurate chronologically, it is accurate spiritually. This is the movie that established Scorsese’s love for crude language (it set a record for most uses of the F-word), realistic portrayals of crime in the city, and usage of licensed music to set a scene. It’s a style that Scorcese and many other directors went on to emulate and perfect over the years.
That’s part of the problem with Mean Streets. It’s a rough draft that would be edited by many great visionaries (most notably Scorsese himself) until it became a timeless masterpiece in films like Goodfellas. There are loveable instances of amateur filmmaking in Mean Streets (fight scenes that don’t feel choreographed), but much of the movie feels sloppy rather than raw. Taxi Driver, a Scorsese movie released just three years after Mean Streets, has lost none of its bite over time. It’s hard to say the same for this movie that was once easy to praise for being a different kind of crime film.
14. The Birds (1963)
The vast majority of classic Hitchcock films have aged incredibly well. It’s actually kind of frightening how movies like Rear Window, Vertigo, and North By Northwest still have few modern day cinematic equals. The great thing about Hitchcock’s best movies is that they have a way of completely immersing you in their worlds. Hitchcock used his camera like a painter’s brush, to carefully detail every inch of every frame. It’s this level of control that helped him become “The Master of Suspense”.
Few of these timeless qualities make an appearance in The Birds. There are a few moments of filmmaking beauty in The Birds, but this is Hitchcock at his most uninspiring (which isn’t as much of an insult as you’re thinking it is). So much of the initial praise this film received had to do with the film’s special effects. Now that those effects are so outdated, it becomes much more difficult to really buy into the whole “birds decide to start attacking people” premise. Considering how much mileage the movie tries to get out of that premise, that’s a problem. As far as long-term effectiveness goes, this doesn’t hold a candle to Hitchcock’s previous genre effort, Psycho.
13. Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961)
It’s easy enough to see what people saw in Breakfast At Tiffany’s when it was first released in 1961. It was an adaptation of a hit novel, it starred the incomparable Audrey Hepburn in an iconic role, and the movie is shot incredibly well (its best art direction Oscar is well-deserved). It was a romantic comedy in the spirit of classic films such as It Happened One Night, but with just enough modern relevance to lend it an edge. Watch the movie now, however, and you’ll probably focus on a few things that audiences back then did not.
The most notable among these modern revelations is the horribly racist role of Mr. Yunioshi, as played by Mickey Rooney. It’s a film anomaly in that it’s a portrayal that is so overtly racist that it almost transcends racism. Looking beyond even those clearly dated elements, you’ve still got a movie that fails to find its point. Truman Capote’s Breakfast At Tiffany’s told the heartbreaking story of a young girl trying to find her way in a rough city. The movie’s greatest sin is that it “Hollywoodized” so many of the original story elements in a way that modern audiences often demonize studios for.
12. Saturday Night Fever (1977)
“But Saturday Night Fever is a snapshot of the ‘70s!” you may be saying. If so, you’re certainly not wrong. John Badham’s 1977 film about a kid from Brooklyn named Tony just trying to have a good time and maybe find a little fame as the best dancer in his corner of the world certainly captures the spirit of the ’70s. The film’s fashion is usually what many people think of when they try to picture the youth of this period. It’s soundtrack forever immortalized the Bee Gees and other disco legends, the dance scenes are great, the atmosphere is lively, and direction is pretty on point.
The reason that Saturday Night Fever is dated has nothing to do with music or fashion and has everything to do with characters. Tony is most generously described as a meathead. He’s got a one-track mind that usually leads to him trying to have as much sex as possible or otherwise raising needless hell. In this pre-Aids epidemic era, that might have been easier to swallow, but the promiscuous alpha male adventures of Tony and his group of empty-headed, thrill-seeking friends are cringe-worthy today. Tony’s attempted rape of Stephanie after a dance contest is likely to be the moment modern viewers simply choose to move on to something else.
11. Witness For The Prosecution (1957)
Witness For The Prosecution certainly wasn’t the first courtroom drama film, but’s it’s easy to trace the genre as we know it now back to this film’s influences. It’s the story of a man accused of murder despite the case’s heavy circumstantial evidence. Things reach a point where both the prosecution and the defense realize that the entire case may hinge on the testimony of the defendant’s wife. The rest of the story plays out through a series of twists and turns, the sort we so commonly link to such courtroom epics.
For as innovate as the movie was in that respect, it also reveals its age in how these moments play out. The events of the trial are meant to shock and surprise viewers, but much of the shock has been diluted over the years by the vanilla nature of the case itself. Given some of the tragedies we hear about on a daily basis, an elderly rich woman’s murder barely registers. It certainly doesn’t help that some of the most important moments of the film are delivered in an incredibly ham-fisted way. In fact, Marlene Dietrich’s scream of “Damn You!” is right up there with Darth Vader’s “No!” in terms of dramatic deliveries turned comical. Let’s hope the upcoming remake (possibly being directed by Ben Affleck) holds more weight in the years to come.
10. Rebel Without A Cause (1955)
At a time when Americans were just starting to become aware of the concept of teenagers being their own adolescent group, Rebel Without A Cause came along and attempted to appeal to this burgeoning demographic. This was the movie that promised to finally shine a light on this misunderstood generation. Because of this, it attracted an equal amount of controversy and accolades. Entire nations feared its power to incite teenage rebellion. Others simply hailed it as a revolution.
Nowadays, it’s far easier to treat the film as a parody of its times. In fact, there are a lot of aspects of this movie that have gone on to be parodied. The over-the-top gangs (we’re a dance number away from West Side Story in this one), the over-the-top acting (James Dean’s “You’re tearing me apart!” was the inspiration for The Room’s delivery of the same line), and the prolific use of older actors playing teenagers are all worthy of a solid eye-roll. Nearly everything in this movie was designed to generate an emotional reaction from audiences of the era. Now, this unintentional comedy is more likely to generate chuckles.
9. True Grit (1969)
True Grit is in a weird place, historically speaking. It was released in 1969, three years after The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and the same year as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In short, it came out at a time when the Western film was starting to get a little grittier. Despite its name, True Grit doesn’t really try to take advantage of this emerging new style. It’s a classic kind of Western released at a time when the genre was maturing.
That’s part of the reason why the movie is a little more difficult to take in these days. It doesn’t quite have the unfiltered innocent charm of early Westerns, and it also lacks the dark maturity of some of its contemporaries. The old-school way in which the film so heavily features John Wayne also becomes an issue. His performance is certainly magnetic, but it comes at the cost of nearly everyone else. Unlike the Coen Brother’s version of the movie, which portrays the supporting heroes as equals, the 1969 version is clearly the John Wayne show. It’s an outdated leading man mentality that makes certain supporting roles (particularly Glen Campbell’s La Boeuf) nearly unbearable.
8. An Affair To Remember (1957)
An Affair to Remember begins with a relatively simple premise. Nickie Ferrante (Cary Grant) runs across Terry McKay (Deborah Kerr) by a matter of happenstance. Both are in relationships, but they are clearly attracted to each other. As such, they agree to meet again in six months at the Empire State Building to see where they stand in life. In a shocking twist of events, Terry is hit by a car en route to the Empire State Building. As such, she doesn’t make the meeting and makes no plans on meeting up with Nickie again.
Here’s where the movie starts to date itself. An Affair to Remember is actually a remake of a 1939 movie called Love Affair, which becomes obvious as you begin to endure a series of cheesy romantic lines such as “Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories,” and “If it had to happen to one of us, why couldn’t it have been me?” This extreme level of sappiness detracts from a premise that was already on shaky ground with its “Can a man really love a woman in a wheelchair?” plot.
7. The Sound of Music (1965)
Is there such a thing as a hard G rating? If so, then The Sound of Music earns it. First off, let’s be clear that innocent musicals of times gone by do not automatically age poorly. Mary Poppins, for instance, is a still a very clever and well-made family film. Singin’ in the Rain is also a particularly brilliant movie about a transitional time in filmmaking that just so happens to be a musical. The Sound of Music, however, is a musical for the sake of being a musical.
Production-wise, the sweeping countryside shots that are always shown when the film is highlighted are still impressive. What isn’t typically shown in those highlight reels, however, is the near three hours of purposeless prancing and elongated musical numbers designed to appeal to only to singing sycophants. The movie is very much a product of its time in the sense that it’s presented as a glorious tribute to the very popular live-action musical genre. That worked fairly well for audiences in 1965, but in 2016, those who want to watch a great Hollywood musical will find plenty of alternatives that have much more narrative purpose. The best parts of this one can be heard on the official soundtrack.
6. The Birth Of A Nation (1915)
There are two distinct standpoints when it comes to D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation. The first is that the movie is arguably the single most important film in the history of cinematic production. Anyone who has sat in on a film school class has heard this perspective. For a film made in 1915, The Birth of a Nation almost looks like it could have been shot in the last 10 years. The other standpoint appropriately identifies this movie as one of the most overtly racist films ever made. That probably has something to do with the fact that it portrays the Ku Klux Klan as nearly untainted heroes.
As time goes on, the controversy starts to greatly outweigh the film’s cinematic trail blazing. It’s not easy to watch Birth of a Nation and get past its most dated social elements. It’s a hurdle that doesn’t become much easier to clear when you realize that this movie led to renewed interest in KKK membership and was originally titled The Clansman. The prolific use of blackface throughout the movie is just the final nail in the coffin.
5. Easy Rider (1969)
You can’t overstate the impact that Easy Rider had on American filmmaking. It is rightfully recognized as the movie that helped kick off what is commonly referred to as the New Hollywood era. This era is characterized by studios’ willingness to let American directors assume an auteur role and have creative control of their own films. Socially, the movie spoke to a generation of Americans living in the midst of a changing cultural climate. It embraced the allure of the open road while tackling the horrors of certain cultural norms.
Just because a film is important doesn’t mean that it has necessarily aged well, of course. There are issues with this movie from a technical perspective (mostly story structure-related), but the real problem is Easy Rider‘s message. Its counter-culture themes easily resonated with a generation gone by who were so rarely spoken to by films, but the adventures of Wyatt and Billy will likely come across as selfish and shallow when viewed in a modern light. This film once spoke to people. Now it yells at them with a tired rhetoric.
4. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
To be fair, there were a fair number of people that weren’t too crazy about Bonnie and Clyde upon its release. Those that didn’t like the film often cited its violence and sexual content as the reason behind their discontent. This was one of the first major releases in American film history to really sensationalize violence by not shying away from showing it in full. Squibs were used quite liberally for gunshot effects. It also didn’t have any qualms about playing up the highly-sexual relationship between its lead characters. In the end, however, the movie came to be recognized as a historically significant release that changed the way American movies portray violence.
Since then, a plethora of films have come along which make Bonnie and Clyde’s violence look like a Saturday morning cartoon. It would be almost impossible for anyone who has steadily watched films of the last 20-30 years to watch Bonnie and Clyde and feel shocked by anything they saw. Without that same emotional reaction the film once generated, Bonnie and Clyde becomes much more notable for its often outlandish presentation and sloppy storytelling. It makes for a pretty entertaining drive-in flick, but not a movie that would be an awards darling by today’s standards (it was nominated for 10 Oscars way back when).
3. The Towering Inferno (1974)
At the time of its release, The Towering Inferno was a pretty great idea for a major motion picture. Following in the footsteps of The Poseidon Adventure, this movie packed as many stars as the studio could afford into one building that has caught fire and is rapidly falling apart. It was a disaster movie before that title was necessarily applied to the genre, and audiences were drawn by its star power and spectacle. It’s actually a precursor to the modern blockbuster in that way.
There have been many blockbusters over the years that haven’t aged well, but The Towering Inferno stands out in a couple of ways. First off, while Paul Newman and Steve McQueen are always major draws, the film’s star power won’t transcend generations unless you’ve always wanted to see Fred Astaire and O.J. Simpson in the same movie. Airplane! ‘s expert dissection of this whole sub-genre also didn’t do this film’s dramatic moments any favors. One can only take so many “In case I don’t see you again” final kisses and “Get ahold of yourself woman!” moments before you realize that this was certainly the product of a different era.
2. Duck Soup (1933)
You may think that movies from the ‘20s and ‘30s are just easy pickings. How many things really age well after nearly 100 years? There really are quite a few movies from that period that are still relevant today. The works of Charlie Chaplin, for instance, are notable for their humor and surprising emotional depth. The same cannot easily be said of The Marx Brothers. Harpo, Groucho, Gummo, and Zeppo Marx were a comedic group that were once the toast of early cinema. While they had many popular films, few have become as significant as 1933’s Duck Soup.
Watching Duck Soup now is roughly the equivalent of watching a stand-up comedian throw joke after joke at the audience. A couple might land, but it’s more of a matter of sheer volume than fine humor. That style is certainly dated on its own, and Duck Soup doesn’t help its own cause by focusing on political humor. Not only are many of the movie’s references going to fly over the head of the average modern viewer, but it means even the best jokes come across like those old political cartoons where the joke is clearly labeled, as to avoid any potential confusion.
1. Gone With The Wind (1939)
Gone With The Wind is so synonymous with classic movies that it’s approaching meme status. For instance, if you eat a good hot dog, you might say “That was the Gone With The Wind of hot dogs.” (Well, you might.) It’s a film epic in the true sense of the word. Spanning multiple elaborate locations and presented in glorious color, this movie was made for a shocking $3.85 million (about $66 million today), and almost every dollar of that budget shows on the screen. It set a production standard that wouldn’t be equaled for years to come.
It’s also pretty outdated in many respects. From a filmmaking standpoint, the drawn out scenes and overly dramatic performance are no longer as digestible as they once were. You also have several unfortunate moments of backwards political messages throughout. Gone With The Wind’s portrayal of slavery and the “Old South” in general is often painfully romanticized. There’s also the matter of the scene involving Rhett forcing himself on Scarlett in order to give here “what’s coming to her.” Once upon a time, that passed as cinematic romance, but now, it’s more commonly referred to as rape. Rhett’s explanation that his actions were justified because he had too much to drink certainly doesn’t alleviate the issue.
What other cinematic classics do you feel have aged poorly? Let us know in the comments.
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