Times are changing. At least, that’s what we keep hearing. Because of the rolling tide of social customs, political correctness and sensibilities, every year, another movie from the past is relegated to the “outdated” section. These outdated films are usually the ones from years gone by that present a message considered a little too old fashioned for our current tastes, especially when those movies are directed at our teens, those manipulable blank slates of human beings that are so easily conditioned by Hollywood. They need us to protect them from movies.
It’s not only outdated films that send outdated messages. Screenwriters are people too, capable of having terrible ideas just like the rest of us. Similarly, not all great movies have great messages. Maybe they’re great films, but not really something you want to talk about with your kids over dinner after family movie night. Or maybe you do. That probably beats talking to your kid about how many Squirtles they caught at school today. Whatever it takes to get them to open up right?
Let’s be honest. Isn’t it a little naïve to think that films really speak to teens? Of course, movies represent teens, accurately or not, but it’s gotta be farfetched to think that they teach them anything about themselves. I doubt many kids in my generation watched The Goonies and thought afterward, “You know, I should probably put together a treasure hunt to create an optimal bonding experience with my friends and improve my confidence, courage and self-reliance.” But, for every 10 kids who ignore the messages in film, there is one who listens. This list is for that one teenager out there, lost and afraid, looking for answers in a DVD. We’re here for you.
There’s no doubt that movies attempt to send messages to teens, whether they listen to them or not. Some of those messages are really empowering and really beautiful. Unfortunately, there are almost certainly more movies that have really brutal messages. Messages that I wouldn’t even send to a teen anonymously. Some messages have gotten worse with time; some were just made that way and will always be that way. All the films on this list should be played with a disclaimer, “The views here are solely of the screenwriter and do not in any way represent the views of humankind. Try to avoid learning anything during this film.” Here are 15 great films that send the WRONG message to teens.
15. 40 Days and 40 Nights
The ending of 40 Days and 40 Nights is so shocking that we don’t even need jokes to make the message any worse than it already is. In 1939, Gone with the Wind glorified marital r*pe, something we didn’t quite condemn it for until much later on. Today, this classic film still gets its fair share of flack from critics. Then, in 2002, 40 Days and 40 Nights, makes light of a woman sexually assaulting a man so that he would lose a bet. Yep, that’s the only message you’ll get from this one. If you’re going to watch this one with your teens, you better have some cocoa lined up for the discussion after.
14. Reality Bites
Ahh, the 90s. What a time to be alive. It’s likely that the filmmakers of Reality Bites didn’t want anyone to relate to the crew in the film, but people did anyway. This comment on 90s slackerism ran dangerously close to glorifying the culture and people were drawn to it. Really the entire movie is filled with the most pretentious dirtbags. The movie spoke to two types of teenagers—the ones who saw and were scared off the path of dirt-baggery and the ones who were captivated by the message of dirt-baggery, like the song of a siren. We can only hope that teens today don’t heed that same call. God forbid teenagers become obsessed with poetry, anti-consumerism and vintage clothing. Wait a second. Aren’t those hipsters?
13. Pretty In Pink
The message here is all about rich kids vs poor kids. Pretty in Pink argues that not all rich kids are total jerks, which is probably true. But, there’s a small issue here. Andie (Molly Ringwald) isn’t even poor. This girl has her own car in high school but because it’s not a brand new Benz, it’s supposed to be a pile of crap. It even has a dent in it, gross! She lives in a nice home on a quiet street. Lovely movie, but it is definitely a movie about how rich people picture poor people. If you watch this with your kids, make sure you tell them not to go around calling people like Andie poor, or else they’ll really be offending some middle class kids.
You gotta feel for Juno. The sensitive subject matter leaves it open for criticism on all sides. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Yet, the flippant handling of teenage pregnancy does warrant some raised eyebrows if nothing else. At the end of the day, it is a comedy and needs to make light of all things in order to be funny, but there’s drama here, and drama means serious, more or less. So how difficult is teenage pregnancy? Well, if you ask Juno, really easy. It’ll take you about 1h 36 min to get it all sorted. Get a big belly, definitely don’t have an abortion, find a suitable adoptive couple, help them deal with their marital problems, give baby to said parents, then go back to normal teenager life. Ellen Page always plays to the “too mature for her age” type, which would have been a perfect character to explore how insanely heavy the responsibilities of having a baby are, even for someone that is too cool for school like Page. Diablo Cody has written a teenage character that was unchanged by teenage pregnancy—a nice thought, but is it a responsible message to send? Even if it’s accurate, is it a message that we want sent?
11. Project X
Ok, so there’s a small issue with the word “great.” This is not a great film, but it was a popular film. So many movies in the past have explored crazy parties. Most of the time there is a movie that exists outside of that event and the party is just a plot device, but not for Project X. In Project X, the party is the movie and the movie is absolutely terrible. Once again, though, even bad movies send messages that are sometimes picked up. Quite a few kids around North America watched this stupid flick and decided that stupid is as stupid does. They thought they should recreate this party in brand new houses that were yet to be lived in, packing it full of teens and going crazy. If this was the movies, this idea would be cool. But, in the real world, there are no life lessons taught at the end. The kids piling into houses to get blackout drunk aren’t out to learn new things, they’re partying. Project X didn’t have a message to send—so teens took from it the only thing it did have, party inspiration.
10. Risky Business
The filmmakers would have you believe that Risky Business is anti-capitalist, yet, while the movie might be satirizing consumerism 90% of the time, the 10% that is not satire (including the happy ending) speak more loudly than anything else. The movie just doesn’t mesh with today’s kids. Sure competition for life after high school is fiercer than ever before, but nothing else in the film makes the cut. Today it reads like a promotion for prostitution more than a manual for anti-consumerism. After 30 years, the only lasting message from the film was its dance number. Should we really expect today’s youths to pull something more from it?
9. She’s All That
OK, this message is obviously a horrible one. They take a girl (Rachael Leigh Cook) who is clearly very attractive but who dresses a little modestly and turn her into prom queen. In the process, the guy (Freddie Prinze Jr.) learns a lesson about himself. The premise is best mocked by Not Another Teen Movie, when they turn down potential “prom queen challenges” like the hunchbacked girl, the albino hippie and the conjoined twins because they would be too easy. The girl with the glasses, however, the one with a ponytail and paint on her overalls, she’s too gross to ever be prom queen. The big issue here is that the girl is really an invisible character. The lesson learned is only by the guy, the girl changes nearly everything she was just so the dude could have a character arc. How nice of her.
8. No Strings Attached/Friends with Benefits
This will be a two-for-one since both movies are pretty much identical. The message here is simple, and for women, it’s scary bad. These films teach us that if you act like yourself, you’ll find people who like you for you truly are. That’s not so bad is it? Well, no, but that’s not really the message. The other message is that commitment makes you incapable of being yourself, driving people away from each other. There’s also the gem: If you offer up the goods to a sexual partner, but ask nothing from them in return, they will fall in love you. What if teens start following this message blindly? What if they never form relationships anymore because of these films? The horror!
7. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
If you want your kids to learn how to be the worst friend in the history of time, watch this film with them. If you want your kids to learn how to skip school and get away with it, watch this film with them. If you want your kids to learn how to make reservations in a fancy restaurant that they would normally never be accepted into, I’m not sure why that would ever be something your kids would want, but watch this film with them. Ferris Bueller is a huge jerk that takes advantage of the people who care about him. At least, that’s one way to read him. Make sure your teens avoid this so they stay as perfect as they are right now.
6. The 10 Things I Hate About You Movie
The world has changed quite a bit since the 90s, so it’s easy to see why 10 Things I hate About You might send the wrong message to teens today. Falling for the bad boy was a trope that always hit home back then because bad boys always taught the girls in movies a little bit about themselves. These girls were too rigid, you see. They needed to let loose, let their freak flags fly a little. But is that what we want today? Bad boys are criminals today. They aren’t harmlessly pranking the school by throwing toilet paper on the trees; they’re dangerous and scary. Probably. The main girl here, Kat (Julia Stiles) is a hard-nosed feminist stereotype, a character that would almost certainly be misread today. There’s a subtle criticism of her stubborn personal politics here, but it’s very subtle, almost too subtle. Kat reminds us a little of every character Anna Kendrick has ever played—too smart, too confident and too arrogant—except Kat doesn’t really learn a lesson like Kendrick always does. Viewers today might struggle to connect with her.
5. License to Drive
So we got Corey Haim, the primary suspect for ruining your teen’s lives with his movies. This one starts off pretty good: boy takes license test and fails but is mistakenly given his license anyways, boy makes plans to go out driving, parents find out he failed his test and ground him—solid message so far, but it only goes downhill from here. Without a license, Haim then takes a girl out in his grandfather’s car, endangering both their lives, but they don’t care. They mock authority by dancing on his grandfather’s car, damaging it. Then, later, Haim takes his pals out for a joyride, damaging it even worse. Haim then gets home just in time to drive his family (in reverse) to the hospital so his pregnant mother can give birth. There the car is completely destroyed, but it’s all ok, you know why? Haim’s grandfather destroyed Haim’s parent’s car that same night… So everything is ok… Now wait a minute. Aren’t two destroyed vehicles worse than one? Ahh forget it, let’s just finish with Haim driving away in his girlfriend’s car… still without a license. I’m sure everyone will be just fine.
4. I Know What You Did Last Summer
In the beginning of this movie, four reckless teens go on a drunken joyride and kill a man. Rather than report it to the proper authorities, they ditch the body and bounce. Now, one year later, someone is pranking them—eventually killing them—and we’re supposed to feel bad for them. What is going on here? This movie teaches teens all the proper steps one needs to take in order to successfully cover up a hit and run. It’s basically a manual for getting away with murder. Disgusting. You’ll probably find better lessons to teach your teens in snuff films.
3. Revenge of the Nerds
Revenge of the Nerds is violent and scary. The jocks are sociopaths who endanger the lives of the nerds at every turn. There’s no positive lessons to be learned here for teens, especially if your kid plays sports. This will only teach them how to become oppressive bullies. There’s one scene in particular, where Ogre (Donald Gibb) clearly kills a nerd by dropping him from the roof of their frat house. The nerd’s cries can be heard until he hits the ground with a thud—followed only by silence. The chants of the other jocks show that they were not phased at all about the homicide they just witnessed.
2. Breakfast Club
The Breakfast Club has always been a stereotype-busting giant that is adored by nearly everyone, but there’s a strong possibility that the subject matter teaches a bad lesson to today’s teens. Not only is the black and white bullying conversation much different today than it was in the 80s, but the anti-stereotype talk be misinterpreted for something else. When the kids in detention all realize they have much more in common than they initially thought, they’re happy. But there’s been some serious changes here; there’s been some serious peer pressure. First of all, Emilio Estevez is only attracted to Ally Sheedy once she changes her look. They also peer pressure each other into smoking the reefer which destroys all motivation, leading the “brain” (Anthony Michael Hall) to give up his only personality trait. How cruel. It seems that everyone is abandoning who they are to form a high school melting pot. We are all the same; we are not unique.
1. The Notebook
This message goes for so many different romance movies, but The Notebook is going to be a stand-in for the genre here. Parents might think twice about showing this movie to their male teens knowing that it might teach them horrible lessons about courting a woman. There’s a few instances when Ryan Gosling is outright stalking Rachel McAdams. Buddy climbs the Ferris wheel and takes McAdams hostage until she goes out on a date with him. He follows her around like a lost puppy and promises to buy her house—then does, even after she broke it off with him. Despite her parents taking a hard stance with Gosling, McAdams can’t shake him, so she finally gives in to his advances. Later in life, Gosling’s family pleads with him to leave McAdams alone, but he does not relent.