Tom Hanks on the Piano in Big

Twentieth Century Fox

Classic movies can sometimes be uncomfortable to watch. Many things that were socially accepted during the Golden Age of Hollywood are not today, and vice versa. And representations and treatment of minorities of race, religion, sexual orientation and gender were often inauthentic — whether because of customary ignorance or concealment. But it’s not just the movies of our grandparents’ era that fit into this idea where we need to consider the times when appreciating cinema, whether it’s awful stereotypes in The Birth of a Nation or marital rape in Marnie or the general villainization of Native Americans for decades. We’re now far enough away from the 1980s that it’s time to reexamine just what we thought was okay and particularly what we found funny back then.

Many of the plots of hit comedies from that decade would never fly today. Some of it is leftover political incorrectness and downright racism and sexism, but there have also been cultural and technological changes in the last 25-35 years that make other scenarios dated and maybe even incomprehensible to young viewers now. One element of many 1980s movies that wouldn’t work for modern audiences is all the homophobia employed in insult humor and gags involving gay bars. There was also a huge issue regarding seemingly innocent, mostly non-physical sexual assault back then, from ghosts and super-powered guys peeping on and stripping unsuspecting women to more common non-supernatural forms of voyeurism.

Hollywood could easily remake many of the movies guilty of those issues and leave out that sort of inappropriate language and situations, but the following 10 comedies from the 1980s could not be so easily reworked as to be acceptable or make sense in today’s setting. Interestingly, a few of them have been or currently are in the stages of being remade. Good luck to their respective producers getting over the hurdles of archaic scenarios and humor.  

The Toy (1982)

Even if you buy into the ways this Richard Pryor comedy is more satire than pure racism, it’s still a hard sell to have a movie where a rich white man buys a black man as a “toy” for his spoiled son. It shouldn’t have even seemed okay back then, especially since any social commentary was lost on the kids who’d go see a PG movie, but it was actually a big box office and VHS success.

Mr. Mom (1983)

There are still plenty of people who think a man should work and a woman should stay at home in the kitchen with the kids. And even more people have trouble at least shaking away the gender stereotypes while accepting that they’re old-fashioned. Still, the concept of the stay at home dad is pretty common these days. This and many other movies and TV shows involving guys having trouble taking care of children and housework are now just a piece of history, as a response to then-changing norms about the American family. More than the scenario of a Mr. Mom, though, it’s the stuff about how crazy it is for the mom to have an important job that is especially outmoded today. We can still laugh at a man who has trouble changing diapers and ironing shirts, but there’s nothing funny or odd about a woman in the boardroom.

Revenge of the Nerds (1984)

It’s not necessarily the inappropriately excused rape scene where a character pretends to be someone else in order to have sex with that person’s girlfriend, nor is it necessarily the assault on women in the form of a sorority house break-in, voyeur cam installation and distribution of nude spy pics. That’s all pretty terrible and obviously shouldn’t be in the planned remake. The main reason why it doesn’t make any sense to redo this movie is that nerds are viewed quite differently 30 years later. They’ve “won.” We already have a new Revenge of the Nerds, and it’s called The Social Network.

Spies Like Us (1985)

If only we had comedies like this today. It doesn’t matter that the Cold War is over and scenarios finding humor in potential nuclear war aren’t as easily achieved or relevant. It doesn’t matter that espionage comedy is almost nonexistent now in spite of spies still being a thing. I don’t think we’ve gotten too serious about intelligence gathering to enjoy a movie about idiots being used as disposable decoys who ultimately save the world. We just don’t have an international adversary as appealing as the Soviets, with whom we could have our dumb heroes making peace so deeply as happens in the third act of this particular plot. Today’s Cold War is the War on Terror, and audiences just wouldn’t be as accepting of our current Dan Aykroyd equivalent winding up with a member of Al Qaeda.


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