A little Hollywood magic can go a long way. It can turn the impossible to fact, conjure realities out of thin air, and make a supermodel out of just about anyone. While this glitter is exactly why we love the movies, it’s not without its issues.
After all, there would be no action movies without the glorification of violence, and there would be no romance without a little Hollywood sparkle to paste over some of humanity’s more unsettling behaviours.
As a result of this Hollywood voodoo, we often see on-screen scenarios that are presented as sweet, charming, or even comical, but that are, in reality, super creepy.
It’s a problem so widespread – particularly in rom-coms, where you can hardly breathe for all the problematic tropes and poor character choices – that we hardly notice it any more.
While these movies might have gotten away with the unpleasant and troubling behaviours depicted within, that doesn’t mean we can’t shine a light on them here and now and expose these movie characters for the creeps they really are.
<EDITORS NOTE: This list is intended for fun, not to ruin your favourite movies for you. Let’s take it all with a pinch of salt, okay?>
10. While You Were Sleeping
10. While You Were Sleeping
Image: ©Buena Vista
While You Were Sleeping is a 1995 romantic comedy starring Sandra Bullock as Lucy Moderatz (pretty sure that’s Flemish for ‘deceitful’), a token collector at a train station. Every day, Peter Callaghan passes her booth on his commute, and she spends her days fantasizing about the life they might one day share.
Yes, that’s a little odd, but it’s not predatory, right?
The movie takes a turn when Callaghan is mugged on the platform and pushed onto the tracks. Lucy jumps to the rescue, saving Callaghan’s life, but he’s slipped into a coma, and she accompanies him to the hospital.
While he’s sleeping (that’s the title! Get it?), she sits at his bedside and speaks aloud her intention to marry him. An eavesdropping nurse incorrectly identifies her as Callaghan’s fiancée, and tells his family that she is his betrothed.
Yes, the family are gullible for believing the obvious lie, but Lucy keeps it up while Callaghan remains unconscious. Even after he wakes and fails to recognise her, Lucy’s reluctance to own up to her lie leads everyone to conclude that Peter must have amnesia, prompting him to propose “again”.
While preparing to marry into the family she has so brazenly deceived, she begins to fall for Peter’s brother, Jack.
She allows her lie to go all the way to the altar before declaring to the entire Callaghan clan that she’s a fraud and she’s actually in love with Jack, not Peter.
Lucy is presented very much as the victim of being too nice to be honest, but ultimately, she deceived an entirely family of people simply to trick a vulnerable man into entering a relationship. It’s hard to watch While You Were Sleeping without feeling decidedly upset on Peter’s behalf, as he’s manipulated into almost marrying a woman only to have her jilt him at the altar.
9. She’s All That
9. She’s All That
Teen rom-coms. Aren’t they great?
One of the ’90s most successful rom-coms, She’s All That follows Zachary Siler (Freddie Prinze Jr.) as he attempts to turn “uncool” art student Laney Boggs (Rachael Leigh Cook) into the prom queen in just six weeks.
The issue here should be pretty self-explanatory, but when you really watch the scene of Zach making the bet, his attitude towards women is truly disgusting.
Upset that his girlfriend has left him for another guy, he claims that her popularity and status is all manufactured, and that without him she’s nothing. He believes that any girl he deems worthy of being on his arm will, by merit of his company alone, rule the school, and while it may seem like he was goaded into it by his friends, this really isn’t the case.
In fact, both of Zach’s best friends seem to think him delusional, but his cocksure attitude seals the deal for poor Laney, who is then subjected to weeks of his clumsy advances and predatory deception.
She’s All That is more dark thriller than rom-com, with a boy using his status and popularity to influence and manipulate a girl into becoming “better”.
Not only was nothing wrong with Laney to begin with, but the fact that she eventually falls for Zach just promotes a message that if men behave like they’re superior to women, they’ll be rewarded with love.
Don’t live your life like this, kids.
8. Top Gun
8. Top Gun
Image: ©Paramount Pictures
It’s an irrefutable fact that Tom Cruise gives off some pretty weird vibes. People in Hollywood have spoken out about what a weirdly intense dude Cruise is off-screen, although he’s never really gone too far to hide his intense, slightly creepy nature.
One the the definitive and most quotable movies of the ’80s was the role that secured Cruise lasting Hollywood success, and to be fair, it doesn’t hold up too badly when looked at under the lens of our present day microscopes.
One scene in particular plays out pretty distressingly, though. Grabbing a drink in a bar with his flight school buddy, Maverick (Cruise) notices a girl across the room sharing a drink with an older guy. She gets up and heads for the ladies’ room, so naturally, Maverick follows.
But the sanctity of a women’s restroom is no match for Cruise’s over-intense charm and self-assured swagger. Maverick follows her right in, jokingly propositions her, then proclaims, “I came in here to save you from making a big mistake with that older guy.”
Luckily, Charlotte (Kelly McGillis) is none too fazed by this invasive approach to courtship, and the scene isn’t too painful at a glance. But let’s just look at this in real world terms for a moment. You’re out sharing a drink with a friend at a bar, and one too many cocktails leave you feeling the need – the need to relieve yourself of excess fluid. You get to the bathroom just in time to have a random guy stroll into the ladies’ room and establish himself as a true Nice Guy™.
It’s a weird way to establish any sort of connection with another human being, and if it had happened outside of a movie, Maverick would have likely faced some sort of harassment charge.
7. The Ugly Truth
Image: ©Sony Pictures
Probably the least known and most forgettable entry on this list, The Ugly Truth is a 2009 romantic comedy starring Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler.
Abby (Heigl) is the producer for a morning TV show. She’s your average rom-com “feminist” (i.e. lonely, desperate, best friend is her cat, you know, the usual).
Mike (Butler) runs his own local TV show, The Ugly Truth, in which his cynical relationship advice is nothing more than unapologetic misogyny. Abby catches a little of his show and is naturally quite offended, so calls in to voice her objections to Mike’s unpleasant opinions.
The following day, Abby learns that Mike has been hired to do a segment on her show.
What follows is a predictable, formulaic rom-com that’s hardly worth pissing away 90-odd minutes of your life for.
Aside from the problematic diatribes against womankind, there’s also a scene that borrows heavily from When Harry Met Sally. Abby wears vibrating underwear to a business dinner ( I know, I’m confused too), and accidentally kicks the remote into the hands of the child at the next table. When he begins pressing buttons, Abby begins to act… unprofessionally.
Mike notices the child playing with the remote, and realises that the boy is responsible for Abby’s mounting climax, but instead of helping her, he simply watches the scene play out with a smirk.
It’s certainly in line with his character’s vile personality, but the glee with with he watches Abby writhe as she tries desperately to maintain a professional facade is distinctly uncomfortable.
Image: ©Sony Pictures
Hitch was one of the ’00s more successful rom-coms, with stars Will Smith, Eva Mendes and Kevin James all delivering solid performances.
That doesn’t mean that the movie’s premise has aged well, though.
Hitch (Smith) is a “date doctor”, who coaches men to win the affections of women, with the specific goal of helping them attain long-term relationships.
It’s an admirable goal, and he refuses to help men that are clearly after satisfying more immediate needs, although the movie contains countless ideas and lines of dialogue that don’t ring as nicely nowadays.
First off, the idea that anyone needs “coaching” just to achieve a relationship is a little off. Hitch teaches men to be subtly deceitful, and this is most noticeable when he meets Albert Brennaman (Kevin James).
Kevin James might have made a living off of his “lovable husky short guy with very little shame” image, but when Albert tells Hitch he’s in love with a celebrity and laughs in his face.
Albert then goes through a rigorous coaching regime, which eventually leads to a relationship with the woman of his dreams, although it’s later revealed that she actually liked him for exactly the way he was without Hitch’s influence, meaning that all of the time spent pretending to be someone else was wasted.
It’s a movie in which the protagonist sends a pretty harmful message about the ways in which to seek a relationship, and while he’s proven wrong in the end, it’s all too-little-too-late.
Hitch glorifies the idea that relationships are a realm in which women hold all the cards, and men must use any and every tool at their disposal (including deceit) just to even the playing field.
Well intentioned, but still very, very wrong.
5. The Notebook
Image: ©New Line Cinema
Oh, The Notebook.
For a time, it inspired a romantic side out of so many, and it was heralded as one of the sweetest love stories ever told.
It isn’t, though.
In fact, The Notebook follows a young man who has some real issues with processing rejection.
When young Noah (Ryan Gosling) glimpses Allie (Rachel McAdams) at a carnival, he becomes instantly infatuated with her. He asks her to dance, and she declines. Not taking the hint, he invades her space and presses her further, prompting her to walk away with her friends to ride the Ferris Wheel.
Not content to give up so easily, Noah climbs the Ferris Wheel to ask her out. She says no again, telling him that she doesn’t want to. He hangs from the Ferris Wheel and threatens to jump off if she won’t go out with him. She screams, and agrees, but Noah doesn’t stop there. He makes her repeat over and over that she’ll go out with him before relenting, in what is one of cinema’s most unsettling “romantic” gestures.
The implications of Noah’s inability to understand the word “no” are both easily imaginable and truly horrific. The pair do eventually find a lasting relationship, but given their beginnings, it’s certainly a lot more than Noah deserves.
4. Sixteen Candles
One of the ’80s classic teen rom-coms, Sixteen Candles is filled with harmful attitudes towards women and the female body, and more than a few social slurs. There’s also some not-so-subtle racism, but that’s probably a point to make in another list.
Sixteen year old Sam (Molly Ringwald) is hopelessly in love with the popular Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling), who seemingly hardly knows she exists.
Instead of breaking down the issues on display, it would be far easier to make a short list of the worst elements:
– Sam’s grandparents make inappropriate comments about her breasts, and then her Grandma fondles her.
– There’s a running theme of body-shaming throughout the movie.
– Ted (Anthony Michael Hall) is constantly trying to sleep with Sam to satisfy a bet with his friends.
– Jake tells Ted he could “violate [his girlfriend] ten different ways if [he] wanted to” because she’s passed out drunk, then lets Ted drive her home in return for some of Sam’s underwear.
It’s not hard to see how Sixteen Candles is more than a little problematic. Practically every single character does or says something that would never make it into a movie nowadays, and if nothing else, this teen classic serves as a testament to how far society has come in just a few short decades.
Another movie where the central premise is the issue, Overboard tells the story of spoiled heiress Joanna Stayton (Goldie Hawn) and Dean Proffitt (Kurt Russell), a widower with four sons who works as a carpenter.
After a disagreement with Stayton over some furniture he was hired to make, Proffitt is thrown overboard by the heiress. Later that night, she tumbles from the yacht herself, and is taken to a local hospital where she’s treated with amnesia (apparently from her traumatic fall into the sea), although her husband sees his chance to take her money and run, leaving her there.
After learning of Stayton’s condition and realising he’s the only one in town who knows who she is, Proffitt decides to get a little revenge. He convinces her that she’s his wife, effectively employing her as his slave in order for her to work off her debt to him by cooking, cleaning and raising his sons.
It’s a romantic comedy, so you can probably imagine how things turn out, but the general idea is pretty cringe-inducing.
There was even a 2018 remake starring Anna Faris that sought to fix the movie’s issues by reversing the main characters’ genders. If only someone had explained that it doesn’t work that way…
2. Wedding Crashers
Image: ©New Line Cinema
When we talk about the buddy comedies of the ’00s, it’s a pretty safe bet that there’s at least a few jokes in there that haven’t aged well, but Wedding Crashers really takes the cake and smashes it into the audience’s face.
John (Owen Wilson) and Jeremy (Vince Vaughn) are best friends and self-proclaimed womanizers who crash weddings in order to meet women. But when John falls for a woman he meets at one of these weddings, things begin to get complicated.
The friends are invited to a weekend getaway at the family estate, where they each try desperately to maintain their ruse, bed their chosen women and keep the party going.
No, this isn’t one of those where the issue is in the movie’s premise (although there’s certainly enough there to pick out one or two issues), but with one of the movie’s more unsavoury “jokes”.
One night, while settling into bed, Jeremy is accosted by Gloria, his chosen date, who promptly ties him to the bed. He protests, but she ignores him. He asks her to stop, so she gags him and strips naked before climbing on top of him and doing her thing, Jeremy screaming through his gag all the while.
I feel like this might be a good time to reiterate that this movie is intended to be a comedy, not a horror.
Not only is Jeremy raped, but when he tells his best friend about the ordeal, he’s dismissed out of hand. No sympathy, no compassion, not even a passing remark of support. Despite Jeremy’s intention of leaving the estate, John makes him stay and spend more time with his abuser.
Absolute laugh riot, isn’t it?
- The Breakfast Club
While the nature of this entry is no worse than that of the last, it’s place at the top of the list comes by way of its continued popularity and acclaim.
The Breakfast Club is the definitive ’80s teen movie, with all the biggest young stars of the ’80s sharing the same detention hall.
The general themes of the movie are pretty standard teen movie stuff, but there is one moment in particular that makes for uncomfortable viewing.
After a confrontation with disciplinary principal Mr. Vernon (Paul Gleeson), Bender (Judd Nelson) finds himself locked in a closet. He escapes through the ceiling to return to detention, hoping to retrieve the stash of drugs he hid in Brian’s (Anthony Michael Hall) trousers. Vernon comes in to check on the students, prompting Bender to hide under Claire’s (Molly Ringwald) desk.
While Vernon stands before the four teens at their desks, Bender takes a look up Claire’s skirt (the audience get a look too, for good measure), then buries his face between her thighs. She clenches her knees together, crushing his head, but the gang cover his screams with loud, obviously fake coughs to keep him from feeling Vernon’s wrath.
The strangest part about this misguided movie moment is that it’s played off as a harmless prank by a lovable troublemaker, instead of the sexual assault it clearly is.
There we go, that’s our list. Feel like there’s a glaring omission? Drop a comment below and let us know!