These Hit Comedies Would Never Make It in Today’s Climate
The no-holds-barred atmosphere that allowed old comedy to thrive is simply a relic of the past. While there are still comedians willing to push the line, current culture has changed the content of what people think of as acceptable entertainment.
As a result, what were considered some of the funniest comedy films ever shown in the past would never make it to theaters today. Here are some of those raunchy classics.
Blazing Saddles is a 1974 Western comedy from iconic director Mel Brooks, and many people rank the film on their lists of best comedies of all time. But Blazing Saddles has several themes, characters and lines that would be non-starters in this day and age.
In this irreverent film, the n-word is at the core of the culture clash, as it gets thrown around willy-nilly by characters of non-Black persuasion from the outset of the film. That fact alone would leave Blazing Saddles resigned to the cutting-room floor.
The Bad News Bears
The original The Bad News Bears starring Walter Matthau was released in 1976, and if you’re not already aware, social mores were a little less, let’s say, progressive in 1976 than they are today. Granted, Richard Linklater and Billy Bob Thornton teamed up for a remake of The Bad News Bears in 2005, but it was decidedly tamer.
The original was more line-pushing in just about every way. The language was fouler, the bad behavior (often from the Little League parents) was more egregious and the film had an air of edginess about it. This movie would probably garner outrage today.
Silver Streak is a comedy classic in comic icon Gene Wilder’s filmography, even though it probably wouldn’t be considered socially acceptable today. He stars alongside Richard Pryor, and their reputation for foul-mouthed antics isn’t the only reason why Silver Streak would induce more than a few cringes if it hit theaters today.
The primary issue revolves around a critical part of the movie’s plot. At one point (no spoilers), the circumstances of the two protagonists lead them to conclude that Wilder’s character has no choice but to do himself up in blackface. The 1970s were a different time.
Slap Shot is the story of a minor league hockey team that isn’t above resorting to rough play if that’s what it takes to win a game or two. Spoiler: That is what it takes to win a game or two in the Slap Shot universe.
The movie was something of a surprise success, being a film about what was still a relatively obscure sport at the time: ice hockey. But fans came out to see Paul Newman, despite the film’s language containing several slang terms that disrespect the LGBTQ+ crowd.
“Animal House may be the most revered comedy film of all time, and there’s no way that it wouldn’t be made today.” If you find yourself thinking this, do yourself a favor and re-measure the social climate that exists today.
Animal House attained its legendary status in part because crowds were willing to let a whole lot of madness slide in 1978. At the least, rampant sexism and questionable attitudes towards consent would hinder the film. And the stereotypical takes on race would likely push outrage to a boiling point.
Steve Martin starred in the 1979 comedy The Jerk, in which he plays a white character, Navin R. Johnson, who believes that he’s Black. That’s not necessarily something that would disqualify a film from being made today…but it probably would.
Carl Reiner directed The Jerk, and the movie did well at the box office and with critics. With that said, heightened (and rightful) sensitivity towards racial issues today would probably mean that no studio would touch a script like The Jerk for fear of boycotts and Twitter mobs.
Life of Brian
Life of Brian is a film out of the always-hilarious Monty Python camp. Even during the time of its release in 1979, Life of Brian courted outrage, and its reception would probably be even worse today. The plot involves a satirical take on the life of Jesus.
The concept was never going to go over well with Christians. The film implied (or the implication that many Christians drew from it) was that the film was not only mocking Jesus but also all of those who follow the Christian faith. Life of Brian would probably not make it out of studio offices now.
Woody Allen is finding it difficult to make movies; it seems that allegations he’s abused women are finally being taken seriously in Hollywood. With that said, his 1979 film Manhattan would likely have courted controversy today regardless of whether or not Allen’s name was attached to it.
The movie is a comedy, but it centers around a relationship between the protagonist (played by Allen) and a high school-age girl. The link to Woody Allen’s real-life age-gap marriage only makes Manhattan more cringeworthy, but anybody pushing a film about a much-older man dating a high schooler would likely be rebuffed.
Leslie Nielsen put out a number of classics, and Airplane! (1980) may just be at the top of the list for comedy fans. The American Film Institute dubbed Airplane! one of the 10 greatest comedy films ever made, but would the movie even make it to theaters today?
Particularly questionable is the scene in which a woman on the airplane is becoming hysterical, and potential solutions include shaking some sense into her. If that didn’t work, slapping the sense into her was the next course of action. Nope — not okay.
That’s right. The beloved golf-comedy classic Caddyshack would probably be too offensive to see the light of movie theaters in this day and age. Even if it had a similarly star-studded cast, several themes and scenes in Caddyshack would have viewers in a tizzy.
Phrases like “I bought it off a negro” would, at the very least, need to be edited out of the movie, but that general air towards race relations and offense exists throughout the film. Scriptwriters might have to redo the whole thing.
1981 was a different time (and those who lived it know what “different” means). The social mores were looser, humor was much more free-wheeling and movies like Porky’s were considered very funny. While many audiences would certainly get a kick out of Porky’s today, many others would find it offensive.
The most lasting scene from the film involves high school-age protagonists creating a peephole looking into the women’s locker room. That’s not exactly the sort of thing that would fly in the #MeToo era, even done in jest.
Here’s a movie pitch for you: Bill Murray joins the United States Army, and hilarity ensues. Simple enough, right? Well, the concept was fairly easy to pull off when Stripes hit theaters in 1981, but the fresh realities of war and increased public awareness of war-induced trauma would make war a tough centerpiece for a comedy today.
On top of the general wariness about mixing war and comedy, much of Stripes involved mocking Cold War-era tensions between The U.S.S.R. and the United States, which again seems a bit testy in these hyper-tense geopolitical times.
48 Hrs. is a classic buddy cop comedy starring Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte, and the pairing of the gruff white guy and the loquacious, sharply dressed Black guy made for a smash hit when it was released in 1982. And while the buddy cop genre has not been shy about playing the race card (Cop Out), 48 Hrs. would not fly today.
There was a level of racial banter in 48 Hrs. that would shock audiences of today, with the more faint-hearted audience members being nothing short of appalled. Things were looser in the ’80s — not that that was a good thing.
Partners, released in 1982, is certainly not the biggest hit on this list, but it garnered a good amount of attention from audiences when it came out. The movie had a premise that would maybe fly today, depending on how the film was spun. But it was cringeworthy considering that it was supposed to be edgy for the times.
The premise is in the buddy cop mold, but instead of the typical Black-white partnership, one cop is gay. Think such a premise could be pulled off today? Hard to say.
The 1982 comedy Tootsie was a massive hit and is still considered one of those iconic comedies. Starring Dustin Hoffman as a struggling actor in New York, the movie takes its quirky turn when Hoffman’s character chooses to dress up as a woman to secure better roles.
Even if the movie had a star-studded cast like it did back in 1982, it seems that the concept of a man taking on a woman’s roles and dominating the competition would turn some heads in this day and age. Hoffman being accused of sexual harassment doesn’t help matters, either.
If you signed up to have Jackie Gleason or Richard Pryor in your film, then you were banking on audiences throwing on their thickest skin before walking into the theater. If you signed up to have both Gleason and Pryor in your film, then your gamble was twice as big.
So when Columbia Pictures released The Toy, starring both Gleason and Pryor, in 1982, it embraced edginess. The plot involves Gleason’s character’s son actually purchasing a week of time spent living with Pryor. You bet your behind that the racial connotations involved would make this film a non-starter today.
When Zapped! hit theaters in 1982, attitudes towards sex were a bit more lenient and much less evolved. That makes sense, considering that much of the plot of Zapped! involves teenage boys finding creative ways to get their rocks off.
One scene portrays a young Scott Baio using newly acquired telekinetic powers to lift up an unsuspecting girl’s skirt, while another plot point involves a character convincing a woman to sleep with him because she believes that he’s somebody else. “Outrageous” might be too kind an assessment of this movie.
Mr. Mom is like Mrs. Doubtfire, only far less funny and much more retrograde in its plot points. The film is all about a dad who…stays at home watching his kids, while the mom goes to work every day. What an absurd premise that is perfect fodder for a comedy film! Except, you know, that’s like normal dad stuff.
To be fair, it’s important to understand the era’s context. In 1983 it was far less common to see stay-at-home dads than it is today. And that is precisely why a film like Mr. Mom wouldn’t need to be made today.
Sorry, Gremlins superfans. There’s a good chance that your beloved 1983 horror-comedy wouldn’t pass the studio-pitch stage today. The problem with Gremlins is one of identity: Is it a film for kids that could embrace a G or PG rating, or is it a horrorfest requiring an R rating?
Gremlins somehow fetched a PG rating in 1984, despite a scene in which a highly unlikable elderly woman is murdered — yes, murdered — by a pack of Gremlins. Somehow, this film seems like it would fall into the “confused tweener” category today and would never hit theaters.
Police Academy is another comedy film that some fans would put on their all-time-best lists, and yet it’s also another film that would probably not fly in today’s more sensitive climate. While some cop comedies have been made in recent years, they haven’t exactly been smashing successes.
We’re in a time in which a movie like Queen & Slim or End of Watch that takes critical, dramatic approaches to law enforcement is more likely to get the green light than a buddy comedy or wacky, slapstick-type film like Police Academy would be.
Revenge of the Nerds
These days, the word “nerd” may offend enough people to keep Revenge of the Nerds from making it to theaters. That aside, there are plenty of other reasons why this raucous 1984 comedy would probably draw out pitchfork-wielding mobs were it ever to see the light of day.
Part of the plot involves lead nerd Lewis tricking his female crush into taking his V-card by disguising himself as a jock. How creepy is that? It’s no wonder audiences would find such a plot point offensive today.
What once passed for iconic, teen-centered romantic comedy might now qualify as highly offensive, chauvinist-outrage fodder. Sixteen Candles is full of unsettling moments, particularly the implied date rape at the end of the film.
While the character Long Duk Dong inarguably crossed the line of racial stereotyping in a way that’s totally unacceptable, you could debate whether the plot theme of nerd Ted pursuing his crush, Sam, crossed the line into creepy, too. Especially the part where he shows his buddies Sam’s underwear (without her knowledge).
Just One of the Guys
Movies like She’s the Man, Big Momma’s House and Juwanna Mann might indicate that modern attitudes towards man-plays-woman and woman-plays-man characters are forgiving. But those films came out years ago at this point, and the belt on attitudes towards gender has tightened since their releases.
So it’s fair to say that the 1985 comedy Just One of the Guys would have some vocal critics and would possibly never see the light of day. The movie concludes that changing your gender is not the key to solving your problems, which could be problematic in and of itself.
Michael J. Fox fans, thank your lucky stars that Teen Wolf was released in 1985. Remakes have not done the original justice, and the original could not come out today. The times they have a-changed, as Bob Dylan said they would.
Some of the slang prevalent in Teen Wolf isn’t acceptable today. For example, the opening scene of the film uses a derogatory word for gay people that wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) make it past the cutting room floor. As with most ’80s movies, lots of the material in Teen Wolf has not aged well.
Weird Science is a John Hughes film that takes his trademark teenage discovery of sexuality and ramps it up about 30 notches. The plot is so imbued with sexual themes that it probably would cross the line today and earn some accusations of promoting misogynist culture.
After all, the premise is based around two teenage boys creating a gorgeous woman using scientific might, and you can probably guess that they didn’t intend to just befriend her. While their plan doesn’t go quite how they drew it up, the movie’s obsession with sex is still questionable in today’s climate.
Crocodile Dundee came out in 1986, and you could be forgiven for mistaking it as one of Steve Irwin’s (RIP) big-screen forays. But aside from the Australian protagonist and the obvious connection to crocodiles, the wholesome Steve Irwin and Crocodile Dundee have virtually nothing in common.
The premise of the film is that an Australian outdoorsman comes to New York City and (surprise!) he’s a croc out of water. This storyline would seem more than mildly patronizing today, and as is a common theme in the films on this list, the film also embraced less-than-feminist views on gender.
Soul Man would not play today. At all. You couldn’t get away with the shenanigans in Soul Man at a fraternity Halloween party in this day and age, let alone use it as the premise of a multimillion-dollar comedy film. So, are you ready for this plot? You sure?
Soul Man revolves around a protagonist who needs a scholarship to get into a ritzy university, but there’s just one problem: The only available scholarship is reserved for African-American applicants. You probably don’t have to stretch your imagination to figure out how the rest of Soul Man plays out, do you?
Three Men and a Baby
Three Men and a Baby embraced the genre of film where the title literally explained the plot of the whole thing. You’ve got three men. Then you throw in a baby. How could you not end up laughing your behind off? It’s three men and a baby!
Three Men and a Baby was the most successful box office draw of 1987, which shows how lenient audiences were in that day and age. The plot of the movie involves the protagonist trying to score a kilo of heroin and instead getting a baby. Heroin as a comedy tool today? No thanks.
If Big is still in your rotation of feel-good films, then you certainly aren’t alone. Tom Hanks as Josh Baskin — the young guy who puts the coin in the Zoltar machine and gets his wish of growing up — is an all-time performance. But could Big even be released today?
It’s fair to say that Big would be problematic today. The love affair between Hanks and his much-older employee is technically illegal, and that alone could be enough to sink Big.
The plot of Heathers centers around a disturbed young person who hatches a plan to murder schoolmates by blowing them up. This plot would be questionable for even a serious movie considering the blight of school shootings in today’s world. And it would be almost unheard of as the plot of a comedy film.
This is evidenced by a TV rendition of Heathers that was greenlit to air in 2018 and was canceled soon after. It left countless people wondering how airing such a show was ever even a consideration, let alone a final decision.