15 Classic Movies That Have Aged Terribly

15 Classic Movies That Have Aged Terribly
Image credit: Legion-Media,

There are some movies out there that everyone touts as classics. You know the ones – the must-sees, the essentials. But all of them hold up under the microscope of time.

Whether it's cringeworthy stereotypes, outdated effects, or just plain ridiculous plotlines, some classics have aged about as well as milk, when 2023 is concerned.

1. Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

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"Breakfast at Tiffany's" is the movie that made us fall in love with Audrey Hepburn, but also left us scratching our heads. The film centers around Holly Golightly, a New York socialite who dreams of a rich man rescuing her from her life of breakfasts from Tiffany's window. Enter George Peppard as Paul Varjak, a writer who can't seem to catch a break. Here's the thing: Holly is not your typical damsel, she's complicated and emotionally unavailable. Her downstairs neighbor, played by Mickey Rooney, is a walking Asian stereotype that's painful to watch today.

2. Gone with the Wind (1939)

When it comes to epic, sweeping dramas, nothing beats "Gone with the Wind." But boy, does this film have some issues. We've got Southern belle Scarlett O'Hara, in all her conniving glory, trying to woo Ashley Wilkes. And then there's Rhett Butler, who's just hanging around like a bad smell, waiting for Scarlett to fall into his arms. The problem? The movie glamorizes the Confederacy and turns a blind eye to the horrors of slavery. Slaves are portrayed as content with their lot, which is hugely problematic. Also, Rhett's coercive tactics wouldn't fly in today's #MeToo era.

3. The Graduate (1967)

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"The Graduate" was the movie that coined the phrase, "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me." This film follows Benjamin Braddock, freshly graduated, who becomes involved with an older woman, Mrs. Robinson. The movie was considered risqué back in the day, but now it's more like, "Wow, this is creepy." Mrs. Robinson is manipulative, using Benjamin for her sexual needs. Eventually, Benjamin falls for her daughter, Elaine, and they both decide to run away from their messed-up families.

4. Dumbo (1941)

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Disney, oh Disney. You've given us some classics, but "Dumbo" isn't one of them. This animated film is about a baby elephant with oversized ears who's made fun of and separated from his mother. He befriends a mouse named Timothy and eventually gains confidence. What's the big deal? Well, there are crows in this movie that embody African American stereotypes so blatant that it's uncomfortable to watch.

5. Animal House (1978)

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This movie is about a group of misfit college students in the Delta Tau Chi fraternity at Faber College. They're up against the college dean and a rival fraternity who want them expelled. But the pranks they pull aren't just college fun; they cross lines that today would get you kicked off campus or worse. And don't even start me on the objectification of women here. The movie was a box office hit, making around $141 million, but it's not a look that's aged well.

6. Sixteen Candles (1984)

Samantha is turning 16 but feels totally forgotten by her family, who are busy with her sister's wedding. She has a crush on a popular guy, Jake Ryan, who miraculously likes her back. While this sounds like a teen dream, there's Long Duk Dong, an Asian exchange student portrayed in the most stereotypical manner you can imagine. Yes, okay, maybe the 80s were a different time, but this film has aged like a fine...mold.

7. Grease (1978)

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Danny and Sandy, the quintessential high school sweethearts, reunite in their senior year. Danny's a bad boy, Sandy's a goody-two-shoes, and the whole thing revolves around them changing for each other. But let's forget the movie's iconic status for a minute and talk about the scene where the guys are literally singing about whether Sandy "puts up a fight" when getting intimate. In 2023, we call that problematic.

8. Revenge of the Nerds (1984)

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A group of socially awkward students, the nerds, take on the jock-led Alpha Betas in a series of campus competitions. Sounds fun, right? Well, here's the rub: These nerds install cameras in a sorority house to spy on the women. They also sell pies with photos of the undressed girls. In what world was this ever okay?

9. Dirty Dancing (1987)

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Baby, played by Jennifer Grey, goes on a family vacation and falls for the resort's dance instructor, Johnny, played by Patrick Swayze. Johnny's dance partner gets pregnant and needs an abortion, which is where the money Baby's family has comes in handy. But all this is framed around Johnny teaching Baby to dance and their summer fling. Given the power dynamics and the way the female characters are treated, this one's a little icky in retrospect.

10. Flashdance (1983)

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Welder by day, dancer by night – that's the life of Alex Owens in "Flashdance." She dreams of attending a prestigious dance school but is stuck in a dead-end job. She begins a romantic relationship with her boss, Nick, who helps her chase her dreams. While the film gave us some iconic dance moves and a killer soundtrack, the worker-boss relationship now feels a bit exploitative.

11. Pretty Woman (1990)

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The ultimate Cinderella story of the '90s. Richard Gere plays Edward, a wealthy businessman who hires Vivian, a sex worker played by Julia Roberts, to accompany him to events. While the film may be a beloved rom-com, the whole "white knight rescues damsel in distress" trope feels dated. Edward essentially pays to turn Vivian into his idea of a "proper woman," and we all just swoon? Hmm. Yeah, even for Richard Gere, I'm not doing this, nope.

12. Birth of a Nation (1915)

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This is a film that's aged like a carton of expired milk. "Birth of a Nation" may be one of the first feature-length films, but it's infamously racist. The movie glorifies the Ku Klux Klan and portrays Black people as unintelligent and sexually aggressive. The plot follows two families during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. Way back, the film was groundbreaking in its use of storytelling techniques but in 2023 it's just a cringefest in how it portrays race relations.

13. Trading Places (1983)

Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd switch lives, thanks to a cruel bet by two wealthy brothers. Murphy plays Billy Ray, a poor street hustler, while Aykroyd is Louis, an upper-crust commodities broker. After the switch, Billy Ray proves he's as good a businessman as Louis, while Louis ends up destitute and resorts to petty crime. Sounds comedic, right? Except the film is laden with racial and social stereotypes that make it less of a laughing matter today.

14. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

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In this installment, Indy ends up in a small Indian village and takes on the task of retrieving a sacred stone from a cult practicing black magic. As if that wasn't problematic enough, the film is rife with stereotypes about Indian culture and has been criticized for its portrayal of Hinduism.

15. Tootsie (1982)

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Dustin Hoffman plays Michael Dorsey, an actor so desperate for work that he disguises himself as a woman to land a role. The plot thickens as Michael, now Dorothy, becomes a daytime TV sensation. While the movie was praised for its look at gender roles, the premise feels very dated now. The struggles Michael faces as Dorothy are played for laughs, minimizing the real challenges that transgender people face.