In the long and varied history of motion pictures countless dramas are hailed as classics, and many rightfully so. But there are also plenty of films that don't hold up - so-called timeless stories that haven't actually withstood the tests of time. Such films may have been heaped with praise, box office success, and in some cases piles of Oscars, but as time has gone on, audiences have evolved, and their problematic issues are now pretty glaring. Whether it's a hit comedy with dramatic elements that makes ill-colored jokes, or an acclaimed tragedy that ignores major cultural issues, the results are uniformly bad.
One of the things that makes movies so magical is they don't age; they are moments of history forever frozen in amber with no regard for the passage of time. But this fact can turn to frustration when viewers' sensibilities and greater cultural understanding progress, as problematic movies can't get any better. Perhaps it's best to treat such films as relics that can teach us about how far we've come as a society, and how much further we have to go.
Driving Miss Daisy grossed over $145 million at the box office worldwide and won four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actress for Jessica Tandy. The movie is not a sprawling epic like typical Oscar favorites; instead, it's small, quiet, and unoffensive. Too unoffensive, one could argue.
Miss Daisy centers on a white woman and her Black driver during a volatile period in the nation's racially-divided past (1948-1973). But the film only touches upon this subject area softly, and when it does so, it's always through Miss Daisy's experience; in other words, through the white lens.
Actors: Morgan Freeman, Dan Aykroyd, Jessica Tandy, Patti LuPone, Esther Rolle, + more
Directed by: Bruce Beresfordsee more on Driving Miss Daisy
When Dances with Wolves released in 1990, it was a sensation, something truly unexpected for a western with a three-hour-plus run time. The story presents a relatively skillful portrait of the Native American experience, going deeper than the typical "cowboys good, Natives bad" trope seen in so much of the genre. But as compassionate as the movie's Native American portrayal may be in relation to other westerns, it still leaves little doubt who the "good guy" in this story is: the white guy, Lt. John J. Dunbar (Kevin Costner, who won Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Picture Oscars for his efforts).
The movie relies on Dunbar sweeping in and "helping" the Sioux, a storytelling device known as the white savior trope; he even marries into the tribe and achieves some level of status. By the end of the movie, it is Dunbar who is the hero. The Sioux - many of whom are presented as two-dimensional "noble savages" - and their fate are secondary, which is all the more unfortunate since viewers know what eventually befalls many of America's Native populations.
Actors: Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Charles Rocket, Graham Greene, Maury Chaykin, + more
Directed by: Kevin Costnersee more on Dances with Wolves
Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation is an independent movie that scored big with both critics and audiences. In 2003 it was hailed as one of the best movies of the year, brought in nearly $120 million worldwide in receipts, and put Bill Murray on the map as a serious dramatic actor.
With all the hoopla over Lost, what often gets glossed over is the film's blatant xenophobia. The movie, in the words of Asian Mediawatch, "dehumanizes the Japanese people by portraying them as a collection of shallow stereotypes who are treated with disregard and disdain." Despite being set in Japan, there are no major Japanese characters, and the two central (white) characters barely even interact with the people whose country they're visiting. In the rare moments when the heroes do encounter Japanese culture, the film treats it as a curious, inscrutable mystery.
Actors: Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, Anna Faris, Giovanni Ribisi, Hiromix, + more
Directed by: Sofia Coppolasee more on Lost in Translation
For decades, American movies portrayed gay, bi, and trans folks as dangerous and predatory. One of the biggest movies that perpetuates this myth is The Silence of the Lambs, a box office megahit and Best Picture Oscar winner. The bigotry in this movie isn't hidden; on the contrary, it's on flagrant display.
Buffalo Bill - the main antagonist - is trans, and in the film's most famous scene, they tucks their genitals between their legs and prance around. This is meant to add to their creepiness, as if being a serial killer alone wasn't creepy enough. By doing this, and by even making Buffalo Bill trans at all, the movie broadcasts the absurd notion that cisgender is "normal" and trans is "abnormal." Hannibal Lecter is a doctor, and even while encarcerated for eating people he's more than happy to lean into dated, Freudian-style psychology to make this point abundantly clear.
Actors: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Chris Isaak, George A. Romero, Roger Corman, + more
Directed by: Jonathan Demmesee more on The Silence of the Lambs