There’s an assumption that once a movie’s well received, public perception will never shift. A Streetcar Named Desire remains the beloved classic it always was. Ditto Citizen Kane, All The President’s Men, The Silence of the Lambs, and countless others. Unfortunately, some movies start out ahead of the game, only to see the passage of time eventually place them squarely behind the eight ball. Some examples…
‘Purple Rain’ (1984)
The problem: Comically bad.
Upon its release, Prince’s semi-quasi-sort-of autobiographical movie accomplished two things: 1) boffo box office business, and 2) acclaim for being an edgy, challenging work of urban drama. These days, the only challenge stems from sitting through the sheer awfulness of the whole thing. Sure, many of the songs continue to stand the test of time, but when you merge the clunky directing with stiff acting, dated visuals, high-school level writing, and self-indulgent, well, everything, the end result is a film you’d expect to find skewered by Mike and the ‘bots on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but you get the idea.
p.s. I’m kidding: it’s entirely that bad.
‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ (1961)
The problem: Racist. Sooo racist.
Prior to the mid 1960s, Hollywood assumed moviegoers couldn’t handle seeing visible minorities in films. Especially in principal roles. Instead, they’d get white folk to do ‘em, courtesy of make-up and the occasional bit of prosthetics. On rare (read: very rare) occasions, they could pull it off (e.g. Charlton Heston as a Mexican DEA agent in Touch of Evil). Mostly though, it came off as culturally insensitive, if not downright racist. Case in point, Mickey Rooney playing the Japanese landlord in the big screen adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Even with his minute amount of screen time, Rooney manages to embody every conceivable offensive Asian stereotype you can imagine. How awful is the end result? Check this out: before his death, Director Blake Edwards went on record about placing Rooney in the role, saying, “Looking back, I wish I had never done it, and I would give anything to be able to recast it.”
The problem: Comically over the top.
There’s no question Scarface is replete with excessive violence, graphic language, and heavy drug use. And back in 1983, the combination these three things was still quite the novelty. This propelled it to modest box office success, later buoyed by a certified ‘cult classic’ status. But when we shine the harsh light of modern day retrospection onto dear ol’ Scarface, things don’t hold up so well. Al Pacino’s scenery chewing, Moe Howard haircut, and ridiculous Cuban accent deliver a one-two-three haymaker of a punch, and not in a good way. The violence is Itchy & Scratcy-level cartoonish, with a storyline geared at the most discerning of double-digit I.Q. gentleman. Charitably, you could argue Scarface lifts a mirror up to the excessive lifestyle that coloured the 1980s. Not-so-charitably, you could say it’s a truly crappy piece of craptastic crap.
‘The Terminator’ (1984)
The problem: Bad special effects + the 1980s.
When it comes to cinematic technical wizardry, James Cameron is the guy. If there’s something preventing him from getting the shot he needs, Jim will literally invent a device to make it happen. Unfortunately, his tech skills could only stretch so far in 1984. Sure, Arnold Schwarzenegger kicks arse as The Terminator’s title character. But once his skin is burned off to reveal a robotic endoskeleton, things fall apart fast courtesy of some awkwardly slipshod stop-motion animation (jump ahead to 12:34 in the below vid — hee-larious!). When you couple this with 1984 being the worst music and fashion year in the history of everything, it’s hard not to unleash a few chuckles at this former time-travel masterpiece.
‘The Last Starfighter’ (1984)
The problem: Even worse special effects + the 1980s.
It’s no coincidence that four of the five films on this list were released between 1983 and 1984. The only thing funnier than how cheesy things were back then is the fact we were all painfully oblivious to how cheesy things were back then. To prove this point, we need look no further than The Last Starfighter, a rather popular sci-fi romp about an American teen handpicked to fight in an interstellar war. At the time, the space battle sequences were lauded as a true advancement in CGI effects. Now? Hoo boy, not so much. Bonus cheesy storyline awfulness: to defeat an armada of enemy craft during the film’s climax, the kid activates his secret weapon: Death Blossom. Basically, it spins his tiny spaceship around like a top, shooting everywhere all willy-nilly in the hopes of hitting something (see for yourself courtesy of the clip below). We can only pray such a powerful device never falls into the wrong hands.