‘Timeless’ is often an adjective thrown around too often when it comes to praising films. There are indeed iconic movies that transcend the period in which they were created and continue to hold relevance in the here and now. Then there are the opposite films; not necessary ‘timeless,’ but stuck in their time. Often tragically or frustratingly so. These are movies that are entirely reliant on the time in which they were made, and this doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. For the most part, though, it usually is.
Films can represent the attitude of a culture, perhaps reflecting geopolitics or domestic fears, or simply our prevailing hopes and dreams . However, things change, as do our sensibilities, expectations, and standards of what can be done in film — and to what effect.
There are those popular and noteworthy films scattered throughout our cinematic history that were such a product of the era in which they were created that they can never be duplicated again. Whether we blame it on that film’s attitude, plot, or tone, certain movies would not be made – let alone thrive – in today’s cultural environment.
At the height of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s popularity came this big-budget American action story with some notable actors, a big name director, and a whole lot of story to tell. 1994 was a simpler year, before our favorite Austrian body builder began to look old and plastic, before Tom Arnold disappeared from our collective consciousness, and before we started to realize that maybe every Middle Eastern actor on screen shouldn’t play a terrorist.
Films like this have tried to be made again, but this confluence of action hero stardom, terrorism, violence, and humor just doesn’t coexist effectively anymore.
Helmed by James Cameron, True Lies is an entertaining movie that seemed great at the time, but the world in which we live today takes global terrorism, Islamophobia, and torture far more seriously. True Lies can’t happen again. Just look at London Has Fallen. (Actually, no, don’t. It’s awful for a whole lot of reasons, so don’t.)
It’s a Wonderful Life
Like other movies on this list, and many that are not, some stories hold special places in our hearts because of the age and attitude that surround our initial viewing, as well as the warm memories that go with it. Furthermore, prevailing beliefs and sentiments about some films are so powerful that they obscure criticism – especially when it comes to rom coms, like Pretty Woman or Love Actually, or holiday movies.
Many have analyzed the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life (it has been around for 70 years, after all), and it’s not hard to see, in protagonist George Bailey, a man who is very much of his time – and certainly not of ours. There aren’t a lot of minorities and women in his world, and it doesn’t really seem like he wants them there. He prefers women at home, and let’s not pretend that Bailey’s ponderings of what to do with Mary’s robe when she loses it in the bushes isn’t a super creepy reaction.
Where do we even start? It’s just not happening – ever again. The language, the jokes, the entirety of the plot of Blazing Saddles could never be replicated, or come close to being made again. Mel Brook’s iconic comedy is so much of its time and place that when it’s rebroadcast on TV today, it’s a shell of the original due to all the editing and censorship it requires. Seth MacFarlane tried to make a similar Western farce with A Million Ways to Die in the West; it didn’t come close, and showed that the humor that made Blazing Saddles so important simply doesn’t work anymore.
Really, we can include any bro-comedy from the 1980’s here, where it was all about guys going to whatever lengths they could to get sex. In Porky’s and Stripes, it was totally cool to spy on women showering. Revenge of the Nerds also endorsed voyeurism, and subsequently passing along the footage as well as pretending to be someone else to have sex with a woman. Then there’s Weird Science, which literally objectifies a woman.
We’ve chosen Animal House here because so many people love it; it’s referred to as iconic, and its legacy has seemingly endured…At least, mostly for frat boys. Here is a movie with some memorable scenes and funny moments, but like so many other movies of the 1980’s, it’s filled with moments that normalize rape, none more so than when a character internally debates whether to have sex with a drunk girl who has passed out naked next to him, all done for comic effect. Rape and sexual assault aren’t funny.
Let’s end on a less depressing note – sort of. Jurassic World was atrocious. It really was. Forget the millions of dollars it brought in. Forget how much fun it was watching dinosaurs fight other dinosaurs; it was unimaginative, sexist, dull, and made Chris Pratt unfunny. Admittedly, I was totally seduced upon the first viewing, buoyed by the massive spectacle and the wonder that came with seeing the park realized on the big screen, so much so that I wrote a review that didn’t completely slam it. But as time (hours, days, months) went on, it became clear this was a bad movie, using the marvel of the original to trick audiences today while offering nothing the least bit as smart, witty, or potent as the first. Sure, the filmmakers were lacking, but there is another aspect to the hangover you experience after watching it. It’s more or less what our heroine says at the start of the film (when it momentarily had meaning): it is, in fact, really hard for us to be wowed anymore. Does today’s society no longer carry with us that childlike sense of wonder, fear, and excitement? Maybe this is a depressing note after all.