The teen movies with terrible moral messages

Top 10 Rebecca Clough 27 Jul 2012 - 07:13

Sometimes, even the best teen movies can have murky underlying messages. Rebecca picks out a few of the most suspect...

Would you encourage teenagers to watch a film which maintains that sparkly shoes are worth killing for? Or that time in a foreign country should be spent whining incessantly about how you want to go home? The Wizard Of Oz isn’t the only example of behaviour best avoided, either.

Here’s a list of enduringly popular movies with sneaky bad morals (and no, it doesn’t include Twilight, so there).

10. Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory (1971)/Charlie And The Chocolate Factory (2005)

Message: that man offering you sweets isn’t creepy, he’s just eccentric.

Okay, so this is more of a kids’ film than one for teens, although the original was chock full of sly adult humour (sadly missing in the 2005 version). Ostensibly, the story is full of feel-good morals; Charlie is the humble underdog who wins the prize after all the selfish, greedy children have eliminated themselves from the running. But in between all the chocolate slurping and teleporting, didn’t it ever occur to anyone that the basic premise of the story is a little bit shady?

Willy Wonka is a man with some issues. This is why he’s been hiding away in his factory, essentially running a sweat shop with workers who are never going to get social security numbers. He’s the kind of guy who’s all smiles and charm until you annoy him, then his lovable lunatic act slips and the rage begins to show. When he decides he wants to form a very special relationship with a youngster in order to pass on his knowledge, nobody thinks this is strange. Grandpa Joe (who is a lesson to us all in terms of avoiding work, being ‘bedridden’ until golden tickets were mentioned) is delighted that Charlie has found a mentor.

So kids, next time some unpredictably weird guy gives you chocolate, tells you to keep it secret, and offers to take you on a sinister boat ride, just say no.

9. Juno (2007)

Message: pregnancy is just a minor inconvenience with no long lasting consequences. Yay!

16 year-old Juno (Ellen Page) gets pregnant after having a bit of experimental sex with her best friend Paulie (Michael Cera). Of course, despite the cocktail of hormones that can generally make expectant mothers eat coal and forget where they live, Juno continues to be a wise-cracking, feisty, independent teen. She finds a wonderful adoptive mother (Jennifer Garner) for her offspring, and gets together with Paulie, who thinks she is awesome. This is all very lovely and heart warming, but just a tiny bit unrealistic. By the time the movie ends, she’s riding her bike around the neighbourhood, just as carefree as all the other kids.

Much as I applaud the idea that an unplanned pregnancy isn’t the end of the world, and nobody wants to see yet another grim drama about crack whores and abortions (we had enough of that sort of thing on Byker Grove), the idea of Juno’s life just going back to normal as if nothing happened is bizarrely naive.

As pregnancy films go, it's as irresponsible and ill-thought out as the TV programme Teen Mom ("What, you'll follow me around with the cameras, as if I were a glamorous member of the Kardashian family, or at the very least, dating Peter Andre? And all I have to do is get pregnant at 15? Count me in!")

Then again, writer Diablo Cody may have been hedging her bets for a sequel in about 18 years....

8. Reality Bites (1994)

Message: If you’re a 23-year-old slacker, you are the only person around who has any wisdom or integrity, and everyone should listen to you.

Reality Bites is about the period of adjustment between the end of your education and the beginning of your career. This is the time of life when you realise that even with all the exams, school was kind of fun, but having to do your own laundry and pay taxes is not.

Lelaina (Winona Ryder) and her friends mostly sit around eating pizza and watching TV, graciously accepting their parents’ offers of money and cars, while pitying the older generation for being intellectually and morally inferior. Lelaina wants to change the world through the medium of documentary, so she follows her friends around with a camcorder and records their profound thoughts and career milestones (being made manager at GAP, that sort of thing). Sounds riveting, doesn’t it? Being a forerunner of the kind of people now abusing Simon Cowell for not recognising their talent, she can’t understand why she is not yet a huge success.

She is also is torn between two men; sensible Michael (Ben Stiller) who wears a suit and drives a car and has a job, or Troy (Ethan Hawke) a man with none of these things. What Troy lacks in material trappings, he makes up for in philosophical one-upmanship and the ability to mooch food and lodgings from friends. This makes him the hero of the movie.

Will Lelaina follow her heart and choose the man who steals chocolate bars as a way of getting back at ‘the establishment’? Or the man who has sold his soul to a corporation, ie, has a job? It’s a no-brainer.

7. Risky Business (1983)

Message: being a pimp equals success.

This is a vintage Tom Cruise star vehicle from when he was just a smartass kid with bad teeth and a talent for dancing on couches (after all, you never know when you might need this skill in adulthood).

Rebecca De Mornay co-stars as Lana, the prostitute that Joel (Tom) hooks up with when his parents are out of town. As she wants to get away from her scarily crazy pimp, she and Joel decide that running a brothel from his house would be a super-cool idea. And guess what? It is! Pimping makes Joel popular and rich. Not only that, but he gets some free sex from Lana because he's just so cute. See guys, bag a prostitute and she'll make money for you and give you freebies. It's win win.

Some people consider the movie a satire on the moneygrabbing culture at the time, which may be overthinking it just a tad; it's basically an exercise in teenage boy fantasy. Let's hope that all the kids watching it understand that, because if any of them have been given extra housekeeping money from their parents, this movie is setting them up for some disappointment regarding the looks and disposition of your average hooker.

6. The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

Message: If you care about your job, you're a big fat sell out. Oh, and if you're female and the boss, forget about having a husband.

This is a story about a young woman who has a mean, horrible boss. It's a little bit like Swimming With Sharks, in which Kevin Spacey is a mean, horrible movie producer. One of the messages of that film was that if you're a downtrodden assistant and you're complaining that you get little sleep, have to do demeaning tasks and have not yet been given the breaks promised to you by your university professors, suck it up. Your boss went through it and so did anybody else who has managed to claw their way up the ladder. It's called work.

No such harsh concepts in this fashion-friendly story; we are encouraged to root for Andy (Anne Hathaway) as she demonstrates an inability to present her boss Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) with a cup of coffee that is still hot. (Is this really such a challenge? Or is Andy just a numskull?)

As soon as she begins to take pride in her job and become better at it, her friends and even colleagues consider her a sell out. Happiness can only be achieved at the end of the film when she quits her job and decides to follow her boyfriend to another city because he has a job there. Miranda goes through a divorce - let's face it, women can’t hold down a decent job and a relationship at the same time, everyone knows that. Just follow your man around like a lost puppy and you'll have more fulfilment than a mere career could ever offer. Obviously.

5. Project X (2012)

Message: house-trashing parties are awesome.

In the Risky Business for today’s teens, the action is updated to reflect the power of social networking – the days of the entire school crashing your party are over. Now, it will be the whole town, and possibly everyone on Craigslist.

Thomas (Thomas Mann) is the kid with the big empty house and the anxious parents, whose friend Costa (Oliver Cooper) convinces him that “nothing bad will happen” if he has a little party(haven’t we all had a friend like this?). Armed with a video camera, drink, drugs and girls, they prepare for the party that will make them legends.

Predictably, things get out of hand – not just in a “random people wandering into your dad’s study” kind of way, but a “car wrecked, neighbourhood on fire” kind of way. Luckily, despite the mix of drugs, alcohol, swimming pools and roof jumping, nobody suffers so much as a sprained ankle.

So remember kids, if your parents are yelling at you for destroying the house, they might pretend to be pissed off but secretly they are really proud of you. Because every parent wants to know that their kids are dumb enough to open their home to a bunch of people who never showed any interest in being friends with them before.

4. The Pick Up Artist (1987) Love And Other Drugs (2010) Friends With Benefits (2011) No Strings Attached (2011) plus numerous others

Message: if you a have sex with a boy and then act like you're not that into him, he will so fall in love with you.

Ever since Claudette Colbert told Clark Gable he had a colossal ego, women in movies have been playing hard to get. In the classics, woman are forever flouncing away from their suitors and occasionally slapping them. These days, the women still pretend they’re not interested, but not before they’ve had a quick dalliance in the bedroom. (You might think this would be a little bit like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, but it seems to work for them.)

Anne Hathaway plays a free spirit in Love And Other Drugs (you can tell she’s a free spirit because she has dirty feet) and Jake Gyllenhaal is the unfortunate player who “meets his match.” Last year saw the release of two movies with the same premise; Ashton Kutcher, Natalie Portman, Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis respectively discovered that you just can’t have casual sex. You will always end up falling in love. Or more specifically, if a girl acts really cool and spells it out to the guy that she wants purely physical sex, he will not be able to stop himself from falling in love with her. (Luckily, by the time he realises this, she has always fallen in love with him too. Phew.)

So, let me get this straight. If women throw sex into the mix straightaway, but insist that they don’t want a ‘relationship’ and will never call the guy a ‘boyfriend’ or expect any emotional support, then the guy will be putty in their hands? Hmm. Most of these films seem to have been written by men; it’s almost as if they want to brainwash women into acting a certain way, isn’t it?

3. Pretty Woman (1990)

Message: someday your prince will come.

Hollywood’s thinly veiled obsession with beautiful hookers continues with the movie that launched Julia Roberts to superstardom. She plays Vivian, a girl who’s taken a wrong turn in life and ended up working the streets of Beverly Hills. Luckily, (okay, it’s because she’s the prettiest) she’s chosen by Edward (Richard Gere) to be his ‘companion’ for a week. Naturally, they fall in love. Well, he lets her go shopping on his credit card, and then they fall in love.

I do so hate the overused phrase ‘wrong on so many levels’ but in the case of Pretty Woman, it's appropriate. It's often cited as a terrible moral movie because it implies that love and happiness can be found in a career as a call girl. Despite Billie Piper’s best efforts, it's unlikely that many youngsters are going to grow up with ambitions to walk the streets.

It's the more insidious anti-work ethic which is more harmful. The message is this: If you're beautiful and clearly too good to be doing the crappy job that you've fallen into to pay the bills (whether it's streetwalking or stacking shelves) some really handsome guy with a cool car is bound to be just around the corner, ready to whisk you away from all that servitude. So don't, y'know, try to make it out of there on your own or anything. (Didn’t Cinderella already cover this?)

2. 40 Days And 40 Nights (2002)

Message: your sex life is everybody’s business, plus: rape is a funny way to win a bet!

What’s the most horrendous part of this film? There’s so much to choose from. Firstly, there’s the premise that 40 days is an insufferably long time to go without sex, and it’s bound to result in an unhealthy pallor and hallucinations (I had to wait that long to get my stereo delivered. I survived).

After Matt (Josh Hartnett) gets dumped by his girlfriend Nicole, his world is empty and the obligatory one night stands are meaningless. He decides a sex-free Lent is just what the doctor ordered, and vows to abstain from so much as a sideways look at a dodgy website. However, he makes the mistake of telling his friends and co-workers the plan, and they a) tell him he can’t do it, b) try their best to make him fail, and c) lay bets on when he’ll crumble.

Of course, he also meets his ideal girl shortly after the vow, but she is perplexed by a guy who talks to her like a human being and doesn’t try to shag her immediately (are you hearing this, boys? Girls will think you’re weird if you do this).

I’d hate to give away the ending of such a fine piece of cinema but – well, it turns out that if a woman rapes a man when he is tied up and unconscious, not only is it a great addition to a comedy, but it’s also his fault. Yep, he’s going to have to do some serious grovelling to his girlfriend to make up for ‘being unfaithful’ while he was asleep.

There are some very strange people working as screenwriters...

1. Grease (1978)

Message: dress like a slut and boys will like you.

Grease is the most successful movie musical ever made, and there is no doubt that it's a classic, what with its singalong choruses and 1950s nostalgia. When we were growing up in the 1980s, this was a regular feature at parties, as rooms full of eight-year-old girls danced along and ignored all the dialogue that went over their heads (about 70 per cent).

We all know the story, right? Sweet, innocent Sandy (Olivia Newton John) meets Danny Zuko (John Travolta) on holiday, where they have a lovely time. When it turns out she's enrolled at his school, however, our leatherclad hero cannot be seen to be doing anything as nerdy as being in love. You can talk about girls' physical attributes all day and brag to your friend about "going all the way" but emotions? Fugettaboutit.

Sandy rolls with the pink ladies, who teach her the harsh realities of high school (Happy Days lied to us) while she waits patiently for Danny to step up to the plate. Despite taking her out a few times, it always goes wrong because he is sadly paralysed by his need to look cool in front of his friends (actually, this is a brilliant film for small children to watch; they might as well see what their teenage years will be like).

Adolescent girls will always love Grease, and it will always teach them the following: When a boy doesn't want to talk to you in front of his friends/dumps you for his ex during a dance contest/tries it on at the cinema, it means he is really great guy.

Despite the fact that Danny does like Sandy the way she is, he never quite manages to admit it until she raunches it up with some spray on trousers and a new perm (the little minx). Watch and learn, girls.

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Dress like a slut and boys will like you - And your problem is? ;)
And I totally agree with your Pretty Woman comments, unfortuantly for me it's my other halfs fav film! :(

You forgot Forest Gump. Surely the most evil film ever made.

Back to the Future? Hang round with a crazy old man, go back in time change the past and you get the car you wanted at the end without any consequences! Yay!

BTTF isn't really a teen movie though is it?

Hell yeah! Martys a teenager goes back intime and hangs round with his mum and dad who are in their teens, theres the high school dance and the bit where Marty gets up to do a song the thinking behind it was 'would I get along with my parents if we were the same age'. Its more of a teen film than Willy Wonka its just happens to have a bit of science fiction thrown in.

In what way?

Love the article! Dirty Dancing is also a front runner I reckon - Act like a total bell end and ALL the girls will love you. Because you can dance!

Yeah, pretty woman is evil. But I think you need to watch Grease again. LikeMichael says, John Travolta changes too.

And Pretty Woman is?

How about the message of "if you're a bit alternative no one will like you until you change" found in the breakfast club, the faculty, lots of other teen flicks. As a teenage goth, that message always depressed me

Not teen films, necessarily, but Bridges of Madison County and Sleepless in Seattle both say that if your man is decent but a little on the dull side, it's okay to cheat on or dump him. Also photographers from National Geographic don't carry maps, and fictitious NG articles are far better than the real ones.

In reference to Ms. Clough's comment about The Wizard of Oz ("
time in a foreign country should be spent whining incessantly about how you want to go home?")

When you're brought there against your will, and incapable of doing anything to stop it from happening? Brought to a world you aren't at all familiar with and would have never even been able to see on a map? And the whole time, you have a dumbass, a heartless robot and a coward following your every step, while a crazy green witch sends her mutant winged monkeys and evil living trees and poisonous flowers to kill you because you committed involuntary manslaughter against her equally evil sister? Manslaughter, by the way, which grants freedom to hundreds of oppressed kids and midgets who are so happy they break into song, presenting you with rewards and gratitude? And the only guy that can help you get home lives at the apparent very end of this country, and you have to walk the whole way there, braving the afore mentioned hazards, plus the possibility of lions, tigers and bears and God knows what else, since it seems anything can happen? Not to mention the fact that this "great and powerful wizard" sends you to your potential death to face off against the witch and her thousands of personal guards, in a fortress she would have no knowledge of how to escape? Only to have some anthropomorphic bubble-woman tell you that you had the power to go home all along?

funny article, thanks

Brillian article, funny and all too true.

Are you telling me, "if
you a have sex with a boy and then act like you're not that into him, he will so fall in love with you." isnt true.. well as a male let me tell you it IS true. If you have sex with a boy even if he thinks you're dull boring crap monster he will fall madly in love with you..BUT some times love just comes and goes

I'd add She's All That to that list. Am I the only one that thought Rachael Leigh Cook looked superhot before the makeover, when she was wearing glasses and overalls?

Yeah, but...she whines.

I never realised DoG had a moral dimension. Is it a bit like Church now?

If we going to be this silly about films lets look at biggest genocide by a sci-fi hero.

I go for Luke Skywalker, all the storm troopers on that first death star. What a bounder, they were only trying to earn a living wage...

Not a teen film but a kids film: Home Alone. If somebody breaks into your home they won't be drug-addled criminals but loveable rougues who you can violantly assult without any worry about you being proscuted, you can attack them as much as you like but they will never be seriously hurt and they wont respond and try and kill you. (oh and living without any family is fun and easy)

You'll finally find peace once you hand yourself over to fate. Be a feather on the wind, like Forrest, or risk trying to accomplish specific goals, like Jenny or Lt. Dan, and have life smack you down until you give in. Basically, "Ignorance is Bliss". Upon retrospect, it's not exactly the most pro-intellectual message.

There are few things less alternative thanGoth- agroup that looks and acts so similar it could be synchronized swimming. Alternatives conform more totally than any other groups.

As the builder says in Kevin Smith's Clerks: anyone who worked on that Death Star knew what they were letting themselves in for. And of course, according to episodes I - III, those Stormtroopers were all clones of Jango Fett.

Nothing about Twilight? Doesn't that have the worst message of any teen film, ever, namely, if a boy stalks you in a mad way, he really lurves you, and you should be his servant.

It would have been nice if this list of teen movies had actually been a list of teen movies only. Especially as so many obvious choices were missed. But that might have required a few minutes thought.

You missed the last ten minutes didn't you? Once Danny sees that Sandy has changed, he throws off his letterman sweater and reverts to his old self. It's the changed Sandy that does the bumpin' and grindin' in the fun house with the not-so-changed Danny.

This is horrible whoever wrote this is a complete idiot.

Juno had one of the best messages coming from a Hollywood teen film in years, and it was not bizarre at all. I guess maybe Rebecca Clough prefers abortion as a solution. (That is the terrible moral message we too often hear.)

Thank you! I'm so glad I grew up with Buffy not Bella!

This is the best summary of Wizard of Oz I ever read.

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