The teen movies with terrible moral messages

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?

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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!”)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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