30 Comedy Movies That Could Never Get Made Today
Modern-day comedy movies seem to be raunchier than ever. The type of gross-out humor found in films like Bridesmaids and Neighbors is scatalogical and gleefully R-rated. But there’s a big difference between showing whatever bodily fluids you can and breaking down social and moral taboos. Today’s comedies are breaking barriers of some kind, but films from the '70s and '80s often told jokes that are vastly more shocking and offensive now, primarily because they didn’t seem quite so offensive back in the day. Our below list of 30 Comedy Movies That Could Never Get Made Today, which are listed chronologically, includes plenty of offenders.
Blazing Saddles (1974)
In the mid-'70s, Mel Brooks shook up the state of Hollywood comedies with Blazing Saddles, a wild parody of the Western genre. If there’s any doubt this film couldn't be made today, the opening scene after the credits, in which the n-word is thrown around with heedless abandon, should confirm it. Blazing Saddles is well-known for an iconic but gross sequence in which a group of cowboys sit around the campfire and let a bunch of farts rip, but it’s also got scenes where bandits are hired based on how terrible their crimes have been. (When the chief bad guy points out that one bandit listed “rape” twice in his, uh, qualifications, the bandit replies blithely, “I like rape.”) As frequently savvy as the script (credited in part to Richard Pryor) is, none other than Brooks himself has acknowledged that the film could never be made today to Variety: “We have become stupidly politically correct, which is the death of comedy.” Whether that latter point is true, he’s right about one thing: There’s no way this movie would exist now.
The Bad News Bears (1976)
Kids and raunchy humor don’t automatically go together, but they can still find their way into the mainstream. Think of the Seth Rogen-produced sex farce Good Boys, about middle-schoolers trying to hook up with girls their own age. In some ways, films like Good Boys exist only because of the success of The Bad News Bears. On the surface, it’s an underdog sports movie about a Little League team coached by a washed-up ex-player from the minor leagues. But when the title uses the word “bad," it means bad. There’s plenty of viciously foul language, rampant nastiness from parents and other kids and a climax that ends with the kids spraying beers on each other. The ‘70s were just a very different time. Though the film got a 2005 remake from director Richard Linklater, starring Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa mode, it’s decidedly a lot less button-pushing than its predecessor.
Silver Streak (1976)
Most of the comedy-thriller Silver Streak is an enjoyable movie in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock: An innocent man taking a cross-country train trip for business is presumed to be a killer, and has to fight to clear his name before the train arrives in Chicago. George Caldwell (Gene Wilder) is the wrong man at the wrong time, but he refuses to give up, even after being kicked off the train mid-trip. At one point, he winds up in a small-town police station and has to escape the clutches of a goofy cop, taking a police car for himself. Once there, he discovers a prisoner in the backseat, Grover Muldoon (Richard Pryor), who's more than happy to help out George if it means he’ll be free too. But to help, he’s got to get George back on the train without anyone identifying him. The only solution: Put George in blackface and dress him up as a stereotypical young black man of the mid-'70s, dancing to funk and soul music with a boombox. Blackface humor, in and of itself, is mortifying to watch in the 21st century; arguably, it's one reason why this scene is still funny. George never stops being extremely uncool and even more unconvincing in makeup. While a film like Silver Streak could, in broad strokes, work today, George would have to find a new way to get back on the train.
Slap Shot (1977)
The world of hockey is intense and violent, a nd has been for a long time. Fans come to a game in the hopes of watching a fight or two break out amid all the goal-scoring. Fighting, and lots of it, is at the center of the hockey comedy Slap Shot from 1977. The film, starring Paul Newman at the height of his fame, is about an underdog minor-league team that plays rough to win games. It’s not that the violence of the sport would be shocking to see in the 21st century — hockey is still a national sport in North America, and it’s still plenty bloody. But a lot of the language in the film is quite blue, and often in ways that would denigrate members of the LGBTQ community today. It’s as verbally violent as it is physically so, in ways that wouldn’t fly now, even if it’s still accurate (or accurate enough) to the way hockey players still interact.
National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)
Like a lot of raunchy comedies, Animal House is the kind of movie that not only flouts cultural norms, but it does so with glee and deliberation. It’s the quintessential snobs vs. slobs comedy, featuring the late John Belush as the slobbiest of them all, Bluto. This film has everything from manic food fights to sexual escapades (like the wife of the nefarious Dean Wormer sleeping around with one of the good-guy characters), and with a dash of racial stereotyping for flavor. (Richard Pryor was asked to watch the scene in which some of the white characters wind up at an all-black nightclub, based on an executive’s fears that black people would riot in theaters.) Animal House doesn’t just feel like the kind of comedy that couldn’t be made today; it feels like the kind of comedy that could only be made in a very specific period of time.
The Jerk (1979)
“I was born a poor black child,” drawls Navin R. Johnson in the opening moments of the 1979 comedy The Jerk, in case you need any brief explanation as to why this film could never be made in the 21st century. Seeing as Navin, played by Steve Martin (who co-wrote the film), is as white as they come, the racial divide and exploration here is deliberately wild and button-pushing. Navin’s story makes up The Jerk, as the well-meaning oaf in this massively successful comedy from director and comedy legend Carl Reiner. Martin’s wild-and-crazy-guy shtick translates well to the big screen, but the way Navin interacts with his adoptive black family skirts controversy to begin with, let alone now. That, of course, is the joke, but it’s the kind of nuanced humor that would likely fall flat for some audiences now.
Life of Brian (1979)
Comedy can be dangerous, and when that comedy is about religion, the danger levels get amped even more. So it’s not terribly surprising that, even back in 1979, Monty Python’s Life of Brian inspired intense protests and outrage around the world. Its satirical take on the story of Jesus Christ — focusing on the baby born in the manger next door, and how he eventually becomes a would-be messiah — is one of the British comedy troupe’s funniest works. But its merciless skewering of religious norms and the people who adopt those norms for various ends, from the in-fighting between the Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea to women dressing up as men to take part in stoning people, is the kind of humor that would get stopped before anyone could even greenlight a project like this now.
By this point, it should go without saying that Woody Allen’s days as a writer and director are on the downturn, if not outright finished. And since most of his movies have a distinctly personal streak, it’s easy to say that just about every one of his films couldn’t be made today. But Manhattan stands out among the crowd. Though the film is often held up — or used to be — as one of Allen’s best, one of its core relationships is between Allen’s character Isaac and his younger girlfriend, Tracy (Mariel Hemingway). Much younger. As in 17 years old. Manhattan is fairly open about the fact that Isaac is literally dating a high-school student, and even more so as Isaac tries to reclaim her as his true love in the film’s George Gershwin-scored finale. (It’s even creepier: Hemingway detailed in a memoir in 2015, she claimed Allen tried to seduce her on set.) Even if Woody Allen wasn’t, you know, Woody Allen, Manhattan wouldn’t survive these days.
No less than the American Film Institute has called Airplane! one of the 10 greatest American comedies of all time. The 1980 parody of disaster movies is, all these years later, something of a product of its time. There are references to Anita Bryant, Leave It to Beaver and '70s basketball stars. The film’s writers and directors, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker, had a gung-ho approach, throwing as many jokes as they could per second and hoping they’d all stick. Most of the jokes still hold up, but some feel very much like the kind of thing filmmakers wouldn’t even try to get away with now. For example, the bit where a woman driven hysterical by the stress of being trapped on an airplane with very ill people is met by a long line of people (both men and women) prepared to shake sense into her. Or smack sense into her. Or hit sense into her with a crowbar. And so on.
One of the earliest raunchy comedies, Caddyshack brought together a wide group of comic sensibilities. From the Saturday Night Live stage you’ve got Chevy Chase and Bill Murray, sharing time onscreen only briefly in the 1980 comedy (it's the only time they appeared on the big screen together). From the world of stand-up there’s Rodney Dangerfield. And from the world of TV sitcoms there’s Ted Knight as the stuffy bad guy in this film about snobs vs. slobs at a golf club. Some elements of this movie could easily be remade today, since seeing rich snobs get taken down a peg or two has even more resonance now than it did in the '80s. Yet there’s also plenty of epithets and language that's shocking for no good reason, as when Knight’s nephew describes some pot that he bought as being good because “I bought it off a negro.” This might reflect the way people spoke f our decades ago, but it’s not how we want to hear characters talk in mainstream comedy now.
The title of this 1981 comedy became synonymous with teenage sex farces of the '80s. The premise of the film is more about some goofy teenagers going head-to-head with the owner of a strip club in Florida, but if you know Porky’s, you probably know it best for its peep-show sequence. The lead characters, a group of friends in the '50s, want to get a look at their female counterparts naked, so they make a peephole in their school's gym shower. The film, like a number of those on the list, was a big hit at the box office back in the early '80s; some critics enjoyed it, but others like Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert called it one of the worst films of the year because of its treatment of women. So, putting it mildly, if critics in 1981 thought it was backward in its treatment of women, imagine this kind of movie in the 21st century.
There are a lot of reasons why Stripes couldn’t be made today. For various reasons, the U.S. isn't in a place where it’s easy to laugh at the military, or even in a place where we want to laugh at the military. The idea of a wacky comedy in which a few slackers join the U.S. Army and cause all sorts of wartime madness just seems strained now, if not straight-up offensive and queasy to consider. But it’s not just the premise of Stripes that makes it a non-starter in the 21st century. The film’s second half involves lead characters played by Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and John Candy essentially creating a mini-conflict in the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. That’s ballsy enough, but considering what happened with Sony’s 2014 comedy The Interview, angering a nation with an axe to grind might not be in anyone’s best interest.
48 Hrs. (1982)
The core premise of 48 Hrs. could easily be made today: A gruff cop is paired with a criminal for two days so the convict can help catch a cop killer. The buddy-comedy genre got a big shot in the arm when this film became a massive hit in the early '80s That set-up is all well and good, but the way characters calmly and blithely throw around racial and sexual epithets wouldn’t pass the smell test. One of the film’s funniest scenes is when Murphy, using a cop badge to enact his will at a redneck bar, withstands being called the n-word and throwing his weight around. But the racial tension of the movie would be far too much for many people to stomach now.
You’d be forgiven if you're not as familiar with Partners as you probably are with every other movie on this list. Here’s the premise: What if there were these two cops. And what if one of the cops was straight, and the other cop was gay. Laughing yet? That's setup for Partners, in which the two mismatched officers are mismatched merely because of their sexuality differences. The two partners are played by Ryan O’Neal and John Hurt; the movie opened just months before 48 Hrs. But it's not just that Partners had bad timing; its representation of gay people is painfully regressive, to the point where the original cut of the film concluded with the queer cop (Hurt) killing himself “because his life was so sad," according to the writer, Francis Veber, in the Los Angeles Times. The film’s director, James Burrows, never directed another feature, but he made his name in TV comedy, just months later directing the pilot and many episodes of a show called Cheers.
At the time, everything about Tootsie seemed unbeatable: a major movie star, a high-concept premise, an A-List director, a great supporting cast and a celebrated screenwriter. Dustin Hoffman as a struggling New York actor who resorts to dressing up as a woman to get a starring role on a popular soap opera helped Tootsie become one of the most beloved comedies ever. But the very concept of Tootsie feels painfully outdated in the 21st century – as funny as it may be to watch Michael Dorsey tap into his feminine side as Dorothy Michaels to fool both viewers and the cast and crew of Southwest General, this is still the story of a straight white dude taking a female role simply because he’s convinced he’s too good to keep missing out on jobs. (It doesn’t help that Hoffman was slammed with allegations of sexual harassment, making his presence here even more uncomfortable.) With Sydney Pollack as director, Larry Gelbart of the TV adaptation of M*A*S*H as writer, and Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Bill Murray, Teri Garr and Charles Durning among the cast, Tootsie is as starry as they come. But it's a relic that can only be redone -- as is the case with the well-liked Broadway musical from earlier this year -- by reckoning with its inherent white-male privilege gone mad.
The Toy (1982)
What if you could buy a person? That seems like the setup for a dystopian horror film or some kind of science-fiction movie making commentary on the way we commodify relationships at home and work. But that's actually the setup for the ostensible '80s comedy The Toy, a remake of a French-language film starring Jackie Gleason and Richard Pryor. Gleason plays a tycoon whose spoiled son decides that he’d like a live-in friend for a week, in the form of Pryor’s character. So yes, this is a movie in which a rich white man buys a black man to be his son’s toy. (Francis Veber, the writer of the original movie, thought the racial element would be better; he told the Los Angeles Times, “Pryor in a box could be very funny.”) You probably don’t need more of an explanation as to why this movie would never get made today.
The poster for Zapped! gives away the game in terms of why this film couldn’t be made now. The premise — in which a high-school student gains telekinetic powers — is visualized as you see two teenage boys looking lasciviously at a teenage girl, bent over suggestively enough and with her skirt lifted up thanks to their powers. Yes, what happens when a young Scott Baio gets telekinesis is that teenage horniness reigns supreme. It’s not even Barney (Baio’s character) who gets all the fun; that dubious honor goes to his best friend Peyton (Willie Aames), who dupes a woman into having sex with him under the guise of being someone else. Date rape is just one of the reasons a movie like this can't be made now.
Mr. Mom (1983)
The way gender roles have changed over the past few decades makes the premise of a movie like Mr. Mom pretty retrograde: What if a man stayed at home with his kids, while his wife went to work? It’s not exactly a wild concept to consider in the 21st century, but back in 1983, when this movie opened, just about anything seemed wild if it was even slightly outside the traditional gender norms of the day. Mr. Mom belongs to a special subcategory of this list — films with inappropriate gender roles written by John Hughes. Though Hughes didn’t direct this one, the film was one of Michael Keaton’s earliest roles as a guy who had no idea just how hard it was to take care of children all day long. It’s tough to imagine a version of this film working now: the generational and gender divides are just too deep.
The '80s weren’t exactly a simpler time, but there was a period when filmmakers could get away with a lot more without needing to worry about that pesky R rating. Films like Gremlins, though, served as the beginning of the end. This hybrid of comedy and horror is all about a picturesque small town that battles monstrous gremlins born from cuddly little creatures that really shouldn’t be fed after midnight. Gremlins -- from director Joe Dante, producer Steven Spielberg and writer Chris Columbus -- is a great genre picture with the courage of its convictions. The gremlins go as far as murdering a crotchety old lady, the kind of violence that would be too ballsy and daring for any movie not rated R today.
Police Academy (1984)
There aren’t a lot of comedy franchises out there, but for a while, the Police Academy films stood apart from the competition. There were more than a half-dozen movies in the span of 10 years, but like Stripes, what makes this a nonstarter isn’t even the content of the 1984 original. It’s the very idea of a wacky comedy about cops. Would cops want to be made fun of in an era so full of social upheaval? Even more so, would people want to watch a movie where the men and women who are meant to serve and protect us can’t even get dressed properly? The gross-out humor in the film was wedged in, even though the director fought against it; it helped lead to the movie's massive success. Keystone Kops-style humor had its place in American comedy for a while, but a wacky movie about cops just seems perverse and unwelcome in the 21st century.
Revenge of the Nerds (1984)
What’s the problem with a good old-fashioned comedy about snobs vs. slobs? Or, in the case of Revenge of the Nerds, jocks vs. nerds? That’s the set-up of this raunchy '80s comedy, and that’s all well and good. But there’s just a tiny problem involving a romantic subplot in which lead nerd Lewis (Robert Carradine) has a big crush on sorority girl Betty, who’s currently with the lead jock. Lewis takes it upon himself to woo young Betty as best he can: by disguising himself as the lead jock in costume and tricking Betty into having sex with him. Nothing says big laughs like rape! The core idea of jocks and nerds battling each other could fly now, but Revenge of the Nerds is one of many teen comedies of the '80s that straight-up took a neanderthal approach to women.
Sixteen Candles (1984)
At its core, the premise of Sixteen Candles seems safe and charming enough. The 1984 comedy, written and directed by John Hughes, is all about a high-school sophomore trying to celebrate her 16th birthday while also pining for the most attractive guy in school and being shamelessly pursued by a geek. But the way this kind of dual romantic pursuit manifests in the '80s is not quite how it would go down today. For one thing, there’s the way nerdy Ted (Anthony Michael Hall) decides to prove to his friends that he’ll get the uninterested Sam (Molly Ringwald) to hook up with him: by showing his buddies a pair of her panties. (Ted ends up hooking up with the prom queen instead.) And then there’s Chinese exchange student Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe), as jaw-dropping a portrayal of Asian culture as you’ll ever find, even with an actor of Asian heritage portraying him. Critic Roger Ebert defended the performance when the movie was released, arguing that his performance elevated the stereotype to “high comedy." The basic sweetness of this story is unmissable, but so too are the sexual and racial depictions that would be jettisoned in a version made today.
Just One of the Guys (1985)
The natural progression of the body-switch and mixed-identity comedies of the '80s is that a woman would get her turn at being the lead, instead of someone supporting the laughs around her. That's how you get Just One of the Guys, a movie about a young woman in high school who decides to play her hand at being a guy and fooling everyone around her. Terri (Joyce Hyser) believes it’s her gender stopping her from being taken seriously as a student journalist, but as she eventually learns, even being one of the guys doesn’t help her out in school. In some ways, Just One of the Guys is one of the more cutting-edge films on this list, but there are also scenes like the one where Terri reveals her secret to an unknowing guy by showing her breasts. The idea of exploring how gender and masculinity gets even teenagers ahead is still worth exploring, but in a different way.
Teen Wolf (1985)
Sure, the premise is goofy as all get out -- spelled out right in the title. And a teenager turning into a werewolf doesn’t seem terribly era-specific. (The title eventually inspired a popular MTV drama that aired in the '10s and itself takes a cue from 1957's I Was a Teenage Werewolf.) But Teen Wolf makes this list is because people don't talk like they used to. In an early scene in the 1985 comedy, Michael J. Fox’s lead character decides to reveal to a friend the big, hairy secret he’s struggling to contain. The friend immediately presumes that Fox’s lead has something else up his sleeve: “Are you going to tell me you’re a fag? I’m not going to be able to handle it.” Don’t worry, bro! He’s just a werewolf. This basic story could be remade easily enough today, but it’s impossible to imagine a version that would be so blatantly and unnecessarily homophobic.
Weird Science (1985)
John Hughes' movies are a cultural touchstone for so many '80s kids. Weird Science has the misfortune of opening in theaters just a couple months after one of Hughes’ most beloved films, The Breakfast Club. It also has the misfortune of including some jaw-dropping material that’s very much a product of its time. Consider the premise about two hopeless nerds conjuring a gorgeous woman through the use of science. This invented woman, Lisa (Kelly LeBrock), doesn’t exactly become a sex toy for the young men, but she does help them hook up with two young women by creating some mutant bikers to help them. That aside, the idea of “two dudes make a woman” is something that could maybe work today only if the roles were gender flipped.
Crocodile Dundee (1986)
There used to be a time when Australia was seen as a strange and exotic country by Hollywood. That time has passed, so a film like this couldn’t get made anymore, just because someone traveling from the outback of Australia to New York City wouldn’t seem like that big a transition. But in 1986, Crocodile Dundee was not only a high-concept comedy, it was a wildly successful movie that netted its star an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay (at a ceremony that he wound up co-hosting). But Paul Hogan’s fish-out-of-water premise wouldn’t be remotely as charming now. That’s in part because “Crocodile” Dundee has a limited understanding of gender identity, as in a scene where he encounters a trans woman and literally grabs her crotch to check. The gag here is that Dundee has never encountered such strange people before, but the inexplicable and unnecessary attack on a person’s identity is the kind of thing that bookmarks the movie as a relic.
Soul Man (1986)
Soul Man is the kind of film that staggers the mind, because it proves that, depending on the right time and person, just about any terrible idea can get greenlit. This one is about a teenager played by C. Thomas Howell who’s on the fast track for Harvard Law School. That is until his dad decides to not pay his son’s way to the tony university, so Howell’s character has to get a scholarship. Problem is, the only available scholarship is for African-American students. And so, Soul Man is just your average, run-of-the-mill wacky comedy about a white guy putting on blackface to convince everyone around him that he’s ... well, not a white guy putting on blackface. Soul Man garnered plenty of controversy back in the '80s, but not so much that it didn't become a moderate box-office success, making nearly as much as the acclaimed sports drama Hoosiers. The very idea of Soul Man may have been well-meaning, as the lead gets a better grasp on the systemic racism black people face every day. (Years later, Howell argued in an interview with the AV Club that “this isn’t a movie that should be considered irresponsible on any level.”) But good intentions don't eliminate the movie's horrifying images.
Three Men and a Baby (1987)
The premise of Three Men and a Baby was, at the time, unbeatable because the title explains just about the whole thing. What happens when three bachelors in New York City are left with a baby? (Like a number of big '80s comedies with high concepts, this was a remake of a French film.) The child is the product of one of their various one-night stands and ends up being caught in a case of mistaken identity. See, the unaware father of the child (Ted Danson) had arranged for a special package at their apartment. But it wasn’t the baby he was expecting — instead, he’d been angling for a kilo of heroin. Yes, you can keep your urban legends about the making of this film and whether or not there’s a ghost in the background of one scene. This massively popular film — the highest-grossing movie of 1987! — hinged on one of its heroic leads trying to get a fix. Even a raunchier three-guys-and-a-kid movie like The Hangover doesn’t get quite so dark.
Big is, on its face, one of the most charming comedies of the '80s, a whimsical fantasy about what would happen if a pre-teen's wish to become grownup came true one day. Thanks to Penny Marshall’s direction, Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg’s script and Tom Hanks’ star-making performance, Big is a lot of fun to watch ... as long as you don’t think about the intensely creepy side of the story you’re watching. Big is also the tale of a pre-teen boy in a grown man’s body waking up in that boy’s bed and understandably terrifying his mother (Mercedes Ruehl), who fears a strange man has absconded with her child. For that scene alone, Big would likely get a rewrite, but a romantic subplot with Susan (Elizabeth Perkins) is equally skeevy. Nothing goes too far between the two leads, but even a largely entertaining take on the body-switch genre like Big would get stopped for moral reasons today; grappling with what it means for a child to grow up very fast is too much for a high-concept comedy to handle.
It’s shocking that a major studio greenlit a TV show in 2018 based on the 1989 cult dark comedy Heathers; the original movie's subject matter is that bleak. A disturbed teen attempts to kill kids at his school by blowing them all up. The original film, starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, is a fiercely committed comedy that was risky enough back in the '80s. But now, as tragic school shootings continue to plague various communities, it’s awfully hard to imagine anything about this kind of thing being that funny. The movie lived on as a musical, but the TV show came under fire — for its content and for arriving so soon after the Parkland shootings — before it was canceled. Some films simply shouldn’t get a redo, especially ones that almost feel like they should never have been made in the first place.