6 Comedy Movies That Are Offensive by Today's Standards

These films were hits when they were released, but they wouldn't have a chance of getting made today.

Humor is subjective at the best of times—what makes one person laugh uncontrollably might leave another sitting stone-faced—but it becomes even more so as it ages. Comedy exists in opposition to the status quo, and as the status quo changes over time, something that once seemed outrageous and inventive might, just a few decades later, seem hack-y and cliché. Or, even worse, something that once seemed daring and boundary-pushing might just seem in poor taste. Consider the example set by these six comedy movies, all hits when originally released, that are considered offensive today.

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Manhattan (1979)

Woody Allen in Manhattan
United Artists

This one is as much about the artist as it is the art, but in either case, it seems unlikely to imagine a modern film being quite so casual as this one is in portraying a relationship between a 42-year-old man and a 17-year-old girl. Yes, director and co-writer Woody Allen's once-lauded film (nominated for two Oscars) plays differently today in light of the #MeToo movement and accusations made against Allen for sexually abusing his daughter, but the film is plenty creepy in its own right. The filmmaker's character is Isaac Davis, a successful TV writer, while Mariel Hemingway plays his high school-aged paramour, whose destiny is never given quite as much consideration as Isaac's own wants and desires. A case can be made for the film's complexity and nuance, but it probably wouldn't convince anyone to make it in 2023. (Even Hemingway agrees.)

Porky's (1981)

Scene from Porky's
20th Century Fox

A massive hit in its day, Porky's made around $160 million on a $5 million budget and inspired a whole host of imitators—but it couldn't be made today. The story of the sexual misadventures of the most unpopular kids at a small Florida high school circa 1954, the film does plenty to reinforce stereotypes about so-called nerds, but its biggest crime, to contemporary eyes, is its utter indifference to its cast of women. They are all treated as little more than objects of desire by the ostensible heroes, to the point that a scene tantamount to sexual assault, in which the geeks drill a hole in a wall so they can peep at their female classmates as they shower, is played entirely for laughs, and the one girl who takes offense is made a laughingstock. Porky's director Bob Clark gives the comedy the same nostalgic sheen as his holiday classic A Christmas Story, but, as noted by Decider, the era looks far more problematic from this perspective.

The Toy (1982)

Richard Pryor in The Toy
Columbia Pictures

It is perhaps possible to imagine a modern dark comedy with a plot not so far removed from that of this infamous 1982 box office hit, in which a Black man (played by comedian Richard Pryor) who has fallen on hard times must subject himself to being the literal plaything of the spoiled son of his wealthy white employer. But the 2023 version would need to be razor sharp in its satire—much more so than this rather broad farce—and it would probably not cast the Ku Klux Klan as wacky villains, and it would definitely not be written by a white woman (Carol Sobieski) or directed by a white man (Superman's Richard Donner).

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Police Academy (1984)

Steve Guttenberg and Kim Cattrall in Police Academy
Warner Bros.

In the wake of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and an increased awareness of (and controversy over) police-involved shootings, it's hard to imagine any movie studio bankrolling a comedy that casts police officers as well-meaning but bumbling heroes. Even comedy partners Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key couldn't get a planned remake into production. Despite higher-minded aims (they professed to be aiming for a semi-serious take on the subject matter, akin to the 1970 anti-war film MASH), the reboot, announced in 2014, still hasn't been made.

Soul Man (1986)

C. Thomas Howell in Soul Man
New World Pictures

Beyond the basic premise—a white man takes "tanning pills" that darken his skin in order to qualify for a college scholarship intended for Black students and never really faces any consequences for it—Soul Man would never be made today for the simple reason that the entire plot hinges on an actor appearing in blackface, which no bankable star (or film studio) would ever consider in a lighthearted comedy in 2023. Yes, the character (played by C. Thomas Howell) does come to discover that anti-Black racism is real, but he never really faces any comeuppance for his actions, as most of the characters seem content to forgive him because he learned his lesson, which definitely wouldn't fly today.

Tropic Thunder (2008)

Robert Downey Jr in Tropic Thunder
DreamWorks Pictures/Paramount Pictures

Soul Man probably should have taught Hollywood a lesson about using blackface in a comedy, but more than 20 years later, it cropped up again in this broad war film parody in which a pre-Iron Man Robert Downey, Jr. plays an overzealous actor whose Method acting requires him to so inhabit his characters that he thinks nothing of donning the offensive makeup. Downey, Jr. manages to imbue his character with real depth—enough that he was actually Oscar-nominated for the role—and the movie is definitely at least attempting to grapple with questions of cultural appropriation, but it's hard to imagine it being made today. Director Ben Stiller agrees: On a 2020 episode of The Daily Beast podcast The New Abnormal (as quoted by IndieWire), he said that though the film is intended as a critique of Downey's character, "it would be tone deaf right now to make it."

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller is a pop culture writer living in New York. Read more
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