Every time I see a Mrs. Doubtfire gif, I’m reminded that almost every loved movie made in the ’90s was at least low-key fucked up and no one really talks about it. It actually took a great deal of discipline to whittle this down to five per my editor’s guidance. (Although even I can admit that including every movie in the Mary-Kate and Ashley franchise would have been a little overkill.) It’s possible I’m about to embark on what will be the most cynical listicle ever written vis-a-vis ’90s pop culture, but I feel very strongly that someone has to do it.
Let’s start with the aforementioned heavy-hitter:
1. Mrs. Doubtfire
The gender politics in this movie are truly fucked. Poor Sally Field! All she wants is to be married to a person who respects her! Have a fulfilling career! Co-parent with someone who exhibits a shred of responsibility AKA does not bring live farm animals into the house without her consent!!! And yet her character is V shadily demonized for putting her foot down while her selfish, unemployed husband is characterized as an underdog worthy of our loyalty. Then, instead of, I dunno, getting his act together honestly, Robin Williams cons his way back into the family home by pretending to be a woman (offensive) thereby taking money from the single mother of his children (actual thievery). And the worst part of all is that it works.
2. Big Daddy
Let’s pivot to another ’90s classic wherein an irresponsible, essentially unemployed white dude is forgiven of all sins because he’s “”””””doing it for love.”””””” I won’t do you the disservice of burying the lede: Big Daddy is 95 minutes of kidnapping apologia. Adam Sandler and all the one-note characters he played in the ’90s were just generally the worst and Big Daddy was no exception.
He’s an unfunny, misogynistic dirtbag (surrounded by flat female and minority characters) who we are supposed to become increasingly charmed by as he endeavors to parent a child — who, let’s not forget, he has taken for his own in an effort to woo a woman he supposedly loves but then later slut-shames for working at Hooters — by teaching him a quick way to pick up a misdemeanor for Public Urination. Suffice it to say, this movie failed the Bechdel harder than 12 Angry Men.
3. The Santa Clause
The Santa Clause begins with Tim Allen murdering Santa, a tragedy that’s essentially glossed over by all involved, particularly the community of old-but-toddler elves who have been working alongside him for purported centuries. Over the course of the movie we’re meant to fall in love with petty Tim Allen as he learns how to succeed Santa (an “incredible” feat that involves gaining weight, growing a beard and going gray) (and let’s not forget his weird sexual tension with a 10-year-old-or-is-she-1,200-but-either-way-it’s-bad elf named Judy), but that’s merely the literal take.
A far more reasonable interpretation says that, actually, Tim Allen is a lost soul who’s taken to a basement (where he gains weight, grows a beard and goes gray) to live out the rest of his days under the PCP-induced delusion that he’s Santa as a way to cope with the depressing realization that his marriage failed, he kind of sucks and he’s fallen out of favor with his son, thus enabling him to justify the fact that he only sees his child on Christmas.
4. The Parent Trap (the 1998 version)
The entire premise of The Parent Trap is unacceptable. Two parents who are filthy rich, well-educated and ostensibly not institutionalized-levels of unfit to make decisions get divorced and think it reasonable to separate their twin daughters and lie to them for the rest of their lives about each others’ existence?! Off the bat this is ludicrous. In the world I live in, Lindsey Lohan-as-twins would have to be sent home from camp immediately upon uncovering this truth and spend the rest of the movie in therapy.
Instead, they embark on a quirky adventure to convince their lovely mom and shithead dad — who is engaged to an actual sociopath because, I dunno, she’s sexy — to get back together. At no point in the unraveling of their dad’s engagement are we meant to conclude that he’s a piece of shit unworthy of their mother’s time. By the end of the movie he’s absolved of all responsibility and the plan works and everyone cheers.
5. Home Alone
Home Alone has a somewhat shaky premise: a mother forgetting one of her children exists for four hours while an eight-year-old masterminds the torture of two robbers, but frankly I’ve seen worse (Adam Sandler as a lovable kidnapper). What’s really outrageous about Home Alone is how it parades itself — through a score of jaunty tubas and quick cuts to a precocious child mugging for the camera — as a super fun movie that’s not at all a stomach-turning display of utter violence and gore. Five words: A. Nail. Through. The. Foot. How are we supposed to laugh and not conclude this kid is 100% a future serial killer? I might balk at the epic suspension of disbelief required to enjoy this movie if I didn’t think that its biggest fans probably pulled wings off of flies in grade school for fun.
Home Alone: Horrifying sadism for the whole family!
Photos via Getty Images.