Ask anyone to come up with a modern equivalent to classic action movies, rom-coms or teen movies like "Mean Girls" or "She’s All That," and they probably can’t. Here’s why.
At the risk of sounding like an overly nostalgic, whiny, try-hard Millennial (I promise, I’m not!), have you noticed that so many rom-com, action, and high school movies today are just…not very fun to watch? Like they’re devoid of the key ingredients that made us fall in love with ‘90s and early 2000s classics? As if the ones being made today just don’t hit the same as the ones that came out 20 years ago, arguably the Golden Age of action, rom-coms, and teen movies?
You know the older movies I’m talking about – they’re the ones we go to whenever we’re having a girls' night, or a fun date night, or even just a feel-good movie night all on our own. We find ourselves consistently drawn back to movies like 10 Things I Hate About You, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, 13 Going on 30, or You’ve Got Mail.
We’ve seen them so many times we’re able to recite the scenes, forever associate certain songs with whatever scene they were used in, and have no way of knowing the number of times we’ve watched it or why we even keep going back – there’s just something incredibly comforting yet refreshing about them.
But why is it that newer movies that should fit into the same category are falling short for us? Why do we keep rewatching Freaky Friday instead of finding a new teen movie to love? Why don’t movies today hit the same?
The Goal of Movies Back Then Was Different
When we look back on the movies we all loved from the ‘90s and early 2000s, like Princess Diaries, Miss Congeniality, or Notting Hill, there’s a crucial element they all have in common: their goal was to entertain and satisfy.
We were presented with characters we could identify with, awkward situations we’ve all experienced, or predicaments that would draw us in. And overall, the goal of the movie was to keep us engaged, whether by entertaining, comforting, or amusing us.
Movies today aren’t focused on mere entertainment. Instead, it seems that their common goal is to preach and persuade, often talking down to the audience more than anything else. This leaves us feeling accosted, as if the film’s goal was to create as little delight as possible. Nothing turns an audience off faster than feeling as though, somehow, the film is angry at them or judging them.
We Weren’t Walking on Eggshells
It’s no secret that some of the humor or plotlines in older movies were sometimes questionable, even in movies we still love and rewatch. Never Been Kissed, while sweet and funny, still showed a teacher falling for what he thought was a high school student (eek). She’s All That, which will always be a classic, still pulled the mousy-girl-turns-hot-just-by-taking-off-her-glasses card. Mr. & Mrs. Smith, always a fun watch, dressed Angelina Jolie in getups that were totally unrealistic for kicking butt.
Some older movies certainly could’ve done with more sensitivity, thoughtfulness, and discretion, and there are some that deserve to be called out for being incredibly problematic. But for the most part, it wasn’t that serious – and we used to be able to let things like off-color jokes or opposing opinions roll off our backs.
Not so much anymore. Movies today strive to steer clear of anything that could, in any possible scenario, be interpreted as offensive, dated, or insensitive. So much so that movie makers are walking on eggshells in order to please everyone, often resulting in a subpar film that’s hyper-focused on protecting the world’s feelings. Whereas the greatest sin for movies used to be boring the audience, now it’s telling a joke or expressing a view that will be deemed offensive by anybody.
They Were More Truthful
It’s not groundbreaking to say that movies aren’t totally realistic – that’s part of what makes them so fun. But at the same time, the ‘90s and early 2000s movies we all loved were far better at capturing human truths than movies today, mostly because they weren’t afraid of being honest.
He’s Just Not That Into You showed a woman who’s unable to pick up on signs that a guy isn’t interested in her. She’s All That depicted an awkward teen who grows into herself and her femininity by the end of the film (even if they used the silly glasses trick to do it). Mean Girls showed us how disgustingly women treated each other, especially in high school.
Today, we’d be told that He’s Just Not That Into You is a misogynistic take on a crazy, love-lorn woman; that She’s All That gives in to the notion that a woman should ever change her appearance or desire to be beautiful; that Mean Girls vilifies women and teaches women to hate other women.
In reality, He’s Just Not That Into You is an incredibly realistic portrayal of a woman so desperate for love and attention that she becomes blind to reality; She’s All That helped me, as an awkward teen, feel that I could be pretty and feminine too; Mean Girls told us that we could be toxic, underhanded, and catty. These movies didn’t shy away from uncomfortable truths and authentic human desires.
They Didn’t Check Off Lists
The beloved movies of the ‘90s and early 2000s were concerned with appealing to very human experiences – depicting an unrequited love, a young woman learning to calm her chaos, a guy deciding to go after the girl, a man mending his broken relationships, a girl coming to love herself – but didn’t feel forced or contrived in these depictions.
Today, plotlines and characters feel more like a checklist than anything else. Movies are expected to comment on every social issue, right every perceived wrong, and fulfill every quota in every direction. This leads to movies that, rather than focusing on what story they’re telling and doing it honestly and well, are attempting to please and appeal to every market equally by means of treating cultural talking points, societal issues, and minorities as boxes to be checked off and props to be used.
Movies Back Then Didn’t Suffer for the Sake of the “Message”
Of course every movie has some kind of basic message or theme. Freaky Friday helped us understand the power of mending family relationships. Mean Girls got us to reconsider our thoughts on popularity and female toxicity. Princess Diaries painted a picture of a socially-awkward girl who, once made aware of her true identity, found that she actually liked herself. Ultimately, though, the movie’s storyline wasn’t ever made to suffer for the purpose of sending a specific message. The greater theme of these beloved movies were often simple, apolitical, and uniting truths.
But it’s clear that mainstream movies being made today value the message over anything else. Today, character development, dialogue, and story structure have been sacrificed in order to preach often divisive, political, or debatable messages at the audience, making movies that feel closer to propaganda than anything else.
Newer movies just don’t hit the same as older favorites from the ‘90s and 2000s, which was arguably the Golden Age of action, teen, and rom-com movies. So we'll just keep rewatching our favorites until Hollywood gets their act together and makes something just as good.
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