18 ‘80s Comedies That Pushed Boundaries in a Way You Couldn’t Today

The 1980s were a decade of big hair, even bigger shoulder pads, and comedies that played by their own rules. It was a time when you could say almost anything and get away with it, unlike today. Here are 18 ‘80s comedies that you probably couldn’t make today without a lot of backlash.

“Porky’s” (1982)

Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Setting the standard for teen comedies, “Porky’s” was infamous for its raunchy humor and sexual escapades. This film completely pushed the envelope for what was acceptable on screen. However, today, its themes and poor treatment of women might not sit well with audiences.


“Revenge of the Nerds” (1984)

Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

This underdog story took a humorous approach to serious issues like consent and harassment, which just wouldn’t fly today. Plus, the way it depicts certain groups would be sure to create a backlash. The film, gunning for laughs, glosses over the real-world consequences of its jokes, with pranks and antics that many people would consider invasive today. 


“Soul Man” (1986)

Photo Credit: New World Pictures.

A film about a white student who pretends to be black to qualify for a scholarship meant for African-American students? What could go wrong? “Soul Man” uses racial stereotypes in an attempt to be funny – you can probably imagine how that would go down today. Beyond this, the film’s attempt to tackle race relations is a little tone-deaf by today’s standards.


“Sixteen Candles” (1984)

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

While people loved its teenage angst, certain elements, like its casual racism with characters like Long Duk Dong, are hard to look past. Its casual attitude towards sexual consent probably wouldn’t do well today, either. The film captures the awkwardness of adolescence, yet its problematic elements overshadow the genuine moments of heart and humor.


“Trading Places” (1983)

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

In “Trading Places,” we’re introduced to a world of high finance and low blows, where a homeless con artist and a wealthy broker swap lives. In the ’80s, money talked, and social experiments were blockbuster material! However, while the film’s comments on greed are always relevant, its use of blackface could make today’s audience squirm in their seats.


“The Toy” (1982)

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures.

Imagine pitching a movie today about a rich guy who “buys” a friend for his son, and the friend is a grown man. Hard pass, right? “The Toy” tiptoed around some serious class and race issues with all the grace of a bull in a china shop. It’s like someone said, “Let’s discuss inequality but make it funny,” and this was the result.


“Zapped!” (1982)

Photo Credit: Embassy Pictures.

In a decade where perms were big, and ethics were… flexible, “Zapped!” decided telekinesis was the perfect excuse for teenage peeping Tom shenanigans. Fast-forward to today, where privacy is a hot topic, and you’ve got a film that’s more cringe than binge. It’s a tale as old as time – boy gets powers, boy abuses powers, audience questions life choices.


“Bachelor Party” (1984)

Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Tom Hanks in a bachelor party gone wild is completely unexpected and a bit unsettling. This film takes the cake (or should we say, the stripper out of the cake) for pushing boundaries on party culture and the portrayal of women. It’s a relic of the “boys will be boys” era that would likely send Twitter into a frenzy if they released today.


“Mannequin” (1987)

Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

A love story between a man and a department store dummy that comes to life – because, apparently, the dating scene in the ’80s was really that tough. “Mannequin” takes objectification to a whole new level and tests the limits of consent, as only a romantic comedy involving inanimate objects can. Let’s blame this one on…creative desperation.


“Flashdance” (1983)

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

“Flashdance” mixed leg warmers and dreams of dancing stardom with a side of exotic dancing. At the same time, it tried to avoid issues around feminism and exploitation. It’s a high-kicking spectacle that makes us question if empowerment can really come from a leap in a leotard. But hey, at least the soundtrack still slaps!


“Weird Science” (1985)

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

In an era when computers were the size of small cars, two teens manage to create the ideal woman. Yes, really! The ’80s were a time when science fiction met puberty with questionable results. Today, this digital dream girl tale reads more like a warning about AI and the ethics of virtual relationships. Who needs magic when you have dating apps?


“Joysticks” (1983)

Photo Credit: Citadel Films.

“Joysticks” is set in an arcade where the biggest game of all is avoiding good manners. The film plays fast and loose with teen culture and sexual innuendo, all under the neon glow of Pac-Man and Space Invaders. However, it turns out even some people at the time didn’t like it, as it only has 29% on Rotten Tomatoes!


“Hot Dog…The Movie” (1984)

Photo Credit: MGM.

On the ski slopes of the ’80s, Mike Marvin decided to write “Hot Dog…The Movie.” Strangely enough, it was actually a fairly decent blend of snow, skin, and juvenile humor. The film skids on the icy edge of decency and doesn’t always do a good job. Still, as the New York Times said, it was “light and less moronic than it might have been.”


“Risky Business” (1983)

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

The film that taught us sometimes you’ve just got to say what the heck and take the risk. Unfortunately, in this movie, that meant turning your parents’ house into a brothel. Instead of “coming of age,” this movie is more “coming of legal age.” Tom Cruise sliding into the living room in socks and sunglasses remains iconic, but the rest of the movie…not so great.


“Night Shift” (1982)

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Who knew the morgue could be such a lively place? “Night Shift” turns the idea of a side hustle on its head, with two morgue workers starting a brothel, because, why not? It’s a dark comedy that plays fast and loose with the concept of workplace ethics and the sex industry. You’ll be left wondering what the real meaning of “working the graveyard shift” is.


“Spies Like Us” (1985) 

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

In this film, the brink of nuclear war is just the setting for a bunch of laughs. Sounds pretty insensitive, right? The idea of making light of such a high-stakes international situation might not sit well in today’s global political climate. The charm of “Spies Like Us” lies in its ability to make peace seem like a punchline, but it’d be a hard sell in a modern world.


“Overboard” (1987)

Photo Credit: MGM.

The story of a wealthy woman getting amnesia and then being tricked into believing she’s the wife of a working-class man and mother to his unruly kids is as complicated as it sounds. “Overboard” spins this confusion into a romantic comedy! However, the underlying themes of deception and the play on gender roles and social class wouldn’t really work today.


“Hiding Out” (1987) 

Photo Credit:De Laurentiis Entertainment Group.

This comedy flips the script on age dynamics by having a stockbroker, Andrew, hiding from the mob, disguise himself as a high school student. The romantic subplot involving a much younger student, Ryan, is pretty icky, even by 80s standards. And the ending, where he becomes Ryan’s teacher? Yuck!

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William Tyler

Writer & Blogger

William Tyler is a prolific movie writer hailing from the vibrant state of Florida. Growing up amidst the lush landscapes and diverse communities of the Sunshine State, Tyler developed a deep appreciation for storytelling from an early age. With a knack for crafting captivating narratives and memorable characters, Tyler’s screenplays captivate audiences with their blend of heart, humor, and insight. Drawing inspiration from the unique experiences and colorful personalities he encountered in Florida, his work reflects a deep connection to the region’s culture and identity.

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