Every story in existence features some degree of hardship, at least if it’s even slightly worth telling. However, some films highlight some unique struggles and are great representations of unique problems. This list examines hardship from a variety of angles, whether it’s being misfits, people turning on each other during a strange and terrifying threat, or living with someone whose personality is a bit too different (a more subtle problem, but a problem nonetheless).
Hardship #1: Prejudice/Being a Misfit in ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ (1964 TV Movie)
Larry Roemer’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer may be a perennial holiday classic, but much of it could be mistaken for a Santa Claus fever dream, perhaps after St. Nick’s had some hallucinogen-laced cookies and milk. Still, the main characters do get through it all, thanks to “misfit” elf Hermey (Paul Soles) being able to bond with Rudolph (Billie Mae Richards).
The drama kicks off when Rudolph is mocked and shunned by most of his reindeer pack, all for looking a bit different. Unfortunately, Donner (Paul Kligman), who is Rudolph’s own father, goes on his own bigoted rant against his son, so it’s scarcely better than young Rudolph falling victim to a pack of feral reindeer. In fact, even Santa Claus himself (Stan Francis) gets in on the act, “othering” the shiny-nosed one as unfit to join the Flying Reindeer Brigade (or Elite Squadron, or whatever they call themselves).
Rather than kicking it with the California Raisins or finding stumbling into an internship with Poppin’ Fresh, Rudolph and Hermey end up braving the elements, and facing Bumble the abominable snowman (Bernard Cowan)! Fortunately, they do meet Yukon Cornelius (Larry Mann) who offers some protection, and the duo also makes it to the Island of Misfit Toys (which is a bit like King Moonracer’s Rehabilitation Center).
A few other things actually work out, too. Rudolph has hopes of a new, happy life with Clarice (Janis Orenstein), sort of a rogue female reindeer capable of independent thought, and also a basketball-playing condor named Jazz (okay, so that character never happens, but it would have been interesting).
Obviously, Hermey and Rudolph needed to be as wily as birds to dodge some of these troubles, and Rudolph all but takes over Santa’s workshop by the end of the story, being of paramount importance in making Christmas even happen. Yes, without Rudolph’s guiding light, the Christmas miracles stop. Undeterred by the prejudice and banality of others, Rudolph had the courage to persevere on an independent quest, return twice as strong to face those who shunned him, and enlighten that ignorant herd to make them see the light.
Hardship #2: Turning On Each Other in ‘Night of the Living Dead’ (1968)
George A. Romero’s classic horror flick is all about mostly unrelated characters attempting to find refuge from zombies (or “ghouls”) at a farmhouse. They all start off as potential allies but circumstances end up jeopardizing everything.
It starts with brother and sister Johnny (Russell Streiner) and Barbra (Judith O’Dea) visiting their father’s gravesite and getting attacked by a zombie (Bill Hinzman). Johnny doesn’t make it. Barbra, meanwhile, rather narrowly escapes and stumbles into the hiding place of Ben (Duane Jones), the Cooper family — Harry (Karl Hardman), Helen (Marilyn Eastman), and their bitten daughter, Karen (Kyra Schon) — and idealistic couple Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ridley).
The drama isn’t because these people are particularly dangerous (none are part of a Satanic religious cult or anything). No, it’s due to the freakish circumstances of being crowded in by an undead horde. Romero himself compared the scenario to the new literally devouring the old.
In some ways, perhaps Romero and crew were attempting to show youth and vitality versus age and tradition, as you have Ben and the others possibly representing new ideas and people, whereas Harry seems to represent some older man and his wife literally sealing themselves in down in a basement. Though Harry imagines they’ll be safer down there, Ben is smart enough to know that the basement only represents the illusion of safety. Unfortunately, both Ben and Harry end up making so much noise that the looming threat is able to locate and threaten them both equally.
Night of the Living Dead is one of the all-time classic examples of the trope of people turning on each other while under threat. The picture is also responsible for making Pennsylvania one of the premier locations in zombie history. We remember this film and those who died tragically due to their disagreements. Maybe Barbra and the rest should have just stayed upstairs and remained quiet, you know?
Hardship #3: Personality Clash in ‘The Odd Couple’ (1968)
Gene Saks’ The Odd Couple is brilliantly written by Neil Simon, and it’s all about the strain of living with someone of a different personality. Feeling suicidally depressed after his wife calls off their marriage, Felix Unger (Jack Lemmon) ends up staying with his buddy Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau) for the time being. However, rather than being able to sit down to play poker with the boys, Felix’s neat-freak ways end up getting under Oscar’s skin. Of course, Oscar ends up accused of being a slob, and the simple premise risks spiraling out of control and possibly jeopardizing Felix’s very life.
The Odd Couple proves that not every tough circumstance must involve hostile, invading forces or clear enemies, and sometimes the conflict must take place in the living room. Both characters end up compelled to reevaluate their lives and their behavior, and shades of being right or wrong, which can certainly be a tough pill to swallow.
Also, even though Oscar may be seen as a tough-as-nails character, The Odd Couple reminds us that, in a sense, the more sensitive among us are tough in their own ways, as they are more likely to face emotions that the less-sensitive simply lack. Oh, and The Odd Couple is also still a funny movie, rather than just being an old drama. Go ahead and watch it for that reason, too!
Hardship #4: Not Following the Rules While a Guest in ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’ (1971)
One nightmarish scenario after another unfolds in Mel Stuart’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Based on the story by Roald Dahl, some people remember this as almost a scary movie as much as a family classic. The story centers on Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum), who lives in stark poverty with his widowed mother (Diana Sowle) and a bunch of grandparents — chief among them being Charlie’s Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson).
Charlie is a good kid who dreams of going on a chocolate factory tour and meeting Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder), the candy-maker to end all candy-makers. However, after Charlie and Joe enter the factory, it seems like a freakish hellscape of epic proportions. It’s a reminder that, yes, it can be fascinating to see something up close, but a magnifying glass that focuses on something too closely can expose its flaws, and you’ll never see it the same way again (or something like that). When the door is opened, you step inside, but do you truly come out the same again?
Although this story kind of/sort of redeems Mr. Wonka by the end, its contents might prove him worthy of a padded white room where his primary visitors might be the voices in his head, perhaps singing those weird-ass Oompa-Loompa songs. It really is a nutty story, although that is part of the game. Long story short: Follow the rules when you’re a guest, never go on a Willy Wonka boat ride, don’t drink the chocolate water, and do not make eye contact with the Oompa-Loompas!
Hardship #5: Trying to Overcome One’s Family Legacy in ‘Young Frankenstein’ (1974)
In Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, Gene Wilder stars as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, who doesn’t want to listen to anything about his family or ancestors — especially his grandfather Victor Frankenstein, who worked diligently at re-animating the dead. However, as the story goes along and the Doctor meets a series of quirky characters lurking around the Frankenstein estate, he can’t seem to help himself but to retool his grandfather’s research and reinvigorate that cursed legacy.
Unbeknownst to Dr. Frankenstein, however, a mad scientist with a maligned surname does not always have disastrous results. Though madness may have inspired his new career choice initially, the odd characters surrounding him become practically like a family. Yes, there is some hardship, and there are some violent threats scattered throughout this saga, but somehow things seem to work out. After a falling-out with Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn), she ends up with a more refined Monster (Peter Boyle), and Dr. Frankenstein ends up with Inga (Teri Garr). So is it necessarily deadly to be a fiancee of Dr. Frankenstein? Apparently not, but you probably wouldn’t care to be a patient.
Hardship #6: Having a Legendary Quest that Doesn’t Pan Out in ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ (1975)
In Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones’ Monty Python and the Holy Grail, we’re reminded that it’s actually not always easy being King. Created by the team behind the BBC television series Monty Python’s Flying Circus, this classic comedy highlights the long and twisted journey of King Arthur (Graham Chapman), on his way to find the legendary Holy Grail. Along the way, Arthur and his traveling companions are challenged by many obstacles and outright perils. These include the Black Knight (John Cleese), the potentially contagious Black Death, obnoxious French soldiers, the dreaded Knights Who Say “Ni!,” an easily-distracted Three-Headed Knight, the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog, a quizzical bridgekeeper (Gilliam), and a seemingly unnamed cave monster.
It may just be possible to overdose on adventure and peril! In any case, the 2011 ABC special, Best in Film: The Greatest Movies of Our Time ranked Monty Python and the Holy Grail the second-best comedy film of all time. The film addresses a lot of serious questions, such as “How many knights can one movie have?” Though Monty Python and the Holy Grail does have a future cinematic volume II of sorts on the way, based on the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, Spamalot, prominently created by Eric Idle. Whereas perhaps only one-third of the original film is dedicated to musical numbers, one expects this new film will place more emphasis on singing and dancing, and perhaps expand on themes not conveyed in the 1975 film or stage production.
Hardship #7: Fighting an Entire Empire in ‘Star Wars’ (1977)
George Lucas establishes the threat of the “dark side” in the first installment of the original Star Wars trilogy, and, even if it’s not one’s favorite “Star Wars film, it definitely got the massive franchise started. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), the initially-kidnapped Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and the rest quickly became household names, and so did the dreaded Darth
Vader (David Prowse/James Earl Jones).
The story centers around a rebellion effort against the Galactic Empire and the Death Star space station, with a schematic that realizes the station’s vulnerabilities, in what seems like a desperate plan to destroy it. Of course, the Death Star’s own weapon system is a deadly threat against entire planets, so Star Wars‘ heroes need to coordinate in order to cripple the station and force its surrender. Failure of the plan will have catastrophic results.
Along the way of trying to save the universe, the action scenes and quirky characters (including droids and monsters) created an endless desire for more sequels for fans to binge. Sure, some always dismissed Star Wars as stuff for kids, but now childhood dreams never have to end. Still, for some of us, the first three Star Wars movies are good enough. That being said, Disney won’t let this universe go until the well has completely run dry, which may never happen, so expect Star Wars-related material to continue stretching out, almost like the vast outer reaches of space itself.
Hardship #8: Waiting Out a Problem with a False Sense of security in ‘Dawn of the Dead’ (1978)
In George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, four people escape the madness of human conflict during a zombie apocalypse by taking refuge in an abandoned shopping mall. Unfortunately, the mall is still populated by zombies, so they are always at risk of being trapped or eaten by the dangers inside and outside of the mall. At first, the group has the necessary skills to stabilize the situation, but it seems like another war is ready to break through the door at any moment.
In some ways, the characters represent crucial aspects of society itself. Two of the main characters, Stephen “Flyboy” Andrews (David Emge) and his partner, Francine Parker (Gaylen Ross), work for a TV station. The other two characters, police SWAT officer Roger DeMarco (Scott Reiniger) and fellow officer Peter Washington (Ken Foree) represent the more human component of law and order. As the film progresses, law and order and access to quality information diminish, and their apparent safe haven becomes less safe by the day, if not by the hour.
Hardship #9: Surviving Threats Coming From All Directions, Including One’s Own Kind, in ‘Watership Down’ (1978)
Based on the novel by Richard Adams and directed by Martin Rosen, Watership Down is a survival tale featuring a colony (or a “warren”) of rabbits. Like the rest of nature, they live in a large world and, though they have built their homes underground, must venture up for food and other necessities. Unfortunately, this puts them in peril as they face both man and beast, in addition to whatever natural threats exist from the weather itself.
In the story of Watership Down, we see the rabbits are not totally disarmed. Sure, they lack sharp teeth, but they do have speed and plenty of animal cunning. They’re not just cute little critters with pointed ears, bright eyes, and bushy tails. In fact, one who is practically the story’s main character, Fiver (Richard Briers), even has some apocalyptic visions, which means he is basically a psychic rabbit.
These rabbits are facing various hunters, including some who developed opposable thumbs over the millennia, and who have built deadly machines and weapons that rabbits don’t fully understand. We also see an antagonistic cat (Lynn Farleigh). However, the rabbit’s biggest threat may be hostile rabbits. Yes, and it’s no crazier than if deer hunted other deer.
Watership Down asks what would happen if competing rabbits tried to occupy the grassland, and war was declared. Would they keep on fighting ’til the brutal, bloody end? How would they defend themselves? Would conflict be ended after a long time, when a great compromise is reached, or would some hostile forces never learn? Watership Down also stars John Hurt, Michael Graham Cox, Simon Cadell, Harry Andrews, and Zero Mostel.
Hardship #10: Artistic Struggle, Kidnapping (or Pignapping), and Crazed Restauranteurs in ‘The Muppet Movie’ (1979)
James Frawley and Jim Henson’s The Muppet Movie is some fun stuff, but it’s also all about hardship. We really get to see how these Muppets have been through it. Sure, we get to see where Kermit the Frog (Jim Henson) came from and how he met Miss Piggy (Frank Oz), but we also get to see them almost break up, and how he misses her and his sense of security. However, it turns out that Missy Piggy is pignapped!
In addition to Miss Piggy’s momentary disappearance from his life, Kermit is being pursued by a maniacal restaurant owner named Doc Hopper (Charles Durning), who pursues Kermit’s tasty frog legs with a freakish zeal. There’s also a frog killer named Snake Walker (Scott Walker) hired against Kermit, as well as Professor Max Krassman (Mel Brooks), a mad scientist poised to commit bizarre experiments on Kermit and crew.
It’s not all about Kermit and Miss Piggy, though. The beloved Fozzie (Oz) and Gonzo (Dave Goelz) face some difficulty. Fozzie has become somewhat stifled by his quest for fame as a standup comedian, as no audience gives him the respect he deserves as a talented creative voice (or something like that). He has never decided to quit the act and try his hand at a normal life, which is a decision he pays for by facing the vitriol of angry crowds. It’s a reminder that struggling artists must persevere if they want any chance at success. As for Gonzo, he’s just…well, Gonzo. The Muppet Movie may be fun, but it’s quite a journey to reach fame and make that “Rainbow Connection.”
What are your thoughts on these stories of hardship? Let us know in the comments!