Most Disney-Pixar flicks have some sort of underlying message.
WALLēE gave us a few, like "Get up and do something" and "Corporate culture shouldn't tell you how to live your life". The director claimed the Green Aesop was an Accidental Aesop since it was just required to create the setting.
While being a kickass action-comedy, The Incredibles has some major messages on both the strength of family and the individual vs. a homogenizing society.
Most parents and children are probably glad that Monsters, Inc. dropped the anvil that there's no need to be afraid of your closet.
A Bug's Life drops anvils about brainstorming, teamwork, questioning whether The Government is really looking out for your well-being in return for something or actually has you in the crosshairs of some evil scheme, and the price you eventually pay for oppressing a population.
There are two important messages in Up, which both tie into one another.
The first is "don't ignore what's really important by clinging to your regrets", which Carl learns when he realizes that his house and the associated memories doesn't matter as much as the people in his life right now.
The second is that "life is unfair, but you can't let that ruin your chances at being happy". Carl never took Ellie to Paradise Falls, Russell never sees his dad again, and Muntz had his reputation destroyed. It's sad, but it's not the end of the world. Carl and Russell instead move on with their lives and find happiness regardless, while Muntz becomes corrupted by his own bitterness.
Brave says that being stubborn and not trying to understand the viewpoint of someone you disagree with will cause problems, especially because their reasons might be deeper than you think. The whole plot of the movie began because neither Merida nor Elinor tried to understand what the other wanted; Elinor kept trying to force Merida to do what she wanted while Merida continued to defy what she was told. It's only by compromising that they were able to come together.
It is also very explicit in its condemnation of nuclear weapons, and of paranoia and xenophobia in general.
Tangled makes no secret of its moral about dreams, but damned if it doesn't do it beautifully anyway. Better, it actually teaches that people go through life with more than one dream, as opposed to the idea that people are defined by one thing. Or, as Flynn puts it, "That's the great thing about dreams. Once you've found one, you get a new one."
The Princess and the Frog. Work hard to achieve your goals, and don't go for the quick "too good to be true" route. At the same time though, it's important to not neglect things like friendship or love.
The Lion King: "Ah yes, the past can hurt, but the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it."
The 1988 animated English film When the Wind Blows, (based on the comic book of the same name by Raymond Briggs, which is similarly effective) about a retired couple living in the country, who survive a nuclear attack. They do everything they've been told to (largely the equivalent of tarps and duct tape) while waiting for someone in authority to come to their aid while they slowly die.
Ferngully for its antipollution message and the one of animal testing that's in the uncut "Batty Rap" song. The way the music and Robin Wiliam's narration go, its pretty damn creepy. And all true.
ParaNorman has "If you treat people like freaks, they'll turn into freaks later in life" with characters like Uncle Pendergast and the witch's ghost.
Also, "you shouldn't scapegoat people because what they do scares you", and "don't let fear change who you are".
Hurting the people who wronged you turns you into something just as bad, if not worse.
Frozen tells us that you shouldn't immediately fall in love with someone, for he might not be the way you hoped.
The Invisible War by Kirby Dick pulls no punches in showing how the United States military ignores rape and sexual assault in its ranks, even going so far as to blame the rapes on the victims.
The Back to the Future Trilogy has one that sneaks in hard with the sequels, beginning with Part II:
Your destiny is never set in stone. You can shape it to turn out however you want it to be. Just look how 2015!Biff bringing the sports almanac back to 1955!Biff sets off a chain reaction that rewrites Lone Pine Mall!1985 into a nightmarish alternate universe that would make Mordor green with envy.
For a good example in the first movie, Marty helping his father develop a backbone means his parents have a more loving relationship in the future and his father publishes the stories he previously thought wouldn't be good.
Parts 2 and 3 makes sure to let the viewers know that pride can get the best of you. As long as you're comfortable with yourself, it shouldn't matter what anyone else thinks.
There's a subclass of documentary films that aim for this.
The Social Network: While you may have good intentions in starting a business, bad decisions made will ultimately affect personal relationships.
Requiem for a Dream: Drugs Are Bad. What really makes the movie work is that the consequences all of the characters face are all part of a logical chain of events, and that while they're horrible, they're actually pretty realistic. It helps that you just feel so bad for the characters, too.
And on a similar note, A Scanner Darkly fits that mold as well, best exemplified in the afterword just before the credits. From the book:
Philip K. Dick: This has been a novel about some people who were punished entirely too much for what they did. They wanted to have a good time, but they were like children playing in the street; they could see one after another of them being killed - run over, maimed, destroyed - but they continued to play anyhow. We really all were very happy for a while, sitting around not toiling but just bullshitting and playing, but it was for such a terrible brief time, and then the punishment was beyond belief: even when we could see it, we could not believe it...
This was then followed by a list of names and ailments - all of whom were friends (or himself) paired with illnesses they'd developed as a result of their previous drug abuse.
Joyeux NoŽl has a well-aimed anvil about the humanity of all sides of a war. While it couldn't be called subtle, it manages to be ethically complex and very inspiring. The fact that many of the aspects of the film that might otherwise seem unreal are based on true events from World War I makes it all the more amazing.
Blood Diamond emphasizes that even people who've engaged in evil have the potential to consciously choose good and redeem themselves. This is shown in the film through a real-life home for former child soldiers which, through kind treatment, gives them a chance at a normal life.
Brokeback Mountain emphasizes that gay people are just as capable of romantic love as any straight person, and for depicting the very real pain caused by the closet — not just Jack and Ennis, but everyone around them, are made miserable and complicit in the lie that the two are forced to live.
Many films made during World War II, with Casablanca being a good example of a work which is explicitly patriotic yet never stops being entertaining.
The Dark Knight's story was mostly taken from the famed comic "The Killing Joke," where the Joker wants to prove that anyone can have a bad day and turn into someone like him. The comic rides on the aesop that personal choice and free will is an individual trait, that everyone will not do the same thing in the same situation.
It even adds that while one person can become a symbol, whenever you try to force moral change, people will fight you. For Batman, the mobs resisted his war against them. For the Joker, civilians and criminals alike refused to play by his "social experiment."
Also, you don't bow to fear. Every time Gotham goes along with the Joker's demands, something terrible happens. Every time they resist him, the outcome is a good one.
There's nothing at all subtle about the original The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). The entire film is an indictment against trigger-happy paranoia; at the conclusion, Klaatu delivers An Aesop in no uncertain terms. There's no irony or ambiguity, only sincere, earnest urgency — and it works.
It was also the first such work of fiction (an anti-Vietnam War work of fiction) that also showed that the soldiers going into 'nam were full human beings with full human emotions and human lives with families, loved ones, friends, etc. These were the boys next door who went into war to serve their country only to come back as broken, forgotten men. Given that the film was released less than ten years after protesters were calling servicement demonic baby killers, this was an admirable thing to accomplish (without losing sight of the "War Is Hell" message).
District 9 has plenty of messages about racism: Refugees and minorities deserve respect, racism is bad, the Apartheid is monstrous, and racist people are capable of finding enough humanity within themselves to find redemption (which is a rare anvil to drop, indeed, as some viewers treat bigotry as a Moral Event Horizon on its own and become angry when such characters redeem themselves).
Dr. Strangelove showed us that the "arms race" may as well be a bunch of sexually-frustrated men trying to outdo each other. And for that matter, the "missile gap" is about as silly as a "Doomsday Gap" or a "Mineshaft Gap."
The movie Fail-Safe is the serious version of Dr. Strangelove, and actually depicts the horror of a nuclear attack, as it has both Moscow and New York City getting blown-up.
Good Night, and Good Luck. portrays its villain as an unspeakably corrupt madman who will stop at nothing to ruin his enemies' lives. The villain is McCarthy himself, who's played by archive footage of himself. You can't argue with an anvil that falls out of a story that actually happened.
Secondhand Lions takes time out for Robert Duvall to expressly give this monologue on the moral of the story:
Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love... true love never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn't matter if it's true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in.
Gojira derives a large part of its power from its explicit and not remotely subtle anti-nuclear-weapons message. While the giant dinosaur is something of a Space Whale Aesop, the sheer devastation wrought by the monster was intentionally evocative of the aftermath of a nuclear bomb, showing exactly what one does every time they let a weapon of mass destruction loose.
Godzilla VS Hedorah provides the very straightforward message that pollution is a huge danger to not only humans, but all life as well... And that we must all work together to stop it.
John Q. raises questions and messages about whether or not health care in the country is truly a service to help the sick or a business just out to make money. It lays it on thick, but it's something that needed (and still needs) to be pointed out.
The anti-war film Johnny Got His Gun is clear, blatant and obvious in its message from the very first scene. It could not possibly be improved, certainly not by anything remotely resembling subtlety.
The Day After showed in explicit detail what would happen to the survivors of a nuclear war between the US and the USSR. The message was impossible to miss: The catastrophic events you have witnessed are, in all likelihood, less severe than the destruction that would actually occur in the event of a full nuclear strike against the United States. And it worked! Soon after The Day After (and Threads, an equivalent film in England) was released, various nations started talking seriously about disarmament, instead of making more ridiculous plans to "win" a nuclear war. Ronald Reagan even sent the producers a note after the 1985 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty was signed, stating "You caused this to happen."
The mid-1960 BBC documentary The War Game did its job of warning about the horrors of nuclear war a bit too well - it was banned for twenty years because it was considered likely to panic the public. (The aforementioned Threads was inspired by The War Game and mimics its look and feel.)
The plot of the similarly-named WarGames is about how the only way to "win" a nuclear war is not to start it in the first place. It doesn't go so far as to have an actual war occur, but it gets fairly close, making it pretty effective. It doesn't get much more Anvilicious than having "The only winning move is not to play" right there in the script...
Hairspray (both versions) comes with An Aesop about racial tolerance and how anyone can achieve their dreams if they're plucky enough to Be Yourself that's so subtle-as-a-speeding-Mack-truck that it borders on parody. And yet, it comes off as refreshingly optimistic and upbeat and makes the show thoroughly enjoyable.
The Shawshank Redemption repeats the basic message — that hope is a really good thing — about a billion times over, but that doesn't stop it from being fantastically well done.
The Chinese film Wait 'til You're Older hammers home the point that life is a one-way journey and that people should value the time that they already have. This is achieved by having the protagonist take an aging potion as a fast track to adulthood, only to find out that his life span has been reduced to less than a week, and he has an overwhelming need to resolve his family problems before his time runs out.
The central message of It's a Wonderful Life is that You Are Not Alone. Expressed directly in the film by the inscription Clarence leaves for George: "Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends."
October Sky: Knowledge, especially education, plus determination and hard work, can enable you to accomplish any dream, no matter how far-fetched it may seem. Doesn't hurt that it's a true story, either.
Pollyanna and the scene about all the Happy Texts in the Bible. It might be Tastes Like Diabetes to some but in today's society where everyone is taught to Accentuate the Negative and be cynical because positivity is considered "immature", Pollyanna's line about how there are over 800 texts in the Bible telling mankind to be happy is a very telling lesson.
At its core, Serenity is an attack on do-gooding government social engineers. The first scene even has River stating that the Unification War which decimated the rim planets was the result of government meddling. Word of God says that the Independents were fighting for "the right to be wrong" — the right to have their own way of doing things.
River: People don't like being meddled with.
The point of Schindler's List is that the Holocaust was bad. This might hardly seem like a message that needs to be repeated, but it's a lot easier to compartmentalize it in an academic setting as opposed to seeing it played out in front of your eyes.
The Russians Are Coming is a very solid (and at times brutal) statement on war, and the difference between being a person and being a sheep. McCarthy-era panic just makes an extra-good backdrop to it. After twenty-plus years of "Russians are all soulless killer commies", it also was one of the first to drop the "no, they're just people like us" anvil.
While RENT tends to get called over-hyped or dated in its extremely optimistic point of view, it wouldn't have made such an impact if it wasn't about a group of broke and starving and (for half of them) HIV/AIDS-positive friends. In spite of everything going wrong, they still manage to have fun and hope for whatever's left of their future.
In fact, Chaplin stated had he known about the Holocaust, he'd have never made the film.
In Stand by Me, the major moral lessons are the importance of friendship and family and that you should believe in yourself and follow your dreams no matter what anyone else says.
Prayers for Bobby drops the anvil hard on homophobia. The fact that it's a true story makes it all the more powerful.
The Ox Bow Incident is one of the first serious Western films made, and it's anvilicious in a big way. But its anvil is a critical one, maybe even more now than when it was made. In a time when the words "vigilante" and "hero" are seen as synonyms, even while DNA testing gives us a hint of just how many people might be wrongly accused, The Ox-Bow Incident tells a simple, inevitable story that movies like Death Wish and The Brave One wouldn't dare get into: what happens when the righteously outraged vigilante heroes, claiming that the law's failed and trusting their own instincts instead, kill an innocent man?
Dogma says a lot that needs to be said about organized religion, and how it undermines the most important thing of all; that you have faith.
Fritz Lang's Metropolis says "The mediator between the head and the hands must be the heart" about a million times (more in the unabridged version), ending with a shot of Freder (the heart) joining the hands of Joh Frederson (the head) and Grot (the hands). And it's true.
An in-universe example occurs in Galaxy Quest — "Never give up! Never surrender!" — as well as the various anvils dropped by the movie itself. Lampshaded at various points by the Thermians.
With the Star Wars prequels, George Lucas wanted to show how easy it is for a noble democracy to turn into a brutal dictatorship. Also applies to any movie about the zeitgeist before an oppressive regime starts up.
The Virgin Spring: Faith can punish even good people. And do not think for even a second that "God" will protect you from misery or death. This kind of message is kids stuff today. In 1960 it was unprecedented.
The Wave is all about how one should never assume that fascism can "never happen here." It can, and very easily. The Nazis were able to get away with what they did because the people didn't see the warning signs and would rather give up their freedom than risk being cast out of society. The fact that it was based on an actual incident that happened at a California High School only intensifies this.
M gives us two: It's important that you watch your children and don't let them talk to strangers, and that, quoting the lawyer, "No one has the right to kill a man who is incapable of responsibility for his actions! Not even the state!"
Avatar manages to avoid the Science Is Bad pitfall usually associated with simple Green Aesop stories when it is science that can help the planet. The scientists in the film represent the best of humanity, who see the true value of Pandora in its forests that could be used to cure the sick Earth with various biomechanical means derived from the native plants, instead of hoarding the crude Unobtanium, the most obvious resource around. It's the Corrupt Corporate Executives who just want to make a big buck and jingoistic soldiers who seek to demonize and destroy the natives who are the actual villains of the story. The movie shows that science can be good or bad for humanity; it just depends on what kind of people use it.
Throughout the film of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lucy spends her time wishing she had Susan's beauty, and eventually has a dream that she has turned herself into Susan, only to find that she (Lucy) no longer exists and that Edmund and Peter no longer remember Narnia. After she wakes up in a panic, Aslan gently scolds her for her vanity, telling her that by wishing to be someone else, she is underestimating her own worth. Perhaps what makes it work is the dream itself - there's something chilling about finding out that your old self never exists and no one remembers it at all.
American History X. Racism is bad. End of story, and that's including racism by black people (and other minorities) against white people, not just the racism of white people (or whoever happens to be dominant) toward black people. If someone is a racist, he's racist, no matter which ethnic group he belongs to, and that's wrong.
Love Actually has "even if you really are attracted to someone, and that particular someone is really attracted to you, sometimes it's just not the right time for romance. Sometimes there are overarching issues that need to be sussed out." Sara was one of the few people in the story who did not get the guy. However, she chose to take care of her mentally ill brother rather than to be with her Love Interest, showing that family is more important than romance. Their final interaction seemed to imply that they really are still interested in one another, but are just putting things on hold.
Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you.
Inherit the Wind is necessary viewing for any who thinks themselves religious and is fearful of thinking for themselves. Such wisdom in the play/film, especially as spoken by Spencer Tracy in the 1960 film, can change your life and set your spirit free:
[challenged to say if he considers anything holy]Henry Drummond: Yes. The individual human mind. In a child's power to master the multiplication table, there is more sanctity than in all your shouted "amens" and "holy holies" and "hosannas." An idea is a greater monument than a cathedral. And the advance of man's knowledge is a greater miracle than all the sticks turned to snakes or the parting of the waters.
In Paris Je T Aime, a collection of short films about the city of Paris made by notable directors. The husband-and-wife team behind Bend It Like Beckham made a short about the relationship between the ethnic French and the growing Muslim community in Paris. A few teenage/college aged boys make fun of a hijabi and try pulling off her headscarf. One of the boys with them lingers to apologize. She's beautiful and intelligent, and they hit it off. He tentatively asks her about her hijab and she explains that it was her choice, it's a reminder of her faith and it makes her feel good. At one point he vists at her house, and her scary male relative is there - oh no! But he's happy to meet the boy and invites him to go for a walk with them, all three together. The movie fades out as the older man makes small talk, full of pride, about the student project she's working on: stories about Paris, but about her own Paris ... Anvilicious? Yes. Sweet, touching, and a refreshingly honest look at the fears non-Muslims have built up around Muslims, as well as what you generally get if you bother to actually talk to a Muslimah? Definitely yes.
Gran Torino gives us more than a few. First, there's the lesson that killing someone isn't "cool", but a traumatic experience that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Second, fighting violence with violence is pointless.
Rambo (2008): Sometimes non-violence isn't the answer, and some people can only be dealt with with force.
A History of Violence has an anvil that's something of a Take That to the glorification of violence in popular media. Killing someone does not - and should not - automatically make you a hero, no matter how much they may have deserved it. Actions have consequences, and the consequences of violence are ugly and life-destroying.
The X-Men movies made a big deal out of the parallels between mutants and LGBT folks, especially in the second movie when Bobby "comes out" to his parents. It's ridiculous, but when you hear about or have experienced some of the stigma that many people go through these days, you can get why it's still an issue. Also, being gay would be a lot easier if you could shoot fireballs or something.
Captain America: The First Avenger gives us a wonderful anvil that tells us that true power doesn't come from attaining actual strength to strong-arm everyone around you, but it comes from within, and that those who are good people will always know the true value of power. Hence why Steve Rogers managed to be a better person than he was prior to the Super Serum, and why the Red Skull, a power-hungry maniac, turned out the way he did.
The Other Guys drops the anvil that unchecked corporate greed is a bad thing, and can destroy lives. In a Buddy Cop satire movie. But since it came out right after the credit crunch and the resulting economic crisis, the point seems to be that it's not ordinary people that caused the crisis, but rather predatory corporations.
In-universe, this is what John Doe believed he was doing in Se7en. Somerset at one points asks him why he decided to state his message to the world by killing people. Doe responds that if you want to tell someone something, it's not sufficient any more to tap them on the shoulder. You have to hit them over the head with a 2x4. "Then, you'll notice you have their strict attention."
The film adaptation of The Running Man may have been an escapist action flick starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, but it (in its own way) taught about the negative aspects of completely turning off your brain in favor of pure, violent escapism, how soul-destroying humanity's bloodlust can be, and the need to question the version of reality that TV presents. It also teaches about the value of tenacity and standing up for yourself.
The Breakfast Club is timeless because it teaches the value of viewing teenagers not as subhuman but as individuals worthy of at least a modicum of respect. It also teaches that behind the facades we all have that seem to separate us into neat little cliques, we are all, at heart, complex and complicated humans with the potential to be anything, both positive and negative.
Gil Buckman and his wife Karen learn not to deny the worst things that happen in their family after their oldest child starts having problems.
Gil's sister Helen seems like she's ready to crack after a rough divorce. It doesn't help that her son Garry became secretive and her daughter Julie decides to run off with her boyfriend Tod. But she eventually accepts the insanity.
Susan, Gil's other sister, who was childish and preferred to do things her way, learns that not everything revolves around her; and on the flip-side, her husband Nathan, who isn't really a bad person due to bringing up a 3-year-old girl with above-average intelligence, learns to ease up and let his wife do what she wants every now and then.
And Larry, the youngest Buckman and the Black Sheep, learns not to be a deadbeat after a talk from his father.
Pleasantville would like to remind you that, despite the world being an occasionally depressing place, it's still way better than trying to live in an idealized bubble where everything's perfect. Also, not everything is as idealistic in you may remember it to be from The Fifties: sometimes (indeed, usually) the Nostalgia Filter is exactly that - a filter that blocks out all the parts you'd prefer not to remember.
Kirk: Some people think the future means the end of history. Well, we haven't run out of history quite yet.
Star Trek Into Darkness: In his closing speech, Capt. Kirk says that no matter how intimidating or threatening our enemies may be, you do not give in to the same fear and hatred they live by.
The Wrath of Khan copy-pasta'd it's anvil from "Mody Dick" and countless other stories; the unyielding, blind pursuit of revenge will destroy you and the people around you. Repeated again in First Contact and Into Darkness.
Another anvil, getting old, losing youth and friends, and missed opportunities, don't mean life isn't still a great adventure worth having.
"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few"
As divisive a movie it is, Sucker Punch has "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything". Don't be just a bystander, an apathetic or too cynical person to do anything; Even if its Take a Third Option doing something is better than do nothing. Also relates to the old saying "Bad things happen when good people do nothing".
The David DeFalco film Chaos went with "the world can be heartless, and true evil can sometimes win". This led to a lot to a lot of arguments between DeFalco and the critics, most prominently Roger Ebert:
DeFalco: Mr. Ebert, how do you want 21st century evil to be portrayed in film and in the media? Tame and sanitized? Titillating and exploitive? Or do you want evil portrayed as it really is? 'Ugly, nihilistic and cruel', as you say our film does it?
Ebert: In a time of dismay and dread, is it admirable for filmmakers to depict pure evil? Have 9/11, suicide bombers, serial killers and kidnappings created a world in which the response of the artist must be nihilistic and hopeless? At the end of your film, after the other characters have been killed in sadistic and gruesome ways, the only survivor is the one who is evil incarnate, and we hear his cold laughter under a screen that has gone dark. Your answer, that the world is evil and therefore it is your responsibility to reflect it, is no answer at all, but a surrender.
Come and See: No matter how good intentions you may have had going into it, war will eat away your innocence and sanity to the point that your original intentions would be worthless and Florya, the main character, only comes off as sympathetic in the end by realizing that at one point even Hitler had been innocent.
Philadelphia was among the first films to say "Gay people and people with HIV or AIDS are no different from anyone else."
Natural Born Killers gives us the lesson that the media's fascination with violent crime and making the criminals whom commit them, national celebrities by the constant coverage, is a problem.
In Any Given Sunday, the audience is given the message about how dangerously cult like the sport American Football is; and how athletes suffer and kill themselves just to give the American people violent entertainment like the Gladiators in Rome. One scene between Coach Tony and Quarterback Willie Beaman, Lampshaded this when the film shows scenes of the famous chariot race in Ben Hur while the two are arguing, including the part where the stunt man got ran over and killed.
Traffic's overall point, is that the war on drugs is pointless, because there's too much political corruption and money involved to really win the war. In other words: Its too big to fail.
The Defiant Ones stars Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier as two convicts, handcuffed to each other, who escape a chain gang and are forced to rely on each other to survive. By the time they manage to break the cuffs, their antipathy toward each other has turned into mutual respect. The obvious anvil, and one very much in need of dropping in the late 50s when this film debuted, is that white and black people are pretty much stuck with each other so we'd better learn to get along if we want to survive.
"States of Grace" drops a hard anvil in the Christian Community, reiterating an often forgotten message about God's endless grace and the power to turn a life around after grave sin.
Godzilla especially the original Gojira, is basically all about the horrors fo nuclear weapons, where godzilla's original rampage in tokyo has eerily similar after effects of the real life atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.