Most Disney-Pixar flicks have some sort of underlying message.
WALL•E gave the viewers 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.
Also the more controversial "improving everyone's capabilities is evil because then the elite will be less elite by comparison".
Most parents and children are probably glad that Monsters, Inc. dropped the anvil that there's no need to be afraid of your closet.
In its prequel Monsters University showed that even though you failed College or University, it doesn't mean you're doomed to be a failure for the rest of your life, and you're never too old to get an education (as shown with Don Carlton).
Monsters University also points out that although you may have to surrender your lifelong dream, it doesn't mean surrendering your life-long interest, and there are other options to serve that interest. Even if it was a lower position, Mike becomes a Scare Assistant who is treated like an equal to his Scarer friend.
A Bug's Life drops anvils about brainstorming, teamwork, questioning authority, standing up for your beliefs, and the price of 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 don'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.
While it may suck at some points to be afraid, sad, etc., and the complications of other emotions can seemingly make like difficult, there's more to life than just being happy.
It's alright to cry and/or feel sad sometimes. There are many, many people who feel that you need to be happy all the time, and even some people who believe that if you aren't always happy then there's something wrong with you. Those are the people who need this anvil.
The Good Dinosaur: Like the message about sadness from Inside Out, it's okay to be scared. You can't live without fear, but you can overcome it.
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.
It also points out the very important (and very misguided) belief that hiding behind religion automatically makes you a "righteous" person; as shown through Frollo's character and his actions, there are still some concepts (like planning genocide and doing whatever you can to get what you want at the expense of others) that are completely unacceptable, evil, and will not be unpunished, no matter how devout you claim to be.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame also heavily challenges the Madonna–Whore Complex and the idea of seeing women as objects. Frollo's lust for Esmerelda and his refusal to see her as anything but a whore consumed him and was his ultimate undoing. Likewise Quasimodo put her on a pedestal and saw her only as a pure Madonna — all the while believing he 'deserved' to have her without getting to know her. It may seem painfully obvious to drop the idea that "Yes, a woman is a person and not an object", but it's still a point that a lot of people (audiences and writers alike) don't really understand.
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 fear can be a very harmful thing, and that love can bring out the best in you. Also, true love isn't limited to a romantic relationship.
Also, you shouldn't give your heart and trust to a total stranger. You might just be falling into somebody's trap.
Also that it's justifiable to worry about your kids but overprotecting them and teaching them to be timid and fearful is just as bad. Pretty important message nowadays.
Batman: Under the Red Hood says that killing is always wrong, no matter how logically you try to explain it or how justified you think it is. Doesn't make the person it gets dropped on any less of a Woobie though.
Superman vs. the Elite seemingly hand-waved this ideal within the first half of the film, but later on when Superman pretends to adopt this take-no-prisoners approach, everyone's initial reaction was "This isn't right". The true anvil was that society does not always know what's best for it and that they need guidance, not the threat of punishment to progress.
The LEGO Movie tells us that all of us can be special, every single person, no matter how ordinary, has the capacity to create awesome things, and that trying to control everything will only stifle the creativity. And EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!.
Plus: Even when you're a special, individual person with the capacity to create amazing things, sometimes the best way to succeed is to follow a centrally-developed plan as a team.
How to Train Your Dragon teaches us that violence and blind hatred are never right, parents don't always know what's best for their kids, and just because something is popular or a tradition doesn't mean that it is right.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 teaches a rather Family-Unfriendly Aesop that's still important. Some men cannot be reasoned with or convinced to change their ways. Hiccup's attempts to make peace with Drago only made things worse, costing him his father and nearly destroying his friendship with Toothless.
Stoick: A man who kills without reason cannot be reasoned with.
On the other hand, Eret'sHeel–Face Turn shows that this isn't true of everyone.
Pocahontas - in a war, both sides are still people. Neither side is completely good nor completely bad. And in a war, innocent people are going to be hurt no matter how 'justified' people believe their reasons for fighting are.
Pocahontas: Look around you! This is where the path of hatred has brought us!
Also it's important to try. Doing nothing in a bad situation will only make things worse. Attempting to do something at least has a chance of helping. And don't let setbacks stop you from continuing to try. Pocahontas's first attempt to do something backfired horribly - but she succeeded on her second attempt.
Sometimes when you face a seemingly insurmountable problem, all you need to do is look at it a different way to find a solution.
As long as you remember them, your loved ones are never really gone.
Don't shut people out when you're hurting. Your friends and family can and will give you a reason to move on and the strength to do it. Effectively demonstrated by Hiro and his Foil Yokai; Hiro allows his brother's friends, Baymax and his aunt to love and guide him through the loss of his brother while Yokai operates alone. Hiro comes out of his grieving a hero while Yokai loses everything.
Don't give into Revenge or it could end up hurting yourself and others.
It would seem that the aesop of Django Unchained — slavery was bad — should go without saying. But it's the sheer crushing weight of the anvil that makes it work so well. Besides using actual tortures from the Antebelmlum South, the film shows just why so many people were fighting to keep slavery around, and just how monstrous it made everyone involved.
While Unfriended uses the Space Whale Aesop of "don't be a Troll or else the people you had Driven to Suicide will kill you through a Skype call'', it does send a very real message about how acting like a jerk online and trolling people can have real-world consequences. Notably, none of the teen protagonists care that they played a part in driving a girl to kill herself until it starts coming back to bite them. The film also says that trolling the Alpha Bitch of the school is no more justified than doing it to a social outcast.
The 2002 Academy Award-winning musical Chicago drops plenty of anvils on the American media's glorification of criminals, especially at the finale. Not only does the media elevate Velma and Roxie to celebrity status, they completely ignore innocent (albeit dimwitted) people like Amos. Not so subtly put, the message is that media inevitably glorifies criminals, leaving the innocent in the dust. Matron Mama Morton not-so-subtly Lampshades this fact— "In this town, murder is a form of entertainment."
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 II and III 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 Noël 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.
The Dark Knight Rises was all about how strength of character is not derived from the inability to feel negative emotions like fear or pain, but from the ability to march on despite these feelings.
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." It also shows that once a nuclear war starts, there is no way to stop it.
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/atomic-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 or the aftermath of Hiroshima, 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.
Another is that the actions and kindness of individuals do matter. This is shown most clearly in the quote "he who saves one man saves the world entire" and at the end where the Jews that Schindler saved visit his grave along with their thousands of descendants.
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.
The Star Wars prequels show how easy it is for a benevolent government to turn into a tyrannical 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 IV (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.
The Aesop becomes a bit broken when you remember that all the mutants involved in that scene are basically walking superweapons...what with the ability to turn tiny flames into huge explosive fireballs, spontaneously subtract heat to the point of freezing anything, near total invulnerability coupled with unbreakable knives and super tracking skills, and the ability to take all of their powers for her own use
If the Aesop holds, though, you wind up being told that the 'good guys' are the ones who bend for the sake of society and seek peaceful coexistence, while the 'bad guys' are the ones who insist that society change to accommodate you, and are certain of their own moral superiority on the issue. Also, government registration of your situation is to be resisted at all costs.
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."
And the film's final words:
Somerset: Ernest Hemingway once wrote, "The world is a fine place and worth fighting for." I agree with the second part.
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. As well as to not believe everything you see on TV.
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.
Susan and Nathan's marriage could also be viewed as an anvil on the necessity of change in a relationship. Susan admits that she was somewhat wild when she was younger, and liked the idea of Nathan "reining her in"; similarly, Nathan is obsessed with making their daughter into a child prodigy, and refuses to let her interact with other children or attend school for fear of affecting her mental development. But now that they're older, their situation is changing, to the point where, when Nathan tries to keep things exactly as they are and control his wife, she nearly leaves him. Ultimately the two make up, but only after realizing that they both have to make sacrifices and change to keep their relationship healthy.
And Larry, the youngest Buckman and the Black Sheep, learns not to be a deadbeat after a talk from his father.
Sadly, this anvil isn't entirely true—but it does point out a few other anvils that's just as important. Larry incurs huge gambling debts, and the collectors threaten to kill him if he doesn't come up with the money. His father debates whether or not he should bail him out (as he's done all his life), and delivers an amazing monologue about how, even though his children are fully grown and have their own lives, he still worries about them constantly and wants to help them however he can; as he puts it, "Larry's thirty-four, and he's still my son." He ultimately decides to help Larry, on the condition that he go to Gamblers Anonymous and come to work in the family business. But rather than do this, Larry instead decides to travel to South America for yet another get-rich-quick scheme. This leads to the following sad, but powerful message: sometimes, despite your best intentions, people don't change, and refuse to take responsibility for their actions. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try, but you shouldn't expect everything to have a happy ending, either.
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. [...] People can be very frightened of change.
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.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan copy-pasted its anvil from "Moby-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"
And, "sometimes the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many." But then True Companions is one of the founding principle of the franchise.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home manages to play the trope straight and subvert it at the same time. The entire film is a sci-fi jaunt, and there is no real "Save the whales!" handwringing. No, it only needs 2 minutes to hit audiences with the message hard and unforgettably, by showing Real Life whale hunting, with bodies being carved up graphically, leading to this potent exchange between Spock and Gillian before returning to the sci-fi adventure.
Spock: To hunt a species to extinction is illogical.
Gillian:(Death Glare) Who said the human species was logical?
Matilda tells us that children are smarter than we give them credit for and we must appreciate them more and that if you continue to oppress everyone below you, they will strike back hard.
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".
Likewise even if you think you've hit rock bottom and lost everything, you can still help someone else. And help yourself in the process.
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 of nuclear weapons, where Godzilla's original rampage in Tokyo has eerily similar after effects of the real life atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The purpose of Downfall, according to the director, is to make the Nazis feel human and not just monsters one can dismiss as nothing like oneself.
The documentary Reel Bad Arabs is an in-depth look at the stereotyping of Arabs and other Middle Eastern peoples, dropping a massive anvil about all the Unfortunate Implications coming from it, and how harmful the stereotyping actually is.
The children's direct-to-video film Wee Sing in Sillyville drops a few powerful anvils about racism. The basic premise: two children are brought from the "real world" into Sillyville, a world in a coloring book. There, they discover that the population, which is divided into different groups based on what color they wear, have all stopped interacting because they don't look similar to one another. To further hide the message, those groups are made up of people of different races and ethnicities. The two children point out that you shouldn't do everything the crowd is doing just because it's popular, and that without different colors, Sillyville wouldn't even exist. It's also praiseworthy for noting that the different members of the groups, though "colorist," aren't nasty or cruel in any way—they're genuinely nice people who love to have fun and sing. In a genre where villains are often pure evil, it's nice to see more nuanced portrayals of the way racism works in the real world.
Gettysburg: The people on both sides of the American Civil War were human beings, and every person who died at The Battle of Gettysburg was an American.
Jurassic Park basically screams "DON'T PLAY GOD, ESPECIALLY WITH MOTHER NATURE". Interestingly, the film doesn't seem to present the "science is bad" approach, either.
Mean Girls: Saying hurtful things about others, directly or indirectly, is extremely painful to everyone.
Cady: Calling somebody else fat won't make you any skinnier. Calling someone stupid doesn't make you any smarter. And ruining Regina George's life definitely didn't make me any happier. All you can do in life is try to solve the problem in front of you.
The Spider-Man Trilogy has one for every film, all of which tie in with the maxim "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility":
Spider-Man: The film goes to extreme lengths to remind the audience that Spider-Man's heroics are not done for the thrill of it. Too often innocent people get caught in the crossfire and the possibility of death is very high.
Spider-Man 2: At some point, you will have to make a difficult decision and too often you'll find yourself choosing the less romantic one. But if you're prepared to carry the burden that no-one else will, you can Earn Your Happy Ending.
Spider-Man 3: Once you get with someone you love, you have to keep working to maintain the relationship and always take the time to listen to their issues. If you get complacent, you risk neglecting their needs and losing them. Peter's relationship with Mary Jane was jeopardised even before being corrupted by the symbiote because he'd grown so cocky that he'd started taking her for granted and automatically assumed she'd say yes the moment he'd proposed to her.
The Babadook: Not every bad thing in this world can be beaten or avoided. Sometimes you just have to accept the worst and learn to be happy in spite of it.
Also, while bereavement and grief are real (and may never go away completely), failure to deal with those feelings can and will hurt you and those around you far more than accepting them. Pretending that those feelings aren't real (or at least aren't dangerous) only makes them fester.
Frank put celebrity culture in a less glamorous perspective. Too often the ones we consider to be creative geniuses are often just lucky outcasts incapable of conforming to social standards. How many actors do you know have autism or dyslexia? How many comedians do you know suffer from depression?
Men Dont Tell: Domestic abusers aren't Always Male, and assuming so can have disastrous consequences, not only for the men involved, but also for the kids who could be left in the care of the abusive party (in fact, the abusive wife in the movie did hit her daughter at one point, which lead to the previously Henpecked Husband to actually try to restrain her, a chain of event that lead to the wife going through a window head first and the husband spending the night in police custody until their daughter testifies). In fact, more and more studies show much gender symmetry in Domestic Abuse perpetration.
Noah shows that snakes are certainly welcome in the ark, even though the fall of humankind had been blamed on the adversary disguised as a snake. Why? Because snakes—like all creatures—have their place and purpose in nature.
The climactic courtroom speech in Big Daddy: Fathers need to be there for their sons. Not as big brothers or babysitters or best pals, but as fathers. It's a pretty trite lesson - and one that sounds more than a little odd coming from Adam Sandler's mouth - but it packs a punch in-universe as well as out because it's a lesson Sonny Koufax himself needs to learn, and has resisted learning for over half his life. And on that note, Big Daddy is proof both that it's never too late to grow up and that sometimes honest reflection will help to change one's behavior in ways that all the scolding in the world won't do.
In his only scene in the whole film, the motivational expert in Glengarry Glen Ross makes a speech about what he expects from his employees: To close the deal! His whole point is that nobody gives a shit how nice you are, they care about what they can get from you.
The more important message David Mamet wanted to get across is that this sort of ruthlessness is often necessary in one's professional life, but it's a pretty terrible way to live the rest of it; both Word of God and the way the salesmen turn on and backstab each other in pursuit of business support this. The large Misaimed Fandom around Baldwin's character shows what can happen when you don't drop a big enough anvil.
The 1961 British film Victim, one of the earliest films with an explicit Gay Aesop, argued for the decriminalization of homosexuality. Though some modern critics attack it as strident and preachy, it helped swing British public opinion against the Criminal Offences Act, which was repealed six years later. Further, many gay viewers who saw Victim (including Vito Russo of The Celluloid Closet) embraced it for having a gay protagonist who's both heroic and lives through the movie.
Iron Man 3 touched numerous themes related to terrorism, including the Culture of Fear. In the words of director Shane Black: "What was of use about the Mandarin's portrayal in this movie, to me, is that it offers up a way that you can sort of show how people are complicit in being frightened."
The Purge: Anarchy is fairly relentless with its message of "The rich profit off the poor with the help of the government", but in a slightly more nuanced way (especially more so than the first film); given events in recent history like the '08 economic crash and the resulting Great Recession, as well as the bailout of the major banking institutions rather than holding their executives responsible for poor practices, there is great resentment in America about the abuses of power the rich can get away with due to their wealth and influence on the government. However, the symbolism and theme of the movie is less "anvil to the skull" and more "crowbar to the kneecap"; it has the same sort of force but instead of a general "rich people are bad" message that can easily be digested, it focuses down to a more precise "the rich profit off of the infighting of the poor while the government ostensibly there to help and protect everyone equally is actually far more vested in the interests of the elite than the destitute" that points out more nuanced and core faults in America's current economic and political systems that are harder to ignore.
Super Size Me: Fast food is very bad for you, and the companies that sell it are only concerned about the bottom line. While that would be obvious to most people, the collapse of Spurlock's health over 30 days makes it even clearer.