Top 10 Films takes a look at some of film’s greatest embarrassingly cringeworthy moments from Travis Bickle’s ill-advised date to the X-Rated cinema in Taxi Driver to American Pie’s moment of…ahem…over-excitement…
To feel embarrassed for a character, or to feel bad for them or at least to feel their shame and their pain is a credit to many different facets of filmmaking. You need excellent writing for the actors, you need the actors to be able to sell it to us and you need the director to put it all together. When done right, you get scenes that make you squirm. We’ve all experienced some of these before and others, thankfully, we haven’t (I don’t think any of us have ever been on LV-426 and have tried to get a foreign entity through quarantine). Here are the top 10 most embarrassingly cringeworthy moments in film.
10. Taxi Driver (Scorsese, 1976)
Travis takes Betsy to a porn theater for a date
Travis Bickle, as played by Robert De Niro, is a loner. When he finally gets a date with the beautiful Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), he really has no experience with women, or with people for that matter. He ends up taking her to a porn house and she reluctantly goes in with him after he tells her that he sees a lot of couples at these films. She naturally leaves quickly and he follows her out, shocked that she doesn’t like these films. Right from the moment he goes to pay for the tickets and you see the XXX on the sign, you want to sink away in your chair. It’s painful to watch because you know the date is over even before it begins.
9. The 40 Year Old Virgin (Apatow, 2005)
Andy, as played by Steve Carell, is the virgin of the title. One night he is sitting around with his work cronies and the discussion turns to their sexual escapades. His buddies share stories of their experiences and then when it’s time for Andy to tell them about his, he starts into a painful recount of some sex freak that he apparently dated. It starts out a little awkward as he uses lines like ME SO HORNY and says screw instead of the R rated word. And then it gets to the point where you feel terrible for him as he describes the feel of a woman’s breasts as sandbags. You feel bad for him because he’s trying to fit in but he just can’t hide the fact that he has no idea what he’s actually talking about.
8. Can’t Buy Me Love (Rash, 1987)
Cindy tells the truth about her and Ronald
Can’t Buy Me Love is a fairly standard story about the jocks and the nerds. But it has a twist. Ronald, played by Patrick Dempsey, pays Cindy, the head cheerleader, played by the late Amanda Peterson, $1000.00, to pretend to date him. This, as he correctly predicts, will elevate him from nerd to icon. At a party one night, she gets really drunk and her college boyfriend comes back and he admonishes her for doing what she did. In a drunken rage she spills the beans about her arrangement with Ronald. You feel for the guy as he is in a room full of people who now not only hate him but are embarrassed that they were fooled. He feels like crawling into a hole and you feel like crawling in there with him.
7. Aliens (Cameron, 1986)
We waste Burke….no offense
This one is a bit different. This is list is made up of people that you like and root for, Burke from Aliens is the exception. But you can’t help just feeling tense and awkward when you watch the scene where he feebly tries to defend himself by telling Ripley and the marines that they are all paranoid when Ripley accuses him of isolating her and Newt so that he could get them impregnated. He would also have to essentially kill the rest of the marines in their sleep. All of this so he could make a pile of money. The selling point of this scene is the amazing work done by Sigourney Weaver, Bill Paxton (“you’re dead…you’re dog meat pal”) and of course the incredible Paul Reiser, who looks terrified beyond belief but has to at least try to tell his side of the story.
6. Sixteen Candles (Hughes, 1984)
Sam’s grandmother feels her breasts
In the film, Sam’s sister is getting married the same weekend that she has her 16th birthday. As is typical in a John Hughes film, the adults are clueless and they do everything to embarrass the hell out of Sam. When she runs into her grandma and grandpa, they fawn over her and her grandma comments that she has finally gotten her breasts. This makes Sam uncomfortable to begin with, but then her grandmother remarks how perky they are and how small they are, and then she proceeds to feel her up. Sam leaves, mortified and comments to herself, “I can’t believe my grandmother actually felt me up.”
5. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Heckerling, 1982)
Linda walks in on Brad masturbating
This is one of the most famous and imitated scenes in film history. When Brad, as played by Judge Reinhold, has visions of Linda (Phoebe Cates) getting out of the pool, exposing her breasts and making out with him, he begins to masturbate in the bathroom. But then Linda gets out of the pool, and with her ear clogged, heads to the bathroom to get a Q-tip. She walks in on Brad and catches him in the act. She is mortified and retreats immediately. Brad is shocked and embarrassed and as he sits wondering what just happened, he remarks, “doesn’t anyone freakin knock anymore?” It’s a painful scene to sit through for most guys.
4. There’s Something About Mary (Farrelly Bros., 1998)
The zipper scene
Ted (Ben Stiller) is a good guy. He’s taking Mary (Cameron Diaz) out to the prom. He’s staring out the window at some birds, while he is using the restroom at Mary’s house. Unfortunately for him, Mary is getting changed in the window right where the birds are sitting. As he realizes this, in a panic he pulls his zipper up to fast and in the process, he gets his man parts stuck in the zipper. I’m already cringing while writing this description. A woman might not fully understand the pain involved in this, but it gets worse. Mary’s mom and dad both come into the bathroom and freak out over what they see. But that’s also not the worst of it. Soon a police officer and a fireman shows up. At this point, in between fits of laughter, you are ready to hide your head in shame. t’s a painfully awkward moment in the film and something that every guy is terrified of.
3. The Last American Virgin (Davidson, 1982)
The bad boy wins…every time
Gary, as played Lawrence Monoson, has loved Karen (Diane Franklin), literally since he first laid eyes on her. He makes an attempt to ask her out but she doesn’t accept. One of Gary’s friends, David (Joe Rubbo) is hosting a party and it is here that Gary sees his other best friend, the guy with the California playboy good looks, Rick (Steve Antin) hitting it off with Karen. They begin dating and Rick ends up impregnating her and conveniently breaks up with her once he finds out about the pregnancy. Gary, the typical nice guy in the film, offers to take care of her. He pays for her abortion, they stay clandestinely at Gary’s deceased grandmother’s house while she recovers, and he does all of this because he loves her. When all of their friends are returning from a winter ski trip, Karen informs Gary that she is going to have a party for her birthday. It’s at this point of the film that Gary finally confesses his love for her. She finally returns the feelings and they are now dating. Then Gary buys her a necklace, walks into the party, and sees her in the kitchen…..making out with Rick, the guy who dumped her upon her pregnancy. This is equivalent to getting your nuts stuck in your zipper. It’s all in the pit of your stomach. Gary is the nice guy and nice guys finish last. It’s enough to make you depressed and to feel so embarrassed for him. It’s a terribly sad ending but a realistic one.
2. American Pie (Weitz & Weitz, 1999)
Jim blows it…..twice
This is the thing of nightmares for all men, but especially younger ones. The situation is that Jim (Jason Biggs) has his gorgeous foreign exchange student in his bedroom and she is ready to have sex with him. Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) is half naked and when she has him just barely touch her leg, he ejaculates. This is embarrassing enough and at this point, we all feel bad for him. Jim has never been with a woman and the excitement is too much for him to bear. But it gets better and worse all at the same time. Nadia strips down and he goes in for a second time and again he can’t hold back. At this point you’re not only cringing for him, you’re dying of laughter.
1. Swingers (Liman, 1996)
The start and the end of a relationship via answering machine
This one scene made me cringe more than any other. Maybe it’s because I’ve experienced this myself. The scene has Mikey, as played brilliantly by a pre-Iron Man Jon Favreau, placing a call to a woman he just picked up in a bar. The set up to this scene is that his friends tell him that once he gets a number, he has to wait between two and seven days to call her. This confuses Mike and being that he is desperately trying to get over a six-year relationship, he throws caution to the wind and he calls her the same night. As he tries to leave his number on the machine, it cuts him off and so he calls back to leave another message. It again cuts him off and he calls back. Now he starts going into his painful past relationship and how he doesn’t think he can see this new girl anymore and so on. It’s a scene that starts out being played for laughs but soon enough we are right there with Mike and we can feel his pain and his angst. He’s a very damaged character and he hasn’t had time to heel or process any of the break up and try as he might to get back into the dating scene, it all comes back to his pain and his unstable emotional state. It’s like watching a car wreck in slow motion. You want to do something to help him but you can’t. I felt bad for Mikey. I wanted to do something in that one moment to assuage his guilt and his sorrow and his anguish. But you just watch as he gets the noose tighter and tighter until the girl picks up and tells him to never call her again…
Written & Compiled by Dan Grant
Tell us what your most embarrassingly cringeworthy moments in film are….