The 50 Greatest “White Person Problem” Movies of All Time

 

FIRST AND FOREMOST, to state the obvious: when I say “white person,” I don’t mean a literal white person. I’m using the term in the colloquial sense to indicate a person of privilege in American society. Despite the title, this list is about class, not about race.

There are but three criteria. First, the movie has to be popular and/or good. Indeed, I love many of these 50 films. Second, the main character has to be someone extremely privileged. And third, the “problem” has to be something that someone in legitimately dire straits would roll her eyes at. 

So cue up your violins, folks…and then have the violins play that Ariana Grande song. Here are the 50 films:

 

MMDMIAP EC001

Get used to Woody Allen. If White Person Problem Movies were a country, he’d be its king.

50. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
When her two-year relationship loses its passion and ends, a blue-haired woman uses her disposable income to hire an innovative company to erase her memory of it.

49. The Talented Mr. Ripley
The spoiled son of a fabulously wealthy American continues to cavort around Europe with his gorgeous girlfriend, even after his father dispatches a sociopath to bring him home.

48. Mighty Aphrodite
Impressed by the precociousness of his adopted son, a sportswriter tracks down the boy’s birth mother—a gold-hearted prostitute—and sleeps with her.

47. Chasing Amy
A successful indie comic book writer can’t get over the fact that his new girlfriend is bisexual.

46. Swingers
A nebbishy wannabe comedian has difficulty getting over his longtime girlfriend, despite ample opportunity.

45. Wedding Crashers
Two sleazy divorce attorneys spend their weekends sneaking in to strangers’ weddings, indulging in free food and drink, and having sex with sad-faced maids of honor.

44. Citizen Kane
An insanely wealthy newspaper tycoon is unhappy that he cannot buy an antique sled.

43. Dirty Dancing
At an exclusive Catskills resort, a surgeon’s daughter takes the best dance lessons of her life.

42. My Dinner with Andre
At a four-star Manhattan restaurant, the son of the editor of The New Yorker and a renowned stage director try to determine what’s wrong with the theater.

41. Match Point
A British tennis pro marries into a wealthy London family, and then knocks up the sultry American who is his opera-loving brother-in-law’s girlfriend.

IMG_7023.CR2

“I should have just done ‘Dancing with the Stars.'”

40. Rope
To alleviate the boredom of being rich and privileged, two Nietszche disciples strangle one of their former classmates.

39. Manhattan
Unsatisfied by his gorgeous and precocious 17-year-old girlfriend, a twice-divorced and well-off middle-aged comedy writer seduces his best friend’s mistress.

38. Metropolitan
A Princeton undergraduate with a middle class background attends Debutante Ball season in New York, and concludes that, contrary to what he’d originally believed, being rich is actually pretty great.

37. Groundhog Day
A jaded meteorologist is doomed to re-live the same February day over and over—until he can learn to be less of a selfish prick. 

36. It’s a Wonderful Life
An unsuccessful banker contemplates suicide when his Savings and Loan business fails due to employee incompetence.

35. Black Swan
A gorgeous and gifted ballerina has difficulty expressing her dark side in dance.

34. Six Degrees of Separation
The lives of a wealthy Manhattan art dealer and his well-heeled wife are imbued with meaning after they give shelter to a charming young black man who claims to be the son of a famous film star.

33. The Breakfast Club
Six white high school students from different social groups must spend a Saturday together.

32. Rushmore
A brilliant and eccentric scholarship student is forced to enroll in public school after being expelled from his swanky boarding school for destruction of school property.

31. City Slickers
Unable to find meaning in their affluent lives in New York, a trio of friends go to a ranch out West, where they pay a lot of money to work as cowboys.

Indecent

“What I don’t want to tell you is that a million dollars is about $999,999 more than it’d take to get me to shag Robert Redford.”

30. L.A. Story
A jaded TV meteorologist who looks 20 years older than he is cannot decide between two women, including one who is 20 years younger than he is.

29. I Know What You Did Last Summer
Privileged teens at an exclusive summer camp are forced to watch a smelly old fisherman get disemboweled—during finals week.

28. The Wizard of Oz
An orphan girl from an oppressive Midwest farm town is transported to a strange and thrilling land of colorful people—but remains improbably and hopelessly homesick.

27. When Harry Met Sally…
A sardonic narcissist is too self-centered to realize his incredibly attractive if quirky best friend is the love of his life.

26. The Aviator
An eccentric billionaire crashes his favorite plane, and is forced to build a new one.

25. Annie Hall
A nebbishy comedian is too much of a neurotic mess to hold on to the one woman crazy enough to love him.

24. Postcards from the Edge
The daughter of a famous actress, herself a famous actress, tries to cope with her wealth and fame.

23. Vanilla Sky
A grotesquely wealthy publishing heir becomes disfigured in a car accident, forcing him to spend some of his grotesque wealth on plastic surgery instead of a new car.

22. 8½
A critically acclaimed and enviably handsome Italian director cannot finish this, his cinematic masterpiece, because of “director’s block.”

21. Indecent Proposal
To finance his dreamhouse, an architect whores out his wife to Robert Redford.

jerry-macguire-boxoffers

“Show ME the money.”

20. The Royal Tenenbaums
A family of child prodigies are not quite as successful when they get older, especially after their parents split up.

19. The Shining
Spending the winter in a gorgeous and isolated resort hotel doesn’t help a struggling novelist get over his writer’s block.

18. Cocktail
A hip MBA student in New York City realizes his dream of opening his own fancy bar.

17. Before Sunrise
A greasy American and a frail Frenchwoman fall in love in Vienna, spend one glorious night together, but neglect to exchange phone numbers.

16. Reality Bites
A recent college graduate can’t decide if she should date her greasy, unemployed friend, or an older, more successful guy who’s a bit of a square.

15. American Pie
In order to lose his virginity before high school graduation, an oafish loser is forced to sleep with a music nerd.

14. American Beauty
A middle-aged middle manager resolves his mid-life crisis by smoking pot in his garage and glimpsing the naked body of his disaffected daughter’s hot cheerleader friend.

13. Sleepless in Seattle
A lonely man in the Pacific Northwest finds the woman of his dreams—but their relationship is put to the test when he realizes that she lives all the way in Baltimore.

12. Jerry Maguire
A rich, rapacious sports agent decides he doesn’t have it in him to be quite as rapacious as he needs to be to succeed at a big agency, so he starts his own boutique firm, poaching a bookkeeper from his former place of employ to “complete” his staff.

11. Jaws
A shark in the ocean miles off the coast of a tony resort town threatens to ruin everyone’s summer vacation—until a group of men kill it.

The-Graduate-5111_9

Dustin Hoffman mentally takes notes for his role in ‘Tootsie.’

10. Crimes and Misdemeanors
When a philanderer’s bitter mistress threatens to destroy his marriage by disclosing their affair, he uses his ample wealth to hire a professional hit man to kill her—and gets away with it.

9. Meet the Parents
An unfortunately-named male nurse is so insecure about his prospects for marriage that he subjects himself to the sadistic whims of his milquetoast fiancee’s hateful parents.

8. Risky Business
After just two days in the manse on his own, the son of an affluent family on Chicago’s North Shore crashes the family Porsche and winds up in debt to a killer pimp—but gets into Princeton anyway.

7. The Big Chill
The suicide of their pretentious college friend is the occasion for a group of University of Michigan alumni to reflect on their various levels of success.

6. Driving Miss Daisy
A 72-year-old wealthy Jewish Southern widow is forced to interact with her new chauffeur—a black man.

5. Lost in Translation
On a month-long all-expenses-paid trip to Japan, a recently married Yale graduate grows bored of her hipster photographer husband, instead hanging out with a disaffected middle-aged action-movie star.

4. Home Alone
A large and affluent family is on the plane to Paris for their Christmas vacation before the mother realizes she left her eight-year-old son in their comfortable suburban home.

3. Her
In L.A. in the not-too-distant future, a professional letter-writer who can somehow afford a million-dollar apartment in the sparkling new downtown begins dating his smartphone because he can’t find a flesh-and-blood woman willing to endure him.

2. The Graduate
Unable to stave off feelings of ennui even when indulging in an improbable affair with a sexy older woman, a rat-faced recent college graduate instead seduces his lover’s daughter.

1. The King’s Speech
The hereditary monarch of the most powerful nation on earth employs a high-priced specialist to help him correct a stutter, so he can address his subjects with the appropriate pomp.

king

“I’m the k-k-king of England and I sound like a c-c-character from M-M-Monty Python.”

 

 Thanks to Stephanie St. John and Sean Beaudoin for helping with this list.

 

About Greg Olear

Greg Olear (@gregolear) is a founding editor of The Weeklings and the author of the novels Totally Killer and Fathermucker, an L.A. Times bestseller.
This entry was posted in 50 Greatest and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to The 50 Greatest “White Person Problem” Movies of All Time

  1. I was afraid Lost in Translation wasn’t going to be there. Relief.

    For your consideration:

    Young Adult – a very hard film to watch due to the (intentional, very well realised) utter awfulness of Charlize Theron’s emotionally-still-in-high-school character.

    Damsels in Distress – Whit Stillman sort of attempts Wes Anderson and comes up with an insufferably twee bit of self indulgence. Also wastes Aubrey Plaza.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      I hated ‘Young Adult’. The performances from Theron and Patton Oswalt were great, but the writing was awful.

      Always great to see a ‘Rope’ reference though. Wonderful film.

      • Diablo Cody innit? Everyone was always going to be far more acidly articulate than any real person.

        Anything under the ‘mumblecore’ umbrella is a white person problem film.

        Frances Ha. I like Greta Gerwig, but she really is the queen of WPP movies.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Diablo Cody isn’t a very good script writer. Snappy dialogue doesn’t = characterisation. Juno is too cool to be believable, or to care about, and personally I found her quite irritating. Cera had no characterisation at all. I get that he’s supposed to this passive character, but it just comes across like Cody kept forgetting to write scenes for him. And other characters change completely i.e. Juno’s stepmother doesn’t like her at the start of the film. That’s how she’s characterised: the disinterested, reluctant stepmom. Then when Juno is insulted by the ultrasound nurse the stepmom starts rabidly defending her stepdaughter which is either a) just for the convenience of the scene, or b) a very ham-fisted way of showing how the stepmom has maybe developed some sort of maternal bond with her completely off-screen, unbeknownst to the audience.

          The writing is slightly better in ‘Young Adult’ to the extent that at least one character (Patton Oswalt) seems like a real person, and not a dialogue-delivery-machine. Everyone else exists just to set up or deliver cool sounding lines. There are some good ideas within the film, but it’s executed pretty badly. It’s the same problem guys like Kevin Smith and Tarantino sometimes have where they’re more concerned with style than the actual substance.

          But I’d still prefer either of those over a mumblecore indie film. I hated ‘Noah and the Whale’ even more than either Juno or Young Adult, even though the writer/director co-wrote ‘The Life Aquatic’ and ‘The Fantastic Mr. Fox’.

          My brother watched ‘Frances Ha’ and his three word review was simply ‘you’d hate it.’

          • Juno made little impression on me. The only thing I remember is that the Moldy Peaches’ ‘Anyone Else But You’ is played three times, and every time it’s edited so we never hear

            “Scrunched up your face and did a dance/
            Shook a little turd out of the bottom of your pants”

            which is disappointing.

          • The Editors says:

            Agree with you, Jedi. “Juno” was considered for this list, but teen pregnancy is a legitimate problem, so it had to be crossed off, however silly the film is.

      • The Editors says:

        Yeah, ROPE is the best.

    • The Editors says:

      It would not be a list with Lost in Translation, good sir. I have not even heard of those other films, but Whit Stillman does Wes Anderson is about as twee as twee can be.

    • The Editors says:

      After a fun road trip with his fun college roommate depresses him, a failed novelist and amateur sommelier is forced to drink a very good bottle of wine out of a paper cup.

  2. Wm Joseph says:

    I noticed that a number of these movies have a couple of the same actors in them.

    For instance Tom Cruise in “Risky Business”, “Cocktail” and “Vanilla Sky”. Bill Murray is in two movies on the list.

  3. Gloria says:

    Is that what Black Swan is about? Could you please do a one-sentence read of all Aaronofsky and Lynch movies (excluding the easily relatable and beloved Elephant Man)?

    • The Editors says:

      Pi: “When he can’t solve a complicated math problem, a geek drills into his brain.”

      Requiem for a Dream: “Don’t do heroin.”

      Lynch, I can’t even attempt.

    • UK critic Mark Kermode notes that a well-worded criticism will stick with you even if you disagree with it. He likes The Straight Story, but can never shake his colleagues summation: “Forrest Gump on a lawnmower.”

      Pi: Jewish mathematical drum’n’bass puzzle, business as usual.

      Dune: Lawrence of Arabia with giant worms.

      Eraserhead: What nightmares are really like.

      Noah: You’re gonna need a bigger boat.

      Those are the easy ones.

Leave a Reply to Wm Joseph Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.