5 Famous Characters The World Once Saw Very Differently

It's only natural for our opinions of art to evolve over time -- this explains why modern grocery stores aren't crammed with Urkel-themed breakfast cereals. Still, it is amusing to consider just how differently we used to think about some of today's most celebrated characters, even in the recent past. So why don't we take a stroll down the Ecto-Cooler-stained cobblestones of memory lane, and recall how ...

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5
The Pirate Genre Used To Be Box Office Poison

Nowadays:

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The Pirates of the Caribbean series is one of the most lucrative movie franchises of all-time; beginning with The Curse of the Black Pearl and ending with Dead Men ... Have Strange Chests or something, to be honest they all kind of blur together after the first movie. All five films have grossed a total of more than $4.5 billion at the box office. They even added Captain Jack Sparrow animatronics to the Disneyland ride, to the enjoyment of every rider who has never Googled the words "Johnny Depp."

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And now, just three years after the last movie, Disney is plotting a franchise reboot starring Margot Robbie, and presumably literally any actor not named "Johnny Depp."

But Back Then:

It wasn't so long ago that the pirate genre was about as profitable as your modern Kevin Spacey movie. The 1980s and early '90s saw a slew of pirate movie disasters; The Pirate Movie, Yellowbeard, and Roman Polanksi's unimaginatively-titled Pirates, the dismal reception of which embarrassed even Cannon Films, the studio that rendered the idea of both Superman and He-Man films utterly radioactive to the moviegoing public. Perhaps most famously, the Geena Davis vehicle Cutthroat Island lost almost all of its $115 million budget.

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Just because Disney was involved didn't make Pirates of the Caribbean any less of a risk. Director Gore Verbinski was hesitant to take the job because he thought "the pirate genre was extinct." It probably didn't help that movies based on Disneyland rides were also generally godawful, lest we forget the animatronic creepshow that is The Country Bears, a film that rivals even Midsommar in the ursine terror department.

Disney was also freaked out because of Depp's wacky performance (although they ultimately won the "Jack Sparrow should have a nose" argument). Even once the movie was done, it was still considered an "enormous risk." And box office prognosticators kept their expectations for Pirates "muted." Of course, the movie turned out to be a smash hit, and Depp was even nominated for an Academy Award ... for playing Jack Sparrow. Yes, we double-checked, and that's an actual thing that happened in real life.

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4
Harry Potter Scared the Crap Out of Churches And School Boards

Nowadays:

The Harry Potter empire is in a state of disarray following that dumbass play, those dumbass prequels, and J.K. Rowling's dumbass desire to antagonize folks who already face just a shitload of unnecessary hardships. But while Rowling herself is objectionable to many, Harry Potter is still considered a wholesome keystone of pop culture. Even in the midst of a pandemic, people are still flocking to Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a fantasy land where witches exist, but somehow couldn't be bothered to whip up some kind of vaccine spell.

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But Back Then:

It's sometimes easy to forget, even for those who lived through it, just how controversial the Harry Potter books were at first. In South Carolina, one parent told the school board that the books were full of "death, hate, lack of respect and sheer evil" -- and keep in mind, this was back in 1999 when the books were mostly about flying cars and elf butlers. According to the American Library Association, they were "the most challenged books in 1999."

And the books weren't just banned, they were burned. In 2001, a New Mexico church organized a bonfire in which congregants tossed Potter books (generously labeling them a "masterpiece of Satanic deception") into the flames -- plus also some Ouija Boards and AC/DC records for good measure. This inspired a rash of further Potter-centric book burnings, including one where people also burned copies of the movie Coneheads (which frankly, we agree must have been the handiwork of The Dark One). 

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There was even a full-blown documentary, Harry Potter Witchcraft Repackaged, warning parents about the hidden Pagan symbols that were secretly recruiting a generation of unwitting Hufflepuffs as the Devil's minions.

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3
Archie Was Not a Bankable Character Until Riverdale

Nowadays:

Today, we all know Archie Andrews as the lead of Riverdale, the hit show that cracked the "Twin Peaks but horny" formula for TV success. Each week more than a million people both young and old tune in to watch the continuing adventures of high schoolers Archie, Betty, Veronica, and Jughead as they battle gangs, solve mysteries, hang out in a filthy underground sex bunker, run several small businesses, and do homework offscreen at some point. 

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But Back Then:

Despite the fact that he's been a staple of grocery store checkout aisles for decades, Archie wasn't always the popular character he is today. In fact, the history of Archie is even dumber than you thought. In the '70s and '80s Archie Comics licensed their characters to a Christian publisher for a series of comics in which, among several plots, Archie and the gang meet a hip, swingin' young Jesus, who introduces them to that noted bastion of heterosexuality, the piano man Liberace.

5 Famous Characters The World Saw Differently 20 Years Ago - Archie meeting Liberace in a Christian comic
Ah, truly God's kingdom.

Then there's the time Archie suggested Jughead should be ready to sacrifice his life for God the same way a pig sacrificed his life for someone's breakfast. (Yeah, we know.) Even more unfortunate are the issues that feature the Riverdale crew acting as Christian missionaries, spreading the word of God to ethnic stereotypes throughout the world.

5 Famous Characters The World Saw Differently 20 Years Ago - an Archie Christian comic about pagans
"The only god we worship is Pop Tate, the living god of milkshakes."
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With the 2015 comic series and Riverdale, Archie was a big hit for the first time in decades. But prior to that, Archie Comics so aggressively didn't know what to do with their titular character that they sued the guy who later created Riverdale for a transgressive Archie-inspired theatre piece. Then there was Archie's Weird Mysteries, a failed attempt to turn the franchise into Goosebumps. Comics sales rapidly declined -- and we haven't even mentioned the '80s TV movie Return to Riverdale, in which an adult Jughead arguably killed hip-hop until Tupac finally came along.

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2
All Your Favorite Marvel Superheroes Used to Be D-Listers

Nowadays:

Obviously the Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of the most popular film series in movie history, rivaling even Star Wars and the Ernest-verse. The Avengers are more beloved to most people than their own family members. And even Marvel characters that don't exist in the MCU (like Deadpool) are box office titans. Hell, we're even seeing an upcoming $200-million movie about The Eternals, which is sort of like if Ken Burns made a 19-hour-long baseball documentary about journeyman Yankees catcher Sal Fasano.

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But Back Then:

As insane as it may seem now, all of these moneymaking characters were pretty much the Andy Dicks and Carrot Tops of superheroes. No one gave a shit about Iron Man, so much so that in advance of the movie, Marvel had to produce a series of short films in order to convince kids that he was a human being (and not a robot like most people thought). And Marvel rented out Thor to the family comedy Adventures in Babysitting (where he was played by future Kingpin Vincent D'Onofrio).

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As for Deadpool, when he first showed up, comic fans correctly noticed that he was just a rip-off of DC's Deathstroke the Terminator. And while Deadpool eventually gained a cult following, his lack of mainstream success was ultimately what allowed the series to be so irreverent. According to writer Joe Kelly, they "could do anything" because "everybody just expected the book to be cancelled every five seconds." So had Deadpool actually been popular, he never would have become popular, if that makes any sense.

1
Pokemon Was Mainly Known As That Show That Gave Kids Seizures

Nowadays:

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Pokemon is reportedly the "highest-grossing entertainment franchise of all time" making $90 billion dollars since it was created in 1995. And it's not just for video game and trading card aficionados -- Pokemon has seeped into the mainstream, thanks to Hollywood blockbusters like Detective Pikachu and a mobile game that allows players to capture adorable anime critters and discover real-life corpses.

But Back Then:

Seriously, there was a period in the mid-1990s when a lot of people only knew Pokemon as "that show that gives people seizures." In 1997, over 600 kids had to be hospitalized after watching an episode of the Pokemon cartoon in which Ash and the gang travel inside a computer and are attacked by antivirus software. One sequence contained a succession of flashing images which is what seemingly caused kids to have symptoms consistent with an epileptic seizure. 

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After two days, over "13,000 children needed medical help for seizures." Which is crazy because that's way higher than the statistical rates for photosensitive epilepsy, 10 times more than would be expected. Experts later concluded that photosensitive epilepsy was only "diagnosed in a minuscule fraction of those affected" and that the vast majority of these cases were likely the result of mass hysteria created by "dramatic mass media reports." For many people in America, this news story was the first time they'd ever even heard of Pokemon, which is probably why it was parodied in shows like South Park and The Simpsons for years to come.

You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter! And check out the podcast Rewatchability.

Top Image: Disney/20th Century Fox