Surprise, I'm Pregnant! The Evolution Of Unplanned Parenthood In Movies

Photo: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.
On July 24, Unexpected opened in limited release. The film is about a teacher who forms a friendship with her teenage student when they both unexpectedly find themselves pregnant. Starring Cobie Smulders as the teacher (and Gail Bean as her student), the indie follows the elder character's struggle to maintain her identity after she becomes a mother, including how to balance parenthood and work.

It's refreshing to see a character working out that equilibrium between career and family. As you may recall, a lot of unplanned-pregnancy movies of decades past never even consider having both as an option. Here, we take a look back at how onscreen depictions of surprise pregnancies have evolved over the years.

Note: We're not counting the 1987 classic Baby Boom on our list. Diane Keaton's character does not actually bear the bambina in question. That movie falls into the successful-person-inherits-a-child-and-learns-to-cope-but-not-before-freaking-the-eff-out canon of filmmaking.
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For Keeps (1988)
Two years after Pretty in Pink, Molly Ringwald starred in this Reagan-era misfire as a high school senior on her way to college when...bam! The stork arrives. Against their parents' wishes, she and her BF (Randall Batinkoff) get hitched and decide to give family life a go. The movie is dated and uneven, but give it credit for tackling real-life issues, like the struggle to make ends meet working multiple minimum wage jobs and battling postpartum depression.

(The idea of a teen couple marrying after an unplanned pregnancy was revisited on the TV series The Secret Life of the American Teenager...also co-starring Ringwald.)
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Nine Months (1995)
Sigh. Not the finest hour for Hugh Grant or Julianne Moore. Directed by Chris Columbus, the movie sometimes plays like a greatest hits of sexist stereotypes, with Joan Cusack as an overbearing mother of many (a part she would go on to play in an endless loop), and Grant's lothario accusing his girlfriend (Moore) of messing with her birth control so she could "trap him" in a pregnancy.
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The Object of My Affection (1998)
The romantic plotline is a stretch: GBF (Paul Rudd) once had sex with a woman, so it's perfectly plausible that another woman (Jennifer Aniston), who's pregnant with another man's child, could fall in love with GBF and hope for a viable relationship with him. That said, there are progressive story elements as well, notably how Aniston's character decides to break things off with her baby's father because she knows the relationship is a dead end, and how she tries to form a nontraditional family with the her gay platonic soul mate. It's an idea echoed in recent TV shows like Ellen DeGeneres' One Big Happy.
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Saved! (2004)

This modest indie hit managed to find sweetness in satire. A send-up of conservative Christianity in America, it tells the story of a high schooler (Jena Malone) whose classmates ostracize her when she becomes pregnant. The movie tackles ineffective sex-ed ("And good Christians don't get jiggy with it until they're married"), and the idea that gay children can be shipped off to "corrective" programs. A bold take on how blind communities can be to anything they don't want to see.
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Juno (2007)
For all its snark and attitude and hipster signposting (a hamburger phone! The Moldy Peaches!), Juno is ultimately a tender, sensitive look at two kids (Ellen Page and Michael Cera) who make the painful decision to give up their unborn, unplanned child for adoption. We could have done without the depiction of the abortion clinic as an unwelcoming horror show, though.
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Knocked Up (2007)
While it's questionable that any stab at realism would involve someone agreeing to raise a child with Seth Rogen's character, Knocked Up earns points for embracing the good, the bad, and the ugly of pregnancy — and for taking it as a given that the mom-to-be (Katherine Heigl) will return to work and maintain a career.
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Obvious Child (2014)
The rare comedy that not only utters the word "abortion," but actually — SPOILER ALERT! — allows the character to go through with it. After a night of unprotected sex, a stand-up comic (Jenny Slate) decides to end her unplanned pregnancy. The movie deftly portrays her decision, neither over- or under-playing the gravity of the choice, and gracefully conveys the support she receives from the people in her life: her friends, her mother, and the guy (Jake Lacy).
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