Since the beginning of cinema, films have been pushing the boundaries of what society deems to be “acceptable entertainment.” If filmmakers did not take chances, did not dare to question the establishment, and instead opt to walk the line – films like The Wild Bunch and Psycho would never have been made. Thankfully artists have always been there to challenge authority. These are the most controversial movies of all time.
Some of the movies on this list were banned and/or denounced because they were too violent and graphic like Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Horror films like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist may be considered tame by today’s standards, but at the time of their release, many moviegoers and critics were shocked and appalled by their gratuitous violence.
Of course, religion has always and will always be a major contributor to controversy. Pretty much any film that has questioned the sanctimony and history of an established religion, like Christianity, is going to receive heat. Religious protesters in Paris firebombed a theater screening of Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. The protesters thought the film’s depiction of the life of Jesus Christ should not include sex, lust, or temptation.
Some of the movies on this list are made for nothing more than shock value. Horror films like Faces of Death and Cannibal Holocaust are meant to disgust and push the boundaries of good taste, while other films like Midnight Cowboy and Bonnie and Clyde have stood the test of time and have become Hollywood classics.
There are several reasons why the films on this list (many more than just the top 10 controversial movies) were deemed controversial: too sexual, too violent, too graphic, too queer, too shocking, too much nudity. For whatever the reason, these are the most controversial movies of all time. Upvote those you think are the most controversial, whether or not you like the film itself.
Although the horror film was made in 1980, it is still banned in several countries, partly due to its actual abuse of animals
. Director Ruggero Deodato was even arrested on murder charges for the scene in which he filmed a naked woman being impaled (she was not actually impaled, it was just excellent special effects work).
The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)
In the original Human Centipede, for no particular reason, a Dutch scientist snatches a few tourists and stitches them together in the form of centipede by attaching mouths to anuses. Sequels are typically a “bigger” event, and director Tom Six promised audiences even more grotesqueness, “The movie makes the first film look like My Little Pony in comparison.”
The Last House on the Left
Wirter/director Wes Craven’s 1972 saga of kidnapping, rape, and murder was initially given an X-rating by the MPAA. Because of the horror film’s graphic sexual content, seven minutes of the movie’s original running time were cut.
Faces of Death
This shockumentary, and sleepover party staple, which reports to show “real” violent deaths, has beenbanned in 46 countries. There are a total of five Faces of Deaths films.
The Birth of a Nation
Originally titled The Clansman, D.W. Griffith’s 1915 silent film, and film school staple, is often criticized for its glorification of the KKK. Although the film is considered a cinematic classic, viewers still get upset when it airs on television today.
Todd Solondz’s 1998 independent film sort of tricks its viewers into caring about pedophiles and sexually oppressed malcontents. Universal Pictures
, which financed the film after it won the International Critic Award, ultimately cancelled distribution plans after seeing the film for the first time, on the basis of “moral grounds.” The movie was eventually released by a different studio and without an MPAA rating.
A Clockwork Orange
Stanley Kubrick deconstructs the nature of violence in his Academy Award-nominated X-rated romp. The 1971 cult classic was banned in several countries , including Britain, because the film reportedly, “represented a danger to society by inspiring the very violence it was seeking to explore and define.“
I Spit on Your Grave
This controversial rape and revenge movie was largely bashed by critics when it was released in 1978. Several countries including Ireland, Iceland, Norway, and the former West Germany banned the horror flick because it ” glorified violence against women.”
Requiem for a Dream
Darren Aronofsky’s disturbing look into the troubled lives of four junkies shocked audiences, at times even to the point of nausea. The director refused to cut the orgy scene at the end of the film, and it was released without an MPAA rating.
Larry Clark paints a very bleak picture of promiscuous New York City teens doing drugs and having unprotected sex. The film also deals heavily with the AIDs crisis and how it impacts the group.
Stanley Kubrick brings Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel to the big screen with a hint of social satire. The film depicts the love/lust affair of a middle aged man and an underage girl.
Natural Born Killers
Oliver Stone’s 1994 black comedy gives the celebrity treatment to two killers on the run, who murder in the name of senseless violence. The film was banned in Ireland and initially denied distribution in the United States. It was subsequently linked to several copycat crimes.
Director Tod Browning shocked and appalled audiences with his movie about sideshow carnies; reports even claimed that one audience member suffered a miscarriage during a test screening. Many of the violent scenes were removed from the original film, but even the cut that made it to the public was meant with horror.
The 1979 shock-filled drama depicts Roman emperor, Gaius Germanicus Caligula’s graphically brutal rise to power and oppressive reign. The film was banned in Canada and Iceland because of its graphic violence, hints of incest, and gratuitious nudity.
in several cities and countries throughout the world. It’s been reported that paramedics had to be called on several occasions to treat audience members who had fainted in reaction to the film’s horror.
Director Roman Polanski’s horror film received heavy criticism for showing the repeated rape of a woman by the devil for the purpose of her giving birth to his baby. The National Catholic Office for Motion Picturesprotested the film’s, “perverted use of Christian beliefs.”
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
The 1974 groundbreaking documentary-style slasher film about a family of cannibals led by Leatherface wasbanned in several movie theaters in the United States. At the time, audiences were shocked and appalled by the film’s violence.
The Silence of the Lambs
Gay activists staged rallies during screenings of Jonathan Demme’s Academy Award-winning film. The film’s serial killer transsexual villain Buffalo Bill was criticized by the queer community for his over the top flamboyant gay mannerisms.
Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 thriller ignited controversy from both viewers and censors because of the film’s excessive and lethal use violence. Especially troubling, for various reasons, was the double rape scene of the character Amy.
The Passion of the Christ
tells the story of the final 12 hours of the life of Jesus. The extremely graphic film was largelycriticized for being anti-Semitic.
Patrick Bateman is a driven businessman by day and a delusional serial killer at night. The 2000 satire wascalled misogynist and brutally violent.
Psycho‘s psychological/twist ending would have been a tough pill to swallow for audiences in 1960 regardless. But killing off the star of the movie halfway through the narrative was perhaps the most controversial aspect of all.
Quentin Tarantino’s directorial debut is filled with his signature blend of extreme violence and humor
. The scene that sparked the most controversy involved Mr. Blonde tying up, torturing, and ultimately cutting the ear off of a police officer – just for the fun of it.
The Evil Dead
The 1981 low budget horror cult classic was banned in Finland, Iceland, Ireland, and Germany. The cabin in the woods movie is filled with violence and was slammed for its over the top graphic torture and rape scene.
Life of Brian
The Monty Python team spoofed religion in their 1979 satire about a Jewish man who was born on the same day as Jesus and then thought to be the Messiah. Religious groups, both Jewish and Christian, protestedthe film with claims that joking around about Jesus was a mortal sin.
Kevin Smith took some heat from Catholics who felt the writer/director was making fun of their religious beliefs in his 1999 independent film. After the film was screened in New York City, the Catholic Leagueprotested outside Lincoln Center, claiming that the film, “mocks everything we hold sacred – God, the church, the mass and Mary’s virginity.”
The Last Temptation of Christ
Martin Scorsese’s 1988 Academy Award-nominated film was by condemned by religious protesters throughout the southern United States. The film about the life of Jesus Christ was ultimately banned in Savannah, GA. The movie was so controversial that Blockbuster initially refused to carry the film, and a group of activists in Paris firebombed a screening of the movie, injuring 13 people.
Midnight Cowboy was the only X-rated movie to win the Oscar for Best Picture, though its rating has since been changed to “R.” Director John Schlesinger’s realistic portrait of a gay gigolo in New York City and depiction of homosexuality shocked audiences in 1969.
Last Tango in Paris
A beautiful young Parisian woman meets a grieving older man, and the two embark on a sexually fueled (almost) X-rated affair. The film was banned in Italy because of, ” Obscene content offensive to public decency… presented with obsessive self-indulgence, catering to the lowest instincts of the libido, dominated by the idea of stirring unchecked appetites for sexual pleasure, permeated by scurrilous language… accompanied off screen by sounds, sighs and shrieks of climax pleasure.” Last Tango in Paris was also banned in Singapore, New Zealand, Portugal, and South Korea.
South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
South Park hit the big screen with a bang and set the Guinness record for “Most Swearing in an Animated Film.” The script averaged a curse word every six seconds.
David Lynch’s surrealist neo-noir was heavily criticized for its misogyny and how it depicted the victimization of women.
Two cowboys fall in love in Ang Lee’s 2005 Academy Award-winning film. The film was banned in China because of its homosexual nature.
The Great Dictator
sends-up Adolf Hitler and the Nazis in his 1940 political satire. The film was banned in many parts of Europe and criticized for making a joke out of the serious events of World War II.
slowly uncrosses her legs in an interrogation room and one of the most famous scenes in movie history
is made. Basic Instinct
was criticized for its graphic sexual content and violence.
was forced to pull the comedy about the assassin of Kim Jong-Un from theaters after the company’s computers were hacked and threats of more leaks and violence became widespread. The film was eventually released online.
Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry
introduced a new whole new kind of cop to cinema audiences: one that didn’t play the rules and who took the law into his own hands. Renowned film critic Pauline Kael called the movie “fascist” and many agreed with her point of view.
Director Oliver Stone has never been one to shy away from conspiracy theories
. Especially troubling for the director’s many critics were the film’s accusations that the federal government played a big part in Kennedy’s assassination.
The Da Vinci Code
Ron Howard’s adaptation of Dan Brown’s bestselling novel was met with wide-spread criticism from the Catholic church regarding the film’s depiction of the history of Christianity. Opus Dei, a Catholic organization, wanted filmmakers to add a disclaimer at the beginning of the film stating that the movie was a work of fiction, while one church leader threatened legal action, claiming the film was offensive to Jesus Christ and the Catholic people
Bonnie and Clyde
Director Arthur Penn’s seminal 1967 film received a healthy dose of criticism for its glorification of villainous criminals. The revisionist film is still criticized, even today, for making heroes of the bad guys.
The Wild Bunch
Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 Western was criticized for its extremely graphic use of violence, especially the two bloody massacre scenes that were shot in slow-motion so audiences could see bodies getting ripped apart by ammunition. Because of the film’s graphic nature, the MPAA initially threatened to slap the production with an X-rating, however, the ratings board ultimately gave the film an R-rating.