The 50 most controversial movies ever

It's time to get delightfully offended with these all-time shockers.

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  • Controversial movies: Click to the next image to see our 50 most controversial movies ever

  • Controversial movies: I Spit on Your Grave (1978)

  • Controversial movies: The Wild Bunch (1969)

  • Controversial movies: Titicut Follies (1967)

  • Controversial movies: The Devils (1971)

  • Controversial movies: Basic Instinct (1992)

  • Controversial movies: Hail Mary (1985)

  • Controversial movies: Reservoir Dogs (1992)

  • Controversial movies: The Moon Is Blue (1953)

  • Controversial movies: United 93 (2006)

  • Controversial movies: The Brown Bunny (2003)

Controversial movies: Click to the next image to see our 50 most controversial movies ever

Warning: What follows is explicit. These movies (and their accompanying photos) are not chosen for their beauty, but rather for their primal power to shock. And why is that important? Sometimes, in the case of politics and sex, filmmakers can be liberators, leading a charge that elevates the medium's significance. Elsewhere—especially in the case of violence—a movie can warn us of where we might be headed. These 50 entries are the extremes. We welcome your response.


50
I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978)

I Spit on Your Grave (1978)

If this is our lowest-ranking title, better brace yourself for punishment. Meir Zarchi's scuzzy rape-revenge thriller (also marketed under the name Day of the Woman) limped into theaters, and was immediately banned all over the world. Its most notorious scene, a bathtub seduction that comes to an edge, inspired critical derision, but also, provocatively, a wave of feminist cheers.—Joshua Rothkopf

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49
THE WILD BUNCH (1969)

The Wild Bunch (1969)

These days, it's not extraordinary for Hollywood to release a superviolent spectacle with a body count in the hundreds. But when feisty Sam Peckinpah did it, he pointedly evoked the ongoing war in Vietnam and created a blood-spouting whirlwind that confronted American righteousness. The Western genre never recovered.—Joshua Rothkopf

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48
TITICUT FOLLIES (1967)

Titicut Follies (1967)

Frederick Wiseman's unflinching look inside a Massachusetts facility for the criminally insane was so disturbing (and revealing) that the state tried to permanently bury it. Authorities placed an injunction on public showings that wasn't lifted until 1991. It's one of the few movies banned for reasons other than obscenity, politics or immorality.—David Fear

47
THE DEVILS (1971)

The Devils (1971)

Ken Russell's crazed stew of sex, violence and religious impropriety in 17th-century France seared the eyes of film censors. So many cuts were demanded that several countries could claim their own versions. Italian tastemakers banned the movie outright, even though Russell won a Best Director award at the Venice Film Festival.—Keith Uhlich

46
BASIC INSTINCT (1992)

Basic Instinct (1992)

Everyone remembers Sharon Stone's crotch flash, but Paul Verhoeven's thriller (penned by smutmeister Joe Eszterhas in a mere 13 days) produced a fair amount of offscreen heat, too, as gay groups furiously decried the image of homicidal lipstick lesbians. Riot police patrolled locations; no ice picks went unaccounted for.—Joshua Rothkopf

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45
HAIL MARY (1985)

Hail Mary (1985)

Jean-Luc Godard's provocative update of the Virgin Mary story—featuring full-frontal nudity—was denounced by no less than the Pope, and one angry Christian threw a pie in the director's face at Cannes. Godard's intention was to examine modern spirituality; the reaction he engendered, however, wasn't exactly full of grace.—David Fear

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44
RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

A fearful cop gets stuck in the middle with a psycho crook and loses an ear. It's the tipping point in Quentin Tarantino's sanguine first feature, which sparked numerous violence-in-cinema think pieces and inspired many unnerved walkouts. Makeup genius Rick Baker, one of the fleeing viewers, told QT he should take his own early exit as a compliment.—Keith Uhlich

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43
THE MOON IS BLUE (1953)

The Moon Is Blue (1953)

When Otto Preminger included the then-racy terms virgin, mistress and seduce in his lecherous comedy, the movie industry's morality police went into a froth. Head Hollywood censor Joseph Breen refused to grant the movie a seal of approval, so Preminger & Co. released the film without the MPAA's blessing—marking the beginning of the end of the Hays Code stranglehold.—David Fear

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42
UNITED 93 (2006)

United 93 (2006)

Five years still might have been too soon: Even though writer-director Paul Greengrass worked closely with the families of the flight victims (notably not with that of German passenger Christian Adams, portrayed as an appeaser) and reaped huge critical acclaim, his nerve-racking trailer stunned cinemagoers who weren't prepared. One New York theater removed it after complaints.—Joshua Rothkopf

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41
THE BROWN BUNNY (2003)

The Brown Bunny (2003)

Indie gadfly Vincent Gallo's mesmerizing road movie was a fiasco at Cannes: The molasses-slow pace sparked catcalls, an unsimulated oral-sex scene (on the director-star himself) dropped jaws, and Gallo had several pointed exchanges with detractor Roger Ebert. But Rog approved of the filmmaker's recut, which excised some flab and kept the blow job. Who says there are no happy endings?—Keith Uhlich

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  1. 50–41
  2. 40–31
  3. 30–21
  4. 20–11
  5. 10–1

Users say

15 comments
Ashley M
Ashley M

Life of Brian in my living memory caused a major stink, as did The Devils. Far more so than some of those films.

Dan L
Dan L

Haha it seems that whoever wrote this article has not seen the movie "A Serbian Film", or else it would surely be NUMERO UNO!!!!!!!! Dear God please don't go and watch that movie anyone, I would hate to be responsible for anyone having to experience utter traumatization....Let me just say that there are just some things that can't be unseen.

Peter
Peter

FACES OF DEATH and its many sequels, should not have been included as they mostly contained faked scenes.KEN PARK is a classic and much under rated film well worth buying on the internet.Probably the most controversial films of all time ( not included on the list) were .WE ARE NOT ALONE (Denmark);GENESIS CHILDREN (Italy) and IN A GLASS CAGE (Spain)

Matthew Zande
Matthew Zande

The thing people overlook about 'The Last Temptation of Christ' is that it's not genius film making. It's probably the least genius film Scorsese has ever filmed. 'Last Temptation' is decidedly sloppy film making and yet secular reviewers banded around this movie in unprecedented solidarity; in an attempt, no doubt to be regarded in their respective communities as champions for artistic experimentation against Church repression. The principle motivation for favourably reviewing this really mediocre film seems to be to piss off Christians. How can you give top billing to 'Last Temptation' when it had the unbridled affection of secular movie reviewers everywhere? Critically, 'Last Temptation' is one of the most loved films on your list. Because it allowed so many secular critics to show how much like Sir Thomas More they were. It's quality as a film was a minor issue.

D Talada
D Talada

I gather there's some reason they're controversial. It would be nice if there was some kind of link or pop-up or something that would complete the synopsis instead of ending every one with "The outcry over immorality delayed general..." or "the most outrageous scene is......" Were they actually WRITTEN as sentence fragments??

joel
joel

Good list. I just watched a very controversial filmed the other day called "Happiness". I highly recommend it for those that can stomach it.

Ryan
Ryan

How did you miss Caligula?

Edward Stratton
Edward Stratton

This is a good list, but I was disappointed by the lack of Gaspar Noe. "Irreversible" demands a place on this list.,

Anonymous
Anonymous

How come Dr. Strangelove didn't make this list?

smithingham
smithingham

this list is quite good. I enjoy the importance based on historical controversy. that said, there are a few films that are missing, in particular "battle of Algiers" (the french screening was firebombed). also quite dismayed that there is no reference to Peter Watkins on this list, "War Game" and "Punishment Park" were highly controversial (both were banned). i think "henry:portrait of a serial killer" would have been good. I disagree with many commenter's insistence that "august underground" and a "serbian film" should be listed, although both are shocking and controversial, their controversy has little relevance as far as film history.

janaka
janaka

wont to see full movie