The 50 most controversial movies ever

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

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  • Controversial movies: Ken Park (2002)

  • Controversial movies: The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)

  • Controversial movies: The Last House on the Left (1972)

  • Controversial movies: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

  • Controversial movies: Song of the South (1946)

  • Controversial movies: Dirty Harry (1971)

  • Controversial movies: Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

  • Controversial movies: The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)

  • Controversial movies: Deep Throat (1972)

  • Controversial movies: Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971)

Controversial movies: Ken Park (2002)

40
KEN PARK (2002)

Ken Park (2002)

Step aside, Skins: For years, indie provocateur Larry Clark suffered (or maybe relished) attacks by critics, who called his photographs—and movies like Kids (see No. 22) and Bully—teen exploitation. Eventually, Clark decided to properly earn the outrage and make an extreme film. Ken Park, filled with depictions of underage sex, violence and suicide, never found a U.S. distributor.—Joshua Rothkopf

39
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (1955)

The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)

No stranger to breaking screen taboos (see No. 43), Otto Preminger went a step further with this drug-addiction drama, in which Frank Sinatra's strung-out musician shoots up. People were equal parts aghast at the film's daring depiction of a dope fiend and impressed by its realistic take on the subject. Legions of high-wire screen-junkie performances owe this groundbreaking film a debt.—David Fear

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38
THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972)

The Last House on the Left (1972)

Wes Craven's still-nauseating tale of rape and revenge made many enemies on censor boards. The MPAA slapped it with an X several times (Craven eventually got an R by proxy). And U.K. watchdogs continued to demand cuts on all film and video versions until 2008—a long time to hold a grudge.—Keith Uhlich

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37
LEATHERFACE, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974)

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Paradoxically, the movie isn't all that gory—certainly not like some of the other entries on this list. Yet Tobe Hooper's proto–slasher film unsettled censors around the world, leading to its prohibition in such unlikely places as Sweden, Ireland and Brazil. A thick slab of barbecued menace, the thriller still inspires smart, young directors—and plenty of dumb ones, too.—Joshua Rothkopf

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36
SONG OF THE SOUTH (1946)

Song of the South (1946)

"Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" may be one catchy tune, but folks have never been pleased with how this Disney film whistled Dixie about the antebellum South. Plantation life is whitewashed into one big happy-slave playdate. Even during its production, the movie inspired accusations of racism—and don't get us started on the "Tar Baby" section. It remains a taint on the Mouse House to this day.—David Fear

35
DIRTY HARRY (1971)

Dirty Harry (1971)

It's a key entry in the iconography of Clint Eastwood, and you won't find an action fan who can't recite the entire "Well, do you, punk?" speech by heart. But during its release, the movie sparked a fierce war of words, with prominent critics calling it fascist, bigoted and unnecessarily brutal. They had a point: Police in the Philippines ordered a print for training purposes.—Joshua Rothkopf

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34
CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980)

Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Excruciating to watch, this Amazonian misadventure (shot on location) spurred massive outrage for its special effects being too good. A notorious scene of a naked woman's impalement actually led to the Italian director's arrest for murder. After those charges were successfully disputed, the movie was still widely banned due to incidents of animal abuse—which, alas, were not faked.—Joshua Rothkopf

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33
THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE (1933)

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)

Just after Adolf Hitler established Germany's Ministry of Propaganda, Fritz Lang's spooky sequel to his beloved crime epic Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler ran afoul of organization head Joseph Goebbels. He branded the film a menace, since it showed an organized group of terrorists overthrowing the state. Lang hightailed it abroad to ply his keenly subversive talents elsewhere.—Keith Uhlich

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32
DEEP THROAT (1972)

Deep Throat (1972)

The movie became a fashionable urban sensation—no doubt to the delight of many men—and touched the culture at large with its appropriation in the Watergate scandal. But behind its porny surface, the flick induced headaches related to its mob financing, its obscenity and conspiracy charges (the latter related to transportation across state lines) and theatrical barrings.—Joshua Rothkopf

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31
SWEET SWEETBACK'S BAADASSSSS SONG (1971)

Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971)

"Rated x by an all-white jury," proclaimed the poster for Melvin Van Peebles's epoch-defining provocation, which ruffled feathers across the racial divide. Caucasian critics claimed the film would incite riots, while black pundits argued that Van Peebles was reinforcing negative stereotypes. Neither group stopped this incendiary indie from breaking box-office records, thus royally pissing off the Man.—David Fear

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Users say

13 comments
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