The 50 most controversial movies ever

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

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  • Controversial movies: Scarface (1932)

  • Controversial movies: Midnight Cowboy (1969)

  • Controversial movies: I Am Curious (Yellow) (1967)

  • Controversial movies: Faces of Death (1978)

  • Controversial movies: The Outlaw (1943)

  • Controversial movies: Henry & June (1990)

  • Controversial movies: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

  • Controversial movies: Do the Right Thing (1989)

  • Controversial movies: Kids (1995)

  • Controversial movies: Ecstasy (1933)

Controversial movies: Scarface (1932)

30
SCARFACE (1932)

Scarface (1932)

Fans of Brian De Palma's coke-laced remake owe themselves a visit to the original, considered wildly inappropriate in its day. Hollywood censors objected to the violence, the glamorization of crime and intimations of incest; they insisted on both a new ending and a new title, Scarface: The Shame of the Nation. Megabucks producer Howard Hughes scoffed and disowned the edit.—Joshua Rothkopf

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29
MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969)

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Times Square hustlers, lowlife junkies and free-lovin' hippies—could suburban audiences stomach John Schlesinger's nightmarish New York City? The MPAA didn't think so, instantly slapping this depraved drama with a dreaded X rating. Oscar voters thought otherwise, though, making it the only "adults only" movie to win Best Picture.—David Fear

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28
I AM CURIOUS (YELLOW) (1967)

I Am Curious (Yellow) (1967)

When Vilgot Sjman's sexually explicit Swedish drama was brought into this country, custom agents seized it at the airport. Suddenly, this foreign film became a cause clbre; the case went all the way to the Supreme Court before obscenity charges were dropped. The bold movie paved the way for all the art-house smut and porn-chic that followed.—David Fear

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27
FACES OF DEATH (1978)

Faces of Death (1978)

It doesn't matter that much of this "documentary" was faked (director John Alan Schwartz, working under the name Conan le Cilaire, also played the leader of a flesh-eating cult). It still represents an essential rite of passage for thousands of teenage sleepovers, inculcating a taste for naughtiness. Monkey brains? Nah. All special effects.—Joshua Rothkopf

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26
THE OUTLAW (1943)

The Outlaw (1943)

Forget the billing order: The breakout star(s) of this tawdry Western was Jane Russell's bust. Obsessive producer-director Howard Hughes featured Russell's assets prominently in both the movie and its leering promotional material. The outcry over immorality delayed general release for three years—at which point this mammary-obsessed pet project became a mammoth hit.—David Fear

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25
HENRY & JUNE (1990)

Henry & June (1990)

Philip Kaufman's adventurous biopic about libidinous literary mavericks Henry Miller and Anas Nin proved that the new NC-17 rating carried the same stigmas as its X predecessor, with media-outlet boycotts turning the film into cinema non grata. Overnight, Kaufman's erotic love story became a culture-wars flash point.—David Fear

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24
THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Queer and feminist activists were vexed by Jonathan Demme's much-lauded chiller, due to its flamboyantly transsexual villain, Buffalo Bill, and his relish for skinning women. Protests were held at screenings, and a clearly shaken Demme tried to atone with his next fiction feature, the courthouse AIDS drama, Philadelphia.—Keith Uhlich

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23
DO THE RIGHT THING (1989)

Do the Right Thing (1989)

Many predicted Spike Lee's incendiary take on Bed-Stuy race relations would stir up riots. But the only trash cans hurled through pizzeria windows were verbal: Lee accused reviewers of blind prejudice, while heated editorials were plentiful. The film became a political football, and its provocative influence persists.—Keith Uhlich

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22
KIDS (1995)

Kids (1995)

Moral pundits don't like seeing wanton sex, drug usage and criminal activities in movies; throw in underage teens doing all the above and you've got a bona fide uproar on your hands. Photographer-turned filmmaker Larry Clark certainly didn't skimp on the adolescent bad behavior in his film debut (scripted by budding auteur Harmony Korine), prompting accusations of child porn and forcing Miramax to buy back the movie from its parent company, Disney.—David Fear

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21
ECSTASY (1933)

Ecstasy (1933)

Sexual intercourse is implied rather than shown in this frenzied German film about a love triangle (tame by today's standards). But the close-ups of blushing Hedy Lamarr, in clear rapture during an illicit encounter with a hunky construction worker, were enough to raise the hackles of the National Legion of Decency, which banned its importation. Pope Pius XI publicly denounced it, which didn't help either.—Keith Uhlich

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Users say

12 comments
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