The 50 most controversial movies ever

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

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  • Controversial movies: The Passion of the Christ (2004)

  • Controversial movies: "Un Chien Andalou" (1929)/"L'Age d'Or" (1930)

  • Controversial movies: Peeping Tom (1960)

  • Controversial movies: Crash (1996)

  • Controversial movies: The Exorcist (1973)

  • Controversial movies: Pink Flamingos (1972)

  • Controversial movies: Life of Brian (1979)

  • Controversial movies: Cruising (1980)

  • Controversial movies: In the Realm of the Senses (1976)

  • Controversial movies: Straw Dogs (1971)

Controversial movies: The Passion of the Christ (2004)

20
THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (2004)

The Passion of the Christ (2004)

Mel Gibson's acerbic personal views first came under fire when he released this visceral telling of Jesus Christ's crucifixion. It's a profoundly committed expression of faith, but protestors wanted to throw the book at Gibson for the anti-Semitism they perceived in the movie's portrayal of its villains. Mad Max hatin' on Jews? Couldn't be.—Keith Uhlich

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19
"UN CHIEN ANDALOU" (1929)/L'AGE D'OR (1930)

"Un Chien Andalou" (1929)/"L'Age d'Or" (1930)

Luis Buuel didn't pull any punches with his first two shorts. The 16-minute "Un Chien Andalou" memorably features a woman's eyeball slit by a razor, while the 60-minute L'Age d'Or, a scathing attack on bourgeois society, so incensed its first audiences that the financiers pulled it from distribution.—Keith Uhlich

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18
PEEPING TOM (1960)

Peeping Tom (1960)

While British expat Alfred Hitchcock was making stateside waves with Psycho, his countryman Michael Powell was earning England's ire for this disturbing tale of a movie-obsessed murderer. The critical savaging destroyed Powell's career, but a cult developed. Martin Scorsese was instrumental in the film's rehabilitation, funding a rerelease in the late '70s.—Keith Uhlich

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17
CRASH (1996)

Crash (1996)

David Cronenberg's vividly erotic thriller—about an underground cult that gets off on highway accidents—left censors hot and bothered. U.S. distributors were forced to release separate R and NC-17 versions. Britain approved it, though a local council barred the movie from screening in certain venues. And Italian critics demanded Cronenberg return his Cannes prize. Seems some folks could use a little nookie.—Keith Uhlich

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16
THE EXORCIST (1973)

The Exorcist (1973)

So much rumor and urban myth swirl around what is widely considered the freakiest horror movie ever made, it demands a place on our list. Fires and injuries led director William Friedkin to have the set of his "cursed" film blessed by a priest. Alleged subliminal imagery supplied extra spookiness (it was just good editing). And Linda Blair required a bodyguard for months.—Joshua Rothkopf

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15
PINK FLAMINGOS (1972)

Pink Flamingos (1972)

Intending to transgress, John Waters left no taboo untried on this, his most beloved cult movie, starring his friend, the rapturously dramatic Divine, and a host of Baltimore misfits. The film is peppered with riotous awfulness: sex with a live chicken, depictions of incest, a close-up of a proudly exposed anus. But it's the shit-eating climax—unfaked—that cements its reputation.—Joshua Rothkopf

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14
LIFE OF BRIAN (1979)

Life of Brian (1979)

Monty Python's Flying Circus could make fun of the Queen without attracting trouble, no problem. But the minute they made a satire about an average Nazarene layabout mistaken for the Messiah, its members started getting death threats. Picket lines followed, while Christian organizations complained that mocking Jesus was a mortal sin; the irony was that Python was actually ridiculing religious zealots.—David Fear

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13
CRUISING (1980)

Cruising (1980)

Controversy plagued William Friedkin's leather-bar murder mystery even before it screened for audiences. Gay activists were so offended by the film's purportedly fearmongering depictions of Manhattan's queer underground that they disrupted shooting. Once it was released, protests only intensified, though the film has since been viewed more favorably (by gay critics, in some cases) and regarded as a time capsule of a lost subculture.—Keith Uhlich

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12
IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES (1976)

In the Realm of the Senses (1976)

One expects raised eyebrows when making a movie about real-life sexual obsession—especially if it includes actual instances of actors getting it on. Nagisa Oshima had to ship his undeveloped film to France to avoid Japan's censorship laws; an American premiere at the New York Film Festival was aborted when authorities confiscated the film at the airport. Its violent, explicit scenes of lovemaking remain a how-far-can-you-go test of tolerance.—David Fear

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11
STRAW DOGS (1971)

Straw Dogs (1971)

A deeply disturbing, ugly film that nonetheless spurs valuable discussion, Sam Peckinpah's thriller takes places on an isolated English farm, where meek American mathematician David (Dustin Hoffman) takes brutal revenge on the locals who violate his wife. How much does Amy enjoy that rape, though? The question was explosive; censors demanded cuts, and the stage was set for a public outcry.—Joshua Rothkopf

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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