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The 50 most controversial movies ever made

It's time to get delightfully offended with these all-time shockers, including movies on politics, sex and violence

Enter with caution: The most controversial movies of all time don’t play gently. Filled with sex scenes, sacrilege, shocking violence and all manner of foul language, these films have been banned by popes, parents and cultural watchdogs around the world. Then again, a few of them have actually won Academy Awards and can be named among the best movies of all time. Most crucially, these infamous provocations open our eyes, ears and minds to the forward edge of cinema, taking the art form to places it wouldn’t have gone. So close the door, brace yourself and check out the 50 most controversial movies of all time.

Most controversial movies ever made

50

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.

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49

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.

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48

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.

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47

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.

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46

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.

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45

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.

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44

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.

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43

The Moon Is Blue (1953)

Otto Preminger’s harmless farce gained instant notoriety for using the words virgin, mistress and seduce; seen today, it’s more of a quaint reminder of censorship ballyhoo from the distant past, and the chance to see age-inappropriate William Holden and David Niven go head-to-head over a young lass. This was the first comedy about devirginization.

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42

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.

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41

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?

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Comments

21 comments
Damian B
Damian B

Dont know about you, but this list makes me want to look up these movies to see what all the fuss was about.

C H
C H

No Maladolescenza?

Michael a
Michael a

a statistical study has found the most controversial movies ever, see www.palgrave-journals.com/articles/palcomms201538

Sony P
Sony P

The list gave me a hard time thinking of what to watch first. I will definitely see Unite 93 and The Brown Bunny.

Rico Z
Rico Z

I miss a number of films by Peter Greenaway, f.e. The baby of Macon (which is not as good as The Thief the Cook his Wife and her Lover) but still a quite controversial movie, which was only shown twice in a arthouse cinema in Zurich Switzerland when it had its premiere...

alan m
alan m

what about Sweet Movie where the Fuck Family did real poo ect and seductions of children on the sugar boat!!

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