Movies & TV

The 13 Most Controversial Movies Of All Time

Avert your eyes if you're easily offended.

Cinema is meant to be challenging. But some movies caused such a stink they inspired complaints and protests and got themselves banned around the globe.

These are the 13 most notoriously controversial movies of all time—films that'll still raise an eyebrow now. How many have you seen—and how offended were you?

1| The Birth of a Nation (1915)

Where do we begin with DW Griffith's infamous magnum opus? It portrayed black people (many portrayed by white actors in blackface) as violent brutes and the Ku Klux Klan as heroes, and is believed to have been responsible for a resurgence of the real KKK, as well as inciting violent attacks against people of color.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People protested the movie, which led to it being banned in a few places, but didn't prevent it from also becoming a runaway success in the U.S. Today, it is remembered as a technical masterpiece...and an appalling work of racist propaganda.

2| A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Stanley Kubrick—who, lest we forget, was once accused of faking the moon landing—has never shied away from controversy. But A Clockwork Orange was the jewel in his 'upsetting the establishment' crown.

The old ultra-violence attracted the ire of censors, including The National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures, whose 'C' rating for 'Condemned by the Legion of Decency' meant that American Catholics were strictly forbidden from seeing the film.

The movie is now considered a landmark in terms of reducing controls on violence shown in the cinema. But attempts to link A Clockwork Orange to several violent crimes, as well as threats made against Kubrick's family, led to the man himself requesting that the film be withdrawn.


3| The Devils (1971)

Something about this sexually explicit, violent film that explores religious themes and features national treasure Vanessa Redgrave as a hunchback abbess shouting "Cock!" really got people's backs up in the '70s. The naked, fornicating nuns probably didn't help.

Accusations of blasphemy meant that director Ken Russell's uncompromising historical movie was subject to cuts wherever it was released. Some of the original material was restored after Mark Kermode discovered the deleted scenes. The new version has been screened, but never given a wide release.

4| Deep Throat (1972)

As a highly visible movie early in the 'Golden Age of Porn' which aspired to be more than a ten-minute diversion in a seedy Time Square cinema, no one will be surprised to hear that the creators of Deep Throat were charged with obscenity. The movie was banned outright in 27 states, and wasn't available in the U.K. until 2000.

Then there were the mob connections of producer Louis 'Butchie' Peraino, who used his Mafia associates to distribute the movie, as well as star Linda Boreman's later accusations that her abusive husband forced her to make the film. The Deep Throat controversy remains more than just a less permissive society getting hot under the collar about a little slap and tickle.

5| The Last House on the Left (1972)

Horror legend Wes Craven's unapologetically sleazy film about two girls tortured and raped in the woods by a gang of thugs was especially controversial.

For instance, it was refused a certificate by the British Board of Film Classification, pre-empting the moral panic around films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and I Spit on Your Grave. In 1984, it made the infamous 'video nasties' list, and was banned in the U.K. for the next 20 years. It's still considered one of the first and most powerful of the extreme post-Vietnam horrors which changed the face of the genre forever.

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6| Last Tango in Paris (1972)

Bertolucci's tale of an anonymous love affair is best known for the controversy, on and off-screen, surrounding an anal rape scene where Marlon Brando's character uses butter as a lubricant.

At the time, audiences and critics were shocked by the sexualized violence and more recently this was compounded when lead actress Maria Schneider revealed that the butter element was not in the script or disclosed to her before the take.

Schneider has said the movie ruined her life and "during the scene, even though what Marlon was doing wasn't real, I was crying real tears. I felt humiliated and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci."

She stayed friends with Brando but never made up with Bertolucci.

7| Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

Banned in several countries, Passolini's ordeal which sees a group of youths systematically raped and tortured is possibly the most controversial and notorious movie of all time.

As recently as 1994, a bookstore owner in the U.S. was arrested when he sold a copy to an undercover cop (the case was overturned) and it still causes a fuss today due to its relentless bleakness and shocking set pieces.

Many critics talk about how brilliant and important the movie is. But not many of them are to be found watching it with a pizza on a Friday night.

8| Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)

Life of Brian's tale of Jesus's next-door neighbor is considered one of the greatest comedies of all time, but not everyone was in on the joke. Christian activists called blasphemy and, with no sense of irony, picketed screenings of a film lampooning baseless moral panic.


The film was banned all over the place, including Ireland, parts of the U.K. and Norway (famously leading to the movie's Swedish tagline "So funny it was banned in Norway"). In 2009, Terry Jones and Michael Palin attended a screening of Life of Brian in Aberystwyth, where the ban had just been lifted—alongside the town's mayor Sue Jones-Davies, who played Judith Iscariot in the film.

9| Cruising (1980)

William Friedkin's middle name is unknown, but we suspect that it might be 'Controversy'. This time, it was the marginalized gay community of 1979's New York City who were angered by his decision to make a film about Al Pacino as an undercover policeman investigating murders in the leather bar scene.

Opposing the representation of their community as "a validation of Anita Bryant's hate campaign" (in the words of journalist Arthur Bell), activists did their best to disrupt filming. They threw things at the cast and crew, chanted and played loud music, and shone mirrors across the set to mess with the lighting. After release, Cruising was allegedly the inspiration for several hate crimes, including a fatal shooting at one of the clubs where the movie was filmed.

10| Natural Born Killers (1994)

Oliver Stone's tale of a couple of mass murderers who become a media sensation—based on a script by a young man called Quentin Tarantino—has been linked to a series of terrible events.

The film's release was delayed in the U.K. for six months while the BBFC investigated reports of Natural Born Killers' links to several copycat crimes. More followed, including the Columbine shootings, where the two student killers were revealed to be fans of the movie.


11| Kids (1995)

This collaboration between 52-year-old first-time director Larry Clarke and 19-year-old first time screenwriter Harmony Korine (and featuring young unknown actors Chloë Sevigny and Rosario Dawson) knew exactly how to enrage conservative audiences with teenagers engaged in sex, drug-taking, and criminal behavior, not to mention a HIV positive protagonist with a thing for virgins.

The Washington Post called it "virtually child pornography", and a debate raged over whether it was a timely cautionary tale or appalling smut. Miramax's parent company Disney refused to allow Kids' release, forcing their little sister to set up the temporary Shining Excalibur Films to distribute the movie.

12| Crash (1996)

Not Paul Haggis' 2004 race relations drama, but David Cronenberg's adaptation of J.G Ballard's novel of "semen, blood and motor-oil" which sees James Spader join a group of people who get off, sexually, on car crashes.

Scenes of sex and violence caused quite the stir, including one memorable moment where Spader has sex with a scar on Rosanna Arquette's leg.

It still managed to scoop a bunch of awards though and remains less controversial than the decision to give the other Crash the Oscar over Brokeback Mountain.

13| A Serbian Film (2010)

Willfully provocative, this horror satire by Sran Spasojevi nabbed column inches for its graphic depiction of sex, violence, pornography, rape, and pedophilia.

It follows a retired porn actor who takes 'one last job' which turns out to be a snuff movie and includes one particularly outrageous scene where the phrase 'newborn porn!' comes into effect (though it's off-screen and played with very dark humor).


For its trouble, A Serbian Film was cut in the UK and banned in Spain, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, Norway, and South Korea.

From: Digital Spy

This story originally appeared on Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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