The most CONTROVERSIAL movies of all time ranked

Cinema is a medium that, like no other, can stun, shock, disgust and outrage.


23 July 2023

The most CONTROVERSIAL movies of all time

Since its birth, successive creators have been pushing the boundaries of controversy, testing the endurance and understanding of viewers. However, it was often associated with numerous protests or scandals, which meant that some of the stigmatized films were pulled from cinema screens.

16. Nekromantik (1987)


Banned in many countries, Jörg Buttgereit’s work is almost amateurish in terms of production, but this in itself translates perfectly into the atmosphere of dirt and rottenness of both the presented world and its characters. Accident disposer Rob has necrophiliac tendencies he shares with his wife. When one day she takes home the man’s remains, they become more important to Betty than her husband – all it takes is a piece of tube and a condom on it to treat the body better than Rob. Soon the man loses his job, wife, corpse and will to live.

John Waters called Nekromantik the first ever erotic film for necrophiles. There is something about it, although perhaps more disturbing is the fact that Buttgereit’s direction, the way he tells this dark story, and the music, with a beautiful piano theme at the forefront, hit the viewer with a force unlike a typical horror story. Horror and macabre humor dominate here, but there is also a surprising tenderness, and above all, the tragic nature of a man for whom death was a need of life, a bittersweet obsession. Entering the psyche of the main character is not pleasant, but I would be lying if I wrote that I did not have some satisfaction.

15. Deep Throat (1972)

Deep Throat

Cult porn, especially among hipsters who are trying to prove, probably mainly to themselves, that porn is about more than arousing the viewer. As for Deep Throat, I had a few social meetings myself, where Damiano’s film complemented the intellectually bloated background for drinking vodka and groping each other in the corners. I must admit that his numbness did not impress me, because while it is difficult to tell in pornographic films whether actresses are actually aroused, with Damiano even male members had great difficulty in rising. In general, the actors tried very hard, and their friends tried hard to help them in their efforts. It should be emphasized that despite the success, the biggest victim of the audience’s love for Deep Throat is undoubtedly Linda Lovelace. Her life was as breakneck as the main theme of Damiano’s film. Even today, in the world of Japanese weird porn, the very idea of putting the clitoris down the throat seems too abstract to squeeze out at least a feigned commitment to the needs of the porn viewer.

14. Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Requiem for a Dream

After more then 20 years from the premiere, the second feature film by the author of mother! is still recognized as one of the most disturbing films ever made. Although Requiem… tells the story of four addictions, and drugs remain the fifth hero, it is not the theme of the tragic effects of addiction that makes it so moving and difficult to bear. It is true that the fate of Harry, Marion and Tyler are as simple as invariably terrifying stories of the fall of heroin addicts, but juxtaposed with Sara’s story, they take on a wider dimension. The horrific end of Harry’s mother, who had no need for a shot and just wanted to lose weight, makes Requiem for a Dream a study in the complex nature of addiction, at the heart of which is the human obsession with escapism. Desire and the pursuit of a dream. The end of all four is shocking not only because the scenes of heroin collapse, amputation, electroshock and sexual degradation for a shot are shocking, but also because – and perhaps above all – because it brings brutal disillusionment to the viewer. TV, food, success, weed, speed, heroin – it’s all the same. Tools with which we maintain a state of dissociation in which we can dream about other ourselves, other than in the current moment. Tomorrow, next month, next year, slimmer, richer, happier. Unfortunately, the lack of contact with reality turns a beautiful dream into a nightmare. According to Darren Aronofsky, chasing a dream seems to be synonymous with chasing delusion, and that’s why he takes away our hope with this film. In its place, he leaves a bitter diagnosis of humanity, according to which our nature is to dream of greatness, but to strive for self-destruction.

13. The Passion of the Christ (2004)

The Passion of the Christ aroused controversy in various fields after its premiere – Gibson was accused of anti-Semitism, inconsistency with history, and focusing on showing violence instead of the message and teachings of Jesus. Indeed, the intensity of brutality is extremely high here, what’s more – the torture scenes are extremely realistic, which is largely due to the excellent make-up and very convincing acting of Jim Caviezel. However, disregarding the controversies and religious issues, and focusing on the purely cinematic side, The Passion impresses with its attention to detail (the actors speak an extinct language!), delights with its cinematography, monumental soundtrack, and moves even from the human side, just to mention the beautifully realized theme of mother’s love. It definitely stays in your head.

12. Natural Born Killers (1994)

Natural Born Killers

Natural Born Killers by Oliver Stone is not only a stimulating film about defiant love. This is a film primarily about celebrating murderers and justifying their crimes. Mickey and Mallory Knox are the most famous killer couple, merrily roaming Route 66. They kill everyone at will – waitresses, policemen, random passers-by – and yet they are hailed as the most famous media couple and gain a legion of fans. On TV, Mickey explains that each of us murders – a man kills by cutting down trees, and he calls it industry. The two lovers are shown in such a tender, captivating way that it is impossible not to root for them. They are presented as free spirits, misunderstood romantic heroes, so they quickly become the viewer’s favorite pair of screen villains.

11. The Last Tango in Paris  (1972)

Last Tango in Paris

The story of an elderly American who suffers after his wife’s suicide and his relationship with a young French woman does not leave the viewer indifferent. The sex between these two is brutal, sadomasochistic, degrading in a way – they don’t even want to know each other’s names, they hardly talk, and what happens in the tryst apartment has nothing to do with how they behave after leaving it. The film itself is controversial, but the scandal was also caused by reports from the set. It was rumored that actress Maria Schneider was forced to perform a rape scene, and there was real violence during filming. Director Bernardo Bertolucci later denied this, but the case took on a life of its own.

10. Life of Brian (1979)

Life of Brian

In his autobiography, Terry Gilliam wrote that with Life of Brian, Monty Python managed to connect people of many faiths and nationalities – “offending them all in one fell swoop”. In fact, almost everyone felt deeply offended. The premiere of the film was protested by priests, rabbis and pastors, Catholics, Jews and Protestants. Marches and pickets were organized against the adventures of the unlucky Brian. In Britain, the home country of as many as five members of the group, opponents of the film managed to block distribution in some cities – including Swansea, Whitehaven, Harrogate and Cornwall. Life of Brian was also not shown in Norway, which the Pythons quickly turned into a perfect joke, advertising their film with the tagline: “So funny it was banned in Norway.” Finally, two members of the group, John Cleese and Michael Palin, appeared on Friday Night, Saturday Morning to discuss the message and reception of the film with Malcolm Muggeridge (a Catholic journalist) and Mervyn Stockwood (the Bishop of Southwark). Common ground, surprisingly, was not found.

9. Antichrist (2009)

antichrist shower scene

Lars von Trier in his career can boast of quite a number of shocking or provocative episodes. The palm of precedence in this category, however, is undoubtedly held by his Antichrist from 2007. Virtually everything about it is controversial, from the artistically inflated pornography in the prologue, through the obscene combination of sex and violence, the building of characters on gender stereotypes (with the archaic nature-culture opposition at the center), and ending with a pompous dedication to Andrei Tarkovsky. The mad genius of von Trier lies in this pretentious exaggeration and insolent exaggeration of the above-mentioned “shock factors”. Antichrist, characterized by perverse magnetism, is probably its most blunt example.

8. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

the last temptation of christ sex scene barbara hershey

This is a strange example of a controversial film. For many years, The Last Temptation of Christ has been on the lists of the most iconoclastic or scandalous productions, protests against the film have been, are and will be, but are they right? Catholics, because it is mainly the followers of this religion, who do not like the work of Martin Scorsese, have a problem with the sequence showing the alternative life of Jesus – as a husband and father. But that’s just a dying fantasy, led by the devil into temptation. In the end, Christ dies on the cross anyway with the words “It is fulfilled” on his lips, knowing how happy his life could be if he had decided to go his own way. This makes his sacrifice even greater. Scorsese reminds us that Jesus also had human characteristics – he suffered, doubted, was afraid. A large part of Catholics prefer to see him as an omnipotent, inaccessible messiah, who may not be understood, but who must be trusted implicitly. And all that screaming, for what?

7. The Human Centipede Trilogy (2009, 2011, 2015)

The Human Centipede

From what I remember, Tom Six consulted a doctor about whether the idea of making centipedes out of humans was possible. With a bit of surgical pedantry and asepsis, however the act of creating such a biological construct sounds, it is possible to connect people into one common digestive tract and keep them alive for some time. If so, the thesis that the plot of The Human Centipede is feasible outside of the film becomes quite plausible. The least likely, however, is to find a doctor crazy enough to undertake such a licentious and inhumane experiment. On the other hand, the history of medicine and forensic science knows various acts of crime, which the visionaries who committed them called experiments for the benefit of humanity, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the human centipede hadn’t already been created somewhere. So far we only have three Tom Six films, and in each of them the centipede is longer. Imagine what people go through at the end of it. The first one is the best. He eats unprocessed food. And the second one – it’s hard to think about it without disgust. But its limits must be crossed, as Tom Six said.

6. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Cannibal Holocaust

It’s been more then 40 years since the premiere, but the emotions have not subsided and this production is still being rediscovered. Banned in many countries, the film is most often mentioned in the context of killing animals to enhance realism, which also aroused disgust among those who have not seen it. However, Cannibal Holocaust is a very successful film on many levels (plot, visuals, music). The script uses the formula of adventure cinema, and the aim of the search for the characters is a lost team of amateur filmmakers who went deep into the Amazonian forests infamous for cannibalistic tribes. The mystery of the disappearance of the travelers is explained thanks to the tape with the recording of the expedition. At some point, the film changes the convention from professional production to semi-amateur, stylized as a documentary from the center of hell. The worst thing about all this is that people, civilized by definition, turn out to be as primitive as feral cannibals when confronted with natives. It is difficult to sympathize with them, but it is also difficult to remain indifferent when one concludes that the tropical jungle is as treacherous and cruel as the urban one in which we live.

As a result of the contract with the director, the actors agreed to disappear for a year after the end of filming, which led to Rugger Deodato being taken to court on suspicion of murdering the actors in order to get better effect on the screen. All the controversies surrounding the film have earned it a cult status, but most importantly, it has sparked discussions about the moral boundaries of filmmaking. By crossing borders, the director strengthened the message of his work – he proved that despite the sensitive nature of man, there is something psychopathic about him. The only thing that did not raise any doubts, and both then and now impresses with its charming atmosphere, was the music of Riz Ortolani.

5. Irreversible (2002)

irreversible tunnel scene monica belucci knife

An indicator of Gaspar Noe’s original language is far-reaching bluntness in showing violence and sex, not turning the camera’s eye away from any transgression. The 2002 film is the best example of this method and contributed to the director’s ambivalent fame as a shock specialist. The visually explicit scenes of murder and rape are a kind of showcase of the achronologically told Irreversible and make it a very difficult show. However, under the veneer of brutality there is a quite sensible message, and the tension between it and the form in which it is presented almost naturally leads to disputes about what is the essence of the film – shock or intellectual reflection on the consequences of events? Irreversible raises doubts, objections, moves and provokes – thanks to this multidimensionality, this film is so deeply memorable.

4. Caligula (1979)


Let me start with a controversial thesis that fits the tone of this film – people complaining about the wickedness of the current government should read or recall Caligula from 1979. The script was repeatedly modified, scenes reworked subjected to censorship restrictions – all this meant that the film was released in a significantly reduced version, and it was only after a long time that Brass’s work without the excised fragments saw the light of day. And there was a lot to hide. Caligula is a historical spectacle of a pornographic scale with the participation of famous actors. Malcolm McDowell is very evocative as the insane, sexually insatiable ruler of the Roman Empire who gives vent to his depraved power. Viewers did not hide their indignation due to excessive nudity and indecent and licentious moments. Supporters of the film defended it, arguing that there was no compromise in depicting an ancient period in which no one would want to live regardless of their views.



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