These movies don’t go down easy. Stubbornly, they persist in our cultural memory—these are the films that feel like gauntlets to run. They contain the most lurid sex scenes, the most gruesome violence, the foulest language. Or at least it was at the time, when popes and cultural watchdogs raised alarms. Even so, some of these films have won Academy Awards and count among the best ever made, despite (or perhaps because of) their inflammatory nature. These are the films that represent cinema at its cutting edge, often literally. Here’s a list of the most controversial Movies ever made.
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, Jews.
Triumph Of The Will (1934)
Famous film critic Roger Ebert said “There were other documentaries about the Nazi rallies,” But no one remembers [them]; they weren’t as good.” Triumph of the Will remains exhibit A in the argument about aesthetic beauty used in the service of ideological evil. Its indelible compositions and sense of space are undeniably brilliant; the result of its director’s creative genius furthered a legacy of evil.
Salo or The 120 Days Of Sodom (1975)
The movie was banned in Britain and Australia, and caused a stir nearly 20 years later in America, when the owners of a Cincinnati video store were arrested for “pandering.” The movie has undoubtedly become a influence on provocateurs like Michael Haneke and Lars von Trier. Yet its most upsetting legacy might be the fate of Pasolini himself, mysteriously murdered only weeks before its world premiere.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
A future-shock parable about free will, this vivid depiction of a charismatic gang leader gained instant notoriety for its extreme violence and prolonged scenes of sexual assault. After defending the movie for months, Kubrick himself prohibited the movie from being shown in England, where the controversy had reached a fever pitch. It wouldn’t be publicly exhibited there for decades.
Straw Dogs (1971)
A deeply disturbing, ugly film that nonetheless spurs valuable discussion, Sam Peckinpah’s thriller takes place on an isolated English farm, where meek American mathematician David (Dustin Hoffman) takes brutal revenge on the locals who violated 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.
Monty Python’s 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.
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 poop-eating climax (unfaked!) that cements its reputation.
Of course Lars von Trier was going to make our list; the question was only which film. We’ll take this instant Cannes sensation—reportedly born out of the director’s own depression—in which chaos reigns, and some rusty shears are involved in a nasty bit of business involving Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Bring your appetite, leave with it spoiled.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Paradoxically, the movie isn’t all that gory—certainly not like some of the other entries on this list. Yet Tobe Hooper’s proto–slasher film unsettled censors around the world, leading to its prohibition in such unlikely places as Sweden, Ireland and Brazil. A thick slab of barbecued menace, the thriller still inspires smart, young directors—and plenty of dumb ones, too.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Excruciating to watch, this Amazonian misadventure (shot on location) spurred massive outrage for its special effects being too good to be fake. A notorious scene of a naked woman’s impalement actually led to the Italian director’s arrest for murder. After those charges were successfully disputed, the movie was still widely banned due to incidents of animal abuse—which, alas, were not faked.