Most Controversial Movies of All Time


Authored by Mike Bacon in Movies and Television 
Published on 10-31-2009

What makes a motion picture controversial? The subject matter may be controversial such as films that depict the horrific events of the holocaust. (Schindler’s List) A film that contains full frontal nudity may also be considered controversial. Films that cause the theater patrons to walk out in shock or outrage would also fall into the category. Controversy can be in the eye of the beholder.

We present here a list of some of the most controversial films of all time.

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Famed director Stanly Kubrick based this film upon the novel by Anthony Burgess. The film was nominated for 4 Academy Awards including Best Picture. Had it won in that category it would have been among the first “X” rated films to do so. Malcolm McDowell became known for many years as Alex, the ultimate anti-hero in this futuristic tale of violence and manipulation. Alex is the leader of a band of his ”droogs” – young hoodlums who get their thrills by drinking milk laced with narcotics and committing acts of assault, rape and general mayhem. Alex is imprisoned and forced to endure treatment designed to end his violent streak. However, is the cure worse than the “disease”? The films scenes of violence would likely be somewhat tame next to the slasher films of today. It does contain scenes of violent rape, and full frontal nudity.

Bonnie & Clyde (1967)

Arthur Penn directed this biopic of the pair of lovers that terrorized the southwest during the depression. Warren Beatty starred as the infamous Clyde Barrow and a then relatively unknown Faye Dunaway was his murderous paramour Bonnie Parker. Gene Hackman played Clyde’s brother Buck, and Estelle Parsons won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar as Buck’s hapless wife, Blanche. The violent ending which depicted Bonnie and Clyde being cut down in a hail of machine gun fire made this film controversial. The actors were fitted with hundreds of squibs. (Small charges which when detonated cause a packet of fake blood to spurt)The death scene in the movie was one of the first instances of a character being gunned down on camera. A remake of the film starring Hillary Duff and Kevin Zagers in the title roles is due out next year.

Freaks (1932)

Tod Browning, who had directed “Dracula” starring Bela Lugosi the year before, made this controversial film about a group of circus “Freaks” for MGM. The studio hoped to capitalize upon the horror genre box office bonanza Universal Studios was reaping with films like “Dracula” and “Frankenstein”. “Freaks” is the story of love gone wrong. Cleopatra, the trapeze artist pretends to love the midget Hans, but is really only after his inheritance. His friends, the human oddities who make up the circus’ sideshow exhibit help Hans get his revenge. What made this film controversial was its inclusion of actual so-called freaks such as Prince Randian who was without arms and legs, a human skeleton, a bearded lady and so on. There is a scene where the freaks swarm Cleopatra which may bring “Night of the Living Dead” to mind for many modern viewers of the film. Irving Thalberg of MGM saw the film, and realized after a disastrous pre-screening that the film had to be edited. The film is still considered one of the most disturbing films of all time.

Triumph of the Will (1935)

Directed by Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl on a commission by Adolph Hitler, the film was a documentary of the Nazi party. The intent was to show the world the beginning of the Third Reich. The film actually showed how Hitler controlled the masses with propaganda and the sheer force of his personality. For her part, Riefenstahl was still reviled 40 years later at the 1974 Telluride Film Festival. Hitler himself praised the film as being an “incomparable glorification of the power and beauty of our Movement”.

The Da Vinci Code (2006)

The best seller by Dan Brown was adapted into this film which starred Tom Hanks as a Symbologist who uncovers a 2000 year old cover up by the Catholic Church. The story depicts an attempt to keep secret the purported marriage between Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. The Church had protested when the book was published, and did so again when the film was released. Needless to say the controversy served to sell more tickets. The film also starred Ian McKellan and Audrey Tautou.


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