The Kiss (1896)
AMC Movie List

The 100 Most Controversial Movies of All Time

Filmsite.org‘s Tim Dirks spotlights 100 movies that had moviegoers talking. Which one is really the most shocking to you?

rank title points votes your vote
1 A Clockwork Orange (1971, UK)
The second (and last) X-rated Best-Picture nominee, Stanley Kubrick's dystopian future appalled some viewers with its ultra-violence.
732 2448
2 Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
This gore-soaked movie’s use of “found footage” to reveal the fate of a missing documentary crew made it seem too real.
585 1635
3 The Exorcist (1973)
The sight of 13-year-old Linda Blair vomiting, swearing, and abusing herself with a crucifix horrified moviegoers and critics.
581 2121
4 Salo (aka The 120 Days of Sodom) (1975, It.)
Pier Paolo Pasolini’s politically provocative and sexually explicit movie equates fascism and sexual torture.
442 1272
5 I Spit On Your Grave (1978)
This rape-revenge movie so incensed critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel that they tried to have it pulled from theaters.
242 1068
6 Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Darren Aronofsky’s hallucinatory chronicle of addiction had to be released unrated when he refused to cut a degrading orgy.
226 1362
7 Caligula (1979)
Variety dubbed this historical epic -- written by Gore Vidal, produced by Bob Guccione, and directed by Tinto Brass -- a “moral holocaust.”
224 1046
8 Deep Throat (1972)
The movie that ushered in “porno chic,” Deep Throat sparked precedent-setting court cases that challenged assumptions about obscenity.
219 1251
9 Natural Born Killers (1994)
Directed by Oliver Stone from a Quentin Tarantino script, this look at sexual obsession was blamed for inspiring real-life murders.
212 1400
10 Kids (1995)
A realistic look at drugging, hook ups, and frank sex talk among teens, photographer Larry Clark’s movie was labeled salacious and pedophilic.
205 1129
11 Psycho (1960)
Viewers used to Hitchcock's Technicolor thrillers were stunned by this black-and-white shocker that dared to kill Janet Leigh before the halfway mark.
198 1604
12 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Rural cannibals slaughter soft city folks in the first “meat movie,” a horror tale rooted in realistic violence and social malaise.
196 1384
13 Lolita (1962, U.K.)
Stanley Kubrick played up the dark humor in Nabokov’s novel about a middle-aged man infatuated with a pubescent girl.
174 1020
14 The Last House on the Left (1972)
Wes Craven changed Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring into a crude, taboo-breaking shocker.
174 1012
15 Faces of Death (1978)
The fact that it was “banned in 40 countries” was a selling point for this morbid collection of death scenes, some real and some fake.
165 947
16 The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009)
In this grotesque movie, a mad doctor turns three young victims into a twelve-limbed abomination.
148 1174
17 Freaks (1932)
Though its sympathies were with the sideshow performers, this circus drama was criticized for casting real-life “human oddities.”
137 955
18 Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
The National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures reviled Polanski's dark horror classic for making "perverted use” of Christian beliefs.
136 1158
19 The Deer Hunter (1978)
Michael Cimino’s depiction of friendships tested by the Vietnam War won an Oscar, despite accusations of inaccuracy and racism.
126 1188
20 The Passion of The Christ (2004)
Mel Gibson's film was called anti-Semitic and became the highest-grossing independent film ever.
111 1323
21 The Evil Dead (1981)
Sam Raimi’s debut was virtually guaranteed an "X" rating for blood and gore, but the rape scene was the capper, and it was released unrated.
109 1031
22 Irreversible (2002, Fr.)
Walkouts were common during this French thriller, which depicts a vicious and lengthy rape and its aftermath in reverse chronological order.
109 829
23 The Birth Of A Nation (1915)
Even in 1915, D.W. Griffith’s Civil War epic caused a stir for its stereotypical depiction of African-Americans.
106 880
24 Blue Velvet (1986)
David Lynch's look at the violence beneath the facade of small-town eighties America was denounced for images of sexual degradation.
98 906
25 Pink Flamingos (1972)
Cult provocateur John Waters used bizarre, crude, tasteless and sexually grotesque images to challenge cultural mores in his first feature.
98 782
26 Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer (1986, released in 1990)
Michael Rooker’s intense performance made this take on Henry Lee Lucas’ crimes feel unbearably real.
94 712
27 Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979, UK)
This satire lampooned religious zealotry and thus was labeled blasphemous and sacrilegious.
93 1083
28 Antichrist (2009, Den.)
A couple engages in violent sex and sexual violence after their son’s death, but art-house audiences took its provocations in stride.
91 813
29 Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
One of the most influential movies of the seventies was accused of glamorizing Depression-era robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.
83 965
30 The Last Temptation Of Christ (1988)
Religious fundamentalists picketed and boycotted Martin Scorsese’s film on the life of Christ.
79 911
31 Scarface (1932)
Howard Hawks’ classic was banned in several states despite pre-release changes designed to counter claims that it glorified gangsters.
75 1057
32 Midnight Cowboy (1969)
The only X-rated Best-Picture winner, this gritty movie discomfited some viewers with its frank, non-judgmental depiction of homosexuality.
74 878
33 Straw Dogs (1971)
A double rape and its aftermath made Sam Peckinpah’s movie about a mild-mannered mathematician driven to violence a hot-button topic.
61 725
34 Dirty Harry (1971)
Is Harry Callahan’s contempt for modern criminal-justice protocols a liberal critique of vigilantism or reactionary propaganda?
58 1028
35 South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)
This animated satire included such provocations as depicting Satan and Saddam Hussein as lovers.
54 1108
36 Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Deplored by political and religious conservatives, this was the first mainstream gay/bi-sexual romance; it garnered both critical and popular acclaim.
52 1178
37 Last Tango In Paris (1972, It./Fr.)
Bernardo Bertolucci's striking juxtaposition of lust and despair starred Hollywood icon Marlon Brando.
42 718
38 Crash (1996)
David Cronenberg’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s outre novel about people who get off on car crashes was too fetishistic for many.
37 759
39 Hard Candy (2005)
Subtle performances helped make this thriller about a teen sparring with a suspected pedophile seem thought-provoking rather than sleazy.
36 726
40 Lolita (1997)
Lolita could still shock 35 years after Kubrick’s adaptation; even after extensive cuts, Adrian Lyne’s franker version was too hot for theaters.
12 732
41 The Warriors (1979)
Worried that Walter Hill’s depiction of gangs might incite real violence, Paramount Pictures temporarily pulled it from several theaters.
10 760
42 JFK (1991)
Oliver Stone's complex, provocative conspiracy thriller was attacked for legitimizing a crackpot theory about JFK’s assassination.
9 845
43 Nekromantik (1987, Germ.)
Necrophilia may be the last taboo, and this German gross-out pulled no punches, which is why it was loathed and banned in many markets.
8 564
44 Basic Instinct (1992)
Sharon Stone’s turn as a seductive bisexual murderess made her a star, but the movie raised hackles for its depiction of lethal lesbians.
3 905
45 The Wild Bunch (1969)
Sam Peckinpah's movie was both praised for its vision of the dying West and lambasted for its savagely explicit violence.
3 681
46 Dogma (1999)
Kevin Smith’s inquiry into the nature of good and evil is surprisingly sincere, but its vulgar snarkiness still rankled religious leaders.
-3 843
47 All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
This Oscar-winning antiwar movie drew fire for portraying young German soldiers with sympathy.
-6 668
48 Pretty Baby (1978)
Louis Malle’s decision to cast 12-year-old Brooke Shields as a New Orleans prostitute struck many as child exploitation.
-13 571
49 Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS (1975)
Inspired both by art-house sensation The Night Porter (1974) and real-life "Bitch of Buchenwald" Ilse Koch, this sex/torture movie spawned a wave of “nasty Nazi” movies.
-16 530
50 Citizen Kane (1941)
Critics loved it, but media mogul W.R. Hearst -- the inspiration for Kane – used his influence to discredit Orson Welles’ groundbreaking movie.
-20 920
51 Peeping Tom (1960, U.K.)
British critics called Michael Powell’s thriller about a tormented murderer perverted, necrophilic, and trashy; his career never recovered.
-25 549
52 Shortbus (2006)
This drama of young bohemians in post 9/11 New York was the most sexually-graphic American movie ever released in non-porn theaters.
-28 530
53 Men Behind the Sun (1988, Jap.)
Inspired by grotesque medical experiments carried out by Japan’s notorious Unit 731 during WWII.
-29 479
54 Ken Park (2002)
Unsimulated sex scenes sparked accusations that filmmaker Larry Clark exploited his teenaged cast, and it was barely distributed in the US.
-33 543
55 The Devils (1971, U.K.)
Ken Russell’s drama about womanizing priests, sex-crazed nuns, and hysteria in seventeenth-century France was banned in deeply Catholic Italy.
-37 515
56 The Dreamers (2003)
Bernardo Bertolucci's NC-17-rated chronicle of sexual discovery hints at incest and other taboos while deliberately evoking erotic art movies of the ‘60s.
-39 515
57 In the Realm of the Senses (1976, Jap.)
Nagisa Oshima's graphic examination of sexual obsession was seized and edited by US Customs.
-44 504
58 Triumph Of The Will (1935, Ger.)
Leni Rienfenstahl’s gorgeous documentary glorified the Nazis' ideals and iconography.
-45 545
59 Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)
Michael Moore’s scathing documentary about George W. Bush’s war on terror was a hit despite conservative claims that it was propaganda.
-48 880
60 Do The Right Thing (1989)
Critics worried that Spike Lee’s evocation of poverty, police brutality, and racial tensions in Brooklyn would incite violence.
-48 646
61 The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989, UK)
Peter Greenaway put a high-style gloss on base depravity in this cruel allegory about capitalism.
-53 517
62 Baby Doll (1956)
The Catholic Legion of Decency condemned Tennessee Williams’ lurid tale of a thumb-sucking child bride and the men who lust for her.
-61 485
63 The Last Picture Show (1971)
Peter Bogdanovich’s melancholy look at adultery, alcoholism, and promiscuity in fifties Texas divided moviegoers and critics.
-63 597
64 Song of the South (1946)
Never available on video or DVD in the US, Disney’s charming animated take on Southern folklore is tainted by its live-action sequences depicting happy slaves.
-63 575
65 Cruising (1980)
William Friedkin's sexually frank thriller offended gay-rights activists by implying that homosexuality inevitably leads to murder.
-63 489
66 Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
The deaths of actor Vic Morrow and two children while filming prompted new safety regulations.
-66 732
67 Carnal Knowledge (1971)
Moviegoers expecting to be titillated were taken aback by this drama’s raw, taboo-breaking examination of misogyny.
-69 491
68 Snuff (1976, Arg/USA)
Tacking a cynical “real” murder sequence onto a ho-hum exploitation movie generated enough media outrage to make Snuff a lucrative hit.
-80 468
69 Hounddog (2007)
Outcry over a rape scene involving an Elvis-loving pre-teen (played by 12-year-old Dakota Fanning) helped sink this drama set in 1950s Alabama.
-83 477
70 Viridiana (1961, Sp./Mex.)
Luis Bunuel’s surreal masterpiece was widely condemned for its suggestions of incest, rape and necrophilia.
-83 453
71 Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1974, Swed.)
A US distributor added hardcore inserts to Bo Vibenius’ grim rape-revenge movie.
-84 438
72 The Brown Bunny (2003)
Gossip about cult actor Vincent Gallo’s directing debut centered on a graphic oral-sex scene and his feud with critic Roger Ebert.
-88 534
73 Baise Moi (2000, Fr.)
A hardcore hybrid of Natural Born Killers and Thelma and Louise, this drama about two abused women who turn vigilante was banned in its native France.
-88 488
74 Bloodsucking Freaks (1976)
Women Against Pornography unwittingly raised this ugly horror movie’s profile by denouncing its relentless, misogynistic violence.
-88 460
75 9 Songs (2004, UK)
This UK movie received limited US distribution but revived the “porn or art” debate by charting a couple’s relationship through nine unsimulated sex scenes.
-100 478
76 Titicut Follies (1967)
Frederick Wiseman's disturbing documentary exposed abuse in mental institutions, but its unflinching footage of patients was called insensitive.
-100 458
77 I Am Curious (Yellow) (1967, Swe.)
Mockumentary about ‘60s youth was condemned as pornographic.
-106 466
78 Boxing Helena (1993)
Madonna and Kim Basinger bailed on Jennifer Lynch’s story of a sexually troubled surgeon who tames his dream girl by amputation.
-110 538
79 Ecstasy (1933, Czech.)
Americans were shocked by the nudity and sexual frankness of this Czech drama about an unhappy wife searching for fulfillment.
-111 445
80 The Outlaw (1943)
Busty starlet Jane Russell’s breasts cast a long shadow over this erotically charged Western, outraging guardians of public decency.
-116 470
81 Bandit Queen (1994, India)
Indian censors deplored the nudity and violence in this biopic about Phoolan Devi, who overcame rape, child marriage and false imprisonment to become a politician.
-118 468
82 A Real Young Girl (aka Une Vraie Jeune Fille) (1975, Fr.)
French filmmaker Catherine Breillat's film on explicit evocation of disturbing desires.
-118 444
83 Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971)
Melvin Van Peebles’ indie movie reflected the simmering rage of disillusioned African-Americans.
-119 463
84 Mondo Cane (1962, It.)
This Italian shockumentary was castigated for exploiting footage of lurid cultural practices from around the world.
-119 447
85 Henry & June (1990)
The first major studio release rated NC-17, this arty biopic featured a guilt-free menage a trois, nudity and Uma Thurman in a lesbian kiss.
-121 449
86 The Da Vinci Code (2006)
Conservative Christian groups fumed and urged boycotts, but the popularity of Dan Brown’s thriller about arcane secrets and occult mysteries won out.
-124 962
87 The Message (1976, 1977)
Though this epic biopic deferred to Islamic law by never showing Mohammed, it was still condemned as sacrilegious and banned in many Arab countries.
-125 453
88 United 93 (2006)
The trailer that positioned this chillingly realistic 9/11 docu-drama as a formulaic thriller occasioned more dismay than the movie itself.
-129 615
89 Victim (1961, UK)
Homosexuality was still a criminal offense in England when this thriller dared to take the side of gay men victimized by ruthless blackmailers.
-133 433
90 Hail, Mary (1985, Fr.)
Jean-Luc Godard's contemporary take on the Immaculate Conception featured copious nudity and was denounced by Pope John Paul II.
-135 429
91 Romance (1999, Fr.)
Catherine Breillat challenged the status quo by casting an Italian porn star in her drama about the disconnect between love and sex: Outrage ensued.
-137 447
92 Stigmata (1999)
Rattling the Catholic church’s wasn’t as shocking in the late nineties as when The Exorcist opened but still exposed this movie to censure.
-140 646
93 Kinsey (2004)
Many groups claimed this honest portrait of the pioneering sex researcher advocated perversion and glorified Kinsey's work.
-143 533
94 Year of the Dragon (1985)
Now all-but forgotten, Michael Cimino's follow up to Heaven's Gate was censured for sexist and racist stereotypes of Chinese-Americans.
-144 468
95 Heaven’s Gate (1980)
Bad pre-release buzz, including explosive accusations of animal abuse, helped turn Michael Cimono’s epic western into a legendary flop.
-147 495
96 The Kiss (1896)
When Broadway sensations May Irwin and John Rice’s notorious lip-lock was immortalized on film, people were shocked!
-150 478
97 The Moon Is Blue (1953)
Well-bred people didn’t use words like “virgin,” “seduce” and “mistress” in public, but this mild sex farce did and became a cause celebre.
-161 429
98 The Crime of Padre Amaro (2002, Mex.)
Condemnation by the Catholic Church helped make this drama about unchaste priests a hit in Mexico.
-163 445
99 September Dawn (2007)
LDS spokesmen denounced this little-seen account of the 1857 Mormon massacre of California-bound settlers as a “distortion of history.”
-167 479
100 Aladdin (1992)
Disney’s animated musical included lyrics that the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee claimed perpetuated racist stereotypes.
-290 1070