The 50 most controversial movies ever (50-41)

It’s time to get delightfully offended with these all-time shockers

50. I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978)

If this is our lowest-ranking title, better brace yourself for punishment. Meir Zarchi’s scuzzy rape-revenge thriller (also marketed under the name Day of the Woman) limped into theaters, and was immediately banned all over the world. Its most notorious scene, a bathtub seduction that comes to an edge, inspired critical derision, but also, provocatively, a wave of feminist cheers.—JR



49. THE WILD BUNCH (1969)

These days, it’s not extraordinary for Hollywood to release a superviolent spectacle with a body count in the hundreds. But when feisty Sam Peckinpah did it, he pointedly evoked the ongoing war in Vietnam and created a blood-spouting whirlwind that confronted American righteousness. The Western genre never recovered.—JR


48. TITICUT FOLLIES (1967)

Frederick Wiseman’s unflinching look inside a Massachusetts facility for the criminally insane was so disturbing (and revealing) that the state tried to permanently bury it. Authorities placed an injunction on public showings that wasn’t lifted until 1991. It’s one of the few movies banned for reasons other than obscenity, politics or immorality.—DF



47. THE DEVILS (1971)

Ken Russell’s crazed stew of sex, violence and religious impropriety in 17th-century France seared the eyes of film censors. So many cuts were demanded that several countries could claim their own versions. Italian tastemakers banned the movie outright, even though Russell won a Best Director award at the Venice Film Festival.—KU



46. BASIC INSTINCT (1992)

Everyone remembers Sharon Stone’s crotch flash, but Paul Verhoeven’s thriller (penned by smutmeister Joe Eszterhas in a mere 13 days) produced a fair amount of offscreen heat, too, as gay groups furiously decried the image of homicidal lipstick lesbians. Riot police patrolled locations; no ice picks went unaccounted for.—JR



45. HAIL MARY (1985)

Jean-Luc Godard’s provocative update of the Virgin Mary story—featuring full-frontal nudity—was denounced by no less than the Pope, and one angry Christian threw a pie in the director’s face at Cannes. Godard’s intention was to examine modern spirituality; the reaction he engendered, however, wasn’t exactly full of grace.—DF


44. RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)

A fearful cop gets stuck in the middle with a psycho crook and loses an ear. It’s the tipping point in Quentin Tarantino’s sanguine first feature, which sparked numerous violence-in-cinema think pieces and inspired many unnerved walkouts. Makeup genius Rick Baker, one of the fleeing viewers, told QT he should take his own early exit as a compliment.—KU


43. THE MOON IS BLUE (1953)

When Otto Preminger included the then-racy terms virgin, mistress and seduce in his lecherous comedy, the movie industry’s morality police went into a froth. Head Hollywood censor Joseph Breen refused to grant the movie a seal of approval, so Preminger & Co. released the film without the MPAA’s blessing—marking the beginning of the end of the Hays Code stranglehold.—DF


42. UNITED 93 (2006)

Five years still might have been too soon: Even though writer-director Paul Greengrass worked closely with the families of the flight victims (notably not with that of German passenger Christian Adams, portrayed as an appeaser) and reaped huge critical acclaim, his nerve-racking trailer stunned cinemagoers who weren’t prepared. One New York theater removed it after complaints.—JR


41. THE BROWN BUNNY (2003)

Indie gadfly Vincent Gallo’s mesmerizing road movie was a fiasco at Cannes: The molasses-slow pace sparked catcalls, an unsimulated oral-sex scene (on the director-star himself) dropped jaws, and Gallo had several pointed exchanges with detractor Roger Ebert. But Rog approved of the filmmaker’s recut, which excised some flab and kept the blow job. Who says there are no happy endings?—KU

1-10  |  11-20  |  21-30  |  31-40  |  41-50

First published on . Updated on .

By David Fear, Joshua Rothkopf and Keith Uhlich   |  

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