Time Out Melbourne

The 50 most controversial movies ever (40-31)

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

40. KEN PARK (2002)

Step aside, Skins: For years, indie provocateur Larry Clark suffered (or maybe relished) attacks by critics, who called his photographs—and movies like Kids (see No. 22) andBully—teen exploitation. Eventually, Clark decided to properly earn the outrage and make an extreme film. Ken Park, filled with depictions of underage sex, violence and suicide, never found a U.S. distributor.—JR


No stranger to breaking screen taboos (see No. 43), Otto Preminger went a step further with this drug-addiction drama, in which Frank Sinatra’s strung-out musician shoots up. People were equal parts aghast at the film’s daring depiction of a dope fiend and impressed by its realistic take on the subject. Legions of high-wire screen-junkie performances owe this groundbreaking film a debt.—DF


Wes Craven’s still-nauseating tale of rape and revenge made many enemies on censor boards. The MPAA slapped it with an X several times (Craven eventually got an R by proxy). And U.K. watchdogs continued to demand cuts on all film and video versions until 2008—a long time to hold a grudge.—KU


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.—JR

36. SONG OF THE SOUTH (1946)

“Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” may be one catchy tune, but folks have never been pleased with how this Disney film whistled Dixie about the antebellum South. Plantation life is whitewashed into one big happy-slave playdate. Even during its production, the movie inspired accusations of racism—and don’t get us started on the “Tar Baby” section. It remains a taint on the Mouse House to this day.—DF

35. DIRTY HARRY (1971)

It’s a key entry in the iconography of Clint Eastwood, and you won’t find an action fan who can’t recite the entire “Well, do you, punk?” speech by heart. But during its release, the movie sparked a fierce war of words, with prominent critics calling it fascist, bigoted and unnecessarily brutal. They had a point: Police in the Philippines ordered a print for training purposes.—JR


Excruciating to watch, this Amazonian misadventure (shot on location) spurred massive outrage for its special effects being too good. 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.—JR


Just after Adolf Hitler established Germany’s Ministry of Propaganda, Fritz Lang’s spooky sequel to his beloved crime epic Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler ran afoul of organization head Joseph Goebbels. He branded the film a menace, since it showed an organized group of terrorists overthrowing the state. Lang hightailed it abroad to ply his keenly subversive talents elsewhere.—KU

32. DEEP THROAT (1972)

The movie became a fashionable urban sensation—no doubt to the delight of many men—and touched the culture at large with its appropriation in the Watergate scandal. But behind its porny surface, the flick induced headaches related to its mob financing, its obscenity and conspiracy charges (the latter related to transportation across state lines) and theatrical barrings.—JR


"Rated x by an all-white jury," proclaimed the poster for Melvin Van Peebles’s epoch-defining provocation, which ruffled feathers across the racial divide. Caucasian critics claimed the film would incite riots, while black pundits argued that Van Peebles was reinforcing negative stereotypes. Neither group stopped this incendiary indie from breaking box-office records, thus royally pissing off the Man.—DF

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

More films & film festivals in Melbourne? Sign up for our Weekend Planner

Updated on 16 Aug 2012.

By David Fear, Joshua Rothkopf and Keith Uhlich   |  
Oak and Vine

Oak and Vine

A restaurant that pays tribute to Victoria's produce growers and suppliers

Readers' comments, reviews, hints and pictures

Community guidelines

blog comments powered by Disqus

Get the Time Out weekend planner. Straight to your inbox, every Thursday.
Read more