Time Out Melbourne

The 50 most controversial movies ever (20-11)

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


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. Mad Max hatin’ on Jews? Couldn’t be.—KU

19. “UN CHIEN ANDALOU” (1929)/L’AGE D’OR (1930)

Luis Buñuel didn’t pull any punches with his first two shorts. The 16-minute “Un Chien Andalou” memorably features a woman’s eyeball slit by a razor, while the 60-minute L’Age d’Or, a scathing attack on bourgeois society, so incensed its first audiences that the financiers pulled it from distribution.—KU

18. PEEPING TOM (1960)

While British expat Alfred Hitchcock was making stateside waves with Psycho, his countryman Michael Powell was earning England’s ire for this disturbing tale of a movie-obsessed murderer. The critical savaging destroyed Powell’s career, but a cult developed. Martin Scorsese was instrumental in the film’s rehabilitation, funding a rerelease in the late ’70s.—KU

17. CRASH (1996)

David Cronenberg’s vividly erotic thriller—about an underground cult that gets off on highway accidents—left censors hot and bothered. U.S. distributors were forced to release separate R and NC-17 versions. Britain approved it, though a local council barred the movie from screening in certain venues. And Italian critics demanded Cronenberg return his Cannes prize. Seems some folks could use a little nookie.—KU

16. THE EXORCIST (1973)

So much rumor and urban myth swirl around what is widely considered the freakiest horror movie ever made, it demands a place on our list. Fires and injuries led director William Friedkin to have the set of his “cursed” film blessed by a priest. Alleged subliminal imagery supplied extra spookiness (it was just good editing). And Linda Blair required a bodyguard for months.—JR


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 shit-eating climax—unfaked—that cements its reputation.—JR

14. 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.—DF

13. CRUISING (1980)

Controversy plagued William Friedkin’s leather-bar murder mystery even before it screened for audiences. Gay activists were so offended by the film’s purportedly fearmongering depictions of Manhattan’s queer underground that they disrupted shooting. Once it was released, protests only intensified, though the film has since been viewed more favorably (by gay critics, in some cases) and regarded as a time capsule of a lost subculture.—KU


One expects raised eyebrows when making a movie about real-life sexual obsession—especially if it includes actual instances of actors getting it on. Nagisa Oshima had to ship his undeveloped film to France to avoid Japan’s censorship laws; an American premiere at the New York Film Festival was aborted when authorities confiscated the film at the airport. Its violent, explicit scenes of lovemaking remain a how-far-can-you-go test of tolerance.—DF

11. STRAW DOGS (1971)

A deeply disturbing, ugly film that nonetheless spurs valuable discussion, Sam Peckinpah’s thriller takes places on an isolated English farm, where meek American mathematician David (Dustin Hoffman) takes brutal revenge on the locals who violate 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.—JR

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



Got an itch for short films? Flickerfest is here to scratch it

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