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Top 10 Most Controversial Movies

Jamie Frater

Every once in a while a film arrives which causes great controversy around the world, and in some cases, the film ends up being banned. This is a list of the top ten films that have caused controversy – and, in fact, many of them are still controversial to this day.

10. Last Tango in Paris [Bernardo Bertolucci, 1972]

The Story: While looking for an apartment, Jeanne, a beautiful young Parisienne, encounters Paul, a mysterious American expatriate mourning his wife’s recent suicide. Instantly drawn to each other, they have a stormy, passionate affair, in which they do not reveal their names to each other. Their relationship deeply affects their lives, as Paul struggles with his wife’s death and Jeanne prepares to marry her fiance, Tom, a film director making a cinema-verite documentary about her.

The Controversy: Critics and audiences were sharply divided over this X-rated erotic psychodrama. The film’s stark (as in naked) depiction of loveless, animalistic carnality horrified some — and landed its director and stars in an Italian court on obscenity charges.

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9. Natural Born Killers [Oliver Stone, 1994]

The Story: The misadventures of Mickey and Mallory: outcasts, lovers, and serial killers. They travel across Route 666 conducting psychadelic mass-slaughters not for money, not for revenge, just for kicks. Glorified by the media, the pair become legendary folk heroes; their story told by the single person they leave alive at the scene of each of their slaughters.

The Controversy: Though intended as a satire on the media, the film actually inspired several copycat killers to seek their own 15 minutes of fame, some even using imagery and dialogue from the film. Over 12 murders in the U.S. and abroad have been linked to Killers. One victim’s family tried to sue Stone and Warner Bros.

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8. The Birth of a Nation [D W Griffith, 1915]

The Story: Two brothers, Phil and Ted Stoneman, visit their friends in Piedmont, South Carolina: the family Cameron. This friendship is affected by the Civil War, as the Stonemans and the Camerons must join up opposite armies. The consequences of the War in their lives are shown in connection to major historical events, like the development of the Civil War itself, Lincoln’s assassination, and the birth of the Ku Klux Klan.

The Controversy: The film’s depiction of African Americans as childlike, conniving, or rabid sex fiends, and the Ku Klux Klan as heroic saviors, sparked nationwide protests by the nascent NAACP. (It also became a KKK recruiting tool.) Censorship debates and protests have dogged the film in subsequent rereleases and when it was added to the National Film Registry in 1993.

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7. The Last Temptation of Christ [Martin Scorsese, 1988]

The Story: The carpenter Jesus of Nazareth, tormented by the temptations of demons, the guilt of making crosses for the Romans, pity for men and the world, and the constant call of God, sets out to find what God wills for him. But as his mission nears fulfillment, he must face the greatest temptation: the normal life of a good man. Based, not on the Gospels, but on Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel of the same name.

The Controversy: Religious fundamentalists picketed and threatened boycotts weeks before its release. One group offered to buy the $6.5 million film from Universal to destroy it; some theaters, and later Blockbuster, refused to carry it. Oh, and the French rioted.

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6. JFK [Oliver Stone, 1991]

The Story: Details the actions of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who takes it upon himself to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, in 1963. Garrison is extremely suspicious of the official story presented by the FBI, and what he already knows and what he subsequently learns lead him to suspect that there is more to the story than the public is being told.

The Controversy: Some saw Stone’s documentary-on-steroids-like interpretation of those theories as lending them a certain patina of truth — raising fears that moviegoers would construe it as bona fide history. One result: a 1992 congressional act to release classified documents (which revealed nothing).

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5. Deep Throat [Gerard Damiano, 1972]

The Story: Linda, frustrated that her hugely energetic sex life leaves her unsatisfied, seeks medical help. The doctor informs her that the reason for her problem is that her clitoris is mistakenly located at the back of her throat – but there is a very simple remedy, which the doctor, and various other men, proceed to demonstrate…

The Controversy: Intellectuals championed the film for striking a blow for First Amendment rights, while conservative leaders got it banned in many places and put Reems on trial for obscenity charges. Lovelace herself later denounced the film, claiming that while filming “there was a gun to my head.”

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4. Fahrenheit 9/11 [Michael Moore, 2004]

The Story: In this film, muckraker Michael Moore turns his eye on George W. Bush and his War on Terrorism agenda. He illustrates his argument about how this failed businessman with deep connections to the royal house of Saud of Saudia Arabia and the Bin Ladins got elected on fraudulent circumstances and proceeded to blunder through his duties while ignoring warnings of the looming betrayal by his foreign partners.

The Controversy: The documentary lit the fuse of right-wing America, detonating protests and hate campaigns to ban it (no dice). Moore was the first to break the post-9/11 moratorium on Bush bashing and set off a season of brutal smack-downs among the Bill O’Reillys and Keith Olbermanns of the world.

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3. Salò [Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1975]

The Story: Set in the Nazi-controlled, northern Italian state of Salo in 1944, four dignitaries round up sixteen perfect specimens of youth and take them together with guards, servants and studs to a palace near Marzabotto. In addition, there are four middle-aged women: three of whom recount arousing stories whilst the fourth accompanies on the piano. The story is largely taken up with their recounting the stories of Dante and De Sade: the Circle of Manias, the Circle of Shit and the Circle of Blood. Following this, the youths are executed whilst each libertine takes his turn as voyeur.

The Controversy: The film caused outrage throughout the world when it was released in 1975, and has proved a hot potato for film certification boards. In Britain, the first cinema to screen an uncut version of the film in 1977 was raided by police. A heavily cut version was shown until six years ago, when the British Board of Film Classification agreed to reclassify the movie.

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2. A Clockwork Orange [Stanley Kubrick, 1971]

The Story: In a futuristic Britain, a gang of teenagers go on the rampage every night, beating and raping helpless victims. After one of the boys quells an uprising in the gang, they knock him out and leave him for the police to find. He agrees to try “aversion therapy” to shorten his jail sentence. When he is eventually let out, he hates violence, but the rest of his gang members are still after him.

The Controversy: That the movie first landed an X rating and was deemed pornographic across the U.S. was nothing compared with its reception in the U.K.: Social uproar and reports of copycat crimes led Kubrick to withdraw Clockwork from distribution in his adopted country. It wasn’t officially available there again — in theaters or on video — until 2000, a year after his death.

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1. The Passion of the Christ [Mel Gibson, 2004]

The Story: The Passion of The Christ focusses on the last twelve hours of Jesus of Nazareth’s life. The film begins in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus has gone to pray after sitting the Last Supper. Jesus must resist the temptations of Satan. Betrayed by Judas Iscariot, Jesus is then arrested and taken within the city walls of Jerusalem where leaders of the Pharisees confront him with accusations of blasphemy and his trial results in a condemnation to death.

The Controversy: Gibson’s intention was to produce an unflinching depiction of Christ’s suffering on behalf of mankind. What resulted, however, was the ignition of a culture-war firestorm unrivaled in Hollywood history. For months prior to its release, The Passion was both denounced and defended sight unseen amid reports that the film wasn’t just brutal, but compromised by anti-Semitic sentiment. Gibson refused to let concerned parties view and vet his self-financed film.

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Notable others: Cannibal Holocaust

Sources: Entertainment Weekly, IMDB, the Guardian

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Jamie Frater

Jamie is the founder of Listverse. He spends his time working on the site, doing research for new lists, and cooking. He is fascinated with all things morbid and bizarre.

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