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Top 10 Most Controversial Religious Movies

by Jamie Frater
fact checked by Alex Hanton

Religion is controversial in its raw form, but when people tinker with the beliefs of religious groups for the purposes of entertainment, things definitely heat up. Some of the films on this list have caused riots, and some have even resulted in deaths. Hardly a great example of religious tolerance. Here are the 10 most controversial religious films ever made. This list contains a competition – further details at the bottom of the list.


The Exorcist

The exorcist is really one of the best horror films ever made – it continues to scare and enthrall new viewers to this day. But at the time of release, while many saw great merit in the movie, others were not so happy. Some critical responses were: “a chunk of elegant occultist claptrap” “[A] practically impossible film to sit through” “it establishes a new low for grotesque special effects…”, “The Exorcist succeeds on one level as an effectively excruciating entertainment, but on another, deeper level it is a thoroughly evil film, and [N]othing more than a religious porn film”. Some preachers – like Billy Graham, felt the movie itself was satanic.

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Battlefield Earth

While the majority of the assaults on this dreadful film were due to bad acting, bad scripting, and a lame story, it can not be excluded from this list because it ties in to the Scientology mythology about the origin of humans on earth. This is a piece of scientology propaganda and it is not surprising that it was such a failure as a film. The biggest criticism of the film was the fact that people were not willing to open their wallets for it. John Travolta, for the record, says he’d love to make a “Battlefield” sequel. We can only hope that never happens!

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This film was highly controversial due to the manner in which it dealt with issues close to Catholic’s hearts. While Catholics consider stigmata to be a sign of holiness, this film has an atheist hairdresser experience stigmata in a manner in which she appears to be demonically possessed. In addition, the other main character, a Jesuit Priest, discovers a connection between the stigmata and one of the Gnostic Gospels (4th century religious writings condemned by the Catholic Church). The priest uncovers a plot within the vatican to keep the gospels “truth” concealed.

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This film is a satire of the Catholic Church and Catholic belief, which caused organized protests and much controversy in many countries. Although there was no opposition to the film while the actual filming and pre-production was taking place, the following months of post-production and publicity were plagued with controversy over a perceived anti-Christian message in the film. Over time, the director (Kevin Smith) received over 30 thousand pieces of hate mail. Catholic groups around the world staged protests, and Smith received several death threats. Perhaps to head off controversy, the film’s title sequence contained a disclaimer, which included the line “Even God has a sense of humor–just look at the platypus.”

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This film caused controversy by showing aspects of Hinduism in a negative light. The day before filming of Water was due to begin, the crew was informed that there were complications with their location permits for filming. The following day, they learned that 2,000 protesters had stormed the ghats, destroying and burning the main film set and throwing the remnants into the Ganges in protest of what ultimately were revealed to be false accusations regarding the subject matter of the film. The resulting tensions and economic setbacks led to several years of struggle as Mehta was eventually forced to film Water in Sri Lanka, rather than in India. Finally Mehta was able to make the film, but with a new cast and under a false title (River Moon) in 2003. “Water” was nominated for a 2007 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

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Monty Python’s Life of Brian

The Life of Brian, is a 1979 comedy film written, directed and largely performed by the Monty Python comedy team. It tells the story of Brian Cohen (played by Graham Chapman), a young Jewish man born in the same era and location as Jesus Christ, who is mistaken for the Messiah. Protests against the film were organized based on its perceived blasphemy. On its initial release in the UK, the film was banned by several town councils, some of which had no cinemas within their boundaries, or had not even seen the film for themselves. In New York, screenings were picketed by both rabbis and nuns while the film was banned outright in some American states. It was also banned for eight years in the Republic of Ireland and for a year in Norway (it was marketed in Sweden as “The film so funny that it was banned in Norway”). One of the most controversial scenes was the film’s ending: Brian’s crucifixion. Many Christian protestors said that it was mocking Jesus’s suffering by turning it into a “Jolly Boys Outing”.

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The Passion of the Christ

This film based on the final days of the life of Jesus cause controversy on two counts: many Jews were angered by it claiming it was anti-semitic (due to the depiction of the treatment of Jesus at the hands of Jews in the film) and from anti-Catholic protesters who were angered that the film did not rely solely on the Bible for its plot. Asked by Bill O’Reilly if his movie would “upset Jews,” Gibson responded, “It’s not meant to. I think it’s meant to just tell the truth. I want to be as truthful as possible.” Accusations of anti-Semitism were fueled by news reports that Mel Gibson’s father, Hutton Gibson, denied the Holocaust. After Frank Rich of the New York Times wrote against the unreleased film and called Gibson’s publicist a “Holocaust denier defender” Gibson was overheard by The New Yorker telling his publicist, “I want to kill him. I want his intestines on a stick. I want to kill his dog.”

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The Da Vinci Code

Ron Howard’s “The Da Vinci Code,” based on the best-seller by Dan Brown, places the Catholic Church at the center of a (fictional) conspiracy to cover up the truth about Jesus–that he was married to Mary Magdalene and the father of a child whose descendants have been protected from the murderous Church ever since. What’s more, this denigration of Mary Magdalene’s “rightful” place as Jesus’ wife is portrayed as part of a larger Church conspiracy to stamp out devotion to the divine feminine, which was at the heart of early Christian worship. In the months leading up to the film’s 2006 release, most Christian organizations refrained from calling for an outright boycott, instead using the film to spark discussion about Jesus and to challenge the story’s claims. Despite poor reviews, the film took in a reported $758 million worldwide, making it one of the highest grossing of 2006.

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Submission is a 10-minute film in English directed by Theo van Gogh and written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (a former Tweede Kamer member for the Dutch People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy); it was shown on the Dutch public broadcasting network (VPRO) on August 29, 2004. The film’s title is a direct translation of the word “Islam”. The film tells the story of four fictional characters played by a single actress wearing a veil, but clad in a see-through chador, her naked body painted with verses from the Koran. The characters are Muslim women who have been abused in various ways. On November 2, 2004, Theo van Gogh was assassinated in public by Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch Muslim of Moroccan descent. A letter, stabbed through and affixed to the body by a dagger, linked the murder to Van Gogh’s film and his views regarding Islam. It was addressed to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and called for jihad against unbelievers. Following the murder of Van Gogh, tens of thousands gathered in the center of Amsterdam to mourn Van Gogh’s death. There were fire-bombings of mosques and Muslim schools, and counterattacks against Christian churches. I am pleased to be able to present the entire movie here on the site – it is embedded from youtube above. It is interesting to note that Amazon does not stock this movie.


The Last Temptation of Christ

The Last Temptation of Christ is a film adaptation of the controversial 1951 novel of the same name by Nikos Kazantzakis. Like the novel, the film depicts the life of Jesus Christ, and its central thesis is that Jesus, while free from sin, was still subject to every form of temptation that humans face, including fear, doubt, depression, reluctance and lust. This results in the book and film depicting Christ being tempted by imagining himself engaged in sexual activities, a notion that has caused outrage from some Christians. Protests against the movie from religious communities began before the film had even finished production. The studio was expecting a backlash due to the controversies revolving around any media treatment of Christ (see dramatic portrayals of Jesus Christ), but the protests accompanying Last Temptation were unprecedented. Major religious leaders in the United States blasted the film in fiery sermons, and condemned its subject matter as pornographic. On October 22, 1988, a French christian fundamentalist group launched molotov cocktails inside the Parisian Saint Michel movie theater to protest against the film. This attack injured thirteen people, four of whom were severely burned. The film is still not available from Blockbuster Video and some libraries. In some countries, including Mexico and Chile, the film was banned for several years. It continues to be prohibited in the Philippines, Singapore, and South Africa.

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Notable omissions: The Pope Must Die(t), The Crime of Father Amaro, The Birth of a Nation, Priest, The Message, Agnes of God, Hail Mary

This article is licensed under the GFDL because it contains quotations from Wikipedia.

fact checked by Alex Hanton
Jamie Frater

Jamie is the founder of Listverse. When he’s not doing research for new lists or collecting historical oddities, he can be found in the comments or on Facebook where he approves all friends requests!

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