Uncomfortable movies give us life. They remind us that we’re not always immune to the often desensitized violence or sex we’ve been accustomed to in cinema. They make us human again, giving us emotion and spurring reactions for the unsettling imagery chosen by filmmakers. They’re also great forms of media to tell others about, shifting focus away from the typical and mundane blockbuster films of the year in favor of thoughtful filmmaking in-tune with what makes us feel ashamed or generally anxious.
While most people have their own idea of uncomfortable, we’ve has chosen 15 films that we believe are unanimously disturbing across the board. Whether it be sexual situations, awkward dialogue, weird interactions with odd characters, or terribly detailed violence and gore, Screen Rant has assembled a list of the most uncomfortable movies to sit through. Do you have the stomach to watch any of these raunchy, trash-ridden films?
Oldboy is a legendary South Korean mystery film that delivers an immense shock to first-time watchers who can’t handle gore and literally never saw the twist in Gone Girl coming. Directed by Park Chan-wook, the film follows a man named Oh Dae-su, who is imprisoned in a room by an unknown captor for 15 years of his life. The audience then follows Oh Dae-su as he begins to unravel the mystery of his kidnapping and slowly reveals a deeply disturbing climax.
Film buffs and Oldboy fans may find themselves numb to the movie’s grand finale, but the film’s twist is an unpredictable trainwreck of jaw-dropping dismay. As Oldboy progresses, we watch Oh Dae-su physically fight off hordes of enemies through bloody fists, and at one point, a hammer. At one point, we watch him eat a live octopus whole (actor Choi Min-sik didn’t get the forgiving grace of CGI). But nothing really compares to the uncomfortable, brutal ending of Oh Dae-su’s final realization.
Yorgos Lanthimos, director of 2015’s hit dystopian romance film, The Lobster, wrote, directed, and edited a film called Dogtooth that debuted in 2009. This Greek film is a disturbing, uncomfortable glimpse into a husband and wife that choose to shelter their children from the outside world. The couple refuses to show their son and two daughters what it’s like to be outside of their home, instead breeding an unusual sibling relationship loaded with sexual curiosity and pent up emotion.
The overall feel of Dogtooth is an atmosphere of despair and anxiety. Its film style is stiff and gloomy, the dialogue is often aimless, its violence is unbearable and tough to watch, and its occasional comedy is brief. The interactions between the sadist mother and father with their children are absurd and frustrating, helping expand on the idea of parents ruling the household with lies and violence. Dogtooth isn’t meant to take literally, but through its weird storytelling and awkward violence, it pulls through a genuinely interesting, yet horrifying film.
Perhaps the most controversial movie released in the ’90s, Kids remains one of cinema’s more disturbing, uncomfortable entries. Written by Harmony Korine and directed by photographer Larry Clark, Kids centered on a group of sexually active teenagers who live in New York City and spread their drug-abusive, sex-crazed behavior on their fellow peers. Through the film’s 91 minute runtime, the audience watches as this group of teens unknowingly spreads AIDS within their circle, smoke a ton of weed, and attack a man in the streets.
Kids was initially released with an NC-17 rating, but it was later re-released as an unrated film. Its content matter is cringe-worthy on its own, and while some debated the film’s artistic merit, it portrayed an exaggerated look into the scope of a group of city teens who believe they’re invincible. Korine’s expertise in skate-culture gave the movie an aggressive, hostile look into a realistic pack of delinquents, albeit one that made you squirm in your seat.
12. PINK FLAMINGOS
Written, directed, produced and edited by John Waters, Pink Flamingos is one of the trashiest films in cinematic history. The film’s tagline states the movie is “an exercise in poor taste,” and it’s not wrong at all — Pink Flamingos dives into sodomy, masturbation, vomiting, rape, scat, murder and incest. It’s a nun’s nightmare rolled into 92 minutes (or 107, if you’re sitting through the re-release) of uncomfortableness.
The film helped launch the career of drag queen Divine, who assumes the role of “Babs Johnson.” In the movie, she is deemed the “filthiest person alive” by a tabloid paper, and she takes the title seriously. However, it seems apparent that almost everyone connected with Divine may be just as disgusting. Rivals Connie and Raymond Marble run an adoption clinic that sells babies to lesbian couples and collects the money to push heroin into elementary schools. Two characters named Crackers and Cookie crush a live chicken between them during sex. There’s tons of bodily fluids, sex, murder, and dog poop to go around in Pink Flamingos, and it’s undoubtedly one of the most uncomfortable movies ever made.
11. CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST
Cannibal Holocaust is one of those movies that you want to turn off, but you can’t help but finish. Due to its realistic portrayal of graphic violence and rape, the movie has been banned from a handful of countries. Director Ruggero Deodato and a few of the movie’s actors had to appear in court to prove the film they shot wasn’t actually a snuff film. It’s that brutal.
The movie is about a missing documentary movie crew that were filming cannibals in the Amazon. A rescue team seeks the original crew out and uncovers their camera reels, which are then shown to the viewer, and they’re not at all pleasant to watch.
All violence and sexuality portrayed in Cannibal Holocaust makes the viewer want to turn away. There were animals killed on screen for the movie, in addition to realistic blood spewing from various bodies as tribal cannibals feasted. It goes without saying that the rape depicted in Cannibal Holocaust is beyond unsettling, proving the movie to be an immense attack on viewers’ senses, emotions, and overall outlook on the world at large.
Another gross-out film, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom is a disgusting movie full of sadism, rape, kidnapping, extreme violence, and torture. Its only redeeming quality is that it can be considered an art house film, open for criticism and interpretation.
Salò centers on four corrupt politicians who kidnap 18 teenagers to torture, abuse, and rape. There really doesn’t seem to be anything more to Salò than that surface level description. Various characters are raped, humiliated, and beaten for no reason, save for the fact that the politicians simply enjoy torturing the kidnapped youth.
Sadism is a major theme in this disgusting film, as nearly every politician finds pleasure in torturing the teens. Every cry and burst of outrage merely fuels the four wealthy, corrupt libertine men. Needless to day, director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s movie has been banned from countless places across the globe, and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. The Chicago Film Critics Association deemed it one of the scariest films ever made…so there’s that.
Released in 2009, Lars von Trier’s Antichrist is a brutal take on love, depression, and nilhism. It’s a tale of two lovers who are grief-stricken after the death of their child. The two become increasingly erratic, as the man begins seeing visions and the woman turns obsessed with sadomasochism. Antichrist is a beautiful film, but only if you can stomach its over-the-top violence.
Watching a couple go through therapy, eventually to fail and trip in a forest is depressing but realistic. The violence, specific hallucinations, and sexual deviance that ensues, however, is (thankfully) not. The cast is solely comprised of a man (Willem Dafoe) and woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) struggling with their depression and diving deep into some seriously dark places. The film’s best-known scene involves genital self-mutilation, and it’s pretty difficult to watch. Still, Antichrist is considered a masterpiece of horror-drama, albeit one that’s as grotesque as it is crude.
Director Steve McQueen’s 2011 film Shame turned some heads after it garnered an NC-17 rating. While most movies and distributors find this troublesome, president of Fox Searchlight Pictures Steve Gilula stated, “I think NC-17 is a badge of honor, not a scarlet letter.” Shame wears that badge proudly, pushing the viewers into the unsettling scope and domain of sex and pornography.
Shame revolves around a man named Brandon (Michael Fassbender) and his addiction to sex. He has sex with various prostitutes and strangers, and he’s addicted to pornography and masturbation. We watch as Brandon has trouble functioning with emotions, choosing to settle his feelings through sex rather than dealing with the problems at hand.
It’s an uncomfortable watch as Brandon fumbles through a terrible relationship with his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan). The audience is dragged along with Brandon and Sissy as they uncover just how dangerous sexual addiction can be in the real world.
Controversial and full of depraved comedy, Happiness serves up a plethora of dark humor and uncomfortable situations as the film’s characters attempt to find true, well, happiness. Director Todd Solondz shows us how happiness can be achieved for his characters through their bizarre and uncomfortable desires, since they’re mostly unpleasant folks.
Take the character of Bill (Dylan Baker), for example. What makes him truly happy is preying on little boys. He’s a pedophile in the movie, and we watch him rape to find his true self. There’s also Allen (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who tries finding out how to break out of his normal boring routine and find lust. He ends up touching himself over the phone with a woman he’s attracted to, but too afraid of pursuing.
Happiness gives its unsettling cast of neurotic characters room to breathe for its audience members. If one can find the slightest bit of humor at the idea of a pedophile’s happiness, one can truly enjoy this twisted comedy.
6. REQUIEM FOR A DREAM
Perhaps one of the most uncomfortable screenplays ever written, Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream is a movie revolving around four different types of drug addiction. Sara (Ellen Burstyn) is addicted to losing weight and the idea of looking glamorous for television. Harry, Marion, and Tyrone are all addicted to heroin, and each character breaks off into their little realm of obsessing over money, power, or sex.
Requiem for a Dream’s imagery is so painfully brutal, it’s hard to wash out of your brain. Its pacing is dizzying and each shot is meticulously crafted through split-screens and close-ups. It demands attention, but the content matter of Requiem for a Dream makes it, at times, incredibly difficult to watch. There are shots of heroin usage that visually disgust viewers, and sex acts that few would ever choose to watch. In his breakout filmmaking effort, Darren Aronofsky truly perfected the typical drug movie, while also commenting on the various types of addiction.
Often described as an adult horror movie, Eraserhead is the strangest film David Lynch has ever made — and that’s really saying something. The 1977 film was shot entirely in black-and-white, and it’s still deciphered to this day by many film critics and viewers due to its outstanding surrealist feel. The movie stars Jack Nance playing the role of Henry Spencer, as he assumes fatherhood and takes care of a disgusting alien-bird-thing he calls his son.
The entire movie is set in some bizzaro industrial cityscape, full of warehouse buildings and machines. Henry walks around mostly quiet, hardly interacting with other characters through speech. In fact, most of the dialogue between characters remains a bit stiff, full of hesitation. The hallucinations that Henry experiences are unsettling, especially the woman he imagines singing to him from inside a radiator. Her enlarged cheeks make her song-and-dance routine pretty unbearable. Eraserhead also (arguably) has one of the most awkward dinner scenes in film history. This film is dreadfully uncomfortable and not recommended for those without an open mind.
4. BAD LIEUTENANT
Director Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant stars Harvey Keitel as the titular not-so-good police officer. He does everything a terrible cop would do: loads of drugs, sexual violence, dismissals of crimes, and crafting uncomfortable sexual situations. Not only does he play an awful human being and law enforcement officer, but he’s stuck in a city that happens to be full of seriously terrible delinquents who get their kicks through the same hobbies he does.
Cocaine, crack, and heroin terrorize the streets of The Bronx, and the lieutenant does them all. It’s hard to watch such a terrible person go around unharmed as he supplies drugs to sellers, ignores major crimes, and commits lewd sexual acts with others so casually. While the lieutenant commits his own sins, a nun needs her own help from the officer as she tries to find the two men who raped her with a crucifix. The lieutenant never quite seems to be diligent about the situation, preferring to act on his own desires rather than investigate the crime — you know, that thing he’s paid to do.
Teeth is a black comedy/horror movie directed and written by Mitchell Lichtenstein. It’s a simple plot based around a weird idea: a woman has teeth in her vagina and goes on a mission to take revenge on the men who have wronged her after she was raped.
It’s an odd rape/revenge tale for sure, but it’s a humorous dark comedy that ends up as a relatively charming movie. However, a vagina biting a man’s penis clean off is definitely an uncomfortable watch for most people. We’re already vulnerable in the nude, and for some, sexual intercourse can be a nerve-wracking experience as it is. So to take an extra set of teeth and throw them into the mix makes for an intense factor in cringeworthiness.
Every time Dawn (Jess Weixler) has sex with other men, we wait with bated breath for the bite to take place and our legs to lock up. It’s an uncomfortable tale with a simple premise, but it works well enough for those that can handle it.
Harmony Korine may have written Kids, but he didn’t take a seat in the director’s chair until Gummo. Gummo is a tale of nihilistic characters who survived a devastating tornado… and not much else. It seems to be a portrayal of poverty and oddities, but there isn’t much of a story to it. It’s really just watching a bunch of poor folks do weird things to each other.
They get high together and kill cats. Some of them participate in Satanic rituals, while some of them are just simply mentally disabled. There’s a child molester, plenty of drunks, skinhead brothers who fight in their kitchen, a “Bunny Boy” who runs around with a dead cat, and an odd overabundance of topless women who wear tape over their nipples. It’s not all sensical, but it’s all connected, as every character seems troubled with their own sense of reality as they live in the same poverty stricken town. It’s a strange movie for those who can stomach its absurdities and destructiveness, and a complete waste of time for those who can’t.
Director Pascal Laugier crafted one of the most uncomfortable films of all time with his 2008 entry Martyrs. It’s a story of two girls who uncover a mysterious, underground philosophical society that wishes to undercover the secrets of the afterlife by creating “martyrs”. These “martyrs” are created by torturing people to their very limits, serving them relentless pain, and inflicting horrors on their physical and emotional state of being so that they can provide transcendental insight to their masters.
It’s disgusting, uncomfortable, and extreme horror that gives Martyrs its worth. This film is unforgettable, and it’s not for anyone who can’t stomach extreme amounts of gore. A woman gets flayed (skinned) alive and survives, and we watch her suffering. There’s an endless amount of blood and gore that is handed out to the viewer, and it’s entirely unapologetic. It’s hard to watch and not really recommended at all, but if you could stomach it, you’re a real trooper. Martyrs is damn near impossible to sit through.