Movies fans are a lot more vocal now than they were decades ago, thanks to the advent of the internet and social media. If a movie features a problematic or borderline offensive scene, viewers aren't shy about calling out the filmmakers on it and holding them to task. This has happened more and more in recent years, like the backlash to Black Widow’s “monster” speech from Age Of Ultron, or the issue of whitewashing in mainstream blockbusters like Exodus: Gods And Kings or Gods Of Egypt.
Times and values change, and what may have been accepted years before is now considered controversial to some. Of course, looking back over Hollywood’s past, there are any number of high profile movies with sequences that would get flagged in today’s environment. It could be parents objecting to blatant sexual humor or gory violence in a family movie, or a film that features ethnic stereotypes that are badly outdated.
It’s important to remember that these movies were a product of their time, and some of the scenes in question are still liked by most fans. With that in mind, let’s look at 15 Controversial Scenes That Would Never Be Allowed In Blockbusters Now.
Not unless they’re courting some controversy, anyway.
15 Ray's Dream - Ghostbusters
Ghostbusters is the ultimate example of movie alchemy, where the right group of actors and filmmakers joined together at the right time to produce something amazing. The film’s seamless blending of comedy and special effects has made it beloved to this day, and while Ghostbusters II reunited the gang for another round, it also proved that you can’t catch the same lightning twice.
Ghostbusters was produced in a period where big budget films were figuring out what was acceptable and what wasn’t, which is why the amount of smoking or sex jokes might raise eyebrows nowadays. Ray’s dream encounter with a sexy spirit is the best example, where he imagines a ghost hovering over him, and then unzipps his trousers. From there, Dan Aykroyd’s subsequent facial expression leaves little to the imagination.
The implication of this sequence would likely go over the head of younger viewers, but in this day and age, if such a scene was included in a movie aimed at families, there would likely be an uproar from parents.
14 Batman Killing The Joker - Batman
Tim Burton’s Batman was groundbreaking for the genre in more ways than one. It completely shattered the campy Adam West era of the character, and the movie's release became a massive cultural event thanks to all the merchandise and tie-ins.
Michael Keaton’s brooding turn reinvented Batman for audiences, and he was the first to use a different voice to differentiate between Bruce Wayne and The Bat. The character also wasn’t afraid to kill if necessary, and during the finale, he’s happily machine gunning henchmen from his Batwing. Some fans found this unsettling, since Batman is typically depicted as a hero that abhors murder, feeling that if he takes a life, he’d be no better than the criminals he's chasing.
Batman also shows no hesitation killing Jack Nicholson’s Joker, which feels fair considering that the supervillain also murdered his parents. Such a moment would never happen now, because it would rule out Batman’s most famous foe from reappearing in future films, and fans would be up in arms about the morality of a superhero solving his problems through killing. (See: the backlash against Ben Affleck's murderous Dark Knight in Batman v Superman.)
13 The Condom Joke - The Mask
The Mask was based on a violent comic of the same name, where a nerdy loner discovers a mask that turns him into an unstoppable cartoon monster. It’s basically a horror story, and fans of the Jim Carrey movie might be shocked by the gore on display.
The eventual film toned the violence way back and turned the lead into a loveable nerd who’s unlucky in love. All the violence is cartoonish and broad, designed to be fun for the whole family. That said, Carrey did manage to sneak one icky joke in there that younger viewers might have missed.
While The Mask is entertaining some young punks with balloon animals, he pulls a used condom out of his pocket. He apologizes and throws it away, complete with a squishy sound effect when it lands. It’s something of a stealth joke for the grownups in the audience, but studios would likely remove it now since it isn’t terribly PC.
It also begs the question: why would he put a used condom back in his pocket in the first place?
12 The Se-duck-tion - Howard The Duck
Howard The Duck is considered something of a cult film these days but it was famously considered a disaster upon release. There’s even a rumor that two executives from Universal got into a fistfight over it, with each blaming the other for greenlighting the movie.
The movie is certainly a strange mix of tones, veering between a kid’s adventure movie and something altogether stranger. One moment that stands out comes when Howard climbs into bed with Beverly, played by Back To The Future actress Lea Thompson. She soon starts making the moves on Howard, and his feathers spring up in excitement. She moves in for a kiss, but thankfully, they’re interrupted before things get any more heated.
This sexual come-on is clearly intended to be a bit strange, but the way it’s executed is so tonally awkward it just comes off as creepy. While Howard later had some cinematic redemption thanks to his Guardians Of The Galaxy cameo, if he does ever reappear in another movie, it’s unlikely to feature a scene bordering on bestiality.
11 Quint's Demise - Jaws
Jaws was the first true summer blockbuster, and while subsequent films have tried to recapture its perfect blend of character, tension, and thrills, it still remains the best of its genre. It’s also surprisingly bloody for a PG blockbuster, including the scene where Alex Kintner is devoured and another victim loses a leg.
The worst demise is left for salty shark hunter Quint in the finale, who slides into the waiting mouth of the shark when it crashes onto the back of the Orca. It’s not a quick death either, with the shark thrashing him around between its teeth while he screams in agony, and frantically stabs it with a machete in a vain attempt to break free. Finally, it bites down hard, causing an explosion of blood to shoot from his mouth.
Even today, it’s a shocking moment, made all the more so by the amount of bloodshed. It’s doubtful a ratings board would pass such a bloody scene with a PG rating now, and the amount of suffering would be trimmed down as well -- if the death was shown onscreen at all.
10 "Sexy" Blackmail - Thunderball
James Bond has never been a terribly progressive character, and he tends to treat the ladies in his life as disposable objects. This was particularly true of the Sean Connery/Roger Moore eras, where even his love interests were often there for the sake of having an attractive actress present.
There’s no denying the fact that Sean Connery’s Bond was a suave devil, and his charm alone was often enough to grab a lady's attention. This wasn’t the case for one of his conquests in Thunderball, which was Connery’s fourth outing in the role. At one point, Bond visits a health clinic and takes a liking to the nurse looking after him, to the point that he forces her into a kiss during an inspection.
She doesn’t respond kindly and locks him into a traction machine, only for an assassin to later crank up the settings and nearly kill him. The nurse saves him in time and blames herself, which Bond uses to his advantage by pushing himself onto her, since she fears for her job.
This moment comes off as deeply distasteful, since Bond all but forces himself onto a woman who isn’t interested and uses her fear to his advantage.
9 The Human Sacrifice - Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom
Steven Spielberg is a repeat offender on this list because in the early eighties, he loved pushing the envelope and seeing what he could sneak into a movie aimed at teens. Temple Of Doom is considerably darker than the previous Indiana Jones adventure, finding the good doctor dealing with an evil cult in India.
For an adventure movie, Temple Of Doom feels remarkably grim at times, featuring scenes of torture, bloodshed, and even human sacrifice. This latter scene occurs in the second act, where Indiana witnesses the leader of the Thuggee cult remove a man’s heart with his bare hand, before lowering the poor guy into a fire pit to fry.
Spielberg has since voiced his dislike of Temple Of Doom, feeling the movie is too downbeat and horrific. He feels it reflects his dark personal life during that period, and the negative reaction to some of the violence in the movie led to the film being given a PG-13 rating.
8 Skids And Mudflap - Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen
If Michael Bay has proven anything with his career, it’s that he has the sense of humor of a twelve-year-old boy. He loves gross-out gags, cheap stereotypes, and gay panic jokes, and he never misses a chance to shoehorn them into a story.
While Bad Boys 2 remains his monument to bad taste, his juvenile scene of humor is all over the Transformers movies. There’s the scene where John Turturro gets peed on by a Transformer, or the “hilarious” scene where a Decepticon is shown with two wrecking balls swinging between its legs. The absolute worst example of his tone-deaf humor came with Skids and Mudflap in Revenge Of The Fallen, two dimwitted Autobots who are the worst racial stereotypes to come out of Hollywood in recent history.
They talk in gangsta-speak, they have buck teeth, neither can read, and Skids has a gold tooth. It’s cringe worthy and offensive, and reviewers were quick to hold Bay and the studio to task for their inclusion. Bay has since admitted Revenge Of The Fallen didn’t turn out well due to a rushed production, and needless to say, Skids and Mudflap have yet to reappear in the series.
7 Bumbling Islamic Terrorists - True Lies
True Lies was Arnold Schwarzenegger's last big blockbuster, where he played a dashing spy who keeps his life a secret from his loving wife Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s got James Cameron’s trademark action and some nice performances -- with a scene-stealing turn by the late, great Bill Paxton -- but the movie’s humor dates it badly.
Relying on Tom Arnold as the comic relief is already a questionable decision, but the movie milking humour from incompetent Islamic terrorists is not something that plays well now. There are numerous sitcom-style scenes involving these characters, like the leader giving an impassioned speech to a camera about how he's going to use a nuke, only for the battery to die and the cameraman being too embarrassed to say anything.
True Lies went on to become a huge hit, and there was talk of a sequel for years, but James Cameron has stated it likely will never happen, since he’s uncomfortable using fundamentalists as the butt of the joke, and that True Lies is the product of a more innocent time.
6 Light 'em Up - Ghostbusters
In addition to some of the more risqué humor – see entry fifteen on our list – Ghostbusters also has a charmingly old-fashioned approach to the characters lighting up. In recent years, smoking onscreen has become almost non-existent in PG-13 movies, since it can be seen as promoting cigarettes to teenagers. A movie can even be slapped with an R if a character lights up, which is why famous chain smoker John McClane dropped the filthy habit for Live Free Or Die Hard.
This wasn’t really an issue back in 1984, so there are numerous scenes were Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Ernie Hudson have cigarettes dangling from their lips. This is most notable in the scene where Ray spots Slimer for the first time, and a smoke hangs from his lower lip in shock.
The excessive smoking is intended as a character trait to underline the fact that the Ghostbusters are a bunch of blue-collar guys, but the gang noticeably cleaned up their act for the sequel. Outside of Ray chewing on a cigar in a couple of scenes, it’s a tobacco-free installment.
5 Taylor Damns Them All To Hell
The original Planet Of The Apes has one of the most famous twist endings in cinema, while Tim Burton’s remake has the most perplexing. The prize for bleakest ending, however, goes to Beneath The Planet Of The Apes, the second entry in the original series.
When the first movie became a hit, the studio was keen to sign Charlton Heston for a sequel, but he wasn't interested. He was finally convinced to make a cameo, which he agreed to under the condition his character die and that no more sequels could be made. The studio kept half of their promise, and the hellish climax features the apes slaughtering a group of mutants who worship an unexploded nuke.
Heston’s character tries to stop the fighting only to get fatally wounded, and his final act is to detonate the bomb and destroy the entire planet. Dystopian sci-fi in the seventies loved this type of downer ending, but it wouldn’t fly today, especially when producers want to keep sequel options open.
When the studio saw the healthy profit the film turned, they managed to sneak around the grim ending using time travel, which Heston wasn't pleased with.
4 The Face Peel - Poltergeist
The debate over who really directed Poltergeist – credited helmer Tobe Hooper or hands-on producer Steven Spielberg – rages to this day, and it’s a question that will probably remain unanswered for the foreseeable future. Whoever deserves credit, the movie is still a masterful chiller, playing into just about every childhood fear imaginable, from evil clowns to creepy trees.
Poltergeist also has one of Spielberg's trademark moments of gore, where a paranormal investigator named Marty has a vivid hallucination in which his face starts rotting. He inspects his face in a mirror to pick at a festering sore, and soon, pieces of rotten flesh drop off his face into the sink. He starts ripping progressively larger chunks of meat off his head until he can see the screaming skull beneath, before snapping out of his fantasy.
It's nightmare fuel of the highest order, with Spielberg literally providing a hands-on approach (the hands tearing the face apart are his own). Poltergeist is relatively bloodless, so a moment of visceral horror like this really sticks out. It’s a much-loved moment by fans, but it would likely be heavily edited for a modern-day audience.
The remake featured a similar scene where Sam Rockwell hallucinates worms crawling over his face, but it's not nearly as effective.
3 The Crows - Dumbo
Dumbo remains a classic, heartwarming animated adventure, and there’s a reason parents are still showing their children the movie eight decades on from its initial release, despite one element remaining controversial to modern day viewers.
The crow characters Dumbo enters in the story are clearly modelled on old-fashioned African-American stereotypes, something many contemporary reviews take issue with. Defenders of the characters argue they're a positive influence in the story, since they are independent thinkers and have compassion for Dumbo’s dilemma. This may have been the intention of the filmmakers behind it, but their characterisation comes across in poor taste now, and shows like Family Guy are quick to mock it.
It’s a divisive topic, but one thing that’s certain is that such broad stereotypes wouldn’t be featured in a children’s movie these days, as the resulting backlash would quickly overshadow the movie itself. It will certainly be missing from any future Dumbo movies.
2 The Skinny Dip - Doc Hollywood
Doc Hollywood is a sweet-natured comedy from 1991, where a big city doctor is forced to do community service in a small town and finds himself at home. It’s one of Michael J Fox's biggest hits outside of the Back To The Future series, and the plot seems to have been a direct influence on the story for Pixar's Cars.
The movie is rated PG-13, but it really pushes the edge of that classification when Doc meets his love interest. He falls asleep on the edge of a lake and wakes to find her emerging – totally naked – from the water. She walks up and introduces herself, leading to some comedic jabbering from the flustered Doctor. The scene is totally innocent and non-sexual, but it remains surprising that a sequence featuring extended nudity was allowed in a non-R-rated comedy.
TV versions usually edit around the nudity out so the movie can be broadcast earlier in the day, and it’s doubtful such candid nakedness would be allowed by the MPAA now regardless of the context.
1 Japanese James Bond - You Only Live Twice
It’s hard to judge a movie by the era it was released, and it’s important to understand the attitudes of the time. Certain stereotypes that are downright offensive now might have been considered fair game for comedy back then, even if it makes for awkward viewing in the modern era.
Case in point would be You Only Live Twice, Sean Connery’s fifth Bond outing. The plot finds 007 in Japan on the trail of Blofeld and another of his evil schemes, and during his mission he must – for some reason – disguise himself as a Japanese man. He’s given a dodgy looking wig and given bushier eyebrows, which has the convincing effect of making him look like Sean Connery in a dodgy wig with bushier eyebrows.
This whole yellow face subplot is ill-judged and ultimately pointless, and it remains one of the most embarrassing moments in the franchise. Fifty years later, Bond has yet to morph into another race for the sake of easy laughs, and it will hopefully remain that way for the foreseeable future.
What other controversial scenes from Hollywood classics would never be allowed in the modern era of moviemaking? Let us know in the comments.