There’s no denying that some of the most iconic films of all time are ones that are unafraid to shock us. Movies that cause controversy, in one way or another, always stick out from the rest.
Filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Darren Aronofsky are notorious for provoking strong reactions in their audiences, and at this point, we would expect nothing less from them. But there are some movie scenes that are difficult to justify as “art.” It’s a question that has been asked many times before – is there such a thing as going too far to make a good film?
The following movies likely wouldn’t be what they are without their most controversial scenes. From disturbing movie goers, to inciting boycotts, and even getting banned – these movies have made a huge impact and will keep people talking for years to come.
Here are 16 Most Controversial Movie Scenes Of All Time.
16. Eucharist Scene – mother!
To say that Darren Aronofsky’s movie mother! has been causing a recent uproar would be an understatement. Starring Jennifer Lawrence and a slew of other acclaimed actors, it’s a film that has been shrouded in secrecy that everyone was excited for, that is, until they saw it.
So what is it about mother! that earned it an F rating on Cinemascore? It likely happened because of one scene towards the end, where we see Jennifer Lawrence’s newborn quite literally devoured by a crowd. She then proceeds to start stabbing at people, while they beat her and spew misogynistic slurs.
Aronofsky has a tendency to put his female leads through complete hell – take Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream as examples- but mother! was on a whole different level. Audiences had a difficult time justifying such a horrific display, no matter how metaphorical it claims to be.
15. Curb Stomp – American History X
There are plenty of scenes in American History X that are difficult to watch, but the premise of the movie does call for it. The film explores the life of a former neo-nazi skinhead, played brilliantly by Edward Norton. His past is, unsurprisingly, full of unpleasant encounters.
Amidst everything going on in this film, there is one scene that stands out as the most difficult to watch. When Derek (Norton) catches people trying to steal his family’s truck, he kills one of the thieves, and orders the other to place his teeth on the curb. What happens next is horrifying to watch, and it ends up landing Derek in jail for a hate crime.
14. Pre-Crucifixion – The Passion of the Christ
When The Passion of the Christ, directed by Mel Gibson, first came out, feelings were mixed. Before even seeing the film, audiences had to decide whether or not depicting the torture of Jesus was something they wanted to watch on screen.
The incredibly extensive and detailed scene leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion shows him being whipped, beaten, and publicly shamed. It’s almost too realistic and impossible not to flinch at. Of course, then comes the actual crucifixion, which is equally difficult to watch.
Besides the moral implications, many other controversies surrounded this film as well – including confusion about the Pope’s endorsement, allegations of antisemitism, and even questions as to how accurate the film was historically.
13. Bathtub Scene – Birth
In the R-rated movie Birth, one particularly shocking scene caused audiences to boo at early screenings. The disturbing scene includes Nicole Kidman’s character Anna sharing a bathtub with a young boy. Though in the actual filming, Kidman and the child were never really in the same room, the editing made it look very real.
In context, Anna (Kidman) believes that this 10-year-old boy is actually her deceased husband reincarnate. As careful as the filmmakers were to protect the child actor, many movie goers still couldn’t get over this absurdly creepy premise.
While audiences may have been confused, renowned film critic Roger Ebert was one of the few who got it. He gave the movie 3.5 out of 4 stars, comparing it to Rosemary’s Baby, even saying that “the movie handles [the bathtub scene] with such care and tact that it sidesteps controversy.”
12. Crucifix Scene – The Exorcist
Yes, we’re talking about “that scene” from the original 1973 The Exorcist. At one point during her possession, the demon inside Regan, played by Linda Blair, violates her with an actual crucifix.
As disturbing as the scene is, in general, it becomes more disturbing when you consider that Blair’s parents actually thought this was a good role for their daughter to play. Audiences were conflicted with the film’s violent and devilish themes being portrayed by a 12-year-old.
Though the theatrical version was allowed in most places, the home video version of The Exorcist was held off in the UK between 1986-1999 in fear of an official ban being placed on the film. Eventually, however, the film passed through with a “suitable only for adults” rating by the BBFC.
11. “Stuck in the Middle With You” – Reservoir Dogs
It may come as a surprise that the most shocking scene in Quentin Tarantino’s crime thriller Reservoir Dogs was somewhat of an improvisation by actor Michael Madsen who played Mr. Blonde.
The scene in question is when Mr. Blonde (Madsen) dances around to the song “Stuck in the Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel while torturing a police officer. This torment, utterly for Mr. Blonde’s entertainment, results in the officer gruesomely losing an ear.
Madsen revealed to The Hollywood Reporter that, for this infamous scene, the only direction he had was to “manically dance around.” Tarantino himself recalled “counting the walkouts during the torture scene, and 33 was the largest.”
10. The Final Show – Requiem for a Dream
It’s safe to say that Requiem for a Dream would have left audiences shocked and disgusted with or without the infamous sex show scene at the end, but the scene definitely brought the film to another level of disturbing.
Marion, played by Jennifer Connelly, is so completely addicted to heroine that she must resort to performing sex acts publicly in order to get her fix. When Marion (Connelly) meets a pimp who offers her this opportunity, her addiction gives her no choice but to agree, and she ends up in a room full of corporate degenerates all there to watch her and another woman perform.
9. The Butter Scene – Last Tango in Paris
The butter scene from Last Tango in Paris was in the news again as recently as last year after director Bernardo Bertolucci admitted that the scene was not consensual for actress Maria Schneider.
The scene consisted of Brando’s character assaulting Schneider with the help of a stick of butter, and while Schneider was praised for her realistic and gut-wrenching performance, it turns out it was not a performance at all. Though Schneider was aware of the scene in general, she was not aware of the extent Brando would take it.
Bertolucci said, “I had been in a way horrible to Maria because I didn’t tell her what was going on… because I wanted her reaction as a girl, not as an actress.”
8. “Squeal like a pig” – Deliverance
Though Deliverance contains one of the most difficult to watch scenes ever filmed, it has been called both culturally and historically significant, and was a critical success. Having been nominated for several awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture, Deliverance is known as one of the best and most shocking films of our time.
The scene that stood out most was the male-on-male assault scene by the hillbilly’s to Bobby (played by Ned Beatty). The notorious line “squeal like a pig” will never be forgotten, and adds a horrifying backwoods fear to the already over-the-top assault scene.
7. Samuel L. Jackson’s Monologue – The Hateful Eight
Right before the intermission in Quentin Tarantino’s film The Hateful Eight, Major Marquis Warren – played by Samuel L. Jackson – gives a speech that audiences won’t soon forget.
Major Warren (Jackson) is a former Union soldier and current bounty hunter, and he tells a detailed story to General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), who is a Confederate veteran, and proud of it. Warren recounts a time when he came across the General’s son, Chester. He tells the General how he made his son strip naked and walk miles in the snow, before finally assaulting Chester before killing him.
Jackson’s compelling monologue that leaves out no details, along with Tarantino’s directing style and shocking cuts to the incident, make this scene disturbing on an entirely new level from anything we’ve seen from Tarantino before.
6. The Interrogation – Basic Instinct
When most people think “controversial movie scenes,” the interrogation scene from Basic Instinct is an obvious choice. It is definitely one of the most famous scenes on this list, mainly because there is nothing else like it.
In the interrogation scene, Sharon Stone uncrosses and recrosses her legs, revealing to the officers in the room that she is not, in fact, wearing underwear. The biggest surprise to audiences was the fact that, when she does this, you can literally see everything.
Later, Sharon Stone claimed that she didn’t fully know that the scene would come out how it did, but director Paul Verhoeven has said that there was no way he could have filmed the scene without Stone’s full knowledge of what was going on.
5. 10 Minute Assault – Irreversible
The question of “how far is too far?” definitely applies to the French film Irreversible. It seemed that audiences weren’t sure whether to appreciate the message and art of the film, or to leave the theater in total horror (as many did).
The most difficult to watch scene consists of an incredibly realistic assault that lasts for a grueling 10 minutes. The assault is perpetrated by a homosexual man, and he attacks a straight woman. This scene, along with the general themes of the film, caused controversy. Accusations came out against the director, Gaspar Noe, for his incredibly homophobic portrayal of gay men.
Critic consensus on Irreversible has been mixed. It currently sits at 57% on Rotten Tomatoes, which calls it “well filmed” but “gratuitous in its extreme violence.”
4. The Hunting Scene – Straw Dogs
Straw Dogs has been panned as one of the most misogynistic films to ever be made. Women in this film are strictly portrayed as sexual objects, which makes the film’s controversial scene all the more saddening.
In a “she was asking for it because of the way she dressed” sort of scenario, Amy (played by Susan George) ends up being assaulted by multiple friends of her husband David (played by Dustin Hoffman). While David and his friends go hunting, they distract him and leave one by one to go back to the house and have their way with Amy.
The worst part about this scene is that the first assaulter is Amy’s ex-boyfriend, and midway through the act, she actually starts to enjoy it. Depicting a woman enjoying being assaulted left audiences horrified, and conversations of misogyny still arise from this film today.
3. The Sea Turtle – Cannibal Holocaust
When it comes to Cannibal Holocaust, it’s difficult to pick just one scene, seeing as the whole movie is so controversial. In fact, the violence towards both humans and animals is so realistic in this film that the director Ruggero Deodato was actually brought to court and forced to prove that he didn’t kill any of his actors in the process of filming.
While no actors were harmed, the most devastating part of this film was the fact that actual live animals were killed for multiple scenes. One scene in particular stands out, where actors were forced to dismember and kill a live sea turtle. For obvious reasons, there was outrage on all fronts.
Over 50 countries banned the film when it was first released in 1980, but after extensive cuts and newly applied adult ratings, it was eventually taken off some countries’ lists of banned films. Deodato himself says he regrets using live animals at all.
2. The Party Scene – Kids
The movie Kids released in 1995 is about the lives of a bunch of teenagers living in New York City. The movies general themes of sex, drugs, and alcohol were already enough to make it controversial, seeing as how many of the actors were in fact teenagers themselves.
One of the most shocking scenes happens to Kids most ill-fated character, Jennie (Chloe Sevigny). When Jennie finds out that she has contracted HIV, she realizes that she must have gotten it from Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick), who is the only person she has slept with.
While attempting to find Telly at a party, Jennie ends up taking a pill and passing out. One of Telly’s friends then proceeds to sexually assault the unconscious Jennie, who is unaware of what’s happening to her. Telly’s friend is also unaware that he will likely contract HIV, making the tragedy of this scene all the more palpable.
1. Mary Magdalene – The Last Temptation of Christ
There was plenty in Martin Scorsese’s film The Last Temptation of Christ that had Christian groups up in arms, but none more so than the scene where Jesus and Mary Magdalene consummate their marriage.
In a sort of dream sequence or alternate reality, Satan shows Jesus his possible life as a mortal man. This includes him marrying and sleeping with Mary Magdalene. Obviously, religious groups were heavily against this depiction of their savior.
Multiple protests and boycotts began, causing many theaters not to show the movie, and even when it came out on video, many stores – including Blockbuster – refused to carry it. A theater in Paris that showed the film was actually burned down, and police found arson was the cause.
Though most Christians condemned these radical actions, the boycotts and protesters were ultimately successful in bringing down this film.
Do you think these movies went too far? What controversial movie scenes did we miss? Tell us in the comments!
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