Everyone has an opinion. And it seems like nothing drives more debate, arguments and impassioned feelings in pop culture than movies. Even films targeted for mass appeal, like Star Wars: The Last Jedi or Justice League cause arguments just by being brought up in conversation.
But there are other films, from directors less prone to seek mass appeal, that are almost immediately divisive. Whether courting controversy over violence, graphic sex, language, or religion, thee films produce a downpour of outrage that is never extinguished.
Some prove so controversial and objectionable that they’ve been banned in certain countries. Others are shown in film schools, despite the mixed emotions they produce. In the end, the one thing everyone can agree on is that films deemed offensive are truly unforgettable. And we are about to discuss the most unforgettably offensive movies ever
So what makes a film qualify for most offensive? In addition to the criteria above, it is largely determined by public perception, often exhibited through protests, critical disapproval, and social media outrage.
We’re not here to say objectively if these films are good or bad: both have their champions and detractors, and some have been reappraised over the years.
Here are the 16 Most Offensive Movies Ever Made.
The most recent example of controversial cinema is director Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! which caused significant outrage upon its release in 2017. In fact, it proved so divisive it received an F CinemaScore from audiences, which is an achievement unto itself.
So why was it so reviled? It’s ultimately all about the climax, where the title character, played by Jennifer Lawrence is attacked by a crowd of crazed worshippers who shout insults at her. The mother is horribly mistreated and the film ends violently and disturbingly.
Aronofsky claimed the film was largely a metaphor about the destruction of our environment, but many see it as manipulative, misogynistic and pretentious. If you don’t believe it’s divisive, try having a conversation with two or more people who have seen it, and watch the fireworks begin!
How the hell was this film allowed to be made? Even from seeing the trailer, anyone with any sense of good taste could see that 9/11 was a disaster film shamelessly exploiting the tragedy of September 11th.
Based on Patrick Carson’s play Elevator, 9/11 stars perennial train wreck Charlie Sheen as one of five people trapped in an elevator inside one of the World Trade Center towers during the horrific attack.
The film despicably includes real life footage of the terrorist attack, while also featuring baffling moments, like Sheen and his companions floating weightlessly when their elevator drops.
Sheen is joined by a host of respectable actors who all should have known better than to be a part of this travesty, including Gina Gershon and Whoopi Goldberg. Sheen’s involvement is particularly repellant, given his past opinions that 9/11 was a staged event.
14. Tropic Thunder
Tropic Thunder is easily one of the most controversial comedies of the 21st century. Director and star Ben Stiller’s “movie about making a movie” fearlessly poked the stick at Hollywood’s penchant for taking itself too seriously, but it wasn’t just industry insiders who felt uncomfortable about the film’s content.
Robert Downey Jr. garnered significant attention for playing a white actor portraying a black character, while Stiller’s character has flashbacks of playing “Simple Jack,” a mentally challenged character who drew real-life outrage from disability activist groups.
Stiller’s film wasn’t meant to mock the disabled, but rather the arrogance of actors who play parts like “Simple Jack” as a shameless way to earn an Oscar nomination. Be that as it may, between Simple Jack and the “ironic” blackface, Tropic Thunder attacked enough sacred cows to make it a worthy inclusion on this list.
13. The Passion of the Christ
Never one to shy away from controversy, director Mel Gibson created a cinematic lightning rod with this 2004 film chronicling the crucifixion of Jesus. So why did it create such outrage?
First off, it was an R-rated film about the life of Christ, depicting his prolonged suffering and death with as much violence and gore as the most notorious torture films. Secondly, it was accused of anti-Semitism by many film critics, as well as the Anti-Defamation League, who claimed the film depicted Jewish characters in an extremely unflattering light.
Despite such controversies (or perhaps because of them– there’s no such thing as bad publicity, after all), Gibson’s film was a smash success, earning $370 domestically, making it both the highest grossing religious film, and the highest grossing R-rated movie of all time. There’s even a sequel in the works.
To say audiences were unprepared for Freaks in 1932 is an understatement. Outrage was so swift that it derailed the career of director Todd Browning, previously revered for the original 1931 Dracula film starring Bela Lugosi.
Freaks starred real-life carnival performers, including conjoined twins, bearded women, little people, and those with microcephaly. One has to wonder if audience uproar wasn’t just the claims of exploitation, but partially discomfort at seeing the lives of carnival performers portrayed onscreen.
In the end, the freaks are the heroes who take revenge on the “normal people” who exploit them.
Freaks still packs a punch today, and has lost none of its provocative power, still inspiring shows like American Horror Story: Freak Show. Ultimately it’s about everyone’s wish to live life on their own terms, which still feels quite revolutionary in a culture so quick to judge.
11. Soul Man
Perhaps the tagline to this comedy misfire should be the classic saying “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Because Soul Man, a film meant to show how a sheltered white man learns the effects of racism, is in effect, an exercise in racism.
C. Thomas Howell plays Mark Watson, a white college student who darkens his skin in order to qualify for a African-American scholarship. Once he’s accepted, he adopts every stereotypical behavior he can think of to make others believe he’s black.
Eventually Watson’s ruse makes him realize the error of his ways, while also making him experience firsthand what racism feels like, but a plot that could have been profound becomes an offensive blackface caricature. Needless to say, Soul Man could never be made today.
In this film from The Exorcist director William Friedkin, Al Pacino stars as an undercover cop investigating a serial killer who targets young gay men. This topic made it extremely controversial upon its debut in 1980.
Many gay rights groups decried it as homophobic, as they claimed it suggested that all gay men were inherently violent (and that gay activity was aberrant), which they feared would lead to a spike in hate crimes.
Ironically, Friedkin said Cruising couldn’t have been made without the support of the New York City gay community– many scenes were shot in local gay clubs, featuring regular patrons as extras. In recent years a reappraisal of the film has been kinder to Cruising’s legacy, but it remains a lightning rod for debate in terms of its political correctness.
One of the most controversial films of the ’90s, Kids documents a group of overly mature teens in New York City. But unlike so many teen comedies that play such behavior for laughs, Larry Clark’s film is a sobering and disturbing look at adolescence, including scenes of assault.
Innocence is in short supply.
In fact the film, written by a young Harmony Korine, has all the tension of a horror film. Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick) as a promiscuous teen is looking to hook up with any willing participant, while unaware that he has HIV.
Kids featured several up-and-coming actors including Rosario Dawson and Chloe Sevigny. Sadly, two of the cast members, Justin Pierson and Harold Hunter, died tragically years later, which did little to dispel criticisms that Clark exploited his young cast by exposing them to such dark subject matter.
8. Ilsa: She Wolf Of The SS
This entry in the Nazisploitation sub-genre (yes, that’s really a thing) stars Sybil Danning as the title character. Ilsa: She Wolf of The SS is a captain inside a German medical experiment who has a voracious appetite and a sadistic love of torture, which makes for a deadly combo.
Ilsa helps conduct cruel experiments designed to prove women can tolerate pain more than men (and should therefore be able to fight in the armed forces). She also beds many of her male prisoners, but kills them afterward.
Ilsa is absurd in the extreme.
Its over-the-top quality makes it a truly fascinating entry in trash cinema. In fact, it’s so ridiculously tasteless that director Don Edmunds couldn’t defend it, later calling the screenplay “the worst piece of s*** I ever read.”
Few films live up to their title like this French horror film, which leaves cinematic trauma on anyone brave enough to view it. Irreversible stars Monica Bellucci as Alex, a woman who suffers a 10 minute assault by a knife-wielding assailant, which leaves her in a coma. The shocking events of the film are shown in reverse – beginning with the sequential end and finishing with the initial assault.
That traumatic sequence became instantly problematic, resulting in an array of criticisms from gratuitous violence to the fact that the perpetrator was a gay man, leading to accusations of homophobia against director Gaspar Noe.
6. A Serbian Film
A movie so offensive its banned in Germany, Australia, Norway, Spain, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea, A Serbian Film seemingly delights in how many taboos it violates onscreen.
The film revolves around a adult film star so desperate for work that he doesn’t realize the full implications of the new project he’s starring in. Soon he’s forced to engage in a seemingly endless number of atrocities.
As bad as those things sound, it’s even worse to watch, as the film’s no-holds-barred style continually traumatizes its audiences, including scenes so vile and reprehensible we can’t even begin to describe it here.
5. The Human Centipede (First Sequence)
The Human Centipede: First Sequence is an interesting exercise in movie marketing– it sacrificed the chance to surprise audiences with its big reveal by inspiring viewers to spoil the film in order to entice their friends to buy tickets.
The concept, of a mad scientist (played by Dieter Laser) abducting three victims and sewing them from… (well just look at the above picture to get the idea) is absolutely vile given the end result.
The Human Centipede delighted enough fans of squirmy cinema that director Tom Six made two sequels, but neither could top the stomach-churning audacity of the original.
While Six’s claim that the concept of First Sequence was “100% accurate” is ridiculous, his big gamble that such a revolting film would turn a profit is proof he knows a thing or two about how to manipulate audiences.
4. I Spit on Your Grave
Revenge films are always a squeamish prospect, because for all the talk of female empowerment and the undeniable satisfaction of seeing an abuser punished, assault scenes are always controversial.
These scenes often display something that does not need to be displayed.
That is what makes the original I Spit On Your Grave such a dubious film, because said assault scene lasts an interminable 30 minutes. The attack has long pitted genre fans and film critics against each other: those who claim it’s crass exploitation, and those who say it shows the true agony a victim is forced to endure.
The debate rages on, making I Spit On Your Grave one of the most notorious and discussed exploitation films of its type. It is still banned in several countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom.
Director Lars Von Trier has never shied away from controversy, but he threw the gauntlet down for Antichrist. The film, a chronicle of a couple going through the aftermath of their child’s death, is deeply disquieting stuff.
We see their relationship unravel, as the husband (Willem Dafoe) begins experiencing disturbing hallucinations while his wife becomes violent.
In addition to showing graphic scenes (performed by adult film stars) the film also features a horrific, visceral scene that is pure, unadulterated nightmare fuel, and has made many a viewer nauseous.
Antichrist proved so inflammatory upon its première at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival that an Ecumenical Jury (a group who award prizes for films featuring spiritual values) gave the film an “anti-prize,” calling it “the most misogynist movie from the self-proclaimed biggest director in the world.”
2. Make Them Die Slowly
This grisly 1981 Italian film was marketed as “the most violent film ever made” and it’s not hard to see why. Make Them Die Slowly centers on a group of Americans who are abducted by a evil tribe while traveling through the Paraguay rain forest.
From there, the attacks on the Americans are about as violent and disturbing as the title implies. While those effects, while convincing, are fake, the animal abuse and slayings are all upsetting because they’re all too real.
Make Them Die Slowly was banned in several countries, as were other Italian films on the same subject matter, making this an odd and distasteful sub-genre of Italian cinema. Eli Roth homaged the genre with his 2015 horror film The Green Inferno.
1. Birth of a Nation
The Birth Of A Nation is a paradox: a movie that’s widely seen as offensive revisionist history is celebrated for its pioneering technical achievements.
D.W. Griffith’s 1915 silent epic chronicles America during the Civil War, and shows the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, who are presented as a heroic force who helped keep up the status quo during the Reconstruction period.
It’s worth noting that Griffith’s film, which presents demeaning depictions of African-Americans (portrayed by white actors in blackface) was even controversial upon its first release. Griffith’s positive portrayal of the KKK helped inject new lifeblood into its ranks, and the group experienced a surge in popularity.
Despite these ugly truths, Griffith’s groundbreaking technical achievements (which would influence the Hollywood film industry) earned it a place in the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Are any of these movies too controversial for your taste? Let us know in the comments!
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