25 Most Controversial Movies Ever
Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ has topped a new online poll from Entertainment Weekly of the top 25 Most Controversial Movies Ever.
Gibson’s intention, born of his deep Catholic faith, was to produce an unflinching depiction of Christ’s suffering on behalf of mankind. What he succeeded at best, however, was igniting a culture-war firestorm unrivaled in Hollywood history. For months prior to its release, The Passion was both denounced and defended sight unseen amid reports that the film wasn’t just brutal, but compromised by dubious biblical interpretation and anti-Semitic sentiment. Gibson refused to let concerned parties view and vet his self-financed film, even as he was giving Passion previews to Christians as part of an unprecedented church-targeting promo push. Ultimately, moviegoers pretty much got the experience they were expecting, while Gibson got a $370 million gross — plus a provocative new reputation.
Below is the rest of the top 25:
2. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)
THE CONTROVERSY You mean besides its irreverent use of Gene Kelly’s ”Singin’ in the Rain”? That the movie first landed an X rating and was deemed pornographic across the U.S. was nothing compared with its reception in the U.K.: Social uproar and reports of copycat crimes led Kubrick to withdraw Clockwork from distribution in his adopted country. It wasn’t officially available there again — in theaters or on video — until 2000, a year after his death.
3. FAHRENHEIT 9/11 (2004)
THE CONTROVERSY The documentary lit the fuse of right-wing America, detonating protests and hate campaigns to ban it (no dice). Moore was the first to break the post-9/11 moratorium on Bush bashing and set off a season of brutal smack-downs among the Bill O’Reillys and Keith Olbermanns of the world.
4. DEEP THROAT (1972)
THE CONTROVERSY Intellectuals championed the film for striking a blow for First Amendment rights, while conservative leaders got it banned in many places and put Reems on trial for obscenity charges. Lovelace herself later denounced the film, claiming that while filming ”there was a gun to my head.”
5. JFK (1991)
THE CONTROVERSY Some saw Stone’s documentary-on-steroids-like interpretation of those theories as lending them a certain patina of truth — raising fears that moviegoers would construe it as bona fide history. One result: a 1992 congressional act to release classified documents (which revealed nothing).
6. THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988)
THE CONTROVERSY Religious fundamentalists picketed and threatened boycotts weeks before its release. One group offered to buy the $6.5 million film from Universal to destroy it; some theaters, and later Blockbuster, refused to carry it. Oh, and the French rioted.
7. THE BIRTH OF A NATION (1915)
THE CONTROVERSY The film’s depiction of African Americans as childlike, conniving, or rabid sex fiends, and the Ku Klux Klan as heroic saviors, sparked nationwide protests by the nascent NAACP. (It also became a KKK recruiting tool.) Censorship debates and protests have dogged the film in subsequent re-releases and when it was added to the National Film Registry in 1993.
8. NATURAL BORN KILLERS (1994)
THE CONTROVERSY Though intended as a satire on the media, the film actually inspired several copycat killers to seek their own 15 minutes of fame, some even using imagery and dialogue from the film. Over 12 murders in the U.S. and abroad have been linked to Killers. One victim’s family tried to sue Stone and Warner Bros.
9. LAST TANGO IN PARIS (1972)
THE CONTROVERSY Critics and audiences were sharply divided over this X-rated erotic psychodrama. The film’s stark (as in naked) depiction of loveless, animalistic carnality horrified some — and landed its director and stars in an Italian court on obscenity charges.
10. BABY DOLL (1956)
THE CONTROVERSY Written by Tennessee Williams, the film struck Catholic leaders as lewd. (A similar flap greeted 1943’s The Outlaw over Jane Russell’s bust.) New York’s Cardinal Spellman forbade the faithful to see it ”under pain of sin.” Some theaters pulled it, but it eventually earned four Oscar nominations.
11. THE MESSAGE (1977)
THE CONTROVERSY The movie rankled Muslims and sparked riots, and that was just during production. Post-release, in March 1977, Hanafi terrorists took more than 100 people hostage in Washington, D.C. — killing a reporter and shooting the city’s future mayor Marion Barry in the two-day siege — demanding in part that The Message be banned. (It wasn’t.) In a cruelly ironic coda, the Syrian-born Akkad died amid al-Qaeda’s coordinated hotel bombings last fall in Amman, Jordan.
12. THE DEER HUNTER (1978)
THE CONTROVERSY By the time it won the Best Picture Oscar, Deer Hunter had ignited major debate over its shocking POW-camp scenes, in which American soldiers are forced to play Russian roulette. War historians argued there was no record of such atrocities, and others called the Vietcong depiction racist. Cimino called the criticisms ”beside the point.”
13. THE DA VINCI CODE (2006)
THE CONTROVERSY It didn’t end up drawing mass pickets or boycotts, but there was much debate while the film was being made. Westminster Abbey wouldn’t allow Howard to shoot inside its halls, and some 200 protesters mobbed the set in Lincolnshire, England (although Howard says most were merely ”trying to get autographs”).
14. THE WARRIORS (1979)
THE CONTROVERSY Hill’s lurid nightmare of urban warfare was widely condemned for glorifying violence. Reports of criminal incidents where the film was shown — including the stabbing of a teenager in Massachusetts — fueled the outrage, forcing Paramount to temporarily pull its print and TV advertising for the film.
15. TRIUMPH OF THE WILL (1935)
THE CONTROVERSY While intellectuals still ponder the ethics of admiring so malevolent a masterpiece, others have had more visceral reactions. In the early ’40s, director George Stevens was so disturbed by the film that he joined the Army the next day. Protests greeted Riefenstahl (who never shook her Nazi-tainted past) at a 1974 Telluride Film Festival tribute, and the Anti-Defamation League decried a 1975 screening in Atlanta as ”morally insensitive.”
16. UNITED 93 (2006)
THE CONTROVERSY Greengrass’ virtually-there experience may have been a little too close for comfort for some moviegoers. Even the trailer’s suggestion of the movie’s content prompted audiences to shout Too soon! One New York City theater pulled the footage from its preview reel after many viewers (one left sobbing) complained.
17. FREAKS (1932)
THE CONTROVERSY Audiences fled preview screenings in droves. (One patron claimed the film caused her to miscarry.) Even with a castration scene cut, the National Association of Women found the film ”offensive” and urged boycotts. It was banned in Atlanta and pulled from distribution; it was forbidden in the U.K. until the early ’60s.
18. I AM CURIOUS (YELLOW) (1969)
THE CONTROVERSY Before the 1967 Swedish film could open in the U.S., it was seized by customs officials concerned that scenes containing full frontal nudity and simulated sex acts were pornographic. The courts initially deemed the movie obscene, but the verdict was overturned.
19. BASIC INSTINCT (1992)
THE CONTROVERSY Gay-rights activists objected to the portrayal of man-hating lesbians before a frame of film was shot and protested through the film’s opening. Then there was the film’s eye-popping sex, including Sharon Stone’s notorious leg-crossing, which contributed to Basic’s initial NC-17 rating.
20. CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1985)
THE CONTROVERSY After its 1980 Milan premiere, the film’s print was confiscated by the city’s magistrate. Later, Deodato faced life in prison when Italian authorities believed the stars of his film were really killed. The actors finally appeared on TV to prove otherwise.
21. BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967)
THE CONTROVERSY Two years before Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, Penn’s bloody, slo-mo bullet-riddled finale, where the young lovers bite the dust, sparked an outcry — even tough-guy actor James Garner, no stranger to shoot-outs, called it ”amoral.”
22. DO THE RIGHT THING (1989)
THE CONTROVERSY While the film was seen by some as a masterpiece (and earned Lee a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nom), others blasted the director as irresponsible, predicting that the film’s shocking climax — in which Mookie (Lee) hurls a trashcan through a storefront window, inciting a riot — would evoke similar reactions from urban moviegoers. Thankfully, the film proved to be more of a catalyst for heated debate than a flashpoint for actual violence.
23. KIDS (1995)
THE CONTROVERSY Clark’s disturbing vision of promiscuous, borderline-sociopathic teens was heralded by some as a much-needed wake-up call about the nation’s youth. Others saw prurient exploitation. As a buffer against the furor, Miramax created a new entity, Excalibur Films, to release the pic.
24. CALIGULA (1980)
THE CONTROVERSY Described as a ”moral holocaust” by Variety, the film was first given a very limited theatrical release for fear of prosecution on obscenity grounds.
25. Aladdin (1992)
THE CONTROVERSY: The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee balked at a lyric describing the film’s Arabian setting as a land ”where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face.” Result? The studio dubbed out the lyric for subsequent releases.