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The 20 Most Controversial Movies Of All Time

12 July 2013 | Features, Film Lists | by David Zou

most controversial movies

Every once in a while a film arrives which causes great controversy around the world, and in some cases, the film ends up being banned. Sometimes, in the case of politics and sex, filmmakers can be liberators, leading a charge that elevates the medium’s significance. Elsewhere—especially in the case of violence—a movie can warn us of where we might be headed.

This is a list of the top 20 movies that have caused controversy – and, in fact, many of them are still controversial to this day.


20. Last Tango In Paris


The Movie: Grieving widower Paul (Marlon Brando) and French fille Jeanne (Maria Schneider) embark on a no-names affair, the graphical nature of which sent censors into a tizzy. It was X-rated in America and Britain.

Most Controversial Moment: Paul gets out the butter as a lubricant for anal sex.


19. In The Realm Of The Senses


The Movie: Nagisa Oshima’s erotic tale of a torrid sexual affair, full of unsimulated sex, bridged the gap between sincere art-house cinema and pornography. Too scandalous to be made in his native Japan, Oshima edited in France.

Most Controversial Moment: Sada Abe (Eiko Matsuda) strangles lover Kichizo (Tatsuya Fuji) to death during sex, then cuts off his penis.


18. The Last Temptation Of Christ


The Movie: Devout Catholic Martin Scorsese reckoned his film was a tribute to Jesus’ inner strength. French fundamentalists thought differently, firebombing the Paris cinema showing the film.

Most Controversial Moment: The temptation, as Jesus (Willem Dafoe) sees a visitation of a normal life, which includes making love to Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey).


17. Cannibal Holocaust


The Movie: The godfather of ‘found footage’ movies – about a documentary crew becoming the victims of their cannibal subjects – saw director Ruggero Deodato arrested for murder after allegating of killing his actors.

Most Controversial Moment: Deodato proved that he hadn’t really had a girl impaled… but the footage of animal slaughter, including a monkey being macheted in the skull, is real enough.

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  • Graham Carter

    The Evil Dead? Really? I like the film but I’ve never considered it controversial! What about, ‘Der Ewige Jude’ aka The Eternal Jew (1940) amongst scores of thers… Kusturica’s ‘Underground’ (1995)…

    • Steve O’Rourke

      I think they referring to the “rape by the woods” scene. I’m a guy, and even I had a strong reaction to it.

  • lorettajohnson

    Only controversial thing about the Human Centipede 2 was how boring it was.

  • Garrett William

    Where does one draw the line between controversy and just plain repugnant and awful as in the cases of “A Serbian Film” and “Human Centipede 2″?

  • Steve O’Rourke

    Regan wasn’t masturbating with the crucifix, she was stabbing herself.

    • Mehrine

      Yelling “Let Jesus f*ck you”. So yeah, it’s a violent masturbation scene.

      • Steve O’Rourke

        I’ll have to see the film again, but with the blood and the motion, it looked like she stabbing/raping herself with the crucifix.

  • agleone87

    Okay, The 120 Days of Sodom was a book written in 1785.

    And The Passion of the Christ…

    personal opinion – if a movie is based on a book that’s well-known and
    from more than a century ago, then it shouldn’t be considered that
    controversial. If people couldn’t be bothered to read those books
    first, then they’re probably easily shocked to begin with.