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5 Famous Movies That Caused Unexpected Controversy

18 May 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Jason Turer

unexpected controversial movies

There’s no shortage of controversy in the world of cinema, from D. W. Griffith’s landmark 1915 film Birth of a Nation to this year’s Noah. Usually it’s clear ahead of time which films will ruffle the collective feathers.

Focus on certain individuals and you can virtually be guaranteed to provoke controversy. Ditto for anything explicitly based on a true story (unless it’s a documentary, though sometimes even those aren’t immune from criticism).

This list, however, won’t be about those films, hence the absence of A Clockwork Orange, The Passion of the Christ, etc. Rather, these movies sparked public debate – some minor, some fairly widespread – despite their seemingly benign or escapist premises. Sometimes the ire raised was more or less legitimate, other times… less so. What seems obvious and inflammatory to some may go completely over the heads of others, if the perceived transgression even exists at all. Were these controversies justified? You be the judge. And before we begin: No offense.


5. Prometheus

Prometheus (2012)

The Movie: Ridley Scott’s sorta-prequel to Alien, which tackles nothing less than the origins of mankind.

The Supposed Offense: (SPOILER ALERT) The scene halfway through the movie where, according to one interpretation, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) “performs a self-induced abortion.”

The Fallout: Nothing really. A ticket taker at a Regal Cinemas in Seattle apparently took it upon himself to warn moviegoers about this scene, in effect spoiling a major plot twist. Ignoring the fact that the event described concerns the removal of an alien parasite, NOT a human fetus, most can probably agree that spoilers – especially when they’re coming from theater employees – are generally frowned upon.

Thankfully, this seems to have been an isolated incident, and filmgoers more likely took issues with the movie’s numerous plot holes than any alleged, thinly veiled attempts to make some kind of pro-choice or pro-life statement.


4. Chernobyl Diaries

Chernobyl Diaries

The Movie: A 2012 horror film produced by Oren Peli (of Paranormal Activity fame) about a group of tourists who venture to the abandoned Ukrainian town where the Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred, only to be hunted by the mutants who still live there.

The Supposed Offense: Exploiting the victims of a real life tragedy.

The Fallout (no pun intended, I swear): Groups such as Friends of Chernobyl Centers, U.S. accused Peli of insensitivity, which he countered by citing his support by the Israeli charity, Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl. Clearly the film’s setting struck a nerve, especially since the event that made the premise possible was less than thirty years old when the film was made.

Others simply dismissed the movie as a rip-off of the similarly themed The Hills Have Eyes. Ultimately, the low box office numbers and poor reviews made Chernobyl Diaries more or less forgettable, basically sidelining the controversy entirely.


3. Orphan


The Movie: A 2009 thriller about a couple (Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard) who adopts a nine-year old girl (Isabelle Fuhrman), not knowing that, as the tagline states, “There’s something wrong with Esther.”

The Supposed Offense: The whole idea of the film, underscored by its title and the line heard in the trailer, “It must be difficult to love an adopted child as much as your own,” offended adoptees (or at least, their parents).

The Fallout: Here we get into trickier territory. Does this film demonize and therefore discourage adoption? Or are people just being overly sensitive? While it’s depressing to imagine that a fictional movie can influence such an important real-life decision, movies no doubt impact our thinking on at least a subliminal level sometimes. Adoption groups urged Americans to (you guessed it) boycott the horror movie. Whether or not adoption rates have been affected in the years since is unknown.


2. Life of Pi

life of pi movie

The Movie: Ang Lee’s 2013 adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel about an Indian teenager who becomes stranded on a lifeboat with a tiger following the shipwreck that kills his whole family.

The Supposed Offense: Rhythm & Hues Studios, the special effects company that worked on the film, went bankrupt mere weeks before the film won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects. Hundreds visibly protested outside the ceremony.

The Fallout: Another controversy having nothing to do with the film’s story and everything to do with what happened behind the scenes. Hundreds of R&H artists were laid off as the film they worked on went on to win the highest award in their field, a development that’s basically the definition of bittersweet.

Visual effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer’s Oscar acceptance speech was cut off when he began to address the controversy, a move that exacerbated the already ugly situation. Despite the visual effects company’s financial mess, the film ended up being a massive critical and commercial hit, winning Oscars in four of the eleven categories it was nominated for and grossing over $600 million worldwide.


1. Child’s Play 3

Child's Play 3

The Movie: The third entry in the possessed-killer-doll franchise finds Chucky following original owner Andy to military school.

The Supposed Offense: Nothing… when it was released in the summer of 1991. It was only later that the film became notorious when it was accused of inspiring the two young killers in a hideous torture-murder case.

The Fallout: It would have been just another horror sequel if not for its infamous association – undeserved as it most likely was – with a real life murder. When a toddler named James Bulger was abducted, tortured, and murdered in England in 1993 (by ten-year-olds, no less), some blamed this movie, citing that the father of one of the killers had rented it some months before the murder.

Though the link between the film and the shocking homicide was never proven and tenuous at best, the connection between the two can never be fully erased.




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  • Drvobradi

    I never understood why is #18 bothering people.
    They are saying ”It sucks! A Norse good cannot be black!” but they are forgetting that the residents of Asgard in the films are NOT gods.
    In fact, it was referenced in the first Thor film, when Odin (or was it Thor?) says that it is enough for them to come to Earth, shoot a lightning bolt here and there, and everybody would think of them as gods.
    So, they are just and advanced race of interdimensional beings – not gods.
    Therefore, Heimdall being black is not controversial at all.
    I mean, have you ever seen an interdimensional humanoid being?
    Why can’t it be black?

    • Ryan Perez

      Its silly. But, in an age where intentionally-finding-things-to-be-offended-by is the new “thing”, this is only to be expected. Doesn’t make them right, or justified, however.

    • Stiggie

      The idea of aliens having ethnic groups that mirror those here on earth is much weirder than the idea that gods do.

      I thought it was a bad idea to have actors of several “races” portray the dark elves in Thor 2, because this mirroring just seems so ridiculous to me, having aliens look like humans is one thing, but specifically having asian, caucasian, and black aliens is just one step further.

      The norse gods can be explained by them taking on a human form after having come to earth, the dark elves are a different matter.

      Also, complaints about Heimdall are twofold, for one, they are mad because Heimdall should be a representation of a norse god, and since the norsemen were white their gods would be white, it’s a matter of historic accuracy.

      Secondly, Heimdall is described as being the whitest of the gods, although I expect that that was in reference to his character, not his skin tone.

      If you are a fan of Heimdall I can understand you wanting him portrayed the way you imagined him, I personally still don’t like the idea of a blonde James Bond.

      Personally I don’t have any attachment to Heimdall so all I cared about was whether or not he was cool, and that he was.

      • ianwestc

        “The idea of aliens having ethnic groups that mirror those here on earth is much weirder than the idea that gods do.”

        Absolutely no weirder than the notion that the aliens would all be one ethnic group (Star Trek was guilty of this, especially back in the 60s) with little variety. Or that they would perfectly resemble humans.

        At some point we just have to accept that a number of ‘aliens’ will be played by humans in movies and TV shows and thus will reflect the variety of human life that we have on this planet. Or will we fall back to the notion that light pinkish-white is the default ‘human’ color, and anything darker is just some oddity?

        Why assume that a whole species is going to be exactly one color in every environment?

        If the gods in Thor were the Norse gods, then fine. But they aren’t. They’re travelers, visitors who liberated the Norsemen from the frost giants and gave them their legends. The Norse, being all white, recast them in their own image over time.

        • Stiggie

          It is necessarily weirder, because it extra information that specifically matches up.
          An alien race that kind of looks like humans is very unlikely, but if the ways they vary also mimics the way humans vary then that is an extra unlikehood added on top.
          If it were up to me I would have one ethnicity per alien race, unless the facial features of the actors happen to match up very well despite the difference ethnicity, or unless there is enough make up to effectively mask the difference.

    • Erika Fiore

      ” to come to Earth, shoot a lightning bolt here and there, and everybody would think of them as gods.” Fandral said that to Thor.

    • Maja Ulfsparre

      At school we learned about Norse mythology. I don’t remember ever hearing or reading about all the gods being white. We just assumed.

    • Unkle Amon

      Because there were no blacks in the north at that time. Btw, Tarantino is biggest douche in cinema history.

  • Mike

    #5 : When the word “retard” is referred to as the “R-word” makes me want to shake my head at how sensitive people become. Hell Tarantino drops N-bombs in every movie he makes, some argue that’s why he does it so he can get away with saying it, but how many people really get their panties in twist over it? Pulp Fiction isn’t on this list is it? Or any number of his movies, why? Calling someone who’s got developmental issues a retard is bad, pretty much an absolute in the world we live in, calling someone who doesn’t a retard when they do something that’s absolutely stupid is usually well warranted and very apt.

    • Brett Lovejoy

      I hate when people say ‘the r-word’ for ‘retard’ as much as I hate when people say ‘the n-word’ for ‘nigger.’ It’s okay. It’s just a word. You can say it, it’s all about the context.

  • mph23

    The Silence of the Lambs ‘offence’ makes no sense. The film (and the book) clearly have characters state the Buffalo Bill is NOT gay, and only thinks he’s transgender. His pathology is actually much darker. Lechter says those almost exact words to Starling during thier through-the-glass conversations.

    I was also more offended by the ‘black’ transformers in Bay’s T2:RotF than I was by any Star Wars ‘racism’. How is Watto a Jew? because I guess all sorts of jews are slave-owning used space ship/junk dealers…

    • Fredric Dong

      I thought Watto was arabic.

  • F. Ewe

    Gremlins. Racist. Seems to me that the perpetration of racial bias comes more from those who need to remind us all that blacks eat fried chicken while breakdancing at a silent film festival every chance they get, and oh look lets retroactively accuse the decades past of horrible hatred.

    I’m pretty sure you let the 80s die along with all the watermelon gum and parachute pants, and the rest will follow. Plenty of new reasons to hate each other! :p

  • CabezaQueso

    Gebus the queers need to relax, why so serious?

  • BrianRommel

    The thing about the last airbeder is that in the show most of the main voice actors are white.

  • Stiggie

    Short version: A lot of people bitching about nothing, just like with Black Pete.

  • Looking at the movies that made this list… First and foremost, I will say that people in America are by far TOO damn sensitive! Period. As far as the Muzlemz that were offended? Why? Why are they offended? Maybe it is due to the fact that the truth hurts. If they or their prophet are depicted in ANY way other than the glory that they see themselves as, they ban it and use if as fuel to continue their reign of terror and murder.

    As far as homophobic folks in society or Hollywood… Who cares? I am not a gay man. I do not care to be. I worked at the Andy Warhol Museum when I was attending the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, and let me tell you that I have known more than my share of Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexual people. Let me clue you lemming sheeple in on a little known secret… Whether you like their lifestyle or not, they are people. Whether you hate them or not, they are people. They are not out there killing you if you do not convert! They are not cursing you with the threat of hellfire and brimstone if you do not convert… That right there is how the LGB’s have a step ahead of the judgmental religious morons in this country!

    Point being, that no matter WHAT it is! NO MATTER WHAT YOU LOOK AT… Depending on too many variables, no matter what it is that you look at, if you did not make it, you can find a way to be offended by something!

    If you want everything to be vanilla, boring, and dull, all in hopes that YOU are not offended, eventually the colorful and tasteless humor you like will offend someone else, and that too will be contraband.

    If you do not like something, great move on and do not look at it, partake in it or support it. That does NOT give you the right to say others who have no impact on your life do not have the right to do what it is that makes them happy and continue to tick on…

    So to the overly sensitive Lemming Sheeple of this age… Piss off!

    • Lars Franssen

      Sorry, but it seems to me that your post provides ample evidence against your argument. You seem to have bought into the stereotype that all Muslims are out to convert you or kill you. And if such stereotypes are reinforced, it DOES impact the lives of people you have never met. You may have learned that LGBT are people, but so are Muslims. There are of course terribly screwed-up Muslims, but most of the people who suffer by them are other Muslims. So, to the desensitized Lemming Sheeple of this age … Piss off yourselves!

  • CainCrow

    any chance we can just call prejudice prejudice, respect different oppinions and acknowledge that ‘homophobia’ isnt a real thing?

  • Kat

    The funny thing is, Buffalo Bill was based on actual people — Ed Gein (who was also the inspiration for Norman Bates!) and Gary Heidnik. Gein was the one who made skin suits out of women (mostly dead bodies he dug up from the graveyard, although he did kill at least two women) and Heidnik kept several women chained up in his basement where he had a pit dug to put them in when he wanted to torture them further. I mean, it’s more like an offense to serial killers than transgendered individuals. (I read a book that had a chapter on Heidnik — it gave me nightmares)

  • Liz Leyden

    What about Flightplan? The 2005 film stars Jodie Foster as a woman whose young daughter disappears during a flight. The flight crew try to cover up the disappearance by pretending that he daughter was never on the flight. Apparently a uniopn representing flight attendants called for a boycott.

  • TheOogsterday

    “The undeniable homophobia” “someone with such offensive views”…ugh. Certainly Mr. Turur, with his Bachelors from Cornell, knows that homophobia is nothing more than a buzzword used to belittle people who hold a view that has little to do with a fear of anything. And though the views may be quite offensive to the greater Hollywood community (no surprise there), they are in line with the majority of Americans. The shaming of those who believe in traditional morals is growing tiresome.

  • Lex

    The only problem I have with separating the art from the artist debate is we must remember, the artist is getting money for this art people support. So I don’t have a problem people not seeing the art because they don’t like the artist because it is one less dollar.