The 14 Most Controversial Movies of The 1980s

7. Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

Do The Right Thing (1989)

“Do the Right Thing” follows the explosion of violence carried out by the always-conflictive combination of exhausting heat and unsolved problems in Brooklyn.

The film is an outrageous theater-like protest about the violence, intolerance, oppression and social inequity surrounding racism. Its playful reflexivity gave “Do the Right Thing” overall acclaim from most critics. Nevertheless, fears about it causing serious social disturbances made some of those critics consider it irresponsible and dangerous, something that raised a halo of fear surrounding its imminent distribution.


6. Men Behind the Sun (Mou Tun-Fei, 1988)

Men Behind The Sun

Regarded as an unpalatable chaos, “Men Behind the Sun” is a documentary-like depiction of the atrocities that were carried out in the name of science on American, European and Chinese war prisoners by Japan’s infamous Unity 731 during World War II. Its graphic and disturbing sequences include the smashing of some prisoners frozen hands and the pressurization of a prisoner in a decompression chamber.

Pretentiously presented as a self-described protest film, “Men Behind the Sun” couldn’t overcome the label of exploitation and disgust its several detractors assigned it.


5. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (Peter Greenaway, 1989)

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (Directed by Peter Greenaway, 1989)

One of the most grotesque and playful allegories displayed against capitalism ever filmed, Peter Greenaway’s “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover” follows a game of revenge between a cheated mob lord and a couple of lovers.

The colorful theater-like restaurant owned by the mob lord is the central scenario of the carnival of promiscuity, cannibalism and madness of “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover”. This scenario comprises one of the most polished and deliberately neurotic deployments of symbolism and formality of 80s cinema.

Despite the acclamation it met as a superb review of the old-fashioned love triangle drama, due to the depravity of its means, “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover” raised considerable controversy.


4. Nekromantik (Jörg Buttgereit, 1987)

Nekromantik (1988)

“Nekromantik”, Jörg Buttgereit’s directorial debut, is a movie about a depressed necrophiliac antihero pathetically struggling to carry out the practice of that which really fulfills his life in an ordinary world.

Widely acclaimed due to its unpretentious and ultimately achieved taboo-breaking attempt, as well as for its amoral depiction of its somehow sympathetic main character, “Nekromantik” became only a distant glimpse of its widely more controversial and superior sequel.

There are many uncomfortable sequences in “Nekromantik”. Among them, the threesome with a dead body, a relaxing bath in bloody water, and, of course, its stressful ending, caused the film to be banned in several countries.


3. Hail, Mary (Jean-Luc Godard, 1985)

Hail, Mary

In an unorthodox re-telling of the Virgin Mary’s story, “Hail, Mary” depicts her as a modern self-proclaimed virgin teen who learns she will give birth to the son of God and yet remain chaste.

Myriem Roussel’s frontal and constant exhibition of her sexuality was only the cherry on the cake in an outrageous and active campaign against “Hail, Mary”; a campaign begun by no one less than Pope John Paul II, who condemned the movie as a deep wound aimed against the religious feelings of the Catholic Church.

As with some movies from Godard’s vast body of avant-garde experiments, “Hail, Mary” met mixed reviews from critics. Against the protest displayed by the above-mentioned outrageous campaign, some critics described “Hail, Mary” as being less provocative than it seemed.


2. The Last Temptation of Christ (Martin Scorsese, 1988)


Nikos Kazantzakis, author of “The Last Temptation of Christ”, openly described it not as a biography but as a confession of every man who struggles. Though mediocre in comparison with Kazantzakis’ already widely controversial novel, Martin Scorsese’s cinematographic adaptation of it is an ambitious and raw depiction of the humanity of Christ.

Heartbreakingly, “The Last Temptation of the Christ” depicts an over-self-analyzed Jesus doubting the nature of himself and his mission. He also worries about his position among his fellow Jews due to the crosses he, as a carpenter, has made for the Romans. Eventually, he faces, in the debility of his humanity, a temptation from Satan.

As a result, the film, banned for years in several countries, suffered not only protests but also boycott attempts from several extremist religious groups. Surprisingly, those attempts made a considerable number of theaters yield to their pressure as they decided to not feature the film.


1. Cannibal Holocaust (Ruggero Deodato, 1980)


“Cannibal Holocaust” follows the search for a missing documentary team in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest and the eventual review of its found footage.

Perhaps the first major exploiter of the found footage genre, “Cannibal Holocaust”, one of the most condemned and hailed B-movies ever made, drove the ideas people had about controversial films, already filled with weird anecdotes, to even more unexpected extremes.

As Sergio Leone remarked to Ruggero Deodato, the now-cult director of “Cannibal Holocaust”, the film’s smart use of low budget special effects, makeup and rumor marketing would severely disturb audiences. He proved to be right; not many days passed after that observation when the Italian authorities arrested Deodato, widely believing in the possible reality of his footage.

Deodato faced a trial that he originally lost. Fortunately for him, as well as for the film’s current enthusiastic supporters, his actors’ appearance proved the whole issue a reasonable mistake.

Author Bio: Emiliano is an Ethics and Logic professor in a Mexican high school, his favorite directors are Gaspar Noé, Lars von Trier, Stanley Kubrick and Wim Wenders.