The 20 Most Controversial Movies of The 1970s

7. Last Tango in Paris (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1972)

Last Tango in Paris

Bernardo Bertolucci’s deployment of his sexual fantasies resulted in this raw and equally paused exercise about the limits of eroticism. Though “Last Tango in Paris” met overall acclaim, it raised major controversy due to its savage and impersonal depiction of sex.

Regarded as a film where appreciation demands patience from the viewer, “Last Tango in Paris” remarkably launched Marlon Brando’s mature career, and also stigmatized Maria Schneider’s tormented life, with its story about an impersonal and increasingly vile affair between a middle aged widower and a young Parisian woman.

Seized, banned, and accused of violating basic decency, the erotic transgressions in “Last Tango in Paris” have made some people depict the film as nothing more than basic pornography.


6. Pink Flamingos (John Waters, 1972)

Pink Flamingos (1972)

Through open and imaginative sequences of bad taste about paraphilia, “Pink Flamingos” focuses on the infamous matron-diva Babs Johnson (Divine) as she fights a couple to preserve the title of the filthiest person alive that she is particularly proud to hold.

John Waters’ cult masterpiece is a gorgeous and grotesque inquiry to the palaces of the Status Quo through the playful discourse of its outcasts.

Overall acclaimed, “Pink Flamingos” faced outrageous ban attempts from self-proclaimed morality keepers and even animal welfare groups. That only contributed to increase the amount of viewers that saw it, morbidly moved by the comments towards its unpleasant cocktail of depravity. Considerately, some theaters even provided free “Pink Phlemingo” vomit bags for those with sensitive stomachs not willing to miss the entire film.


5. The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973)


William Friedkin’s adaptation of Peter Blatty’s bestseller contained enough infamous sequences enough to shock critics and audiences equally. Perhaps young Regan’s self-abuse with a crucifix was the most polemical one.
Regarded as a cinema masterpiece and also one of the most frightening horror films ever made, “The Exorcist” even had to face criticisms of medical pornography.

Its pre-release period somehow announced the controversy and ultimate success “The Exorcist” would meet. Financially successful and widely commented on among critics, the film not only caused mass outrage but also nausea and convulsions to the point that some theaters finished appealing to paramedical support.


4. A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971)

A Clockwork Orange

Through disturbingly beautiful sequences of violence and lots of Beethoven’s music, “A Clockwork Orange” depicts the adventures of the teenager antihero Alex in a neo-fascist society.

Stanley Kubrick’s ultraviolent adaptation of the Anthony Burges’ homonymous dystopian novella is an audiovisual spectacle that has faced the outrage of several detractors fighting against its depicted dehumanization ever since its release.

Despite not following Burges’ novella’s original ending, which changed some of the story’s flavor with a series of statements about growing up, Kubrick’s master adaptation is rich in the depictions of morality, freedom, behaviorism, crime and order that made “A Clockwork Orange” one of the best stories of the 20th century.

Exhausting, playful and subversive, “A Clockwork Orange” is regarded as an insuperable moment in the history of cinema, and as one of the best instances of Kubrick’s obsessive perfectionism.


3. In the Realm of the Senses (Nagisa Oshima, 1976)

oshima in the realm of senses

Influenced by the works of Michel Leiris, Georges Bataille and Roland Barthes, stylized by the erotic Japanese wood-block prints’ aesthetics and based upon a pre-war truth story, “In the Realm of the Senses” follows the obsessive intensification of an affair carried by a man and one of his servants.

Ironic, self-reflexive and ultimately hyperrealist, “In the Realm of the Senses” is a morbid exploration of the institutional foundations of power, their translation upon couple relationships, and the role of death in Japanese culture.

From the beginning, Nagisa Oshima struggled to carry on with “In the Realm of the Senses”. It finally registered as a French production, and the film has faced ban attempts and has suffered multiple cuts ever since its release.


2. Caligula (Tinto Brass, 1979)


A depiction of the arguably depraved infamous Roman emperor, “Caligula” was intended by its director to be an epic about the orgy of power, not the power of orgy. Nevertheless, it ended up being a widely controversial and criticized film, and a hiatus among both erotic and mainstream cinema mainly due to its chaotic production.

Bob Guccione intended to produce a widely explicit sex film and hired Gore Vidal and Tinto Brass to be in charge of, respectively, its script and direction. Brass and Vidal soon started disagreeing, which led to Vidal’s departure from the project. Eventually, Brass departed from it as well due to his disagreement with Guccione’s excessive use of explicit sex.

As a result, “Caligula”, a major sexploitation blockbuster featuring big stars (Peter O’Toole, Helen Mirren, Malcolm McDowell), became a major financial and critical disaster.

Described as shameful trash, a trough of rotten swill and even a moral holocaust upon its release, “Caligula” is an uncomfortable classic that surprisingly has started to win supporters today.


1. Salò (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1975)

salo film

Perhaps the most memorable and infamous deployment of Paolo Pasolini’s radicalism, “Salò”, his cruelly polished adaptation of “The 120 Days of Sodom” by the Marquis de Sade, still remains banned in several countries.

“Salò” follows the carnival of cruelty and depravity carried by four fascist libertines, a duke, a bishop, a magistrate and a president, in fascist occupied Italian territory.

There is no space for imagination in “Salò”. Physical and psychological tortures, sexual bestiality and a lack of purpose, the brutality of its sadistic sequences is decorated with constant allusions about the nature or lack of nature in morality. Even the hedonistic justification of its violence is ultimately negated with weariness.

Pasolini died in extreme violent and unclear circumstances before “Salò” was released. As his last cinematic testimony, some have seen in “Salò”, one of the most controversial films ever made, as a serious statement about the nature of fascism.

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