The 20 Most Violent Movies of All Time
Since the beginning of the motion picture industry, there has been an obsession with violence. Before the adoption of strict ethical codes, early cinema featured a great deal of violence. Films such as The Great Train Robbery (1903), Intolerance (1916), and The Birth of a Nation (1915) all contained what could be considered a shocking amount of violence.
The adoption of the Hays Code vastly changed what could be depicted on screen, censoring anything that was deemed to be “morally objectionable” . World War II saw war films receive a little more leeway with their depiction of violence in order to demonize the evil enemies that the United States was battling .
The 1960’s ushered in the replacement of a moral code with a new ratings system governed by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), who designated letter ratings based upon the movies age appropriateness. This and technological advances such as squib charges used to simulate the exit of blood allowed for more graphic depictions of violence.
One of the first pictures to really take advantage of this was Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967) . Since then, the U.S. film industry and worldwide cinema haven’t looked back, attempting to top previous productions and provide the audience with what they crave.
This list contains a little bit of everything, with at least one film from every decade between 1969 and 2011 and at least one from America, Italy, Hong Kong, France, Korea, Serbia, and Indonesia. It is a varied collection of genres; with some being critically hailed, many being labeled as exploitative and controversial, and some being banned in various parts of the world.
1. The Wild Bunch (1969)
“Nine men who came too late and stayed too long…” . It is Sam Peckinpah’s Magnum Opus and arguably one of the greatest westerns ever made, while also having the distinction of being one of the most violent films ever made.
It is about a group of aging outlaws looking for that one final score so that they can retire, all set in an era where the west was almost dead and technology was beginning to take over. It features William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, and Robert Ryan.
One critical aspect that made this so violent then and even today was the prominent display of blood, which was something that didn’t previously appear in a typical western. Peckinpah wanted to show that gunfights and murder were “ugly, brutalizing, and bloody awful; it’s not fun and games and cowboys and Indians.
It’s a terrible, ugly thing, and yet there’s a certain response that you get from it, an excitement, because we’re all violent people” . There is violence and murder throughout this picture, but it’s the epic finale that makes this one so violent and memorable. It lasts less than five minutes but it’s a masterful gun battle that is both beautiful and extremely violent.
The term “Wild Bunch ending” would be used by other filmmakers to describe the type of wild gun battle that they wanted to have at the end of their movie. This has to be credited for influencing every major gun fight sequence that would come after its release; paving the way for future generations of filmmakers.
2. Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
This Italian-French co-production is probably the most controversial film ever made. Based upon the book The 120 Days of Sodom, by the Marquis de Sade and it is broken into four segments, the Anteinferno, the Circle of Manias, the Circle of Shit, and the Circle of Blood. It replaces the setting of 18th century France for the final days of Benito Mussolini’s reign during World War II.
It involves four wealthy and prominent fascists along with four female prostitutes, who kidnap nine young male and female prospects with the help of some guards and soldiers. They spend their time sexually humiliating them for their own personal pleasure and eventually take turns executing them while the others watch.
To say that this motion picture is controversial doesn’t even touch the surface. It has received X ratings and remains banned in some countries because of its graphic depictions of rape, torture, murder, various disturbing sexual acts, and questions regarding the young actor’s ages.
It features unbridled nudity and sexual situations that include eating shit, drinking piss, homosexual acts, walking naked on leashes like dogs, and rape. The final violence and deaths include torturous acts of burning a penis and breast, slicing off a tongue, being hung, an eye cut out, scalping, and branding.
It’s a tough movie to watch and the question is whether this is pure exploitation for shock value or is there more to it. The horrors of this represent true horrors that have happened to people for real, and could really have taken place during this time period. It is truly disturbing and the director wanted to do the film cinema verite style, to show something as though it was really happening. So this is one that you will have to watch and make your own judgment.
Many directors and actors have stood up for it as an important piece of work, including Martin Scorsese and John Waters. Waters called it “a beautiful film…it uses obscenity in an intelligent way…and it’s about the pornography of power” . The DVD version I have is very grainy and dark, there is a newly released version that vastly changes the overall look and colors and creating a much more beautiful looking piece of cinema to juxtapose with the horrific imagery.
3. I Spit on Your Grave AKA Day of the Woman (1978)
This has been one of the top banned movies in multiple countries and is very controversial, being hated by some and loved by others. Jennifer (Camille Keaton) is a New York City writer who goes to an upstate cabin to work on a novel. There she runs into four men, who rape her and destroy her novel. Over the next few days she recovers and takes vengeance upon her attackers.
That basic synopsis doesn’t make this sound like it should be one of the most hated films in cinematic history. The issue is the rape scene or scenes, which last somewhere around thirty minutes of the movie.
For some it may be extremely difficult to watch and for some they may actually get off on the scenes, which is part of the reason exploitation cinema existed in the first place. Roger Ebert’s review found there to be “disturbing moral implications as the audience…seems to approve [of] the most horrific violence being visited on a woman’s body” .
The motion picture is often viewed as being misogynistic towards women. The rape scenes are very intense; if you can get through that portion then you may actually find this to be a feminist story.
The director wanted to make a “a film that was responding to his own personal outrage of the violence he encountered first-hand against women, and so he decided to make a film graphically portraying the horrors of such—with an ending that was feminist wish-fulfillment based on his own experience, as the heroine gets revenge on her attackers and makes them pay for their crimes. Viewed in this context, its prolonged scenes of rape and assault are not depraved or ashamed; they are deliberately painful and horrifying to watch, as they should be” .
4. Shogun Assassin (1980)
“He whips out his sword and relieves his victims of their heads!” . This declaration may actually piss some people off, but this is a totally must see bad ass blood splattering samurai action masterpiece. So for the uninformed viewers, why would this statement piss people off?
Well, this is actually the first two films of the Lone Wolf and Cub film series; it was condensed, re-edited, dubbed into English, and re-scored for an American release. So there are some purists that really dislike this version and feel that it bastardizes the series. The fact remains that this version was most Americans first introduction into this series and the world of crazy samurai spraying blood movies.
The story involves Ogami Itto and his son Daigoro as he walks the land with his son in a baby cart, looking for samurai jobs and battling enemies that are trying to kill him. He was originally the head executioner for the Shogun, until the Shogun went mad and starting having people killed. Itto’s wife was killed during an attempt to eliminate Itto, the shogun then expected him to swear his loyalty or commit suicide, so he turned against the Shogun and became an assassin for hire.
This is simply a totally bad ass movie. The American edit is super fast paced and filled with a ton of bloody action, featuring eleven fight scenes, tons of spraying blood, and splitting heads. All of the fight scenes are memorable and Lone Wolf always has some type of tricks ready on his baby cart.
The narration by the child and the new score are perfect for a dubbed adaptation and are a good fit for the time when this was released, the synthesized score is very reminiscent of the sound from John Carpenter films and the Phantasm horror series.
The movie was highly influential on many filmmakers, most notably Quentin Tarantino and John Carpenter. Tarantino has incorporated the super violent spraying blood into Kill Bill and many of his other productions.
This film is the one that the bride’s daughter watches when she goes to bed in Kill Bill: Volume 2., Carpenter used some similar imagery from this in Big Trouble in Little China, mainly the three guys wearing the straw hats. If you like action and violence, then this is essential viewing. There are also six films from the original Lone Wolf and Cub series, along with a television series and the comic that they were based upon.
5. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
“Don’t turn away! Look at it! These are men, men like you!” . This Italian motion picture directed by Ruggero Deodato is still one of the most controversial films of all time and ushered in the whole cannibal subgenre of exploitation, as well as the concept of found footage cinema that would be later popularized by the likes of The Blair Witch Project.
A professor goes into the Amazon jungle area referred to as Green Inferno in search of four missing documentary filmmakers, who where in search of two cannibal tribes. He recovers their camera footage and we witness what ultimately happened to them, and the terrible acts that they committed themselves.
It touches on some social commentary that asks questions about how much is staged while making a documentary, as well as the fact that modern society is sometimes no better than the cannibals that are portrayed on the camera. There has been debate if there was ever any intention by the director to comment on social issues as opposed to simply making a shocking movie about cannibals.
It is filmed rather well and has a beautiful score from Riz Ortolani, who also was the composer on Mondo Cane, Africa Addio, and almost 200 other pictures. While there is gore, several rape scenes, full nudity, cannibalism, castration, and an infamous scene where a woman is scene hanging from a spike, the main controversy stems from the number of animals killed on screen. This includes a large turtle decapitated, a coati, a tarantula, a boa constrictor, a squirrel monkey, and a pig.
At first, Italian authorities believed that it was a real snuff film and arrested Deodato and confiscated all of the film materials. A court trial was held and several of the actors had to show up in order to prove that they were still very much alive and that it was on screen acting. It was initially banned in several countries and made the video nasties list in the United Kingdom.
There are various versions of the movie that have been released with different pieces of footage removed or added in, including an animal cruelty free version that eliminates the animal death scenes.
6. Scarface (1983)
“He was Tony Montana. The world will remember him by another name…SCARFACE” . Most people know of this masterpiece from director Brian De Palma, which is a remake of a 1932 film with the same title.
It is about a Cuban refugee who comes to Miami and becomes a drug kingpin, bringing a new level of violence to the city. It is beautifully filmed by De Palma, with a series of stunning crane shots. The synthesized score from Giorgio Moroder is excellent and fits perfectly for the era.
It is one of the most quoted movies, uses the “F” word almost 200 times, and is also one of the most violent, from the memorable chainsaw sequence in the beginning all the way to the wild blood soaked finale. The body count ranges somewhere around fifty, with a majority of those occurring at the end.
In some bit of irony or fortune telling, the script was written by Natural Born Killers director Oliver Stone. His motion picture also makes this list. It received very mixed reviews from the critics upon its release, but since then has been consistently included in most lists ranking it as one of the greatest movies of all time.