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The 10 Most Dangerous Movies of All Time

26 September 2017 | Features, Film Lists | by Russell Kirkby

A Serbian Film

Since the inception of art and literature, there have been works produced that have, for one reason or another, been labelled “dangerous”. In this list we attempt to bring together ten diverse films from different eras and places, from the humble beginnings of feature length cinema, right through to the near-present.

Films that have brought controversy, expulsion, political tension, mental trauma and even injury to their audiences, sensors, cast and crew. While some of these films are obviously revolting or difficult to watch, some of them are a little more subtle and require some context and thought to fully appreciate why they were considered “dangerous” in the context of their production and release.

As with any list of ten films, there is no doubt that this list will not please every one. There are of course other dangerous films. The objective here is to bring together a wide cross section and variety of films that have been deemed dangerous for a variety of reasons.

 

10. Irreversible (2002)

Written and Directed by Argentinian born Gaspar Noé, Irreversible is indeed a dangerous film. From its hideously pretentious cinematography to its pedestrian plot, this film is hard to watch on so many levels. Some of them literally. The film may well give you nausea or a headache from trying to keep up with the non-stop camera movement which weaves, dives and rolls like some kind of deranged bumblebee on an acid trip, stopping only briefly for the “gritty realistic violence” which stands out like dogs balls.

Presumably this “technique” is designed to create a sense of distance from the narrative so that the violence will resonate more strongly for the audience. It is also, possibly just a very bad decision. In any case, the camera barely stops moving, twisting, whipping around and generally making itself the centre of attention and only comes to rest during the most gruelling, long and painful sequences.

By this point one becomes conflicted as to whether one would prefer to return to the hurricane of disjointed cinema or continue with this new form of cruel and unusual torture. Despite the violence, the settled camera is more of a relief.

Noted for its ten minute long rape scene, shot in real time and in one take, Irreversible begins with an opening credit sequence which one quickly realizes is made up of alphabetical characters that have been manipulated so that they are in fact (drum roll please) Irreversible. So very clever. So very deep. So very meaningful.

Despite all the pretension, this rather puerile attempt at filmmaking remarkably won the Stockholm International Film Festival’s best film award in 2002 and competed in the Cannes Film Festival. Associated with the modern French film movement known as the cinéma du corps (Cinema of the Body) whose avant-garde aesthetics include “illegible cinematography”, Irreversible is certainly a powerful contender. If “illegible cinematography” is the primary requirement for entry into this exclusive film movement, then this French film has it in spades and its director could well be the poster boy.

How dangerous is this film? Besides the camera work setting off your motion sickness and gag reflex, the violence is indeed unpleasant and somewhat realistic. Is the film likely to cause you to set off on acts of perversion and violence? Probably less so than most standard genre films would. At least the violence has consequences here. Is it politically dangerous? Not especially. Besides, this film has one built in failsafe to protect the unsuspecting audience who would otherwise fall prey to its insidious mind control. 

 

9. Roar (1981)

roar

Directed by Noel Marshall and starring (among others) his daughter, a young Melanie Griffith, Roar (1981) was dubbed the “Snuff version of the Swiss Family Robinson” by its distributor, Drafthouse Films. If by” dangerous” one considers life threatening injury to members of the cast and crew, then Roar is literally the most dangerous film on this list.

Known for its subpar story being absurdly juxtaposed with its authentic action scenes, it is essentially an adventure film about a family who is violently attacked by a plethora of wild animals on a wild life park. Most notably, during the making of this film, no less than seventy injuries were sustained on set over the gruelling eleven years shoot under the tyrannical leadership of Noel Marshall who reportedly showed little sympathy for injuries and purportedly left the camera rolling even after many of the attacks began.

Injuries to cast and crew ranged from bone fractures to gangrene and at one point, the Dutch Cinematographer Jan de Bont (during his first Hollywood experience) was actually scalped by a lion and required 120 stitches in hospital.

Controversially many of these injuries actually made the final cut and appear on screen as they happened. While no animals were harmed during the making of the film, a fact touted by the distributor, three lions were in fact shot dead by local law enforcement after they escaped the Californian wildlife preserve during a flood which occurred during the epic shoot.

Whether the film can be considered dangerous for any other reason that the combined tenacity and ineptitude of its creators, it is hard to say. Released in Europe in 1981, the film was a financial failure, making back only two million of its seventeen million dollar budget. It is, however, now considered by film scholars, to be one of the most dangerous films in history.

 

8. Fight Club (1999)

fight-club

Adapted from the 1996 novel, Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk, David Fincher’s movie, starring Edward Norton, Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter hit cinemas at the end of the last millennium and, while polarized by critics, failed to live up to the studio’s financial expectations. Despite these setbacks, it wasn’t long before the film gained traction with audiences and earned itself a cult following, eventually becoming known as one of the greatest films of the decade. In this respect it has been copied and mimicked relentlessly in movies and more recently TV shows (such as Mr Robot) ever since.

Using a series of post-modern devices, including subliminal flash-cuts, subversive editing techniques, self-referential cinematography and even self-reflexive dialogue, Fight Club is on one level a psychological thriller and action film, while on another, an existential art film that not only admits it is a film, but is aware of the irony of its own existence as part of the media culture it ostensibly seeks to confront.

It is a commentary on capitalism, materialism, mass media culture and the state of modern masculinity in an age of globalisation, corporatisation, 3rd wave feminism, political correctness and the dehumanisation these movements entail. Ultimately, Fight Club is a film about authenticity and anarchism. For these reasons the establishment will always consider it dangerous.

Upon deeper consideration, the film becomes even more dangerous, perhaps even insidious when one realizes that its anti-establishment message is writ large in the language and tropes of the corporate media’s propaganda machine. Its plot appears to be external, but this is an illusion in the end. The “external” conflict and mystery appeals to the mainstream, male audience, flattering the ego of the viewer who can work out what is going on.

While denouncing capitalism and materialism, it simultaneously glorifies violence and self-destruction as if these were the answers to our society’s woes. Some might say these are the unpleasant facts that lead us to a more authentic engagement with our lives and with reality. But the irony of listening to Brad Pitt–himself a multi-millionaire and movie star–announcing to his sycophants “We were told we would all be rock gods and movie stars” is just a little bit on the nose.

Whatever you think of the messages and complex themes of Fight Club, it is hard to dismiss its technical artistry. Make no mistake, Fight Club is a masterwork. One is advised to apply one’s critical senses to every level of its tapestry.

 

7. Clockwork Orange (1971)

A Clockwork Orange

Based upon the dystopian book of the same name, A Clockwork Orange (1971) is among the most controversial films of its time and perhaps even, all time. Tame by modern standards, the film was given an X rating by the British censor and labelled subversive by its detractors while simultaneously being recognized as “…an important social document of outstanding brilliance and quality” by the Chairman of The British Board of Film Classification.

Directed by that most famous auteur, Stanley Kubrick, Clockwork Orange is a carefully and well crafted examination of free will, and the ethics of social conditioning. Focusing on Malcolm McDowell’s character, Alex, and his gang of Droogs (as he calls them in Nadsat, the fictional language of the story world), the film begins by following them as they go about an ultra-violent crime spree ending in Alex’s capture.

The genius of this film is in the reversal of sympathy which occurs when Alex goes into custody. This shifts the audiences’ perspective from seeing Alex purely as a psychotic antisocial antagonist, to a victim at the hands of the state. Now, as Alex is cruelly reconditioned by the system to become an upstanding citizen, audiences are forced to consider the question of nature versus nurture and made to wonder if the end justifies the means.

When Alex is finally released, his free will and personal responsibility are brought into question. Then, when he returns to his old ways at the conclusion of the film, audiences are left to feel emotionally conflicted about their desire to see Alex take his revenge. The film is savage, brutal and clever and will leave you thinking about it for days, if not a lifetime.

But, in the case of Clockwork Orange, it is not just the ideas which are presented that can be considered dangerous. After receiving death threats while shooting his next film, Stanley Kubrick was eventually persuaded to ban Clockwork Orange from screening in England at his own volition as at least two copycat crimes were directly attributed to the film in its aftermath.

Firstly, in 1973, the rape of a dutch girl in Lancashire involved a perpetrator who was noted for humming “Singing in the Rain” throughout the assault—mimicking Alex from the film—and secondly, a young man committed another assault wearing a bowler hat, white overalls and combat boots, dressed as Alex from the movie. To this day there has been an ongoing litany of crimes that were either directly inspired by, attributed to, or compared to, A Clockwork Orange.

 

6. Battle of Algiers (1966)

Battle_Algiers

Directed by Pisa born, Italian Neorealist film director Gillo Pontecorvo, a close personal friend of the Italian President at the time, Battle of Algiers (1966) is an especially dangerous film. Most especially if you are a dictator, a colonial power, or any kind of oligarch seeking to impose rule over a nation or culture while flaunting your wealth and power.

Shot on location and with a film score by none other than Ennio Morricone, The Battle of Algiers, while now a bit dated (and intentionally shot in black and white to look like old news footage) is the story of the struggle of the local Islamic population of Algiers against their colonial French oppressors, focusing on the years from 1954 to 1957.

While the story is told in a standard feature film narrative, with characters and dialogue driving the plot along with a series of escalating inciting incidents, this film is a veritable step by step guide to how to fight a guerilla war, enact your own revolution and what kind of dirty tricks and criminal actions to expect from the enemy oppressors.

Winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1966, The Battle of Algiers is essential viewing for anyone who wishes to educate themselves on guerrilla warfare and revolutionary tactics. Because of this, and the portrayal of France in the movie as an oppressive and criminal colonial power, the film was banned in that country for five years, eventually being released in 1971.

Besides all the socio-political controversy already attached to the film, it is now, in this post 9/11 world, no doubt considered all the more dangerous if only for the fact that its protagonists are Islamic.

 

 

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  • Vincenzo Politi

    I disagree with the dismissibe attitude towards Irreversible, but I am glad to see the socio-political value of A Serbian Film being recognised. Many people think that it’s just garbage, but I loved the movie and left me thinking for days, if not weeks. But people do not seem to like thinking about the depth of some movies: I was even banned by a couple of Facebook cinema pages because I dared to argue in favour of this movie!!!

    • Helen Kirkby

      Exactly! I totally agree.

      • Vincenzo Politi

        And, in fact, read some of the comments above…

    • I was a quite dismissive of Irreversible (probably overly so) but honestly I feel it is pretty shallow. The title sequence (and title) alone is shallow and gimmicky.

      What’s the message here?
      The message is perhaps–rape and violence is bad (because no body knows that right?)

      So how do they portray these themes?
      In the most obvious, unsubtle, film school student way possible.

      In 2001 I personally made a short film called Nova, about cognitive dissonance. I shot the whole film on steadicam with a continuously moving camera, editing it in a way to create an visual aesthetic I hope would create a sense of cognitive dissonance. it played in the New Zealand International Film Festival and I was awarded a grant from the Screen Innovation Production Fund for it.

      Looking back, I recognize that what I did was pretentious, self indulgent film wank. What I thought was cool, reflexive art was pretentious, obvious, unsubtle film-making that alienated my audience and took itself too seriously. This is why I think Irreversible is bullshit.
      Yes it’s my opinion and I am not asking you to agree with me. =)

      • Vincenzo Politi

        “What’s the message here?” – well, a movie does not need to necessarily have a message. A movie itself can be the message. Irreversible does not say anything, it rather SHOWS a lot of stuff. And the way it shows it – i.e., with the reverse narrative – makes you understand how big the tragedy shown actually is. At the end, all the innocents pay. It’s a movie about violence and injustice. It may not be the deepest movie ever, but it has become now a cult nonetheless.

  • Jean-Louis Seguin

    George W. Griffith???

  • A Serbian Film is no more dangerous (or artistic) than gore videos on the dark web

    • Gore videos on the dark web are not advertized and sold to mainstream audiences.

      • Neither was Serbian Film

        • So, you don’t think Serbian Film had an actual marketing budget and campaign?

          • You realize you said mainstream audiences right? And even still, how big of a campaign could it have had? It’s a hyper low budget movie. I feel like your grasping at straws here. Its obvious by your defence of this film to multiple comments that you have some sort of personal or emotional stake in it. Please refer to my original comment if you want to know my opinion and if you want to talk about that, please do.

          • If the marketing budget was 11 dollars and nine cents it would be more mainstream than Darkweb videos (which was the original assertion if you recall).

          • If you think this was a Hyper Low Budget film you are quite incorrect.

          • i could not find any budget info on serbian film, what are you citing? On the wiki entry the first sentence says “This article is about the low budget debut film by Srđan Spasojević.” Is it the word “hyper” that changes the entire argument?

            Where in my original assertion did i mention “mainstream”? you keep injecting that word into the conversation. Here is what i actually said “A Serbian Film is no more dangerous (or artistic) than gore videos on the dark web” I’ll get more specific: showing a hooded muscular man graphically fuck a newborn baby isnt dangerous to me, its gory, shlocky, exploitative, irresponsible, but not dangerous. Why? Because i know its not real, theres no real baby and no real danger. Now, the idea of fucking an infant might be a dangerous idea (in the mind of the wrong person) but it doesnt seem like thats the argument youre making and its only dangerous in a very specific way. Ideologies in movies can be dangerous (and to your credit a lot of your choices on this list are movies with dangerous ideas, not just nasty and gross images). Nasty and gross images in serbian film are no more dangerous than the ones you find on bestgore.com. Actually, gore videos might be MORE dangerous because they actually depict real ideological violence. The ideas expressed in ISIS beheading videos are dangerous. As to the artistry on display, believe it or not , some of the bigger budget ISIS videos are very artistic. Theyre using sony red cameras, post CGI and practical effects as well as crane shots and a vast array of cinematic technique. So, to repeat, A Serbian Film is no more dangerous (or artistic) than gore videos on the dark web.

          • Looking at the credits it was clearly shot on 35mm Film. Not video or some other low budget format. It has high quality special effects, proper, decent lighting, set design (and sets–note it was not shot on a bunch of outdoor locations). All of these things imply a reasonable budget. It would be remarkable if it’s budget was not at or above a million dollars.

            A low budget Hollywood Film is $10 Million.

            An average budget for anyone else is around 1-2 million.

            A low budget film is usually below a million.

            A micro budget film is counted in the low thousands of dollars.

            THese are standard filmmaking terms.

            The phrase ultra-low budget implies it was shot by maxing out credit cards and begging and borrowing cash from family members (Think “Clerks”). This was clearly not like that. This film had a budget, had investors and had returns.

            The fact that you have heard of it is testimony to this.

          • dude you need to do yourself a favor and not engage with people on your articles, its not working out for you

          • You are probably right lol. =p
            Good advice!

          • Vincenzo Politi

            No matter how low or high was the budget, A Serbian Film was distributed and shown internationally and in movie theatres and, since then, has gather a cult following. That’s all. What does the dark web have to do with this discussion? Are we saying that independent and low budget movies do not deserve to be discussed at all? Stop this non sense.

  • Ricardo Correia

    Fight Club is really bad

    • Don Piano

      wtf

    • Please qualify how it is bad? =)

      • Ricardo Correia

        It is much porn, how can a film that wants to be “funny” try to pass a message like that? Terrible

        • Fight Club is only funny in an ironic, post modern way. It is more tragic than funny. As to it being “much porn” … the only graphic sex scene is animated and warped so you cannot even see what is going on. What are you talking about?

        • you sound like you’re ideologically opposed to it, not cinematically.

          • Ricardo Correia

            No, because my critic is not just to its ideias but also to the ways the uses to get that message

  • Shotgunster

    Serbian film a masterpiece? ha! I understand its controversial nature, even agree that it has good special effects but the acting and the story is just trash.

    • Author of List here. I hope you read the rest of the sentence I wrote. The tone does not paint A Serbian Film in a good light.

  • Vincent

    Salo, ffs!!!

    • Sujith Karunakaran

      How could that be missed!!!

    • Not including Salo is my biggest regret for this list. I apologize! It really should have been on there. We really wanted to include a broad variety of so called “dangerous films” and this one was voted off. =(

      • Vincent

        Speaking as a true gentleman. I would personally have dropped Fight Club in favor of Salo, but i get your point.

  • Deadly_Moogly

    Martyrs?

    • Don’t know this one. Will have to look it up. Thanks.

      • Deadly_Moogly

        Might not be as “dangerous” as Irreversible, A Serbian Film and Cannibal Holocaust, but still a very disturbing “body horror” movie that stays with you.

  • David

    The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).

  • Reza Pratama Nugraha

    G30SPKI

    • giorgio palmas

      Use words.

  • bd

    [1/2] With films like Irréversible (10 min rape scene), Clockwork Orange (correlating a happy show-tunes standard with rape), Roar (physically dangerous production), Serbian Film (extreme graphic violence), Birth of a Nation (instigating the most famous American hate group), a literal Nazi propaganda film that helped fuel genocide, et. al — Fight Club’s huge commercial entertainment with various subtextual speculations seems blatantly innocuous here…no? I mean, virtually every other film in this list resulted in observable, real-world consequences — and those that didn’t (e.g., Irréversible) have overtly exaggerated sequences meant to isolate and offend. I just don’t see any reasonable justification for Fight Club’s inclusion here, regardless of opinion on the film’s merit.

    • bd

      [2/2] There are so many films that warrant a spot on this list before it: Pasolini’s Salò (1975), Malle’s Pretty Baby (1978), Foster & Jackson’s Song of the South (1946), Borowczyk’s Immoral Tales (1973), Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris (1972), Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), Russell’s The Devils (1971), Brass’ Caligula (1979), Blier’s Going Places (1974), Buñuel’s Andalusian Dog (1929), Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Solondz’ Happiness (1998), Gibson’s Passion of the Christ (2004), Waters’ Multiple Maniacs (1970) and/or Pink Flamingos (1972), Oppenheimer’s Act of Killing (2012), Stone’s JFK (1991), Laugier’s Martyrs (2008), multiple von Trier films, etc…etc…

      Even on the chance that you haven’t seen any of the above, research and reputation alone qualify them over Fight Club’s blasé themes found in hundreds of other films.

      • Hi BD.

        I wrote this list and I fully agree with you. However, I think it was felt that the editorial team were looking for films from a cross-section of eras and FC was added for this reason. There re certainly other, more dangerous films to list, but FC is probably the most relatable and well known. I feel your pain though. 🙂

        Russell

    • I don’t agree with you here. Fight Club is a true anarchistic, nihilist movie. Everything about modern society and entertainment is made to keep us away from those two ideas. Its ideas are dangerous to the establishment and the very fabric of society.

      • Hi Red Fish,

        I don’t disagree with you.
        I do, however, think that there is a certain irony to the fact that Hollywood is selling this film and that it seems most popular among white middle class males who fantasize about Fight Club, but don’t really make a lot of effort to run off and start the revolution. There was a time for me when Fight Club was the best thing since sliced bread. =)

        • bd

          Zinger!

        • i think youre only showing what kind of crowd you personally hang around with. I grew up in the projects, poor people echo the sentiments expressed at the end of fight club (collapse of the entire financial system, taking away power from the powerful, etc) a lot more than the demographic you cited. But tbh, since thats not the sphere im personally from, i dont know any “white middle class males” who feel that way. Are you sure youre not confusing anarchists with libertarians or anarcho-capitalists?

      • bd

        Its ideas can be found in dozens upon dozens of films released both before and after it. Its thematic suggestions are exponentially more general in comparison to the niche corners of extreme body horror as a specific political stance or propaganda films as vehicles for a particular movement. To speak to FC’s broadness (i.e., relative tameness), you cited nihilism, but there are several types of nihilism, and even if you pinned down one proposed type, it’s still just a foundational philosophy being equated with films promoting specific movements or provoking visceral reactions. And citing “anarchism” separately from nihilism is an exaggeration, since anarchism is a direct result of nihilist society (as seen by the response to Brexit, Trump, et. al, which were all consequences of political nihilism) — they go hand in hand.

        If you’re still wagging your finger, peep the other reply to my comment made by the author of this article where he outright agrees with me and admits that FC’s inclusion in the list was just for popular appeal.

        • OK dude, you studied philosophy at an expensive college, i believe you. Now that you’ve been validated can we actually talk about what i said? I think fight club is an extraordinary anarchist movie. It echoes ALL the ideas that collectively form the philosophy of anarchy: a rejection of all power hierarchies, modern industrialization, human domestication, post modernism and conventional social infrastructure. I cant think of many movies that explicitly had all those ideas, let alone dozens upon dozens (i’m not talking about some film critics abstract interpretation). You know what i’d call another great anarchist movie? although it’s energy is a lot different: Into The Wild. The main character basically does for himself all the things tyler durden is trying to do to society. Even on this website theres a list of 20 anarchist movies, almost none of which clearly convey all of these ideas. That was my first point, is that FC is a fairly unique anarchist movie (according to the definition of anarchy i pointed out above). If you want to refute that with, say, your own list of dozens upon dozens of movies that are like this, you can.

          My second point was that those ideas (the ones i just mentioned) are considered extremely dangerous to society and the ruling class. Something that is anti-society, by definition, is dangerous to society. If you want to refute that by explaining to me that trying or wanting to destroy society is not a dangerous sentiment or isnt seen as dangerous in todays world, then well i guess you can try. Otherwise lets try to stay on topic here, i really dont give a shit about how many fancy words or learned ideas you have.

          • bd

            Beginning and ending your response with ad hom jabs at my “fancy words”, “learned ideas”, and baseless assumption of “expensive college” only shows that those are things you do in fact “give a shit” about to a degree (which is silly), or else you wouldn’t have bothered mentioning them in the first place.

            My original reply was justly on topic, and you backpedaling to isolate anarchism then repeating the same statement about it for the length of two paragraphs isn’t going to magically change that. You are the one who initially responded to my comment — the “topic” was set by me, and you are the one who’s off-base. When I originally said that Fight Club’s various thematic suggestions make it seem out of place in a list of films that have observable real-world consequences, your responses that just further extol those themes are beside the point.

            Take a breather, relax with the transparent “I don’t give shit about these irrelevant things that I’m making a point to defensively highlight” facade, and stop talking in circles.

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  • THomas

    I like the article : it is argumented, explains why the choices are made, and i think the part on Fight Club ist very good. I would like to see the authors opinion on films like Punishement Park, Watership Down, and the Wall.