A few weeks ago I posted an article from Entertainment Weekly about controversial movies and how The DaVinci Code stands up to them. Little did I know that they were going to come out with a list of the 25 most controversial movies ever made.
Here it is.
The 25 Most Controversial Movies Ever from Entertainment Weekly
Written and reported by Mandi Bierly, Jason Clark, Clark Collis, Steve Daly, Neil Drumming, Jeff Jensen, Paul Katz, Jeff Labrecque, Chris Nashawaty, Tim Purtell, Joshua Rich, Erin Richter, Josh Rottenberg, Christine Spines, Benjamin Svetkey, Alice Lee Tebo
The world’s $583 million obsession with ”The Da Vinci Code” proves it: We’re fascinated by what shocks, disgusts, and divides us
Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker (1992)
THE PLOT You know: the genie-in-the-lamp tale.
THE CONTROVERSY The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee balked at a lyric describing the film’s Arabian setting as a land ”where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face.” Result? The studio dubbed out the lyric for subsequent releases.
Directed by Tinto Brass (1980)
THE PLOT This lavishly decadent film depicts the orgy-filBOLD life and death of ancient Rome’s most notorious — and clearly psychotic — emperor (Malcolm McDowell).
THE CONTROVERSY Described as a ”moral holocaust” by Variety, the film was first given a very limited theatrical release for fear of prosecution on obscenity grounds.
Directed by Larry Clark (1995)
THE PLOT A group of teens (played by, among others, Rosario Dawson and Chloë Sevigny) prowl the streets of NYC in search of sex, booze, drugs, and other high-risk kicks.
THE CONTROVERSY Clark’s disturbing vision of promiscuous, borderline-sociopathic teens was heralded by some as a much-needed wake-up call about the nation’s youth. Others saw prurient exploitation. As a buffer against the furor, Miramax created a new entity, Excalibur Films, to release the pic.
22 DO THE RIGHT THING
Directed by Spike Lee (1989)
THE PLOT Racial tensions in a Brooklyn neighborhood escalate from amusing to tragic during the course of a single scorching summer day.
THE CONTROVERSY While the film was seen by some as a masterpiece (and earned Lee a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nom), others blasted the director as irresponsible, predicting that the film’s shocking climax — in which Mookie (Lee) hurls a trashcan through a storefront window, inciting a riot — would evoke similar reactions from urban moviegoers. Thankfully, the film proved to be more of a catalyst for heated debate than a flashpoint for actual violence.
21 BONNIE AND CLYDE (above)
Directed by Arthur Penn (1967)
THE PLOT Faye Dunaway is Bonnie, a bored Texas girl looking for danger. Warren Beatty is Clyde, a pistol-packing ex-con. They fall in love and kick off an infamous Depression-era crime spree.
THE CONTROVERSY Two years before Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, Penn’s bloody, slo-mo bullet-riddled finale, where the young lovers bite the dust, sparked an outcry — even tough-guy actor James Garner, no stranger to shoot-outs, called it ”amoral.”
20 CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST
Directed by Ruggero Deodato (1985)
THE PLOT This nauseatingly graphic Italian prototype for The Blair Witch Project follows four documentarians filming cannibal tribes in the Amazon. They become lunch.
THE CONTROVERSY After its 1980 Milan premiere, the film’s print was confiscated by the city’s magistrate. Later, Deodato faced life in prison when Italian authorities believed the stars of his film were really killed. The actors finally appeared on TV to prove otherwise.
19 BASIC INSTINCT
Directed by Paul Verhoeven (1992)
THE PLOT A trigger-happy detective (Michael Douglas) falls for a bisexual author (Sharon Stone) who’s suspected of murdering her male lover with an ice pick.
THE CONTROVERSY Gay-rights activists objected to the portrayal of man-hating lesbians before a frame of film was shot and protested through the film’s opening. Then there was the film’s eye-popping sex, including Sharon Stone’s notorious leg-crossing, which contributed to Basic’s initial NC-17 rating.
18 I AM CURIOUS (YELLOW)
Directed by Vilgot Sjoman (1969)
THE PLOT Freewheeling Lena experiences the swinging ’60s: protesting Vietnam, questioning the class system, and exploring carnal desires.
THE CONTROVERSY Before the 1967 Swedish film could open in the U.S., it was seized by customs officials concerned that scenes containing full frontal nudity and simulated sex acts were pornographic. The courts initially deemed the movie obscene, but the verdict was overturned.
Directed by Tod Browning (1932)
THE PLOT For his still-creepy circus noir about a midget who’s conned by a greedy temptress, Browning used real sideshow performers.
THE CONTROVERSY Audiences fled preview screenings in droves. (One patron claimed the film caused her to miscarry.) Even with a castration scene cut, the National Association of Women found the film ”offensive” and urged boycotts. It was banned in Atlanta and pulled from distribution; it was forbidden in the U.K. until the early ’60s.
16 UNITED 93 (above)
Directed by Paul Greengrass (2006)
THE PLOT An ultra-vérité re-creation of the tragic heroism surrounding — and inside — the only hijacked 9/11 flight not to reach its intended target.
THE CONTROVERSY Greengrass’ virtually-there experience may have been a little too close for comfort for some moviegoers. Even the trailer’s suggestion of the movie’s content prompted audiences to shout Too soon! One New York City theater pulled the footage from its preview reel after many viewers (one left sobbing) complained.
15 TRIUMPH OF THE WILL
Directed by Leni Riefenstahl (1935)
THE PLOT Riefenstahl’s notorious documentary of the 1934 Nazi rally at Nuremberg elevates propaganda to seductive Wagnerian grandeur.
THE CONTROVERSY While intellectuals still ponder the ethics of admiring so malevolent a masterpiece, others have had more visceral reactions. In the early ’40s, director George Stevens was so disturbed by the film that he joined the Army the next day. Protests greeted Riefenstahl (who never shook her Nazi-tainted past) at a 1974 Telluride Film Festival tribute, and the Anti-Defamation League decried a 1975 screening in Atlanta as ”morally insensitive.”
14 THE WARRIORS (above)
Directed by Walter Hill (1979)
THE PLOT Members of a street gang battle their way through a New York City populated by rival gangs (”Warriors, come out to plaaay!”).
THE CONTROVERSY Hill’s lurid nightmare of urban warfare was widely condemned for glorifying violence. Reports of criminal incidents where the film was shown — including the stabbing of a teenager in Massachusetts — fueled the outrage, forcing Paramount to temporarily pull its print and TV advertising for the film.
13 THE DA VINCI CODE
Directed by Ron Howard (2006)
THE PLOT A professor (Tom Hanks) unearths a 2,000-year-old conspiracy to cover up the marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
THE CONTROVERSY It didn’t end up drawing mass pickets or boycotts, but there was much debate while the film was being made. Westminster Abbey wouldn’t allow Howard to shoot inside its halls, and some 200 protesters mobbed the set in Lincolnshire, England (although Howard says most were merely ”trying to get autographs”).
12 THE DEER HUNTER
Directed by Michael Cimino (1978)
THE PLOT The Vietnam War shatters the lives of three Pennsylvania steel-mill workers.
THE CONTROVERSY By the time it won the Best Picture Oscar, Deer Hunter had ignited major debate over its shocking POW-camp scenes, in which American soldiers are forced to play Russian roulette. War historians argued there was no record of such atrocities, and others called the Vietcong depiction racist. Cimino called the criticisms ”beside the point.”
11 THE MESSAGE
Directed by Moustapha Akkad (1977)
THE PLOT Anthony Quinn plays Mohammed’s uncle in an epic telling of Islam’s origins.
THE CONTROVERSY The movie rankled Muslims and sparked riots, and that was just during production. Post-release, in March 1977, Hanafi terrorists took more than 100 people hostage in Washington, D.C. — killing a reporter and shooting the city’s future mayor Marion Barry in the two-day siege — demanding in part that The Message be banned. (It wasn’t.) In a cruelly ironic coda, the Syrian-born Akkad died amid al-Qaeda’s coordinated hotel bombings last fall in Amman, Jordan.
10 BABY DOLL
Directed by Elia Kazan (1956)
THE PLOT A Mississippi cotton-gin owner (Eli Wallach) humiliates a competitor (Karl Malden) by attempting to seduce the man’s still-virgin wife (Carroll Baker).
THE CONTROVERSY Written by Tennessee Williams, the film struck Catholic leaders as lewd. (A similar flap greeted 1943’s The Outlaw over Jane Russell’s bust.) New York’s Cardinal Spellman forbade the faithful to see it ”under pain of sin.” Some theaters pulled it, but it eventually earned four Oscar nominations.
9 LAST TANGO IN PARIS
Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci (1972)
THE PLOT A disaffected American (Marlon Brando) travels to Paris, where he throws himself into an affair with a young Frenchwoman (Maria Schneider).
THE CONTROVERSY Critics and audiences were sharply divided over this X-rated erotic psychodrama. The film’s stark (as in naked) depiction of loveless, animalistic carnality horrified some — and landed its director and stars in an Italian court on obscenity charges.
8 NATURAL BORN KILLERS (above)
Directed by Oliver Stone (1994)
THE PLOT Homicidal lovers (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis) cut a blood-soaked swath through America.
THE CONTROVERSY Though intended as a satire on the media, the film actually inspired several copycat killers to seek their own 15 minutes of fame, some even using imagery and dialogue from the film. Over 12 murders in the U.S. and abroad have been linked to Killers. One victim’s family tried to sue Stone and Warner Bros.
7 THE BIRTH OF A NATION
Directed by D.W. Griffith (1915)
THE PLOT Griffith’s epic follows the travails of two families during the Civil War and Reconstruction.
THE CONTROVERSY The film’s depiction of African Americans as childlike, conniving, or rabid sex fiends, and the Ku Klux Klan as heroic saviors, sparked nationwide protests by the nascent NAACP. (It also became a KKK recruiting tool.) Censorship debates and protests have dogged the film in subsequent rereleases and when it was added to the National Film Registry in 1993.
6 THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST
Directed by Martin Scorsese (1988)
THE PLOT Jesus (Willem Dafoe) pursues his calling but, in a Satan-induced hallucination, dreams of a normal life that includes sex with Mary Magdalene.
THE CONTROVERSY Religious fundamentalists picketed and threatened boycotts weeks before its release. One group offered to buy the $6.5 million film from Universal to destroy it; some theaters, and later Blockbuster, refused to carry it. Oh, and the French rioted.
Directed by Oliver Stone (1991)
THE PLOT The true story of how New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) investigated conspiracy theories about President Kennedy’s assassination.
THE CONTROVERSY Some saw Stone’s documentary-on-steroids-like interpretation of those theories as lending them a certain patina of truth — raising fears that moviegoers would construe it as bona fide history. One result: a 1992 congressional act to release classified documents (which revealed nothing).
4 DEEP THROAT
Directed by Gerard Damiano (1972)
THE PLOT Distraught over her inability to enjoy sex, a young woman (Linda Lovelace) goes to a doctor (Harry Reems), who tells her the condition can only be treated, um, orally.
THE CONTROVERSY Intellectuals championed the film for striking a blow for First Amendment rights, while conservative leaders got it banned in many places and put Reems on trial for obscenity charges. Lovelace herself later denounced the film, claiming that while filming ”there was a gun to my head.”
3 FAHRENHEIT 9/11
Directed by Michael Moore (2004)
THE PLOT Dubya’s multitude of (alleged) sins, including the alliance between the Bush clan and Saudi Arabia and botched chances to prevent 9/11.
THE CONTROVERSY The documentary lit the fuse of right-wing America, detonating protests and hate campaigns to ban it (no dice). Moore was the first to break the post-9/11 moratorium on Bush bashing and set off a season of brutal smack-downs among the Bill O’Reillys and Keith Olbermanns of the world.
2 A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (above)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick (1971)
THE PLOT Teen troublemaker/gang rapist Alex (Malcolm McDowell) gets brainwashed by a futuristic English government so that he becomes deathly ill every time he encounters violence. THE CONTROVERSY You mean besides its irreverent use of Gene Kelly’s ”Singin’ in the Rain”? That the movie first landed an X rating and was deemed pornographic across the U.S. was nothing compared with its reception in the U.K.: Social uproar and reports of copycat crimes led Kubrick to withdraw Clockwork from distribution in his adopted country. It wasn’t officially available there again — in theaters or on video — until 2000, a year after his death.
1 THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (above)
Directed by Mel Gibson (2004)
THE PLOT You know the part in the Bible where Jesus gets betrayed, tortured, and crucified? That’s it. That’s all of it.
THE CONTROVERSY Gibson’s intention — born of his deep Catholic faith — was to produce an unflinching depiction of Christ’s suffering on behalf of mankind. What he succeeded at best, however, was igniting a culture-war firestorm unrivaled in Hollywood history. For months prior to its release, The Passion was both denounced and defended sight unseen amid reports that the film wasn’t just brutal, but compromised by dubious biblical interpretation and anti-Semitic sentiment. Gibson refused to let concerned parties view and vet his self-financed film, even as he was giving Passion previews to Christians as part of an unprecedented church-targeting promo push. Ultimately, moviegoers pretty much got the experience they were expecting, while Gibson got a $370 million gross — plus a provocative new reputation.
There you have it. The 25 most controversial movies of all-time. Some I agree with, others seem kind of ridiculous. But, I guess, at the time, something as insane as Aladdin causing a stir, can be a big deal.