The 100+ Most Controversial
Films of All-Time

1996-1999


The 100+ Most Controversial Films of All-Time
Film Title/Year, Director
Screenshots

Crash (1996)
D. David Cronenberg

David Cronenberg's adaptation of J.G. Ballard's outré novel about people who get off on car crashes was too weirdly fetishistic for many viewers.

David Cronenberg's coldly-erotic, dark and disturbing drama examined the lives of a subculture of individuals who had passionate sexual fetishes about deadly car crashes.

The alternating kinky, perverse and depraved sex scenes juxtaposed with gruesome car crashes was deliberately controversial and repulsive, and thought to possibly inspire people to have fetishistic sex in high-speed vehicles. This provocative film, initially released in two versions rated NC-17 and R, was vilified in much the same way as Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960, UK), and the Cannes Film Festival screening had people walking out in disgust, nausea and revulsion. Ultimately, it received a Special Jury Prize "For Originality, For Daring, and For Audacity."

It told about TV commercial producer/director James Ballard (James Spader) and his open-marriage to icy-blonde wife Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger), who would be turned on by casual talk about each others' extra-marital adulterous affairs during love-making.

In the opening scene that showcased one of three couplings, Catherine enjoyed sex while in contact with cold-steel (she was taken from behind by her flight instructor in a private aircraft hangar as her naked breast's nipple pressed into a steel airplane wing). When James collided with another car on the freeway in a near-fatal accident, the deceased victim/husband passenger was thrown through the windshield onto his hood, while the driver/wife Dr. Helen Remington (Holly Hunter) inadvertently revealed partial nudity when she broke free from her seat belt in the twisted wreckage.

Subsequently, their first sexual encounter was in the front seat of his new car (same make and model) at an airport garage, as a way to re-establish the 'eroticism' of the crash. Ballard continued his extra-marital affair with Helen, always with love-making in his car in a public place. The experience caused Ballard to have increased sexual excitement toward his wife and their own rear-entry love-making.

After the accident, the three characters were introduced to a weird cult of individuals who derived sexual pleasure and arousal from car crashes, either as survivors or as impact victims with violated bodies. They would compulsively excite themselves ("It's all very satisfying") by re-enacting (or recreating) famed auto accidents ("the ultimate in authenticity" - the noteworthy car accident of famous Hollywood legend James Dean (Sept 30, 1955)). They would also observe and talk about their physical deformities from crashes (including wounds, scars, dismemberment, leg braces, crutches and full-body support suits), watch car safety and test crash videos (as pornography) and photograph crash victims, engage in sex in parked or moving cars (even in a car wash), and recklessly drive their cars near each other as foreplay.

Physically-deformed impact victim Gabrielle (Rosanna Arquette) made love to Ballard in a car while braced or harnessed with a full-body support suit of black plastic and stainless steel - she offered him her vulva-like gash/scar ("neo-sex organ") on the back of one of her thighs after he ripped off her black fish-net stockings. She fondled her own breast as he kissed her leg and then made love to it.

In the film's startling conclusion, Ballard deliberately rear-ended his wife's sports-car. She was thrown from the car onto the ground next to the wreck, where he made love to her from behind, after she regained consciousness and he learned that she was all right. He promised her a more deadly crash the next time: "Maybe the next one, darling. Maybe the next one."







Lolita (1997)
D. Adrian Lyne

Lolita could still shock 35 years after Kubrick's restrained adaptation; even after extensive cuts, Adrian Lyne's franker version was too hot for theaters.

Director Adrian Lyne's 1997 erotically-charged, sensual version of Vladimir Nabokov's novel (and a remake of Stanley Kubrick's 1962 film) told about a young 14 year-old "nymphet" (15 year-old Dominique Swain at the time of filming) and an obsessed professor named Humbert Humbert (Jeremy Irons).

From the start, its coverage of an aberrant, still-taboo and touchy topic of underage sexuality and incestual pedophilia brought intense criticism. Christian fundamentalists and other extremist groups accused the film of promoting pedophilia, although it was entirely dubious that the film condoned or promoted anti-social behavior. The film contained virtually no female nudity (a body double was used in one brief dimly-lit, bluish night sex scene), and strict precautions were taken during filming.

It was produced on the heels of the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 and the murder of 6 year-old JonBenet Ramsey (publicized as being a beauty pageant contestant). After European showings, it failed to get a distributor for an American theatrical release. Cuts were demanded to bring the film into conformity with the 1996 law. After a limited one-week US theatrical run in LA (to qualify for Academy Awards consideration), it was eventually bought by Showtime cable channel for viewing - which showed it on August 2, 1998 (providing its national premiere in uncut form). Its video rights were purchased by Blockbuster in early 1999, but since Blockbuster refused to rent NC-17 films -- it could only be seen in a heavily-censored version differing from the European release version or the cable version.

The film opened with Humbert in lyrical voice-over describing Lolita: "She was Lo --- plain Lo in the morning standing 4'10 in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. In my arms, she was always Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins, my sins, my soul, Lolita." The story was told in flashback. It began with an explanation regarding the cause of British Professor Humbert's hebephilia (sexual preference for pubescents). The opening sepia-toned sequence recalled Cannes, France in 1921, where 14-year-old Humbert (Ben Silverstone) become "madly hopelessly in love" with a beautiful 14 year-old girl named Annabel Leigh (Emma Griffiths-Malin). Four months later, when she died of typhus, he was marked and wounded for life - becoming a broken-hearted, tortured and helplessly unrequited romantic.

Humbert accepted a teaching position at Beardsley College (in the New England town of Ramsdale) in 1947, where he had become a boarder at the home of widow Mrs. Charlotte Haze (Melanie Griffith). He was convinced to rent a room after the first view of long-limbed schoolgirl Lolita in the garden piazza where a lawn sprinkler soaked her pale sundress. Entranced by the provocative and brash "nymphet" who innocently and playfully teased him, he would daydream about her, lose sleep, and call her a "little deadly demon." Lolita's annoying mother Charlotte was concerned that her maturing daughter was bothering Humbert, asking: "Is she keeping you up?" Before Lolita was taken off to summer camp by her mother, she gave Humbert a memorable goodbye hug and kiss after she jumped into his arms. To keep close to Lolita, Humbert accepted Charlotte's proposition that he marry her and become a "father" to her "little girl."

Just as Charlotte discovered Humbert's secret papers divulging interest in Lolita and calling herself a "cow", Charlotte was fortuitously struck by a car outside their house, allowing him to have "Lolita in my arms." When he picked her up at camp, she admitted: "I've been revoltingly unfaithful to you," and then asked for a kiss. He pulled over and obliged her - she hopped into his lap for two sensuous kisses. When they spent an overnight in a hotel, they were forced to share a room with only a double bed. Lolita blurted out the word "incest" (forbidden love) when they talked about how they were "thrown together" and sharing the same hotel room as father/daughter. In the room after dinner, as he removed her ankle-socks, she confided: "If I tell you how naughty I was at camp, promise you won't be mad?...I've been such a disgusting girl, just let me tell you." Early the next morning after sleeping in the same bed, in one of the film's most controversial scenes, she turned over and wet-kissed him on the mouth with a French kiss. She then whispered in his ear that she had played sexual games with Charlie while at camp. She then said she would have to demonstrate what she had learned: "I guess I'm gonna have to show you everything" and as a prelude to oral sex, she started to remove his pajama bottoms (and her own retainer) before a fade-out. Hubert explained in voice-over: "Gentlewomen of the jury, I was not even her first lover."

Later, Humbert was curious and asked if Charlie was her "first one." He felt "more and more uncomfortable" about corrupting her innocence, especially after she said that she hurt inside: "I was a daisy-fresh girl and look what you've done to me. I should call the police and tell them that you raped me, you dirty old man" - but then smiled teasingly. He mused during extensive road travels with the precocious Lolita that "despite all the fuss, the faces she made and the danger and hopelessness of it all, despite all that, I was in paradise, paradise whose skies were the color of hell flames, but a paradise still."

In the film's most sensual scene, Lolita rocked pleasurably on Humbert's lap while reading the newspaper comic pages. When Humbert began teaching at Beardsley College in the fall, Lolita was enrolled in the Beardsley Prep School (for Girls). Humbert considered himself both "the willing corruptor of an innocent" and a "happy housewife." In another scene, Lolita manipulatively stroked his thigh with her bare foot ("You want more, don't you?"), then nuzzled next to his crotch, inched her hand up his inner thigh, and bargained for $2 (instead of her usual $1/week allowance). When their relationship cooled and tensions rose, Humbert paid her for sex: "As she grew cooler towards my advances, I became accustomed to purchasing her favors." Ironically, school administrators began to be worried that the sexual maturing Dolores was "morbidly disinterested in sexual matters" and that she needed family instruction in the process of human reproduction. More strains occurred when Humbert showed a distrust of Lolita, and she was increasingly involved with playwright Clare Quilty (Frank Langella) during rehearsals for the school play. Long simmering hatred erupted when she accused Humbert of murder and howled at him: "Murder me like you murdered my mother!" But then desperate not to lose her, they made up only hours later, when she undressed in front of him and requested: "Take me to bed." During another road trip, Lolita provocatively mouthed a banana while wearing a white two-piece outfit.

Jealousy continued to rise between the two, and he suspected that she had another rival lover like himself ("another mad lover of nymphets" - revealed in the film's conclusion to be playwright Quilty (known to her as Uncle Gustav)), who was thought to be following them. Humbert forced a kiss from her - as lipstick became smeared on their faces, while he begged to know the man's identity: "Please tell me." When Lolita was kidnapped by Quilty, Humbert could not locate her ("the trail went cold and dead"), until three years later, when she wrote to him.

Destitute, married to a man named Dick and now pregnant as Mrs. Richard F. Schiller in the town of Coalmont, Lolita was seeking Humbert's financial assistance ("I have gone through much sadness and hardship"). She identified the 'thief' as the pervert Quilty, while Humbert still vowed that he loved her (even though she was "pale and polluted and big with another man's child"). She rejected his offer to "leave here and come live with me and die with me and everything with me" - but accepted his monetary help of $4,000. Afterwards, Humbert vengefully murdered the monstrous Quilty in gruesome fashion with the jealous accusation ("You cheated me of my redemption") - and then surrendered to police. He stood on a hillside listening to the distant sounds of children playing and in an epiphany, he expressed remorse for taking Lolita's 'child' away from her. He died on November 16th, 1950 in prison of a coronary thrombosis, while she died about a month later on Christmas Day during childbirth.












Dogma (1999)
D. Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith's inquiry into the nature of good and evil is surprisingly sincere, but its vulgar snarkiness still rankled religious leaders.

Director Kevin Smith's fourth film was an imaginative, comic and fanciful theological work (with foul language) about a monumental struggle or race between good and evil forces to save or determine the fate of Earth and mankind. The taglines for the film were: "FAITH IS A FUNNY THING" and "Get 'Touched' By an Angel."

The film's premiere drew hundreds of protesters and disdain from religious leaders, and Smith himself received 300,000 pieces of hate mail. The Catholic League publically criticized the film's producer Miramax Pictures (owned by Disney), for the film's anti-Catholic, sacrilegious and blasphemous stance, and its satire of modern religion. Consequently, Disney's Miramax declined to release the film, and sold it to another distributor, Lions Gate Films.

On one side were two fallen, ousted or banished angels: Angel of Death Loki (Matt Damon) and Bartleby (Ben Affleck), who had been exiled to eternity at an airport in Wisconsin. They discovered a loop-hole in Catholic dogmatic doctrine (plenary indulgence) that would allow them back into Heaven. To have their sins forgiven, they decided to make their way to St. Michael's Cathedral that was about to be rededicated in New Jersey for its 100 Year Anniversary. They reasoned that if they entered the church's doors, they could be forgiven and regain access to Heaven. They chose New Jersey because of a revamped 'Catholicism Wow!' program announced there by hip Catholic Cardinal Glick (George Carlin), who had replaced the traditional "Scary" crucifix with a "Buddy Christ" effigy. There, they would have their wings cut off, become human, and reenter the kingdom of heaven. If they were successful, however, it meant that they could prove the fallibility of God and destroy the universe by nullifying and undoing all of human and earthly existence.

God (angry slack-rocker Alanis Morissette) dispatched a disdainful and bitchy seraphim - a messenger from God named Metatron (Alan Rickman) (aka The Voice of God), to appear in a pillar of fire in the bedroom of lapsed-and fallen Catholic Bethany Sloane (Linda Fiorentino) who worked at an Illinois abortion clinic. The resistant, infertile and divorced woman, who was experiencing a crisis of faith but was Jesus Christ's last surviving descendant, would be recruited to stop the two rogue angels from ending humanity. Metatron instructed her about meeting two muses or prophets (Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes as dope-dealing slackers Silent Bob and Jay) who would assist her along the way. Other characters in the tale included Chris Rock as a ranting Rufus, the erased or forgotten 13th apostle, and Salma Hayek as disaffected heavenly muse Serendipity who 'inspired' men at a low-rent strip club.

Pompous, regenade Cardinal Ignatius Glick was delivering a speech on the steps of the New Jersey church, when Bartleby stepped up, pushed through the crowd, and threatened the assembled parishioners:

"'God's house?' God doesn't live here anymore. He's grown weary of your superficial faith. He's turned a deaf ear to your lip-service prayers. He has abandoned you, his favorites, to the whim of judgment. Hypocrites, charlatans - Prepare to taste God's wrath....(To Loki) You wanted your body count. You got it. This lot is rife with sin. We'll judge them all."

Bartleby twisted Officer McGee's (Robert Holtzman) head to the right to break his neck ("Mr. McGee, don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry") - causing a riot. He spoke above the tumult's screams: "Ladies and gentlemen, you have been judged as guilty of violations against our Almighty God. And this very day, I assure you, you will all pay for your trespasses, in blood. (To Loki) Wings. Now! Do it!" Bartleby killed everyone in attendance at the celebration.

A panicked TV reporter issued a statement about the proceedings: "Men with huge f--king wings have laid waste to St. Michael's. Bullets don't seem to affect them. The remaining crowd has dropped to their knees, identifying this as the fabled Apocalypse." The exterior of the church was littered with massacred bodies, as slacker Jay asked: "Then what the f--k are we supposed to do? Just wait for a solution to fall out of the sky?" On cue, the Cardinal's decapitated body plummeted out of the sky and landed splat at their feet. Loki emerged and identified the headless corpse: "That was a cardinal. You can't tell by the face, but the rosaries are a dead giveaway."

With his wings cut off, Loki was now human and decided to help the side of the good, but Bartleby killed him and fought off Rufus, Serendipity and Silent Bob. Jay shot off Bartleby's wings with a submachine gun and also turned him into a human being. The film concluded with a female God figure killing a remorseful Bartleby with Her voice, resurrecting Bethany from death, and conceiving a child within her.







Romance (1999, Fr.) (aka Romance X)
D. Catherine Breillat

Catherine Breillat challenged the status quo by casting an Italian porn star in her drama about the disconnect between love and sex: outrage ensued.

This sexually-graphic drama import from daring French filmmaker Catherine Breillat faced international censorship problems for its explicit depictions of fellatio and intercourse. The film's poster displayed a red X over a self-pleasuring female's private parts, one of the scenes in the film. An overriding theme was the lack of connection between love and sex.

The film was released with no MPAA rating, although it undoubtedly would have been an NC-17 rating with its full frontal nudity and explicit unsimulated oral sex - a turning point in the candid depiction of non-pornographic sex on screen for a mainstream film. It was the first mainstream movie to feature an erect penis.

The main character was a sexually-frustrated, self-reflective, semi-depressed Parisian elementary school teacher named Marie (Caroline Ducey) who was paired with an unresponsive male partner and model named Paul (Sagamore Stevenin) who no longer touched her or agreed to intercourse, although she still clung to him. When she initiated sex with him and began fellating him, he responded disinterestedly. She requested that he touch and pleasure her, but seemed to feel that he despised her.

Feeling dishonored, she began to contemplate finding unbridled sexual gratification and lustful fulfillment through various 'no-strings-attached,' explicit sexual encounters with others. One instance of random sex began almost immediately with a studly stranger from an all-night bar. She soon began full sexual involvement (including rear-entry sex) with the Italian stranger, named Paolo (Italian porn star actor Rocco Sefredi).

She also became sexually intrigued and involved, in a "trivial" and "shameful" relationship, with her older boss Robert (Francois Berleand), a "prince of seducers," who claimed he had enjoyed 10,000 women (with a record of his conquests), and promoted her potential for S&M masochism, degradation and bondage. She was at first freaked by the experience - however, they maintained a long-term association: ("Tying me up without tying me down was the secret of his ritual").

The film's additional scenes included a degrading rape (the rapist called her a "whore, bitch") in a stairway, a probing gynecological exam after Marie became pregnant by Paul, and clear footage of her childbirth (edited and replaced by Blockbuster Video).

The most controversial segment was a fantasy dream sequence in which she imagined herself sexually defenseless with other women. Their waists were available and positioned next to a hole in a wall as unseen strangers on the other side of the wall could engage in explicit sex with them through the opening. There was a close-up of ejaculation onto her stomach, juxtaposed with jelly being applied to her belly for an ultrasound reading.









South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)
D. Trey Parker

Profane, vulgar and gleefully impious, this animated satire included such provocations as depicting Satan and Saddam Hussein as lovers.

This R-rated, adult-oriented 81 minute animated film, a spin-off of the animated TV series South Park, has been judged one of the most obscenity-filled, vulgar and profane animations ever made - clocking in at almost 400 profane words. It had even more examples of offensive gestures, use of racial epithets and ethnic slurs, blasphemous references to God, scatological humor, and acts of violence by its young cast of characters. It was reported that many under-aged movie theatre patrons purchased tickets for other films in multiplexes and then the minors attended this popular, R-rated film.

The film's story opened with the viewing of a film within a film ("Asses of Fire") by third-grade boys - an R-rated movie featuring Canadians Terrance & Phillip, about lighting farts on fire. [Later in the film, Kenny was incinerated when lighting his own flatulence. When rejected by Heaven, Kenny was sent to Hell.] As a result, the boys were 'corrupted' and their parents led censorship efforts that ultimately pressured the United States to wage war against Canada. The boys attempted to save their two Canadian idols from being executed by electrocution.

It was an incongruous combination of an animation starring four pint-sized 8 year-olds (Stan, Kyle, Eric Cartman, and Kenny), a musical (with twelve songs including the Oscar-nominated Original Song "Blame Canada"), a political satire (Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was depicted as the homosexual lover of Satan in Hell), a parody of Disney films (e.g., Beauty and the Beast (1991) and The Little Mermaid (1989)) and Broadway plays (e.g. Les Miserables), and a diatribe against misguided censorship (i.e., the motion picture ratings system and the MPAA) and American parenting.

Its subtitle was a reference to a large uncircumcised phallus, and the film's song "Uncle F--ka" contained almost three dozen uses of the F-word. [Note: The song title was changed from "Mother F--ka" to escape an NC-17 rating by the ratings board.] Angels were portrayed as nude females.



Stigmata (1999)
D. Rupert Wainwright

Rattling skeletons in the Catholic Church's closet wasn't as shocking in the late '90s as when The Exorcist opened, but still exposed this glum horror movie to censure.

This predictable, non-sensical horror thriller with a music-video MTV style, followed on the heels of two other, more popular 'supernatural' horror films of the year, The Blair Witch Project (1999) and The Sixth Sense (1999). It boasted a soundtrack by Smashing Pumpkins, continual rain and dripping liquids, the enigma of mysterious forces, and silly theological exposition about stigmata and possession to make it more marketable as a horror film. The tagline was: "The Messenger Must Be Silenced."

The poorly-paced, confused plot could not hope to compete when compared to the more effective The Exorcist (1973) from 25 years earlier (and re-released in 2000). The major difference between the two films was Stigmata's bold criticism of the Catholic Church, and its positing of a conspiratorial role of the institution in covering up gnostic truth found in some hidden writings. [However, the truths that were supposedly being hushed are considered prominent principles of some parts of the Biblical record.]

Its story was about 23 year-old godless, atheistic, partying salon hairdresser Francis "Frankie" Paige (Patricia Arquette), who began to suffer torment after her unsuspecting mother sent her a vacation souvenir package. Inside was a rosary (sold to her in by a local Brazilian marketplace vendor), earlier stolen from the corpse of beloved, deeply religious South American priest Father Paulo Alemieda (Jack Donner). [During the priest's funeral in the village church, a statue of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe wept blood, doves appeared out of nowhere, and candles would mysteriously ignite and burn out.]

With the rosary in her apartment, Frankie began to display disturbing signs -- upsetting nausea and vomiting, struggling with unseen forces (and flashes of nails being pounded into flesh) during a bath (with blood-tinged water), and possible epilepsy (or demonic possession). She also began to develop a case of stigmata - evidence of Jesus' five crucifixion wounds on her own body, beginning with bloody wrist puncture wounds.

Investigating her distressing condition in Pittsburgh was a Jesuit priest, Father Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne) from the Vatican (he was a member of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints). He was confused because normally stigmata developed only on those who were devout believers. He found himself thwarted by nefarious, corrupt and evil Cardinal Daniel Houseman (Jonathan Pryce) (quoted as saying: "You have no idea who you're dealing with"), who wished to silence her (and almost succeeded when he later conducted an exorcism upon her followed by attempted strangulation).

More serious symptoms developed for Frankie (a deliberate illusion to St. Francis who also suffered from the condition) - scratches and slashes on her forehead (the crown of thorns?), writing in cryptic Aramaic (Jesus' ancient language) on a car hood with a smashed glass bottle, and later on a wall, and speaking Aramaic in a deep male voice. When Kiernan was able to translate the Aramaic writings, he realized the key to everything was the Gospel of St. Thomas, part of an heretical series of secret Gnostic writings hidden by the Catholic Church because they could undermine and destroy the faith. The writings preached that the kingdom of God was all around and not confined to churches. Were the bellowings and writings of a possessed spirit benevolent - revealed as the continuing translation efforts of the spirit of the dead, excommunicated priest within Frankie?

When Kiernan realized that Alemieda was speaking through Frankie, he offered to be the priest's messenger, and Alemieda released his spirit within her, set Frankie free, and departed in peace. Some time later, Andrew visited Alemieda's Brazilian church and located the lost gospel writings under the floorboards. [In the DVD's alternate ending, Frankie died.]

The film concluded with three title cards: "In 1945, a scroll was discovered in Nag Hamadi, which is described as 'the secret sayings of the living Jesus.' This scroll, the Gospel of St. Thomas, has been claimed by scholars around the world to be the closest record we have of the words of the historical Jesus. The Vatican refuses to recognize this Gospel and has described it as heresy."









The 100+ Most Controversial Films of All-Time
(chronologically, by film title)
Intro | Silents-1930s | 1940s-1950s | 1960-1961 | 1962-1967 | 1968-1969
1970-1971 | 1972 | 1973-1974 | 1975 | 1976-1977 | 1978 | 1979
1980-1982 | 1983-1986 | 1987-1989 | 1990-1992 | 1993-1995 | 1996-1999
2000-2002 | 2003-2005 | 2006-Present


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