The 100+ Most Controversial
Films of All-Time


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

Nekromantik (1987, W. Germ.)
D. Jorg Buttgereit

Necrophilia may be the last taboo, and this German gross-out pulled no punches, which is why it was widely loathed and banned in many markets.

Director Jorg Buttgereit's first time feature film - this low-budget, cultish and controversial German gross-out, depraved horror film, was reviled and banned in many countries for its depiction of necrophilia and other perversions - bathing in bloody water, sex with corpses, rabbit cruelty (killing and skinning), cat disembowelment, graveyard sex, and decapitation by a shovel.

One of the main protests surrounded the fact that some viewers thought the main corpse in the exploitative film was real - although it was only a well-made prop. [In fact, the film was followed by another controversial sequel by the same director, NEKRomantik 2 (1991, W. Germ.).]

The two main characters exhibited extremely unusual behavior:

  • suicidal and manic-depressive Robert "Rob" Schmadtke (Daktari Lorenz), a passive worker at Joe's Cleaning Agency specializing in body removal after accidents - a necrophiliac who often had grotesque dreams/fantasies
  • Betty (Beatrice Manowski), Rob's girlfriend, also a necrophiliac

During a threesome with a rotting corpse, Betty found pleasure in making love to it with a sawed-off piece of broom handle (outfitted with a condom) stuck in its groin as a makeshift penis. The decomposing body also served as a wall decoration in their apartment.

Everything took a downturn when Rob was fired from his job and Betty fled (with the corpse). To reach new heights of degradation, Rob resorted to watching horror movies, animal torture, prostitute sex, and kinky graveyard copulation. He also partially decomposed after placing himself in a garbage bag.

In the film's final sequence, Robert simultaneously masturbated and committed disembowelment (hari-kiri) with a knife - culminating in an orgasmic semen-blood mixed expiration, a sexualized suicide. The last shot - a freeze frame - was his grave plot (marked with a wooden cross bearing his name) being dug up by an unidentified woman (wearing high heels).

The Last Temptation Of Christ (1988)
D. Martin Scorsese

Religious fundamentalists excoriated, picketed and boycotted Martin Scorsese's adaptation on the grounds that it blasphemously portrayed Jesus in sexual situations.

This controversial, profound, and challenging adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis' 1955 best-selling novel of the same name was Best Director-nominated by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. The author was almost ex-communicated from the Greek Orthodox Church as a result of writing the radical, revisionist book, and his work was frequently found on lists of banned books. The film was denounced as pornographic (for a non-explicit scene of Jesus procreating with his wife) even before its release, although the film clearly stated in a pre-credits disclaimer regarding the film's adaptation from the novel: "This film is not based upon the Gospels, but upon this fictional exploration of the eternal spiritual conflict." The resulting controversy hurt domestic ticket sales -- its box office was only $8.4 million, on a budget of $6.5 million.

Many attacks were made on the way the film depicted Jesus' humanity. In the film's first sequence, a tormented, self-analytical, guilt-ridden and worried Jesus explained that he was collaborating with Rome by making wooden crosses for crucifixion so that they could kill his fellow Jews. He in fact assisted in the crucifixion of a zealous Jew accused of sedition against the Roman state. Full of self-contempt, Jesus also feared his Messianic destiny and hoped that by his actions, God would invoke his wrath upon him rather than love ("God loves me. I know he loves me. I want him to stop....I make crosses so He'll hate me. I want Him to find somebody else. I want to crucify every one of His Messiahs"). Jesus also consistently expressed doubts about his nature, his Messiah nature, and his own mission in life. After sitting all day long in a brothel within sight of Mary Magdalene having carnal sex with numerous customers, Jesus told her - with guilt and sorrow - that he needed her forgiveness. Later, he turned his back on his own mother Mary, telling her "I have no family."

The major controversy concerned the 'last temptation' visionary/hallucinatory sequence in the film's conclusion in which a very human and suffering Jesus (Willem Dafoe) was tempted by Satan (portrayed as a young androgynous guardian angel (Juliette Caton)) while he hung naked during crucifixion on the cross (while uttering as the camera turned sideways: "Father! Why have You forsaken me?"). He was offered an idyllic vision or dream by the angel, who claimed he had "done enough" after being tested for his loyalty by a pleased and merciful God. She cited the precedent example of Abraham being told by God to stop sacrificing his son Isaac. [Jesus' choice to follow Satan implied that he was a flawed, frail, questioning, tormented and self-doubting man who was uncertain of the path he should follow.] His crown of thorns was removed, as well as the spikes through his feet and wrists - and the angel tenderly kissed his wounds. He was given life and led away from an empty cross while he asked: "I don't have to be sacrificed?...I'm not the Messiah." Onlookers at Golgotha were unaware of his departure.

The vision included a normal earthly existence and mortal happiness, including the blasphemous idea of a sexual relationship with a woman. He was immediately married to tattooed prostitute Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey), who was earlier seen entertaining various clients in a brothel, where Jesus asked her for forgiveness. [Earlier, she had been Jesus' childhood friend whose love he had rejected as a young man.] She cleansed his bloody wounds as he laid naked in her arms, and then, in a non-exploitative sequence, Jesus made tender, physical love with her as she entreated: "We could have a child." After she became pregnant, she appeared partially naked when at full-term pregnancy. But then, she abruptly passed away one day after a bright light shined on her. The angel told a sobbing Jesus that "God's killed her! God took her away when she was happy. Now she's immortal." He was assured: "There's only one woman in the world. One woman with many faces. This one falls, the next one rises." Mary, Lazarus' sister, would serve as "Magdalene with a different face" since she was carrying his son - and so he was taken to live with them. He confessed to the angel how he had made many mistakes: "I'm ashamed when I think of it...Of all the mistakes I've made. Of all the wrong ways I'd looked for God."

Years later, Jesus met up with the proselytizing apostle Paul (Harry Dean Stanton), and asserted that he was the human Jesus: "I'm a man, like everybody else...I live like a man now. I work, eat, have children. I enjoy my life. For the first time, I'm enjoying it." Paul did not accept his claim and counter-argued that humanity's "only hope is the resurrected Jesus" through crucifixion, in order to save the world. Jesus argued back: "Those are lies. You can't save the world by lying." Paul ended their discussion with his trust in a different Jesus: "My Jesus is much more important and much more powerful." After Jesus had grown old and was on his deathbed, he had another intervention by his own betrayer, red-haired Judas Iscariot (Harvey Keitel) who called him the real traitor for not fulfilling his obligation to die on the cross ("Traitor! Your place was on the cross. That's where God put you. When death got too close, you got scared and you ran away and hid yourself in the life of some man. We did what we were supposed to do. You didn't. You're a coward!...What's good for man isn't good for God. Why weren't you crucified?"). Judas also claimed that the guardian angel was indeed Satan ("What angel? Look at her. Satan"), confirmed when she turned into a pillar of flames.

Jesus realized the truth of Judas' words ("If you die this way, you die like a man. You turn against God, your father. There's no sacrifice; there's no salvation") - and that he must sacrifice his life by suffering on the cross for humanity's sake to save them. He painfully crawled through the burning city of Jerusalem (during an attack by the Romans) to again return to the cross, crying out to God to take him back and to "pay the price": "Father, will You listen to me? Are You still there? Will You listen to a selfish and unfaithful son? I fought you when You called - I resisted. I thought I knew more. I didn't want to be Your son. Can You forgive me?...I want to be crucified and rise again! I want to be the Messiah!". He rejected the temptation, and returned to die, finding himself back on the cross. In his final moments, he smiled and closed his eyes after he uttered the triumphant words: "It is accomplished. It is accomplished." The film then appeared to run out in the camera - illustrated by prisms of colored light, and then the burned film turned bright white.

During one early screening in a Parisian movie theatre, a protesting fundamentalist French Catholic group threw a molotov cocktail at the screen and injured a number of people. Religious fundamentalists vehemently criticized, protested, boycotted, and picketed the film, with signs reading: "Don't Crucify Christ Again," "Stop This Attack on Christianity," and "Scripture Not Scripts." City leaders in Savannah, Georgia banned the film, and sent a signed petition to Universal requesting a widespread ban. The Blockbuster Video chain refused to carry the title, and one group suggested offering to buy the $7 million film from Universal in order to destroy it. Joseph Reilly of Morality in Media described the film as "an intentional attack on Christianity," and James Dobson of Focus on the Family warned ominously: "God is not mocked."

Some Additional Objections to the Controversial Film

In Nazareth, carpenter Jesus constructed crosses used for Roman crucifixion

Jesus pulled his own beating heart from his chest

Jesus seemed weak, afraid, and often tormented by God

Jesus kissed other men on the lips, including John the Baptist and Judas

Men Behind the Sun (1988) (aka Hei tai yang 731)
D. Tun Fei Mou

This documentary-style atrocity was inspired by grotesque medical experiments carried out by Japan's notorious Unit 731 during WWII.

This unrated (would have been NC-17 undoubtedly) provocative and sickening documentary-style film (denounced by some as an exploitation film) from director T.F. Mou displayed some of the Japanese atrocities and perverse medical experiments committed toward guinea-pig human victims (Manchurian civilians) in Unit 731 (a biological warfare R & D unit) during WWII (and the Sino-Japanese War). It was claimed that Emperor Hirohito secretly ordered the inhuman lab experiments.

One atrociously graphic scene showed a Chinese woman forced to thrust her deliberately frost-bitten hands into hot water, and then having her flesh ripped off her hands to expose the skeletal bones.

In another sequence, a group of Chinese prisoners were tied to wooden crosses and subjected to aerial bombing - as part of a flawed experiment to expose and infect them with a biological disease.

It was also criticized for its use of actual autopsy footage depicting a drugged young boy whose organs were extracted from his body while he remained alive, and for another scene in which a live cat was thrown into a room and ripped apart by a swarm of hungry rats.

In a decompression or hyperbaric chamber sequence, the intense pressure caused a man's intestines to shoot out of his anus.

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989, UK/Fr.)
D. Peter Greenaway

Peter Greenaway put a high-style gloss on base depravity - including sadism, cannibalism, and coprophagia – in his cruel, allegory of winner-take-all capitalism.

Peter Greenaway designed this cruel, over-the-top, truth-telling film as a metaphoric and allegorical criticism of wasteful and barbaric upper-class consumer society in Western civilization (specifically Thatcherism and Reaganism). The huge restaurant that was the centerpiece of the film was composed of four rooms or sections, each of which was color-coded: the kitchen and storage area (deep jungle-green), the main dining room (hellish blood-red), the restrooms (white), and the adjacent parking lot (cold dark blue).

It told about gluttonous, uncouth, and maniacal boss Thief Albert Spica (Michael Gambon) and his desperate and much-humiliated Wife Georgina (Helen Mirren), who dined at a sumptuous banquet every night (over a nine evening period) at a trendy haute cuisine London restaurant called Le Hollandais run by the kitchen's French chef Richard Borst (Richard Bohringer). He held court around a table where he talked about food, excrement and sex, and surrounded himself with various lackeys and henchmen, and a bookwormish patron diner/Lover Michael (Alan Howard).

After discovering his adulterous wife's unfaithfulness and hungry trysts with the Lover (during visits to the ladies' room stall, kitchen and bakery pantry and refrigerated meat freezer in the back of a truck, filmed with unflattering lighting), the brutal Albert decided upon savage, cannibalistic revenge upon the man (ironically stating and foreshadowing: "I'll cook him! And I'll eat him!"). Michael was killed by force-feeding him with pages from a book.

To retaliate, Georgina had the Cook bake up her lover's corpse for her husband and then headed a procession bringing in the veiled body for the surprise dinner. She forced him at gunpoint to eat the warmed-up cadaver -- "Try the cock -- it's a delicacy. And you know where it's been." Stunned, Albert took a bite and vomited, as The Wife encouraged him to eat more ("Bon appetit, Albert. That's French") - and then shot him to death - condemning him as a "Cannibal."

The sensational film's putrescence, debasement and excesses (sadism, cannibalism, torture, fornication, puke, and rotting fish and meat) and scatological themes (force-feeding of excrement (termed coprophagy), urination on victims) forced the Motion Picture Association of America to give the film an "X" rating, so the film (after being denied an appeal) was released unrated by the producers, and then given an NC-17 rating by the time of its video release. An alternative R-rated version cut out about 30 minutes of footage.

Do The Right Thing (1989)
D. Spike Lee

Critics worried that Spike Lee's powerful evocation of poverty, police brutality and simmering racial tensions in Brooklyn would incite real violence.

African-American writer/director Spike Lee's third (and breakout) feature film was this complex, angry and unapologetic social protest film about racism, racial pride, intolerance and oppression, class struggle and violence. This controversial and incendiary independent film, receiving a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award nomination for Lee, was about racial tensions that eventually erupted into a riot on a sweltering summer day in the multi-ethnic Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. It was told with vibrantly bright colors, realistic and goofily-named characters and dialogue, a supplementary "Greek chorus" of black men on the corner commenting on the day's events, and energetic editing and quasi-documentary, cocked camera angles.

During the opening credits, Public Enemy performed the film's hard-edged anthem and title song, "Fight the Power" - foreshadowing the coming emergence of rap and hip-hop music into the mainstream culture. The multi-ethnic cast of the film provided three-dimensional characters and day-in-the-life stories, and featured the early career work of Samuel L. Jackson (as DJ Mister Senor Love Daddy) and Rosie Perez (as demanding single mother and girlfriend Tina). The tension began to escalate in this slice-of-life film because of a complaint by a militant activist neighborhood patron named Buggin' Out (Giancarlo Esposito) that there were no pictures of 'brothers' on the "Wall of Fame" in a white-operated, Italian "Famous Pizzeria" restaurant owned by Sal (Oscar-nominated Danny Aiello), followed by his attempt to "boycott [Sal's] fat pasta ass". The film climaxed with the brutal choke-hold police murder of Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn), the arrest of Buggin' Out, and pizza delivery boy Mookie's (Spike Lee) incitement of a fiery riot by hurling a trashcan through Sal's storefront window, causing further racial divide and police brutality.

Although it was feared by film critics that this would cause and incite similar responses from black urban-dwellers, this proved to be a misrepresentation of the facts by the film's detractors, that dubbed the film "irresponsible". Two contradictory quotations ended the film, one from Martin Luther King, Jr. advocating non-violence, and the other from Malcolm X advocating violent self-defense in response to oppression.

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 | 2006-2009 | 2010-present

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