The 100+ Most Controversial
Films of All-Time


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

Henry & June (1990)
D. Philip Kaufman

The first major studio release rated NC-17, this arty biopic featured a guilt-free menage a trois, nudity and Uma Thurman in a lesbian kiss.

Director Philip Kaufman's frank and bold treatment of sex was based on the diaries of author Anais Nin. It was the first major studio feature film to be released with the new and revised NC-17 rating by the MPAA (due to an explicit yet simulated scene of lesbian oral sex) - a rating designed to distinguish erotic-and-serious adult films from pure hard-core X-rated pornography.

It had the second highest box-office gross of all-time at $11.6 million, about half of the #1 NC-17 film of all time, Showgirls (1995) at $20.3 million. For awhile, it was banned in South Africa.

The sexually-provocative biodrama with themes of voyeurism, partner-swapping, three-way sex, and both hetero- and homo-sexuality told about a love triangle between three individuals in 1930s Bohemian Paris:

  • petite, sexually-liberated writer Anais Nin (Maria de Medeiros), unsatisfyingly married to Hugo Parker Guiler (Richard E. Grant) who called her by his pet name "Pussywillow"
  • American writer and 'Tropic of Cancer' author Henry Miller (Fred Ward)
  • Henry's bi-sexual wife June (19 year old Uma Thurman)

The controversial film included these scenes:

  • during the opening credits, there was a postcard view of the famous erotic woodcut (The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife) from Japanese artist Hokusai, depicting oral sex between two octopi and a young, naked Ama pearl diver; Anais claimed that with the entire collection of erotic items in a box she found in a closet, she became acquainted "with the endless varieties of the erotic experience"
  • Anais slow-dancing (and deep lesbian kissing) with June in an underground lesbian club
  • Anais' many passionate and eager couplings with Henry during their affair together, including her first time with him furtively behind a curtain in a club during a syncopated dance (he told her: "I love you, I need you" and she told him that she also loved him)
  • some segments of le Bal des Beaux Arts (the Art Students' Ball) sequence, including Anais' 'rape' by costumed husband Hugo
  • an "exhibition" of lesbian love-making in a private show conducted in a mirrored brothel room, viewed by Anais and Hugo, between Henry's blonde whore (Brigitte Lahaie) and another frail prostitute (Maïté Maillé) - when Anais advised the aggressive female: "Stop pretending to be a man"
  • Anais' love-making scene with her lover/cousin Eduardo (Jean-Philippe Écoffey) in the midst of her other affair
Selected Scenes in the First NC-17 Rated Film - Henry & June

Anais with Hugo

Anais' Love-making with Henry

Anais' 'rape' by husband Hugo

Lesbian Club "Exhibition"

In another scene, Anais described an hallucinatory "nightmare" dream-fantasy of sex with June (and Henry's blonde whore) in an upper loft, experiencing 'abnormal pleasures' ("I begged her to undress. I asked her to let me see between her legs. As she lay over me, I felt a penis touching me..."). Anais also had a climactic love-making scene with Henry after he had finished his novel 'Tropic of Cancer' - while Hugo was downstairs. [Note: "Tropic of Cancer" was published in 1934, and banned in all English-speaking countries for 27 years.]

In the concluding scene, Anais and June got together for love-making (while Henry was asleep in another room of the house) after which an accusatory June confronted Anais about her manipulative and self-serving affair with Henry:

You just want experience. You're a writer. You make love to whatever you need. You're just like Henry...I can see exactly what you're doing. You're so slippery, so slippery. You bitch. Liar, trickster. You bought his love...You both robbed me blind. You stole everything.

Anais broke off her relationship with both Henry & June and returned to her husband Hugo. As she drove away with him, she lamented (in voice-over) her lost loves, although Henry and Anais remained "life-long friends and supporters":

That morning I wept. I wept because I loved the streets that took me away from Henry and would lead me back to him. I wept because the process by which I had become a woman was painful. I wept because from now on, I would weep less. I wept because I had lost my pain and I was not yet accustomed to its absence.

Japanese woodcut

Henry & June

Henry's blonde whore

Anais' & June's dance-kiss

Anais' Dream-Fantasy

With Henry

Anais with June

JFK (1991)
D. Oliver Stone

Oliver Stone's complex, provocative conspiracy thriller was attacked for legitimizing a crackpot theory about JFK's assassination.

Director/co-writer Oliver Stone's complex, provocative docu-film thriller was a controversial, speculatively revisionistic, historical epic surrounding one-time New Orleans DA Jim Garrison's (Kevin Costner) investigation of the John F. Kennedy assassination on November 22, 1963. Its intriguing interpretation was based on the well-publicized and alleged conspiracy theories of the obsessed attorney about the mystery of the death, and on the testimony of a number of unreliable witnesses.

The film masterfully assembled and merged, like a jigsaw puzzle, various sources of material (newsreels, photos, black and white, color, 8 mm, 16 mm, etc., minature models, and re-enactments) into one film to create a semblance of truth, but not necessarily real history. However, Stone was attacked and dismissed by the American media, CBS, The New York Times, Time, Newsweek and The Washington Post, for deliberately combining factual and historical footage with hypothetical footage to make it appear to be one seamless, objective and truthful record of events. In response, Stone released the screenplay, annotated with its factual sources.

The courtroom trial scene in the last half of the film featured three very memorable segments to disprove the idea that assassin Lee Harvey Oswald (Gary Oldman) acted alone:

(1) a detailed analysis of the famous Zapruder film (shot near the grassy knoll) that was subpoened by Garrison's office, but unseen by the American public ("a picture speaks a thousand words, doesn't it?"); the film disproved the Warren Commission's open and shut case of "three bullets, one assassin" - "the time frame of 5.6 seconds established by the Zapruder film left no possibility of a fourth shot"; Garrison called junior counselor Arlen Spector's theoretical assertion of the 'Magic Bullet Theory' -- "one of the grossest lies ever forced on the American people"

(2) the scornful rejection of the Magic Bullet theory (the 'official' Warren Commission version of events) which Garrison declared unlikely or impossible with a walk-through, a scale model, and diagrams of the bullet's zig-zag path presented for evidence - "this single bullet explanation is the foundation of the Warren Commission's claim of a lone assassin and once you conclude that the magic bullet could not create all seven of those wounds, you have to conclude that there was a fourth shot and a second rifle, and if there was a second rifle, then by definition there had to be a conspiracy"

and (3) Garrison's impassioned, patriotic closing argument - his final summing up of the case with his damnation of the entire US military-industrial complex and the possibility of a massive conspiracy and coverup (allegedly aided by Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones)), finishing with Garrison staring directly into the camera and addressing the jury (and viewing) audience: "It's up to you"

Aladdin (1992)
D. Ron Clements and John Musker

Disney's animated musical included lyrics that the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee claimed perpetuated racist stereotypes.

This Walt Disney feature film animation engendered considerable controversy for its pro-Western portrayal of Aladdin and Jasmine (always unveiled), the fact that turbaned characters were bald, and all the villainous characters were Arab caricatures.

Another conflict arose, following protests from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), regarding the lyrics in one of the verses of the opening song "Arabian Nights." The original lyric about the film's Arabian setting ("Where they cut off your ears if they don't like your face/It's barbaric, but, hey, it's home") was censored/dubbed out and changed to "Where it's flat and immense and the heat is intense/It's barbaric, but, hey, it's home" for subsequent video releases in 1993 and for the re-released soundtrack.

Basic Instinct (1992)
D. Paul Verhoeven

Sharon Stone's turn as a seductive, bisexual murderess made her a star, but the movie raised hackles for its misogyny and salacious depiction of lethal lesbians.

Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas created this exploitative, soft-porn, excessive, controversial film known for its negative portrayal of lesbianism, offensive violence, initial X-rating, and voyeuristic, sensational, gratuitous sex. The film was criticized for its permissiveness, steamy content (scene of cunnilingus), unnecessary nudity, its depiction of lesbian characters, and its scenes of bondage (especially with reversed roles).

Threatened with an NC-17 rating, and reduced to R rating (with cuts), this flashy film was then released with a more explicit 'Director's Cut' version for the video market, with the extra-steamy scenes. It gained its greatest notoriety for the film's interrogation well-known scene. Frank and raw dialogue, such as this much-quoted line reprised at the end of the film ("How about we f--k like minks, raise rug rats, and live happily ever after"), was woven throughout.

Womens' groups called the film misogynistic, and gay-rights groups in San Francisco (including The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)) called it stereotypically-homophobic and gay-bashing. They charged that the main murderess suspect in the film was a denegrating portrayal since she was a mentally-unstable, psychotic lesbian and bi-sexual that was potentially homicidal. Activists groups such as Queer Nation and ACT-UP protested at multiple San Francisco shooting locations, chanting "Hollywood, you stink" and they attempted to disrupt filming.

The opening scene of a naked couple engaged in rough sex in a mirrored boudoir included views from all angles (and a reflection in a ceiling mirror) of a couple making love - the unidentified female was atop rock star Johnny Boz (Bill Cable), and elements of S&M were revealed when she tied his arms to the bedpost - before stabbing him to death with an icepick. Sharon Stone starred as bisexual authoress Catherine Trammel who became a murder suspect (known for using an ice pick in her writings), and was investigated by detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas).

The sexually-charged film featured the taunting femme fatale predator with an insatiable sexual appetite and possibly homicidal tendencies. She matter-of-factly flirted and manipulatively toyed with the libidos and sexual appetites of the middle-aged men in a police station room. The suspect brazenly talked about sex, smoked (in a no-smoking area), and uncrossed and re-crossed her legs while wearing a short white mini-dress (without panties). She tersely revealed her past sexual activities with the victim and played sex games with their minds. After admitting to cocaine use with the dead Mr. Boz, she surprised the audience by directing a provocative, follow-up question toward Nick: "Have you ever f--ked on cocaine, Nick?" She smiled and revealingly uncrossed her legs (removing her left leg from atop her right leg), flashing her panty-less private parts at him. And then she re-crossed her legs in the opposite direction, crossing her right leg atop her left.

At her home, Catherine Trammel flaunted her bisexuality when she introduced her lesbian girlfriend to Nick. She kissed her consort Roxy (Leilani Sarelle), fondled her nipple, and then stood with her arm around her, asking: "You two have met, haven't you?" Then came a provocative three-some scene at a crowded nightclub disco (between the lesbian lovers Catherine and Roxy) - and an aroused Nick voyeuristically watching them as they touched and French-kissed and then also watched them from outside a nightclub toilet stall.

Later on the dance floor, Catherine (with a beguiling look) turned with her back toward Roxy, permitting her female lover to touch her breasts. In an instant, Catherine left Roxy, presumably to provoke and enflame the jealousy of her female lover. Catherine's live-in lover must resort to dancing with a black man. Catherine became Nick's dance partner - he rubbed her butt against his crotch. He turned her, suddenly grabbed her ass, pressed her toward himself, and then started kissing her on her neck and lips. Feverishly, they consumed each other in the middle of the writhing, turning bodies of other dancers.

The scene immediately transitioned to the infamous, intimate, graphic, roughhouse sex scene between Nick and Catherine in her mansion in San Francisco. Afterwards, he was astonished to learn that Roxy had been encouraged to watch Catherine's heterosexual couplings with men.

The film was also criticized for its rough, forceful near-rape sex scene between detective Curran and his police psychologist 'girlfriend' Dr. Beth Garner (Jeanne Tripplehorn) when he ripped off her clothes and took her from behind. Back at Beth's apartment in her living room, Nick took out his sexual aggression against her. He immediately forced himself on her, pinning her arms up on the wall, kissing her forcefully, and ripping her dress open in the front. In the misogynistic, near-rape scene, he lustfully pushed his hands under her bra, scooped out her breasts, and kissed her even harder. Then he aggressively draped her over the sofa as she protested: "Nick, stop, no!" He pulled off his own pants and animalistically entered her from behind, climaxing quickly.

Although it appeared that the case was solved and Dr. Garner was implicated (although she might have been framed?), the final scene extended the ambiguity of Catherine's murderous instincts.

As Nick and Catherine made love in his bedroom, they kissed each other, and she rolled atop him. As in all their other amorous couplings, she straddled him, stretched back, and began rocking back and forth on his hips. As she climaxed, she reached back, and then suddenly came down on top of him - her whole body stretched across his - he remained motionless. Was he alive? Had he been pierced with an icepick?

Not yet. As Catherine and Nick kissed with more and more passion, the camera slowly descended down her side of the bed. When it lowered to the floor, the camera came to rest with a close-up of the murder weapon - a thin, steel-handled icepick.

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

Previous Page Next Page