The 100+ Most Controversial
Films of All-Time


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

Boxing Helena (1993)
D. Jennifer Chambers Lynch

Both Madonna and Kim Basinger bailed on Jennifer Lynch's perverse story of a sexually-troubled surgeon who tames his bitchy dream girl by amputating her limbs.

25 year-old writer/director Jennifer Chambers Lynch's (David Lynch's daughter) directorial debut film was an erotic, R-rated (originally NC-17), provocative and disturbing psychosexual work that was decried by feminists. The critics compared it to Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) remade by Zalman (''Wild Orchid'') King.

To illustrate the conflicting views on the film, however, it won the Razzie Award for Worst Director, and also was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize (for Dramatic Film) by the Sundance Film Festival.

This controversial, misogynistic film was originally contracted with Madonna and then Kim Basinger as the star, and settled by a multi-million dollar lawsuit in favor of the producer Carl Mazzocone when Basinger backed out. A Superior Court jury in Los Angeles ordered Basinger to pay $8.92 million for failing to appear in the movie ("breach of contract") and other punitive damages on the eve of its production, brought by the movie's producer, Carl Mazzocone, president of Main Line Pictures. Basinger was facing bankruptcy, although the ruling was overturned ("reversed in full") on appeal in 1994.

It followed the obsession of brilliant Atlanta surgeon Dr. Nick Cavanaugh (Julian Sands) who had a promiscuous and uncaring blonde-haired mother named Marion (Meg Register) who simultaneous teased, ignored and tormented him as a young boy. He developed problems with premature ejaculation before he became entranced by his vivacious, unattainable, bitchy and libertine neighbor Helena (Sherilyn Fenn). Cavanaugh was able to experience a brief one-night affair with her in the past, but couldn't fathom being without his lustful desires for her after peeping at her through her window during a sensual evening tryst with her sleazy macho boyfriend Ray O'Malley (Bill Paxton).

Following a party (in which she sensuously twirled around in slow-motion in his outdoor fountain while stripped down to her lingerie), she stormed away on foot from his palatial house. When there was a terrible hit-run vehicular accident outside on the street that struck her and ran over her legs, he took advantage of her.

He performed surgery and made her a 'Venus de Milo' amputee (metaphorically and physically) by first removing her damaged legs and then her arms to imprison her. To cover up his atrocious entrapment, he quit his hospital job, cut off all contact with the outside world, and attended to his imprisoned possession. Although still captive and dependent, she would continue to scorn and emasculate him with denouncements of his manhood, but eventually taught him (when she acquired limbs in a dream sequence) how a woman should be loved.

However, the entire sequence of his imprisonment of his captive, dismembered quadruple amputee female companion was revealed to be a dream that was imagined during the six hours of Helena's surgery -- Nick suddenly awoke in the hospital's waiting room. In flashback, Nick was shown rushing Helena to the hospital with a medical response team and waiting for her recovery by her bedside. His final voice-over was: "I am still haunted by my love, by my dreams."

Bandit Queen (1994, India/UK)
D. Shekhar Kapur

Indian censors deplored the nudity and violence in this biopic about Phoolan Devi, who overcame rape, child marriage and false imprisonment to become a politician.

This Bollywood biodrama (in Hindi with subtitles) told the true-life legendary story of indomitable female folk outlaw-heroine Phoolan Devi (portrayed by Seema Biswas), nicknamed "The Goddess of Flowers." In real-life, the "bandit queen" negotiated her surrender in 1983 to avoid the death sentence, and was imprisoned (without trial) for eleven years. [She ran for Parliament in 1996 and was assassinated in New Delhi, India in 2001 when she was just 37, reportedly to avenge the Behmai Massacre.]

The story of her life was loosely based upon Devi's "dictated prison diaries," taken by London writer and TV researcher Mala Sen and compiled into her book: India's Bandit Queen: The True Story of Phoolan Devi. The feature film was financed by Britain's Channel Four, who hired Mala Sen to write the draft screenplay. Bandit Queen received critical acclaim at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival, and at the 1995 New Directors New Films Festival in New York, although some were dismayed by a graphic rape scene. Criticisms made against the film accused it of exploiting the rape-and-retribution theme to sell tickets.

Due to its controversial nature, consciousness-raising and powerful indictment of Indian society (for its sexism, ritual misogyny, and the inequalities of the caste system), court action to stop the film from being released in India (due to its nudity, sex, and violence) was launched by activists, led by Arundhati Roy. Devi herself issued her own lawsuit in an effort to prevent its release, although she apparently withdrew her objections after Channel 4 paid her £40,000.

The film opened with a quote from the Manu Smriti, a book of Hindu religious scriptures: "Animals, drums, illiterates, low castes and women are worthy of being beaten." The first words in the film were spoken by an adult Phoolan Devi speaking directly at the camera: "I am Phoolan Devin, you sisterf--kers!" Even at the age of 11, she voiced her opinion about men: "All men are motherf--kers."

It portrayed many scenes of her continued rape and sexual humiliation in her society. As a lower-caste Indian girl born into the mallah (boatman) caste, she was married off at age 11 (Sunita Bhatt), and repeatedly raped and ill-treated by her older abusive husband. Eventually, she left him and returned to her family (abandoning her husband was a serious taboo) - an action that caused her to be regarded as a loose woman and fair game. She became defiant against forced female subservience, which led to her banishment as a shunned social outcast from her patriarchal-based village.

After being arrested for thievery (framed for a robbery), she was raped and beaten in prison. Next, she was taken away (some say kidnapped) by a local gang of bandits (dacoits) and again, raped, but won the respect and love of the gang's second-in-command leader Vikram Mallah Mastana (Nirmal Pandey). He became her lover and eventually made her co-leader (with mythical resemblances to Bonnie and Clyde and Robin Hood tales as they ransacked numerous higher-caste villages and landowners and shared the loot with the poor). During an attack on her estranged husband's village, Devi assaulted her ex-husband.

When jealous upper-caste Thakurs returned to take control of the bandit gang, they killed Mallah, gang-raped Devi (for three-days), and forced her to walk naked through the village's main streets to fetch water from the well. After recovering, she became part of a new gang. Her retaliatory vengeance (she was now known as "the bandit queen") took the form of a brutal massacre that killed 22 upper caste Thakur men in Behmai (in Uttar Pradesh) where she had previously been gang-raped. She surrendered to authorities in 1983 - which was where the film ended. Her last defiant words in the film were again repeated, this time as a young girl: "I am Phoolan Devi, you sisterf--kers." The film's postscript noted that in 1993, a government of lower castes that came to power in Uttar Pradesh withdrew all 55 charges against her, including 22 charges of murder. She was released from jail in 1994 under heavy security.

Natural Born Killers (1994)
D. Oliver Stone

Directed by Oliver Stone from a Quentin Tarantino script, this brutal look at sexual obsession and trash media was blamed for inspiring real-life murders.

Oliver Stone's film (from a Quentin Tarantino original script), a modern update and remake similar in theme to Terrence Malick's Badlands (1973), was a visually-riveting, controversial, anarchic and brutal film about media sensationalism and obsession. The tagline for the film was: "THE MEDIA MADE THEM SUPERSTARS." It was portrayed with an eclectic style mix (of 35mm, Super-8, animation, and back projection), including a fast MTV-style with color-switching, skewed camera angles, quick-cut editing, a loud rock soundtrack, and various special effects.

Stone admitted that the film's violent content (with a total of 29 killings by the male protagonist and 14 by the female) was influenced by a number of media-sensationalized incidents in the early 1990s, including the Menendez Brothers' 1989 murder of their parents (and their trial in 1993), the 1991 LAPD-Rodney King beating, the deadly 1993 Waco Texas siege on the Branch Davidian compound, the early 1994 attack of figure skater Tanya Harding on competitor Nancy Kerrigan, and the OJ Simpson case (the murder occurred in the summer of 1994).

Its story was about two serial killer-lovers and white-trash outlaws (modern-day Bonnie & Clyde) during a three-week orgy of killing:

  • abused Mallory Knox (Juliette Lewis)
  • psychotic Mickey (Woody Harrelson) - inspired by real-life spree killer Charles Starkweather, who went on a violent, cross-country (Route 666) Southwestern random murder joyride

After the film's introductory sequence in which Mallory and Mickey slaughtered most of the redneck patrons in a New Mexico diner, the married couple fled into the desert where Mallory had a disturbing flashback of her abusive home life when the two first met. It was portrayed as a situation-comedy fantasy parody called "I Love Mallory" (with a canned laughter track) about a dysfunctional family, similar to All in the Family or Married With Children. It featured comic Rodney Dangerfield as Mallory's perverted, sexually-abusive, beer-drinking dad Ed Wilson.

He often threatened molestation, called her a "stupid bitch," and grabbed her butt ("If your ass is in this house, it's my ass"). Her neglectful "old bag" mother (Edie McClurg) was also constantly intimidated by Ed. Mallory instantly fell in love with delivery-man Mickey when he came to the door, hauling in his arms a 50-lb. "big filet." They went on a joy-ride in Ed's stolen car. Soon after, Mickey returned to rescue Mallory, and there was a dual death scene of them both murdering Mallory's parents. Mickey struck Ed in the face with a crowbar, dunked his head into a fish-tank to drown him, and struck him unconscious. Then they gagged and bound Mallory's mother in her bed, and burned her alive after dousing her with charcoal lighter fluid and setting her on fire. During their flight, they married atop the Rio Grande Gorge bridge.

Self-serving TV tabloid show host/reporter Wayne Gale (Robert Downey, Jr.) made them famous celebrities for his sensationalist "American Maniacs" show. During a prison interview with Gale, Mickey admitted to his one true calling in life: "S--t man, I'm a natural born killer." In the shocking ending, when the two were imprisoned and being moved from jail to a mental hospital, they incited a riot, and in the midst of chaos and a bloody massacre, they escaped with Gale to a rural setting. There as Gale's camera was rolling, they shot him dead.

The extremely violent film with surreal images was lambasted as "evil" and "loathsome" for its hypocritical violence-soaked satire on the media's glorification of violence. It was subjected to numerous edits (4 minutes worth of footage) and cuts (reportedly 150) by the MPAA at the time of release (now restored in Stone's longer 'Director's Cut' version for the home video market, that was licensed to a third party) to achieve an R-rating from its original NC-17 rating.

Its public screening in the UK was delayed, because the film had instigated or 'inspired' murderous copycat shooting sprees in the US (including the Columbine High School Massacre) by those who viewed the protagonists as glamorous and romantic folk heroes -- similar to what happened after the release of Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971).

The parents of paralyzed Patsy Byers, a 1995 victim of teen lovers (Ben Darras and Sarah Edmondson) in Louisiana, took expensive legal action against Stone and Warners, but the case was ultimately dismissed in 2001. In a failed civil suit, lawyer/novelist John Grisham publically supported the prosecution's case, and accused Stone's film of being a 'faulty' or 'defective' product. He claimed that there was a 'causal link' between the film and various murders - he argued that Stone was legally accountable for inspiring real-life murders.

[Scriptwriter Quentin Tarantino had already made his blood-soaked Reservoir Dogs (1992), his feature-film debut with a memorable razor-ear slashing, and would follow up with other brutally-violent films - his hallmark or trademark. His works included Pulp Fiction (1994), Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003), Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004), Grindhouse (2007), and the slave-bounty hunter tale Django Unchained (2012).]

Kids (1995)
D. Larry Clark

A realistic look at drugging, hook-ups and frank sex talk among alienated teens, photographer Larry Clark's movie was labeled salacious and pedophilic.

Director Larry Clark's much-criticized dark cinema verite independent docudrama was a well-needed realistic tale about drugs, amorality, sex, obscene talk, and generally decadent behavior among teenaged youth. Clark's first feature film was one of the most truthful films about promiscuous, sexually-pleasurable and fulfilling but emotionless and empty teenage (and pre-teen) sexuality - with lethal high-risk consequences. However, others criticized it as salacious, sleazy and bordering on child pornography with lots of raunchy talk and simulated sex - disguised as a cautionary documentary.

It was released unrated to avoid the stigma of an NC-17 rating. As a buffer against the furor, Miramax (owned by Disney at the time) created a new entity, Shining Excalibur Pictures, to release the picture. It was also banned by Warner Bros from its cinemas throughout Britain upon release. Clark's next controversial films, Bully (2001) and Ken Park (2002), followed similar white teens and authentically explored their sexuality and amoral lifestyles.

In the opening scene, skinny, and callous 17 year-old skateboarder Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick) easily seduced 12 year-old Girl # 1 (Sarah Henderson). He asked: "Know what I want to do?" with the girl's blunt answers: "You want to f--k me. But you can't f--k me...You know why...'Cause I don't want no baby." He reassured her that he loved her before deflowering her: "'Cause I like you. I think you're beautiful. And I think if we f--ked, you'd love it. You wouldn't believe it....I don't know. I just think you would love it, that's all... I just want to make you happy, that's all. You know it won't hurt. I'll be gentle, I promise." In voice-over, as they made love amidst moans and grunts - and her complaints that it hurt, he stated: "Virgins. I love 'em. No diseases, no loose as a goose pussy, no skank, no nothin'. Just pure pleasure."

Afterwards, he crudely bragged about his insensitive behavior to his slacker pal Casper (Justin Pierce): "I'm the motherf--kin' virgin surgeon....Once it was on, we f--ked for like a good half an hour. I had to keep taking it out and putting it back in. It hurt the first time. Didn't want to come too quick either...That bitch was so clean, dude...I think I'm getting addicted to this s--t...It's all I think about now." Casper asked: "Hey Telly, she suck your d--k, man?" Telly answered: "A little bit, but I really didn't want her to...Having a virgin suck your d--k, that's so basic, man. It's simple, it's easy. But like, if you deflower a girl, man, ah, man, you're the man! No one can ever do that again. You're the only one. No one has the power to do that again."

The naturalistic film followed a group of sex-obsessed teenagers and preteens during 24 hours of a hot Manhattan summer, in which they partied at a friend's flophouse, shoplifted beer at a convenience store, watched skateboarding videos, smoked dope, got into a fight in the park, and bragged about deflowering as many new girls as possible. In a parallel scene of girlfriends, 16 year-old Jenny (young Chloe Sevigny), who had been devirginized earlier by Telly (her only instance of unprotected vaginal intercourse), told her promiscuous 17 year old friend Ruby (Rosario Dawson) that she was upset that she had been insensitively used, like so many others. Ruby stated the obvious: "There's a difference between making love, having sex, and then f--king."

From experience, Telly explained how he had to give a sweet-talk spiel to his female victims: "You got to be smooth. Girls like it slow and romantic." Both groups talked about foreplay, orgasms, blow-jobs, and condom use, and it was mistakenly thought that making love with virgins would keep one safe from becoming HIV-positive and AIDS-infected.

However, results of a blood test determined that Jenny's sole sexual contact with Telly was damaging, and that she was HIV-positive, while Ruby was found to be "clean." Distraught, Jenny was determined to track down the predatory Telly, who had gone out with his friends - bringing along his latest female victim 13 year-old Darcy (Yakira Peguero). The group snuck into a fenced swimming pool area to go swimming in their underwear, before ending up at Steven's house party where kids were making out, smoking dope and drinking beer. At a rav party, Jenny was given an "euphoric blockbuster" pill before arriving at the house, where Telly was already seducing Darcy in the parents' bedroom with the same familiar lines. She came upon them having sex, with Darcy moaning in pain, and then passed out on a living room sofa.

The film concluded with a controversial rape scene in which hung-over Casper fondled, kissed, undressed, and then forcibly raped the unconscious, helpless Jenny (with her legs held up in the air) - possibly infecting himself. Although she weakly pleaded "no," he shushed her:("It's me Casper, don't worry"). Later, the camera panned over the many wasted teenaged bodies littering the floor of the house, including Telly in the arms of his latest conquest, as his voice spoke off-screen:

When you're young, not much matters. When you find something that you care about, then that's all you got. When you go to sleep at night, you dream of pussy. When you wake up, it's the same thing. It's there in your face. You can't escape it. Sometimes when you're young, the only place to go is inside. That's just it. F--kin' is what I love. Take that away from me, and I really got nothing.

Casper sat up the morning after and spoke directly toward the camera: "Jesus Christ, what happened?" as the film ended.

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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