The 100+ Most Controversial
Films of All-Time


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

Deep Throat (1972)
D. Gerard Damiano

The dirty movie that ushered in "porno chic," Deep Throat sparked heated debate and precedent-setting court cases that challenged assumptions about obscenity.

Unintended for mainstream audiences, this notorious X-rated porn flick from writer/director Gerard Damiano became one of the decade's top-grossing films, and the most influential and successful (and profitable) of all films of its kind. Deep Throat was filmed in 6 days for $25,000 (some sources reported $50,000) and was subsequently banned in 23 US states.

It was an 'event' film - a hard-core stag film that was OK to see on a date or in mixed company, yet it was banned in many localities as obscene. It inaugurated a period known as "Porno Chic" - it was the first cross-over adults-only film that became a hit. After its initial period of release (at a time of sexual revolution), it became a cultural phenomenon and it was fashionable to talk about the film (and its educationally feminist theme of female sexual gratification) or make references to it (such as Watergate's 'Deep Throat'). It brought adult movies into the popular culture.

This hour-long, revolutionary X-rated film (shot in about a week's time, with graphic enactments of oral, vaginal and anal sex, group sex, and masturbation in a dozen and a half sex scenes) told a simplistic plot (with some comic elements) about a sexually frustrated woman (Linda Lovelace, born Linda Susan Boreman) who wanted to "hear bells" during sex. Her doctor, Dr. Young (Harry Reems, born Herbert Streicher) discovered that her clitoris was located in her throat, and that she would have to experiment with various clients before experiencing orgasm -- this ultimately led to her sexual fulfillment accompanied by fireworks, rockets blasting and ringing bells.

Years after the film was screened, Lovelace denounced the film, claiming that she was drugged, coerced and raped during filming and that "there was a gun to my head the entire time". In the mid-70s, actor Reems was prosecuted by the federal government (under the Nixon administration) on obscenity charges - a first - although later overturned, and the film was championed by Hollywood and other intellectuals for its liberated defense of First Amendment rights.

An R-rated documentary film titled Inside Deep Throat (2005) examined the film's production history and impact on American culture, including interviews with both the director and male star Harry Reems.

Another dramatic production, titled Lovelace (2013), portrayed the dual perspectives that adult star and sexual freedom icon Linda Lovelace (played by 27 year old Amanda Seyfried) (later known as Linda Marchiano) brought to the film. Depending on the time period of her life, she either embraced the porn film - or rallied against it and became an activist leader in the anti-pornography movement.

The Last House on the Left (1972)
D. Wes Craven

Wes Craven transformed Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring, a fable about rape, revenge and redemption, into a crude, taboo-breaking shocker.

This low-budget, crude, taboo-breaking and often revolting 'snuff'-type horror film was Wes Craven's debut feature film and a loose remake of Ingmar Bergman's Oscar-winning The Virgin Spring (1960, Swe.). A toned-down version of the film as remade in 2009 by director Dennis Iliadis, with Craven as producer.

The film faced censorship difficulties everywhere, but especially in the UK, where an uncut version of the DVD is still unavailable. The grainy, hand-held 16 mm footage accentuated the realism and horror without glamorization - and led to intense criticism for its graphic depiction of violence and disquieting, exploitative nature (the film tried to defuse the horror by claiming: "It's only a movie"). Craven insisted that the film's painful and protracted violence was "a reaction on my part to the violence around us, specifically to the Vietnam War."

It told about the long and upsetting ordeal of two teenaged girls who were raped and tortured in backwoods - including chest-carving with a knife, forced lesbian sex and disembowelment (with bloody intestines pulled out):

  • Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassell), a 17 year-old birthday girl
  • Phyllis Stone (Lucy Grantham)

Both females were searching for pot on their way to a Blood Lust rock concert when kidnapped by a group of escaped and degenerate convicts led by Krug Stillo (David Hess). In one disturbing and humiliating scene after they were taken to a woodsy area, blue-wearing Phyllis was forced to urinate with her clothes on ("Piss (in) your pants...Do it!"). The camera panned down, showing her wettened blue-jeans. Then, they was stripped naked and forced to have oral sex with each other ("Make them make it with each other!"). The girls went ahead, rationalizing: "lt's just you and me here. Nobody else. Just you and me, okay?" Psychopathic, sadistic gang member Sadie (Jeramie Rain) also performed oral sex on Mari.

Phyllis made a run for it, but was cornered, stabbed in the back by deviant Fred "Weasel" Podowski (Fred Lincoln) and then dis-emboweled (after repeated stabbings) and butchered, after which Sadie reached in and pulled out her gooey intestines to examine them. Phyllis' left hand and half of her forearm were amputated (off-screen). Meanwhile, red-wearing Mari had Krug's name carved into her upper chest and was then brutally raped (as he drooled onto her face). She vomited and then walked dazedly into a nearby pond to half-submerge and cleanse herself. Krug shot and killed her there, and she floated on the water's surface.

This ugly scene was intercut with views of 'surprise party' preparations for Mari by her parents John and Estelle Collingwood (Gaylord St. James and Cynthia Carr). Ironically, in a later scene, the escaped convicts took refuge in the home of the upscale small-town parents, the hospitable Collingwoods - where there was animalistic payback revenge/slaughter of the gang.

Father's Pursuit of Krug with Chainsaw

In grotesque sequences of ultra-violent revenge, the father semi-electrocuted Krug, chipped out his teeth out with a chisel (in a dream sequence) and pursued him with a chainsaw and killed him (off-screen, evidenced by blood splatter).

Meanwhile outdoors, the mother cleverly enticed gang member "Weasel" to have sex (she had also convinced him to have his hands tied behind his back) - he told her: "Now you just unzip me, and that's all l'll need you for." At first, his penis ("little thing...poor little fellow") became caught in his zipper and he was unresponsive, but as she touched him more and more, he warned: "lf you don't watch it, l'm gonna come." She urged: "Please come then, sweetie." He asked: "Don't you want me to do you good and proper?" - she replied: "You can do both, can't you?" - he boasted: "Hell, yeah! I can come five or six times if you want me to." She sank down to crotch-height, and as he was climaxing, she viciously bit off and dismembered his penis. After returning home, she fought off Sadie with a knife, and then was able to slash her throat with the weapon in the pool.

Weasel Fellated and Then Castrated

Sadie Slashed to Death with Knife in Pool

Last Tango in Paris (1972, Fr./It.) (aka Ultimo Tango a Parigi)
D. Bernardo Bertolucci

Art or pornography: That was the question raised by Bernardo Bertolucci's juxtaposition of lust and despair, starring Hollywood icon Marlon Brando.

Bertolucci's film was a landmark, controversial erotic film with raw (yet simulated) sexual scenes and primitive force - critics and audiences alike asked - was it erotic art or pornography? It was noteworthy as the first "mainstream" film to carry the dreaded "X" rating, due mostly to the fact that the film featured a major star who had sex throughout the entire movie. Brando and director Bertolucci were both nominated for Oscars in the highly-acclaimed and debated cinematic work - a classic piece of art-house cinema.

In 1974, it became the first film to be prosecuted under Britain's Obscene Publications Act - and the sodomy scene was ordered deleted. The film was available in a censored R-rated version in 1981 (with modifications mostly to the anal-sex butter scene), and as an uncut X-rated (or NC-17) version. [When re-released in 1997, the MPAA re-rated the film as NC-17.] In the director's own country, the film was seized and banned, and charged for its "obscene content offensive to public decency." In the mid-70s, it was permanently banned in Italy (with all prints seized), its stars and director were condemned, and Bertolucci was given a 4-month suspended prison sentence.

In the film's story, a distraught, confused, grieving widower and middle-aged (45 years old), overweight American exile Paul (Marlon Brando) - after his wife's recent suicide - plunged into a sado-masochistic, physical (yet impersonal and basically anonymous) relationship with young, full-breasted 20 year-old Parisienne ingenue Jeanne (Maria Schneider). She was a proper bourgeois, yet free-spirited female who was engaged to be married, but nonetheless accepted his prurient sexual demands. Paul's gutter-language and set of 'no questions asked' rules was notable for the time: "We are going to forget everything we knew - everything" - and their relationship became increasingly more vile, slavish, empty, humiliating, and unromantic (i.e., "You know in 15 years, you're going to be playing soccer with your tits. What do you think of that?")

The film outraged some viewers for Paul's scatological monologues, a full-body panning shot up Jeanne's body in an elevator, including a full-frontal closeup shot of Jeanne's pubic hair. Also, it was notorious for its bathtub washing scene and the disturbing and explicit anal sodomy scene on the floor using butter as a lubricant during intercourse (with his command: "Go get the butter"). She passively acquiesced to rape and forced sodomy in the empty, rented apartment, as he forced her to repeat phrases such as: "the will is broken by repression." His emphasis was on pure sex, basically anal - a reversal of conventional romantic love. Later, Paul reciprocated by letting Jeanne penetrate him anally with her fingers - part of his objective to "look death right in the face...go right up into the ass of death... till you find the womb of fear."

But then she abandoned the apartment and they broke up. Their previous secretive and mostly sexual affair was over, but Paul insisted that a new one was beginning, although she wished to break off their relationship and didn't want to see him again. He wanted to resume everything, since he had fallen in love with her: "There's nothing to understand. We left the apartment, and now we begin and love all the rest of it." He told her some details of his brutalized life, things that he had withheld from her in the past: "Yeah, listen. I'm 45. I'm a widower. I own a little hotel. It's kind of a dump, but not completely a flop house. Then I used to live on my luck and I got married, and my wife killed herself." Their original relationship had lost its anonymity, which she thought had been preferable: "It's better not knowing anything."

He chased her back to her mother's Parisian apartment. He playfully donned her late father's Army cap (he was a colonel in French North Africa). When he removed it and confessed his love for her while approaching ("And now I've found you. And I love you. I wanna know your name"), she was horrified and fearful. Suddenly a shot rang out - she spoke her name "Jeanne" at the same moment he was shot point-blank in the stomach. Paul staggered to the balcony where he collapsed and died in a fetal position.

The camera tracked backwards to reveal the skyline, and Jeanne standing there with a revolver in her hand (her father's Army pistol from his military days). Dazed, Jeanne muttered the last lines of the film to herself (in French, translated below), rehearsing her lines that she would have to deliver to the police to explain his death (rationalizing and reassuring herself that it was self-defense when the stranger attempted to rape her):

"I don't know who he is. He followed me in the street. He tried to rape me. He's a lunatic. I don't know what he's called. I don't know his name. I don't know who he is. He tried to rape me. I don't know. I don't know him. I don't know who he is. He's a lunatic. I don't know his name."

Pink Flamingos (1972)
D. John Waters

Cult provocateur John Waters used bizarre, crude, tasteless and sexually grotesque images to challenge cultural mores in his first feature.

Director John Waters (known as the "Prince of Puke" or "Pope of Trash") produced a unique crop of intentionally bizarre, crude, sexually-grotesque, trashy and bad taste-laden cult films with eccentric oddball characters and harshly-vivid language. Almost his entire filmography is laced with unusual plot lines, freaky casts, larger-than-life performances and extremely grossed-out scenes that could be found nowhere else.

Waters faced criticism for pushing conventional boundary lines and exhibiting full-frontal nudity, and his outrageous films led to calls for censorship and outright banning. The sheer repulsiveness and infamy of Waters' films (this film was part of a "trash trilogy" composed of Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble (1974), and Desperate Living (1977)), however, made them campy midnight movie hits, and led to more mainstream future successes such as Polyester (1981) and Hairspray (1988). When this film was re-released in 1997, it was rated NC-17 by the MPAA.

Waters' unrated seminal film Pink Flamingos was one of the most outrageous and ultimate examples of 'poor-taste' - it contained incestuous oral sex (between Babs and her son Crackers), an illegal black-market adoption ring run by a rival couple: transgender blue-haired Raymond Marble (David Lochary) and red-haired Connie Marble (Mink Stole). The perverted money-making scheme was complete with kidnapped women caged in a basement during their forced pregnancies (insemination with sperm via a dispenser tube). There was also bestiality sex with live chickens crushed between Babs' delinquent son Crackers (Danny Mills) and Cookie (Cookie Mueller) as voyeuristic Cotton (Mary Vivian Pearce) looked on from a nearby window. Animal activist groups protested the revolting film for its treatment of chickens.

Its main story was about an unusual overweight transvestite trailer park matron-diva named Babs Johnson (played by Divine or Harris Glen Milstead). Other characters in her mobile-home trailer included Crackers (Danny Mills), Cotton (Mary Vivian Pearce) and her half-dressed, mentally-ill, brain-damaged, corpulent, and gap-toothed over-weight mother Edie (Edith Massey) who sat in a playpen crib, dressed like a baby and ate hard-boiled eggs all day long.

Shocking sequences included public urination by Babs, Babs' over-the-top birthday party scene featuring bizarre sex acts - including a topless woman (with pasties) dancing with a snake around her neck, and especially the close-ups of a contortionist's singing (opening and closing) anal sphincter, the murder and cannibalistic consumption of a quartet of policemen (reminiscient of Night of the Living Dead (1968)), the revelation of a trans-sexual's (Elizabeth Coffey, credited as "Chick with a Dick") male genitals in an outdoor park when flasher Raymond showed 'her' his penis.

Channing, who had kidnapped, held, and impregnated the women with his sperm in the basement as part of the Marbles' scheme, was castrated by one of the freed pregnant women in the basement ("I'm gonna cut that big fat worm right off you") (off-screen). Shortly later, Connie screamed when she saw that he had bled to death ("He's been castrated. His penis is gone!"). Babs vengefully kidnapped and held a trial (kangaroo court) of the Marbles for burning down her trailer, and for "first-degree stupidity" and "assholism." Babs delivered a stunning "filth politics" speech to TV and tabloid reporters, including Mr. John Vader who asked if blood was a turn-on: "It (blood) does more than turn me on, Mr. Vader. It makes me come. And more than the sight of it, I love the taste of it. The taste of hot, freshly killed blood...Kill everyone now! Condone first degree murder! Advocate cannibalism! Eat s--t! Filth are my politics! Filth is my life!" The bound-and-gagged couple were tied to a tree, coated in tar and feathers, and gunned down one-by-one in the head by Babs/Divine in front of the press - it was a 'live homicide.'

In the climactic ending scene, she literally ate real (and fresh) dog feces (termed coprophagia) in a competition to become the 'World's Filthiest Person Alive' - among other things.

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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