EJ Moreno on the most shocking movies of all time…
What is the most shocking film of all time? That feels like a loaded question, with so much going into what makes something “shocking” and what is everyone’s limit for insanity. Using 2018’s The House That Jack Built as an example, that film depicts heinous acts of violence with sexuality and nihilism sprinkled throughout the runtime. It caused mass walkouts during its film festival debut and pissed off critics and conservative filmgoers. That is the type of buzz needed to find its way on this list; a film should test the viewer in many ways, crossing genres lines to explore your cinematic limitations.
You won’t see anything like 50 Shades, Hostel, or even The Human Centipede on this list. I traversed through the strangest selections of films, also looking at which pieces were banned in most countries, to complete this. This collection of movies and their briefs descriptions should be enough of shock; so much that you’d never want to watch these disgusting pieces of cinema. For the faint of heart, I am your filth conduit, allow me to venture into this for you. And for the more desensitized reader, use this as a way to expand your selection of must-see shocking movies.
– The House That Jack Built (2018)
– Requiem For A Dream (2000)
– Kids (1995)
10. Pink Flamingos (1972)
If John Waters’ Pink Flamingos comes in at ten on a list, you know the movies are going to get strange. The proclaimed “exercise in poor taste” feels like watching the most unusual documentary about drag queens and murder; director John Waters and his crew going for realism, while never forgetting to have fun while doing it. The plot of the film is enough to place it on this list: two groups, one featuring the iconic Divine, are battling to be the filthiest person alive. No matter who wins, we lose.
9. August Underground (Film Series)
With this grotesque film series, it was hard to include just one entry on this list. Each is just as depraved as the one before it; even placing this franchise on the list is hard as it is far less cinematic as the rest. While others still want to give you a “movie” experience, August Underground strives for the reality. Out of any films here, I recommend this one the least as it bothers me more than any other entry. Something about the realistic gore and low-budget filming gets under my skin.
8. Nekromantik (1987)
Nekromantik is one of the most banned films of all time. The ban list includes countries like Iceland, Norway, Malaysia, Singapore, and the provinces of Nova Scotia and Ontario in Canada. The banning makes sense as the film is one of the most shocking and filthiest of all time. Necrophilia is such a casual topic during Nekromantik that you start to question who would even come up with something like this. Thankfully German filmmaker Jörg Buttgereit had the nerve to cross every line ever!
7. Martyrs (2008)
If you are looking for a bleak film, Martyrs should place at the top of your list. Two young women’s quest for revenge for their abuse leads them down a path that you continuously want to avoid. It isn’t until one of the women is systematically tortured in an attempt to make her a martyr like Jesus Christ that you know it’s too far gone. 2008’s Martyrs pushes you mentally, draining you by the time credits roll. Not shocking that this New French Extremity masterpiece took so much heat from France’s film board.
6. Come And See (1985)
War films, by nature, are intense and bleak. But none feel as depressed as Come And See. This 1895 Soviet film drains you with its brutal and real depiction of World War II. Think of it as the saddest moments in Schindler’s List mixed with the intro of Saving Private Ryan. And just like those films, Come And See is hailed as a classic in many regards. It might be the most esteemed entry on this list with the filmmakers even trying to get this to the Academy Awards. Not shockingly, it never made it.
5. Antichrist (2009)
Lars Von Trier makes movies that are perfect for a list of shocking film. If it’s the five-hour sex epic Nymphomaniac or the aforementioned his newcomer, the director knows the art of shock and awe. Antichrist is beautifully filmed, like most of his work, but the film’s depiction of sex, violence, and grief shake you to your core. The production took place during the darkest point in Lars Von Trier’s life. You feel it as the piece is brutal, with no sign of happiness. Also, includes body mutilation, so there’s that.
4. Irreversible (2002)
Each of Gaspar Noe’s five films could’ve placed here. Every last one of them is shocking, disturbing, or a real challenge to watch; but Irreversible is his magnum opus. This 2003 film is probably one of the most nihilistic of all time, with Noe’s I Stand Alone coming in close, and you feel the hate for humanity in every scene. It doesn’t help there is an extended sexual assault segment, which is followed up by brutal violence. You will need a long shower after seeing Irreversible.
3. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Cannibal Holocaust is a rite of passage for many film viewer. Not only did it pioneer the found footage genre, but it is the gateway drug for people looking to explore transgressive movies. For decades, the treatment and legend of Cannibal Holocaust made it feel like an urban legend. Real violence, real criminal investigation, and some messed up moments; you either seek this movie or avoid it like the plague.
Fun Fact: FM Editor-in-Chief Gary Collinson credits this as his most shocking film of all time!
2. Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
If something offends or shocks you, you will find it in Salo. The source material, a 1785 novel, is painfully adapted with no taboo left untouched and every viewer finding something that upsets them. The plot centers around the systematic torture of teens by rich people that includes sexual violence, incest, and a gang of other things. A film like this to come out in 1975 that pulls no punches in regards to offensive moments; that’s almost as shocking as what happens in the movie.
1. A Serbian Film (2010)
The current reigning shock king, A Serbian Film has quite the legend surrounding it. For many years, people treated this like the “Holy Grail” of poor taste; hardcore film lovers would go extreme lengths just for an uncut copy of A Serbian Film. Something about this film and how it pushes the limits, limits you didn’t know existed, deserves significant praise. Even if the movie is vile, it’s quite the cinematic achievement and easily earns the title of the most shocking film of all time.