EJ Moreno looks at ten controversial movies and the drama around them…
What makes a movie controversial? Is it the buzz around the film, or what actually happens during its runtime? For this list, I’ll look at some of the most infamous movies ever and figure out what was the root of the conversations. Don’t expect anything like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Human Centipede on here – the films featured here are all backed with serious controversy…
The Birth of a Nation (1915) – Extreme Racism
One of the first major features released in the United States, Birth of a Nation is as problematic as problematic can get. From blackface to depicting the Klan as a group of heroes, D. W. Griffiths’ film was met with backlash the moment it was released. The director even made a follow-up where he addressed the controversies but made it clear it was not an apology to anyone offended. With all the drama surrounding this, even in 1915, it still led the film to impressive box-office numbers, estimated at grossing between $50-100 million.
Triumph of the Will (1934) – Nazi Propaganda
Filmmaker and Nazi sympathizer Leni Riefenstahl’s career never recovered after making Triumph of the Will. No one can deny the power of her films, something many claims as the “most effective propaganda films ever made.” But placing yourself in alignment with one of the world’s most disgusting humans is a sure-fire way to make everyone angry at you. Though Riefenstahl used filmmaker techniques that would be popularized afterwards, no amount of great cinematography could save this film from not being one of the most controversial of all time.
Song of the South (1946) – Disney’s Depiction of Slavery
Song of the South is one of Disney’s few truly controversial films. Yes, they’ve made some movies with dated views or insensitive characters, but none on the scale of this 1946 musical. At the time of the release, many came out against how they handled the Uncle Remus character, and how they depicted life on a plantation as something ideal. The film is nearly impossible to find now and banned for Disney+ streaming service. The drama around Song of the South is still going on, as Disney will remove one of its last connections to it when they redesign their iconic theme park ride Splash Mountain.
Deep Throat (1972) – Brought Pornography To The Mainstream
Never before was the world of pornography bigger than the original release of Deep Throat. The Linda Lovelace-led film was a massive success, known as one of the first adult films with a plot and production value. It crossed over into the mainstream and put a spotlight on the industry like never before. Everyone from Martin Scorsese to Spiro Agnew admitted to seeing it during its original run, making it one of the most popular films on the list. Sadly, the film gained extra controversy afterwards, as the film’s star went on to say she was sexually assaulted while making the movie.
Faces of Death (1978) – Showed Actual Violence & Gore
Faces of Death and its sequels are some of the most disgusting pieces of cinema put onto celluloid. 1978’s original film spawned a host of copy-cats and follow-ups, all of them trying to cash in on the pseudo-documentary’s shocking nature. Known for showing extreme violence against humans and animals, most of the videos included in this news-reel style feature were faked. Though, there’s allegedly a real death included in the film, which was taken from old news footage. Hyped as “banned in over 40 countries,” the film and its makers seemed to enjoy all the drama around it, though.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980) – Snuff Film Allegations
It’s fairly common for a film on this list to be investigated by someone, but none of the movies on here saw its director get arrested and accused of actually murdering his cast. That’s what happened to Cannibal Holocaust’s Ruggero Deodato as he was arrested shortly after the premiere for obscenity charges. Those soon turned into multiple counts of murder when rumors surfaced that the crew in his mockumentary was actually killed. Thankfully, no people were harmed (though animals weren’t so fortunate), but the film’s legacy still lives on to this day. The found-footage sub-genre wouldn’t be here today without this piece.
Guinea Pig: Flower of Flesh and Blood (1985) – FBI Investigation
Much like the previously mentioned Cannibal Holocaust, the second film in Japan’s Guinea Pig series is known for criminal investigations and more bans than you could imagine. The violence against women in the film upset many viewers, leading to the film getting pulled from home video release. It also didn’t help that it allegedly inspired a Japanese serial killer after he saw what happened in the film. That’s not all as American actor Charlie Sheen saw the movie once and turned it into the FBI as he believed it to be an actual snuff film. Now that’s controversy you couldn’t pay for these days.
Kids (1995) – Discussing HIV and Drug Use Among Minors
Director Larry Clark and writer Harmony Korine are known for their shocking movies, usually depicting sex and drugs in an incredibly frank matter. None have as much controversy around it though like their 1995 film Kids. The movie follows a group of young kids in New York as they navigate their way around the streets and their sexualities. From allegedly real drug use in the film to the young actors being filmed in compromising situations, it’s enough to make anyone viewer uncomfortable. Oh, and you can’t forget the fact that HIV/AIDS is a plot point in a movie that features 12-year-olds.
Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) – Fuelling September 11th Conspiracies
Not many modern documentaries had the power and influence of Fahrenheit 9/11. The Michael Moore-directed piece came three years after the September 11th terror attacks and offered a whole new perspective of that tragedy. Fuelled with hate for then-President George Bush, Moore held nothing back in this Palme d’Or winning doc. This film helped turn a lot of heads and began to make people question everything they’ve been told, though it wasn’t always met with happiness. It’s rare to see the Oscars straight-up “boo” someone at a show, but Moore wasn’t well-received in even the most “liberal” group.
The Interview (2014) – Led To The Infamous Sony Hack
A comedy like 2014’s The Interview wouldn’t normally get so much flack. Sure, some wouldn’t love the politically incorrect jokes normally found in a Seth Rogen movie, but one of these types of comedies don’t normally spark a straight-up global incident. The Interview went all-in the leader of North Korea, leading to a lot of backlash in the states and even more in the Asian country. This film’s release allegedly led to the Sony Pictures hack in 2014, where a group named Guardians of Peace leaked private emails from Sony staff. Yes, a low-brow comedy actually became a global hacking incident.
What do you think of this list? What is the most controversial movie of all time for you? Let us know your thoughts on social media @FlickeringMyth – and if you’d like to help us make our very own feature film (not quite as controversial as the ones on this list, but…), then please take a moment check out the crowdfunding campaign for The Baby in the Basket. We’re currently 101% funded(!!), and we’ve got a whole got a bunch of perks available, including producer credits, voice roles, on-screen thanks, physical and digital media and more!