Most Controversial Movies Of Recent Years
In its first 10 years, the 21st Century has already seen more than its fair share of controversial movies.
For your viewing pleasure (?) I've compiled a list of 18 films that generated controversy due to their content, subject matter and public reception. I've tried to avoid those films that were made solely for the sake of being controversial or extreme - so no Saw or Hostel movies, and with one exception no political movies that only sought to be divisive. Other films, like Angels & Demons and The DaVinci Code had some controversy around them, but that was mostly worn-out by the time the films were released.
Most of the movies on this list are horror films or thrillers, but many are dramas that explore touchy subjects. There are two documentaries, and quite a few European and Japanese films included. Many of the films listed were critically acclaimed, and a few even saw strong box-office results despite (and sometimes because of) their controversial nature.
Where applicable, I've included links to the movies on Amazon.com, though some are so controversial they aren't even available for purchase in the United States!
So here, in order of their release dates, is the list of the most controversial movies of the 21st century...
This French film, co-directed by Virginie Despentes and based on her novel of the same name, tells a tale of revenge and murder in the aftermath of a violent rape. Banned in Australia for being pornographic, the film's two lead actresses and the co-director, Coralie, are all adult film stars. The film is a statement of revenge by two outsiders against a society they feel has abandoned them at their time of greatest need. The violence and real sex scenes depicted in Baise-moi make for a nihilistic and highly controversial revenge/road movie.
Battle Royale (2000)
In this Japanese film set in the near future, the economy is in ruins and students are rioting. In an effort to combat the student violence, the government enacts the Battle Royale Act - a random class of ninth graders will be sent to a deserted island to fight each other to the death until only one remains alive. The graphic and brutal violence being committed by and against children nearly got the film banned in Japan, but ironically the efforts at banning it helped to make it one of the 10 highest grossing films in Japan. It was even nominated for multiple awards at the Japanese-equivalent to the Oscars and won the award for Most Popular Film.
Visitor Q (2001)
In this Japanese film directed by Takashi Miike, a failed television reporter decides to turn his own bizarre family into the newest reality TV sensation. This over-the-top film features incest, child prostitution, lactation fetishism, necrophilia, domestic violence, child murder, among other horrors. And did I mention that it's supposed to be a comedy?
"Dahmer" at Amazon.com
Actor Jeremy Renner stars as serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in this film written and directed by David Jacobson. The film controversially weaves the story of Dahmer's youth and several of his murders in a manner that makes the serial killer a sympathetic figure. The violence isn't gory, but it is disturbing, especially since the film strives to form a sympathetic connection between the audience and Dahmer. The film was nominated for several Independent Spirit Awards, and received only limited commercial release. According to Renner, his performance in this film led directly to director Kathryn Bigelow choosing him for the lead in the Oscar-nominated "The Hurt Locker".
In My Skin (2002)
In this French film, written and directed by Marina de Van, a seemingly normal young girl with a minor leg wound becomes more and more obsessed with the injury, to the point where she begins mutilating herself. As the main character becomes more and more alienated from the world, and eventually from herself, she performs truly gruesome acts on her own body. Though hard to watch, the film received critical acclaim for its intellectual exploration of violence.
This French film from writer director Gaspar Noé revolves around the revenge exacted upon a rapist by the victim's boyfriend and ex-lover. The story is told in reverse chronological order, which makes the nine minute long violent rape scene at the end of the film is all the more horrifying. The first thirty minutes of the film feature a high-pitched tone in the background, which was designed to create nausea and vertigo in the viewer - this was partially responsible for 200 of the 2,400 viewers of the film's premiere at Cannes to walk out of the cinema. The scenes of violent revenge, frequent nudity and explicit sex scenes leading up to the finale make watching this movie a deeply disturbing experience.
Ken Park (2002)
Directed by the always controversial Larry Clark (Kids, Wassup Rockers), Ken Park features brutal domestic violence, incest, graphic sex scenes and a storyline about a suicidal teen who takes part in auto-erotic asphyxiation. The combination of extreme brutality, un-simulated sex scenes featuring actors playing teenagers and pervasive swearing (over 100 occurrences of the F word) got it banned in Australia and make this one of Clark's more disturbing and controversial films. It is so controversial that it isn't even available on DVD in the U.S.
Director Lars Von Trier's controversial film stars Nicole Kidman as a young woman on the run in Depression-era Colorado. The town agrees to harbor her, but at a terrible price. This film was criticized by many as an anti-American tirade, and most viewers either despise or love this 3-hour long filmed stage play. Kidman's brutal treatment at the hands of the townspeople and several rape scenes make this one more in a long list of controverial films from Von Trier.
The Dreamers (2003)
From legendary Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci comes this story of young adults during the 1968 Paris student riots. Twin brother and sister cinephiles befriend an American student, and as the riots rage outside, the three engage in sexual and intellectual exploration. The film's frank sexuality, frequent nudity and implied incest gained it an NC-17 rating in US.
Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)
Director Michael Moore's documentary about the events leading up to the attacks of September 11 and the war in Iraq that followed was possibly the most controversial of Moore's films. It went on to become the highest grossing documentary ever made, and won the Palm D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The fact that it blatantly criticized a sitting president and a controversial war that was still being fought during an election year made it one of the most talked-about movies of the decade.
The Passion of the Christ (2004)
This film directed by Mel Gibson depicts the last days in the life of Jesus Christ. It was criticized by multiple Jewish groups for being anti-Semitic, and received a strong R rating for its graphic depiction of the scourging of Christ at the hands of the Romans. Despite the long, graphic and brutal scenes that take up a large part of the film and the fact that all of the dialog is spoken in Aramaic, Latin and Hebrew, the film went on to become the highest grossing R-rated movie in U.S. box office history. It was banned in several Middle Eastern countries and never released in Israel.
Hard Candy (2005)
This film, starring Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson - relative unknowns at the time - tells the story of a 14 year-old girl who holds a man she met online hostage in his home, believing he is a pedophile. The teen proceeds to mentally and physically torture the man, despite his insistence that he is innocent. The performance of Ellen Page is extraordinary - she is absolutely convincing as a 14 year-old, which makes the things she does to the Patrick Wilson character all the more disturbing.
John Cameron Mitchell directed this story about a New York City nightclub where the sexually confused congregate. The film shows the actors engaging in real - not simulated - sex acts throughout the movie as it attempts to reveal the characters' efforts to connect emotionally to each other. The film contains graphic scenes of both hetero- and homosexual sex.
Banned in Thailand for its violence, this French film written and directed by Xavier Gens tells the story of a gang of young thieves who flee Paris following violent political riots. Once "safe" in the countryside, they come to realize that the hosts of their bed and breakfast are actually neo-Nazis who want to use one of the young women as breeding stock for their new master Aryan race. The movie's intensity and extreme gore will surely disturb many viewers.
Funny Games (2007)
In this shot-for-shot remake of his own Austrian film, writer and director Michael Haneke attempts to criticize the way violence is depicted in modern media. The film begins with a short introduction to a married couple, played by Tim Roth and Naomi Watts, and their son settling into their vacation home. Two clean-cut young men unexpectedly show up and take the family hostage. The remainder of the film depicts the heartless and savage abuse of the family at the hands of their unlikely captors.
This film, written and directed by Deborah Kampmeier, became controversial even before it was completed. It tells the story of an Elvis-obsessed 12 year-old girl growing up poor in the 1960s South. The controversy revolves around a scene where the girl, played by child actress Dakota Fanning, is raped by a teenage boy as other children look on. As a result, the film received only limited commercial release and was not released on DVD until 2009.
This French film (À l'intérieur) is written and co-directed by Alexandre Bustillo offers only a few minutes of introduction before launching into a melee of intense violence and gore. It tells the story of a pregnant woman whose husband has recently died in a car accident. On Christmas Eve, a she prepares to go the hospital to give birth, a strange woman appears at her home and attempts to take her unborn child. Throughout the night, the stranger violently terrorizes the pregnant mother and kills anyone who attempts to come to her assistance.
"Zeitgesist" Preview on YouTube
Zeitgeist: The Movie (2007)
This controversial documentary examines the origins of religion (mostly Christianity), conspiracy theories surrounding the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the supposed efforts of the world's largest banks to take over the world. It raises strong reactions from those who believe the theories that it proposes, as well as those who do not believe them. Released directly on the Internet, the movie spread by word of mouth and most of the attention it received outside the Internet attacked its veracity.
Got A Suggestion?
Know of a movie that you think should be included? Leave a comment below with your own suggestions - just remember that these are movies released since 2000!
scentualhealing from Georgia on February 22, 2012:
wow thanks for the heads up
livelovelaugh5 on January 19, 2012:
Very disturbing movies. I think it'll be very hard to sit through most of these. Thanks for sharing though!
Andrew Armstrong from San Francisco, California on August 27, 2011:
I think that you could also probably list "Human Caterpillar" on your list as a highly controversial (and really, a needlessly disgusting) movie.
thomasczech from Canada on August 08, 2011:
Thanks for the list, I have seen some of them but not all.
daviddwarren22 on July 21, 2011:
Interesting hub about movies. You gathered and organized them well. Gonna watch 'The Movie'.:)
The Jet from The Bay on April 04, 2011:
Battle Royale was pretty sick -- in a good way.
funmontrealgirl from Montreal on March 20, 2011:
Voting this up.
LaurelB from Paducah, Kentucky on February 13, 2011:
I see you have the Haneke's remake of his own Funny Games on the list, but it doesn't exactly qualify: Funny Games was released in Europe in 1997. This version, as I understand it, is a shot-for-shot remake of that film; however, Funny Games should be recognized as belonging to the 90s, as it was more ahead of its time then than it is in the 21st century. One of Haneke's other controversial films, and one that fits into your list, is The Piano Teacher-- you should definitely look it up.
The Romanian "4 Weeks..." is another terribly disturbing movie that I, of course, think everyone should see.
Korsgaard on January 28, 2011:
Please take a look at my list as well:
As for yours, I recommend 'A Serbian Film' easily the most revolting movie from the last decade and has caused large outcries among critics and viewers.
sir slave from Trinity county CA. on January 28, 2011:
Dude, I'd like to follow you just for your name!
excellent choice! I like all the movies that you listed that i had seen. none of them are mainstream hollywood production(big surprise)
sometimes a concept or idea shows up in a mainstream film, but rarely a whole movie....I d say avatar was kinda in your face if your from the right!! which im not!
Brian from Northern Michigan Reed City on January 17, 2011:
I saw a few of the movies on your list. I saw Fahrenheit 911, and, that movie really made a lot of sense. Some of it kind of made me mad. The Bush Administration sure did a good job of fooling a good portion of American's into going to war for obvious reasons. It was very well done.
I also enjoyed Shortbus. Even though it was very sexually graphic, it was also quite interesting. It sure seams strange that our sexually informed society still can't figure itself out. Even a therapist has to learn.
As for another recommendation I would suggest checking out the documentary "Outrage" it is similar to Fahrenheit 911 as our government tries to cover up the lives of Closeted gay senators, and their mission to squash gay rights, such as gay marriage, even though they are helping certain senators cover up their gay lifestyles.
It's a real eye opener.
ranjeetrox on July 25, 2010:
Its a well written hub.
Skin Deep on July 08, 2010:
I am ashamed to say that I've only seen one of the movies you have listed (but I have several others in my Netflix que.)
mtsi1098 on July 08, 2010:
very interesting idea for a hub and good list of movies...
crymsonkyd on June 09, 2010:
I've seen Passion of the Christ, Funny Games, and Irreversible. Of the three, "Passion" is a great film that depicts the realism factore of Christ's brutal crucifiction.
It's sad that Shortbus got on this list, though. Mitchell is a little rich boy from Broadmoor, an exclusive neighborhood a stone's throw away from ghettoes in Colorado Springs. I don't really feel that graphic sex is groundbreaking, just gross, and also quickly becoming passe annd pedestrian.
Irreversible is typical of nihilistic French film making. Honestly, the only French film I can stomach is "The 400 Blows." Now that is a film that gets under your skin.
My favorite film in this group is Funny Games. It's less of a horror movie, and more of a post modernist satire. I actually found myself laughing at this film, because I understood that Haneke was satiring Clockwork Orange and society in general. How can you not laugh at a film in which one of the main characters directly addresses the audience, and uses a remote control to change the reality of the film?? Terribly brilliant.
I suppose I'll inevitably have to watch the rest of these distrurbing films, but.. do I have to?? I'd rather watch Toy Story 3...
thanks for the post!!
RGNestle from Seattle on June 08, 2010:
Hard to believe that some people feel this kind of crap needs to be made. I make movies and I don't understand why producers of porn (including "Houndog") don't just admit it and sell it behind closed doors like everyone else who makes that useless trash.
Anyone making such films using CHILDREN should be put in jail (with the parents) for contributing to the delinquency of a minor and indecent liberties with a minor.
Some people just don't use their brains!
Kasey Rubenstein from California on June 06, 2010:
I came to this hub with a few movies in mind, Shortbus being one of them. I just saw it recently and really enjoyed it. It's not so much about sex as it is about the people having it, which really made it worthwhile as an artistic endeavor.
I was really surprised and excited to see Battle Royale on this list. I haven't seen it since high school, but I remember it being pretty ridiculous in an awesome way.
Hard Candy has been popping up on my netflix recommendations and based on your commentary I think I might have to watch it now.
Edweirdo (author) from United States on May 16, 2010:
I agree that there are lots more controversial movies, but I tried to restrict myself to the last 10 years and still keep the list to a manageable size...
I think some like "Battle Royals" and "Visitor Q" were intentionally contro, but others like "Martyrs" and "Irreversible" and "The Dreamers" went the more artistic route. But that all depends on your definition of "art" ;)
Thanks for commenting :D
bonnebartron from never one place for too long on May 16, 2010:
Great hub, though many of these films I would say were simply done to ignite controversy, I agree that they did their jobs. Hard Candy was truly crazy, and though done in a very cinematic way, it lacked subtleties, then again so did the Passion Of The Christ... I think there are quite a few other controversial films that the content was extremely controversial but approached with more subtlety and art and perhaps that's why they didn't make the list.... In any case there are a few listed here that have now been added to my cue on netflix... So thanks!
Myriad from the bottom of your heart .. ie chennai! on May 13, 2010:
Truly fantastic list of movies . Some movies become successful only because they are disturbing , and controvertial ! :) so kudos
Patty Inglish MS from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on May 07, 2010:
After viewing The Passion of the Christ, I can now watch any type of surgery. During the screening I attended, a woman in her 30s and a man in his 40s several rows away from her both stood up quickly and ran out of the theater shortly into the scourging scenes. It was all incredible.
Jhemming77 from Anywhere there's a party. on May 01, 2010:
Great list I have seen a majority of those movies. I am reading the book of Battle Royale now. It's ironic that the book is sold in stores(purchased at Barns and Nobel) but not the movie. I'm thinking the Human Centipede might by a new contender from the previews I've seen
kateb123 from Toronto, ON on April 04, 2010:
Great choices. I've seen a few of these are they really are controversial. I would say that Hard Candy was a very difficult film to wrap your head around, if only because you start to question who you're "rooting" for in a sense. The psychopathic child or the pedophile? Hard choice. Strange to think that this was Ellen Page's breakout role, when she's generally considered by Canadians to be our greatest export.
Shortbus is a very interesting and honest examination of sexuality, but is also incredibly funny. I would recommend checking it out ASAP, if you're not too much of a prude ;)
Madison from NYC on March 28, 2010:
Thank you for a wonderful hub. I haven't seen many of them, good to know about them.
Mavrek's Mayhem on March 28, 2010:
Very cool hub. I have a new list to check out now thanks.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 06, 2010:
Interesting hub. I haven't seen most of those movies and don't think I missed much.