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40 Most Controversial Classic Movie Moments

Tropic Thunder (2008)

Tropic Thunder (2008)

In 2008, when this film came out, an entire coalition of disabilities groups united to boycott the film. Why you ask? Was it Robert Downey Jr.’s stint in black face that upset so many. Nope. It was Ben Stiller’s character Simple Jack which obviously poked fun at film legends Rain Man and Forrest Gump.

But even that might have gone over, somewhat smoothly, if the production company hadn’t used the 'R word’ in their original advertising for the film. Oh yeah. They went there. As in “There once was a re$%#d”

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The Godfather (1972)

The Godfather (1972)

The Godfather caused controversy with animal rights groups whey they used a real dead horse's head in a scene. The horse was scheduled to be slaughtered regardless of the film, but the exploitation of the death was enough to offend. 

I understand that this is a pretty shocking thing. But it just seems that of all the disturbing things that take place in the movie, people took issue with the horse of all things!

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Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

Before and during the 1960’s, racist humor was widely accepted in American culture and film.  Usually, no one batted an eyelash at an over the top, stereotypical ethnic character. However, that changed in 1961 when Asian audiences everywhere took exception to the character I.Y. Yunioshi, Holly Golightly’s Japanese neighbor.

In the film, we are treated to an over-the-top, over-exaggerated caricature of a Japanese immigrant instead of the gentle photographer from California as he was portrayed in Truman Capote’s book. Now, Breakfast at Tiffany’s will always be the subject of critics due to its use of ethnic stereotypes.

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Dogma (1999)

Dogma (1999)

This film was highly protested even before its release based just on the premise of the movie. Dogma revolves around two fallen angels who use a bit of Catholic dogma to find a loophole and gain entrance to Heaven, thereby undoing everything that God has done.

But the biggest controversy? How about that final scene when we finally meet God only to realize that not only is God actually a woman, but she takes the form of Alanis Morissette? The Catholic League denounced the film as blasphemy and protests delayed its release in some countries.

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Aladdin (1992)

Aladdin (1992)

Disney? How does Disney end up on the list of most controversial movie scenes, you ask? Well, it goes like this. When Disney originally released the highly popular animated film, Aladdin, audiences around the world had something to say about the opening scene’s song lyrics.

During the original release in theaters, the original lyrics to Arabian Nights included lyrics that said that Agrabah was a place “where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face.” When audiences complained, Disney acknowledged their mistake and that the lyrics were “barbaric” so they changed the lyrics to the song before they released it on VHS.

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American History X (1998)

American History X (1998)

This movie is full of controversy from beginning to end. The story centers around a family that gets involved in white supremacy, led by the oldest son, Derek, played by Edward Norton. The films deals with the kind of subject matter that is supposed to make you uncomfortable.

However, filmgoers everywhere who came out of the theaters talked about just one scene in particular—When two black thieves attempt to break into our main character’s truck, Derek takes matters into his own hands and perpetrates one of the most grisly murders we’ve ever seen in film.

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Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Another highly controversial film, Requiem for a Dream follows the lives of four drug addicts and how their life choices affect their physical and emotional states. Throughout the film, we see each character falling down a drug-induced rabbit hole until their characters ultimately deteriorate.

But that’s not what’s the most shocking about the film. One of the film’s main characters, played by Jennifer Connolly, becomes highly desperate for heroin, and will do just about anything to get it. And she does, in one of the most controversial sex scenes in cinema history.

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Apocalypse Now (1979)

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Frances Ford Coppola. He gave us the Godfather series as well as one of the most appreciated and controversial war films of all time, Apocalypse Now. The story follows a soldier who is sent on an expedition to find and kill an AWOL colonel, played by Marlon Brando. The film was highly controversial when it was released because it was seen as having an anti-war sentiment.

However, after the film was released, a whole other problem cropped up. Close to the end of the film, there is a kind of pagan ritual that goes on that involves the killing of a bull. While that in itself isn’t so shocking, what was shocking is that they ACTUALLY kill the bull in the scene. Animal rights activists around the world were triggered.

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The Passion of the Christ (2004)

The Passion of the Christ (2004)

This movie was so controversial we can’t even pick just one scene. From its two-and-a-half-hour bloody and gory depiction of Christ’s long and torturous crucifixion to the undertones of antisemitism, this film had filmgoers everywhere up in arms.

Churches by the thousands purchased tickets for their full congregations and were unprepared for what they saw.

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Kids (1995)

Kids (1995)

This is another film that was a highly controversial one due to the fact that it was about teenagers, sex, and drugs. It was a profile of what life was like for teenagers in the ‘90s living in New York City. It follows a day in the life of one particular group of kids and shows how peer pressure can affect them.

But the most shocking and controversial scene is probably the close to the end that depicts the date rape of an HIV positive girl. The producers had no problem showing the graphic scene and then cut to the final scene of the rapist trying to understand how he could have possibly gotten HIV.

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Blue Velvet (1986)

Blue Velvet (1986)

Blue Velvet is neo-noir mystery thriller that explores the seedy underbelly of a seemingly quaint town. The movie is filled with all sorts of disturbing and violent imagery (including a dismembered ear early in the film), but by far the most controversial moment is the infamous sex scene. 

The scene involves villain Frank Booth (played by Dennis Hopper) huffing some unknown substance and engaging in disturbing and violent sex with Dorothy (played by Isabella Rossellini). While the movie is weird from start to finish, it was definitely this scene that led to mass walkouts during its opening week. 

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Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

This story of Marines during the Vietnam War is filled with bloody violence and constant profanity. The most talked-about scene is when the marines mortally wound a teenage girl sniper, then debate about whether or not to kill her quickly.

But that's not the only disturbing thing to be found in the movie. The scene where a soldier graphically commits suicide has also been regarded as controversial over the years. 

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Palindromes (2004)

Palindromes (2004)

Palindromes was a 2004 film with an interesting twist. The movie followed the life of teenage girl Aviva--who is portrayed by a rotating cast of actors of different ages, genders, and races. In one scene, she’ll be a scrawny, young white boy and in the next, she’s a large, adult black woman. 

The controversial aspect of this movie has to do with the subject matter. Aviva’s life is not an easy one, and the movie features disturbing, graphic scenes that range from sexual assault to murder. 

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I Spit on Your Grave (1978)

I Spit on Your Grave (1978)

This whole film was controversial, especially for its time. The film is a rape and revenge horror film that shocked audiences everywhere. Not only were the depictions of revenge completely and utterly seat-squirmy, but the actual rape scene took up an entire 30 minutes of film time.

The film was a target of censorship by some film commissioning bodies and it still remains highly controversial to this day, making it a cult classic.

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Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

There are a ton of rats in Werner Herzog’s vampire classic, Nosferatu the Vampyre. And while nothing controversial happens with them on screen, there was lots of controversy behind the scenes. It turns out that the rats weren’t very well taken care of. 

When it came to shipping the rats to the filming locations, things got grim--there wasn’t enough food for them, and they began eating one another. Then, Herzog decided that the white rats needed to be gray, which involved dipping them in boiling water. 

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Basic Instinct (1992)

Basic Instinct (1992)

Basic Instinct is one of those movies that leave you on the edge of your seat. Nothing was more shocking than that interrogation.

During the interrogation, she reversed the balance of power from the men to her, but that wasn’t what was shocking. What was jaw-dropping was what she did in front of the audience without any warning. Whoa.

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Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom is basically one long controversial moment. This 1975 film caused such a big controversy that it is still banned in several countries. 

The film follows several wealthy, Italian madmen as they kidnap teenagers and subject them to all manner of physical and psychological torture. Some people argue that the film has an important anti-fascist message, but others just see it as gratuitous torture porn. 

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Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County (1998)

Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County (1998)

If you were to watch it today, you’d see that 1998’s Alien Abduction: Incident at Lake County isn’t a particularly controversial (or good) horror movie. But when it originally aired on UPN, it caused quite a stir. 

At the time, found footage movies were not as nearly popular as they are today--in fact, many people had never heard of them at all. So, when viewers saw this allegedly “real” home footage of a family getting abducted by aliens, they freaked out, a la War of the Worlds

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Pink Flamingos (1972)

Pink Flamingos (1972)

John Waters is a filmmaker that’s no stranger to controversy, and none of his movies have caused as much of a stir as 1972’s Pink Flamingos. The movie follows real-life drag queen, Divine, as she defends her title as “filthiest person alive” from the likes of Connie and Raymond Marbles--who believe that they are rightfully the filthiest people alive. 

The movie is filled from start to finish with nudity, depravity, and filthy humor, but most people remember the infamous closing scene. In it, Divine reaches down on the ground, picks up a real dog turd, and eats it. 

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Deliverance (1972)

Deliverance (1972)

When four men from Atlanta try to canoe a remote Georgia river before it is flooded they encounter back woods local men. One of the men rapes Bobby, played by Ned Beatty, and orders him to "squeal like a pig."

The film had moviegoers talking, and everyone remembers the phrase.

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The Producers (1967)

The Producers (1967)

Although Mel Brooks is known for some of his more raunchy film farces and comedic parodies, audiences were still shocked when the went to see The Producers, and were instead treated to a play within a play, praising Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, just merely two decades after WWII ended.

The particular scene that was considered the most controversial, was the opening musical scene of the Nazi production which was titled “Springtime for Hitler” and included such lyrics as “And now it’s Springtime for Hitler and Germany… We’re marching to a faster pace, Look out, here comes the master race.”

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The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

When some of us (not naming any names) were kids, this was a film that was off-limits. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. We were shunned to our rooms while our parents and grandparents gasped and groaned over the controversial film that was The Last Temptation of Christ.

Now that we (some of us) are older, we know now why we weren’t allowed to watch this film, at any age. It’s because the film depicts what might have become of Jesus had he not decided to pick up his mantle of Messiah. Not surprisingly, the author who wrote the book that the film is based on in 1955 was excommunicated by the Catholic church for the book’s controversial subject matter.

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The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist (1973)

Believe it or not, The Exorcist seemed incredibly realistic at the time. In fact, some scenes shocked people and made audiences say it was the scariest movie they’d ever seen. While the movie is full of plenty of gross scenes, one stood out in particular. The most controversial moment in this film is when the possessed girl does something with a crucifix.

Even now, something like this may not be acceptable in film, so it certainly crossed the line in 1973 when it released. Even though it was gross and horrifying, the public couldn’t get enough and nearly every showing was sold out on release. Viewers even waited in line to see the film for hours at a time. 

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Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The movie was pretty controversial for the early ‘90s. No one could have imagined such depraved evil as Hannibal Lecter or wearing other people’s skin.

And boy, did it set off gay activists in protest of the film’s representation of homosexuals. Regardless of the controversy, the film earned seven Oscar nominations that year, winning five of them, including Best Picture.

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Last Tango in Paris (1972)

Last Tango in Paris (1972)

Marlon Brando stars in this film. He plays a middle-aged American man in Paris who begins an anonymous affair with a young Parisian woman.

The film was edited or banned around the world due to its content, mainly in the scene known as "the butter scene."

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Baby Doll (1956)

Baby Doll (1956)

Insinuation and tension are so strong in Baby Doll that the film was condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency. The image of actress Carol Baker in baby doll pajamas, lying in a crib, and sucking her thumb was the root of the issue. 

That being said, this movie only really seemed to upset the Catholics. It quickly became a hit with pretty much everyone else. 

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Song of the South (1946)

Song of the South (1946)

At the time of its release, Song of the South offended many moviegoers because of the dialect and the stereotypical portrayals of the African-American characters.

Because of this controversy, Disney never felt comfortable enough to release it on home video.

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Viridiana (1961)

Viridiana (1961)

Viridiana not only got under the skin of the Catholic Church--it also angered the Spanish government. Released in 1961, this Spanish film follows Viridiana as she is about to enter a convent as a nun, only to be pulled back into the real world by family issues. 

The Spanish government took issue with the ending--which implied sex between Viridiana and her cousin. On the other hand, the Catholic Church was more upset about the scene where drunk beggars recreate Da Vinci’s Last Supper. 

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The Outlaw (1943)

The Outlaw (1943)

Filmmaker Howard Hughes started controversy about his own film being lewd in order to get publicity, but he eventually had to cut some footage to satisfy movie censors. Some still wanted to ban the film; others couldn't wait to see it!

The film starred Jane Russell, and the director believed that the camera didn't do her breasts justice. So, he created a special bra to help emphasize her figure more on camera. 

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Un Chien Andalou (1929)

Un Chien Andalou (1929)

Un Chien Andalou was released in 1929 and only has a 20-minute runtime, but it’s been disturbing audiences for generations. It may be French and plotless, but it’s one you’ll remember. 

Nothing about the movie really makes sense, but the opening scene is by far the most disturbing one in. In it, a man appear to slice open a woman’s eye with a razor blade. 

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Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Many audience members walked out of Reservoir Dogs during a scene when criminals torture a kidnapped police officer and cut off his ear with a straight razor.

However, any controversy about the film was overshadowed by its wild success. These days, it's frequently touted as one of the best movies of all time. 

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Antichrist (2009)

Antichrist (2009)

Antichrist is one of those movies where you should just take my word that it’s disturbing and controversial without actually watching it. Your eyes will thank you. 

This 2009 experimental film follows a couple after the death of their child. It very quickly descends into graphic sexual violence that doesn’t really stop until the credits roll. 

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A Clockwork Orange (1971)

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

In a movie filled with "certain" scenes, the most severe is "Singin' in the Rain." A futuristic criminal (Alex) and his gang brutally beat a man.  Alex then goes after the man's his wife while singing the song.

And that all takes place pretty early in the film. Needless to say, things don't get any less shocking for the rest of the run time. 

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Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Is anyone surprised that a movie called Cannibal Holocaust was controversial? This 1980 Italian horror film about cannibal tribes in the Amazon was not short on gory, graphic violence, and not all audiences were pleased. 

Shortly after the film was released, the director was arrested on murder charges because several of the film’s on-screen deaths looked so real. This turned out to be completely false, but there was a lot of controversial (and real) on-screen violence against animals in the film as well. 

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The Deer Hunter (1978)

The Deer Hunter (1978)

In a North Vietnamese prison camp, three soldiers are forced to play Russian Roulette. Additionally, after escaping, an AWOL and mentally disturbed Nick, played by Christopher Walken, plays back-alley Russian Roulette.

These scenes are very disturbing, and claims that the movie is inaccurate in its portrayal of the game in Vietnam added to the controversy.

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Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Winner of Best Picture, Midnight Cowboy is the only Oscar winning movie to have received an X rating. The main controversy with this film was the movie's matter-of-factness about sexuality.

Its popularity probably saved this one from a lot of censorship. Because while it dealt with a controversial subject, there wasn't any widespread protest of the film. 

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The Birth of a Nation (1915)

The Birth of a Nation (1915)

The Birth of a Nation is probably the most iconic and contentious American movie ever made. This 1915 silent films follows the events of the Civil War and Reconstruction--but with a very noticeable pro-KKK slant. 

In fact, this film is blamed with the resurgence of the KKK in the United States in the early 1900s. What makes it even more controversial is the quality of the movie. Despite its subject matter, there’s no getting around that it was responsible for major leaps in movie innovation--including the camera close-up and fade-out. 

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All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

This film version of the famous book about World War I and the graphic horrors that come with it caused controversy. It was seen by some as too sympathetic to Germans, but Nazi Germany banned it for being anti-war and anti-German.

However, these days, the controversy has died down. The film is now considered one of the iconic masterpieces of American cinema. 

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Fatal Attraction (1987)

Fatal Attraction (1987)

Fatal Attraction was a tough movie to watch since Glenn Close actually looked like she was losing her mind. The woman showed some serious talent, but it was terrifying.

While the whole film was shocking, one scene stood out in particular – the rabbit scene. It was nearly impossible to watch and left your gut-wrenching.

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Life of Brian (1979)

Life of Brian (1979)

This film tells the story of Brian Cohen, a man that is mistaken for Jesus because he is born in a stable next to the one in which Jesus. Religious satire didn't sit well during this time, and this film was eventually banned. 

The most controversial scene in the movie is the one involving crucifixion. Many Christians felt like they were making light of the crucifixion of Jesus. 

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