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17 Most Controversial Classic Movie Moments

"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.

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"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.

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"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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"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. 

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"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.

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"The Birth of a Nation" (1915)

Moviegoers were shocked at the portrayals of African-American men in this film, some who were white actors in blackface. This civil war epic painted an incorrect picture of African-American men as stupid and aggressive while portraying the Ku Klux Klan as galant. There were protests across the country.

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"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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"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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"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.

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"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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"Monty Python's 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. 

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"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!

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"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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"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. 

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"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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"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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"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.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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)

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)

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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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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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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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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