17 Controversial Movie Scenes That You Know Even If You Never Saw The Movie

List Rules
Vote up the scenes you knew by heart without even seeing the movie.

Some movie scenes are so unexpected or shocking that they become more unforgettable than the film surrounding them. And some scenes are so controversial, they become known even by those who have never seen the movie. Whether the content is sexual or violent in nature (or a combination of both), discussion of the notorious scenes often eclipses the movie as a whole.

These scenes shocked audiences on the initial release and have remained either famous or infamous, no matter how much time has passed. In some instances, the controversy has only increased as details about the production have been revealed. In either case, audiences seem to fixate on the details of these sequences, even years after the initial release, and often for good reason. Good cinema has the ability to leave an impact, though it is not always pleasant in nature.

Which of these controversial film scenes are most recognizable, even if you never saw the movie? Vote up the most notorious.

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  • The Set-Up: When embezzler-on-the-run Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) stops at a roadside motel, she encounters a lonely man named Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) running the establishment.

    The Scene: As Marion makes the decision to return the taken money, she takes a shower, which symbolizes the re-purification occurring with this moral choice. Unfortunately, this metaphoric moment is interrupted by her assault and murder while in the shower.

    The Controversy: As hard as it may be to imagine for modern audiences, the shower scene in Psycho was controversial even before Marion undressed. In 1960, Psycho was the first time in TV or film that a toilet had been shown, and Hitchcock went a step further by flushing it. Then there was the violence and implied nudity of the shower, which was initially rejected by a board of Production Code enforcers. Psycho may seem tame by today’s standards, but it changed the course of modern horror and instilled an irrational fear of showers for many. Even Janet Leigh admitted that she had trouble taking showers after the filming of Psycho, and would avoid them if at all possible.

    153 votes

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  • The Set-Up: When the crew of the commercial towing spaceship Nostromo discovers and responds to a signal originating from a derelict ship, they inadvertently provide the opportunity for an alien species to infiltrate them.

    The Scene: The crew believes they have survived the detour on the alien vessel and are comfortably enjoying a meal on the Nostromo as executive officer Kane (John Hurt) - the "facehugger" having detached from the poor guy's face - begins to choke and convulse. Before the remaining crew has a chance to react and as Kane writhes on the dinner table, a small alien bursts from his chest.  

    The Controversy: The sudden and unexpected violence of the chest-bursting scene is among the most shocking in the history of cinema. Not only is it graphically violent, but the body horror was disturbingly unique. Alien gave audiences something entirely new to fear.

    130 votes

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  • The Set-Up: When four Atlanta entrepreneurs (Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, and Ronny Cox) take a canoe trip down a remote river in northern Georgia, they have a series of confrontations with the locals living deep in the wilderness.

    The Scene: During their trip down the river, a pair of mountain men emerge from the woods with guns and overtake two of the friends, sexually assaulting one while demanding he "squeal like a pig.”

    The Controversy: Sexual assault scenes always tend to be prone to controversy, but in 1972, a man-on-man assault was downright shocking. Although Deliverance provided men of the era with a nightmare wilderness scenario on par with the fears Jaws brought to the ocean, it also stereotypically portrayed backwoods Southern men as sexual assaulters. In 2012, CNN reported on the 40th anniversary of the film’s release, noting that although the popularity of the film has increased tourism to a $42 million-a-year industry for the county used as the primary filming location, “it’s the rape scene that seems to dominate any conversation about the film.”

    123 votes

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  • The Set-Up: Basic Instinct follows the homicide investigation of a celebrity headed up by San Francisco detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas). The primary suspect is writer Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone), who seduces Curran into an affair during the investigation.

    The Scene: When Tramell is brought into the police station for interrogation, the author gains the upper hand by distracting the detectives with her sexuality. In the iconic sequence, Tramell uncrosses her legs to expose herself to the interrogators, revealing that she is not wearing underwear.

    The Controversy: Initial controversy over Basic Instinct was regarding stereotyping of gay and bisexual characters as evil and villainous, leading to multiple protests during filming and the release. The nudity in the interrogation was always shocking and memorable, parodied numerous times since release, but the scene has been the subject of newfound controversy after Stone’s 2021 memoir claimed that the actress had no knowledge about how much she would be exposed.

    128 votes

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  • The Set-Up: Vicious youth Alex (Malcolm McDowell) and his gang of juvenile delinquents cause havoc in a dystopian future in England, breaking into homes and assaulting strangers.

    The Scene: In the film’s most unsettling sequence of violence, Alex and his gang invade a home and assault the couple inside. While sexually assaulting one of the occupants, Alex sings the cheerful song, “Singin’ in the Rain.”

    The Controversy: After a series of copycat crimes occurred, including a sexual assault in which the culprit sang a rendition of “Singin’ in the Rain,” A Clockwork Orange was pulled from theaters in Britain at the request of director Stanley Kubrick himself. The film remained banned in the country until after Kubrick’s passing.

    110 votes

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  • The Set-Up: Inspector Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) is a no-nonsense officer in the San Francisco Police Department who has been chosen as the recipient of notes from a serial killer terrorizing the city.

    The Scene: Establishing his tough and unrelenting nature, Harry stops a bank robbery while on his lunch break. After shooting three of the culprits, he holds the fourth at gunpoint while questioning the possibility he is out of bullets. He ends by saying, “You've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do you, punk?”

    The Controversy: The release of Dirty Harry was controversial enough to inspire discussions about police brutality and even had a group of protestors at the 44th Academy Awards. This early scene was often used as an example of law enforcement using severe methods, featuring a line now known even by those who have never seen the film.

    112 votes

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