films The Most Controversial Movies of All Time  

Ann Casano
32.1k votes 3.5k voters 2.1M views 45 items

List Rules Every film on this list was publicly ridiculed or denounced in some way.

Since the beginning of cinema, films have been pushing the boundaries of what society deems to be “acceptable entertainment.” If filmmakers did not take chances, did not dare to question the establishment, and instead opt to walk the line - films like The Wild Bunch and Psycho would never have been made. Thankfully artists have always been there to challenge authority. These are the most controversial movies of all time.

Some of the movies on this list were banned and/or denounced because they were too violent and graphic like Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Horror films like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist may be considered tame by today’s standards, but at the time of their release, many moviegoers and critics were shocked and appalled by their gratuitous violence.

Of course, religion has always and will always be a major contributor to controversy. Pretty much any film that has questioned the sanctimony and history of an established religion, like Christianity, is going to receive heat. Religious protesters in Paris firebombed a theater screening of Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. The protesters thought the film’s depiction of the life of Jesus Christ should not include sex, lust, or temptation.

Some of the movies on this list are made for nothing more than shock value. Horror films like Faces of Death and Cannibal Holocaust are meant to disgust and push the boundaries of good taste, while other films like Midnight Cowboy and Bonnie and Clyde have stood the test of time and have become Hollywood classics.

There are several reasons why the films on this list (many more than just the top 10 controversial movies) were deemed controversial: too sexual, too violent, too graphic, too queer, too shocking, too much nudity. For whatever the reason, these are the most controversial movies of all time. Upvote those you think are the most controversial, whether or not you like the film itself.
A Clockwork Orange is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Most Controversial Movies of All Time
Photo: Warner Bros, Columbia
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A Clockwork Orange


Stanley Kubrick deconstructs the nature of violence in his Academy Award-nominated X-rated romp. The 1971 cult classic was banned in several countries, including Britain, because the film reportedly, "represented a danger to society by inspiring the very violence it was seeking to explore and define."

Actors: Malcolm McDowell, Warren Clarke, Steven Berkoff, David Prowse, Adrienne Corri, + more

Initial Release: 1971

Directed by: Stanley Kubrick

Also Ranked

#9 on The Best '70s Movies

#2 on The Most Nausea-Inducing Great Films

#16 on The Best Movies Where the Bad Guy Wins

#17 on The Best Movies About Books

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The Silence of the Lambs is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Most Controversial Movies of All Time
Photo: Orion Pictures

Gay activists staged rallies during screenings of Jonathan Demme's Academy Award-winning film. The film's serial killer transsexual villain Buffalo Bill was criticized by the queer community for his over the top flamboyant gay mannerisms.

Actors: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Chris Isaak, George A. Romero, Roger Corman, + more

Initial Release: 1991

Directed by: Jonathan Demme

Also Ranked

#8 on The Very Best Oscar-Winning Movies

#1 on The Best Mystery Thriller Movies on Amazon Prime

#1 on The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time

#41 on The Most Rewatchable Movies

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The Exorcist is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Most Controversial Movies of All Time
Photo: Warner Bros
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The Exorcist


The Exorcist was banned in several cities and countries throughout the world. It's been reported that paramedics had to be called on several occasions to treat audience members who had fainted in reaction to the film's horror.

Actors: Max von Sydow, Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Lee J. Cobb, William Peter Blatty, + more

Initial Release: 1973

Directed by: William Friedkin

Also Ranked

#8 on The Best Movies "Loosely" Based on True Stories

#37 on The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time

#42 on The Greatest Movie Themes

#84 on The Best Movies Based on True Stories

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Psycho is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Most Controversial Movies of All Time
Photo: Freebase/Public domain
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Psycho


Psycho's psychological/twist ending would have been a tough pill to swallow for audiences in 1960 regardless. But killing off the star of the movie halfway through the narrative was perhaps the most controversial aspect of all.

Actors: Alfred Hitchcock, Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Martin Balsam, + more

Initial Release: 1960

Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

Also Ranked

#26 on The Greatest Film Scores of All Time

#5 on The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time

#38 on The Greatest Movie Themes

#4 on The Best Black and White Movies Ever Made

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