The 10 most controversial films of all time

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Controversy and cinema have always had a special relationship. Whether it is for blasphemy, extreme violence, sexually explicit scenes or even on-set scandals some films have become notorious for their ability to generate controversy.


Indeed, the scandalous impact of a number of films has led to them being banned by authorities in different parts of the world. This slideshow looks at the 10 most controversial films of all time.

The Passion of Christ

This film, directed by Mel Gibson, caused controversy for the explicitly violent way in which it portrayed the last days of Jesus Christ. The film is littered with brutal and bloody torture scenes leading to the eventual crucifixion of Christ. The film was also criticised for an alleged anti-Semitic tone, with some claiming that it portrays Jews as evil and bloodthirsty. These claims were strongly refuted by its director.

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A Clockwork Orange

This violent portrayal of a dystopian, future Britain was heavily criticised following a number of so-called copycat incidents on its release in 1971. Indeed, the wave of violent attacks linked to the film by the media forced its director, Stanley Kubrick, to remove the work from general release in Britain. It only reappeared in British cinemas and on VHS and DVD in 1999. In other European countries, an edited version of the film was screened in which many of the most violent scenes were cut out.

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The Da Vinci Code

Even before its release in 2005, this film, based on the best-selling book by Dan Brown, had caused controversy among sections of orthodox Catholics because of its plot revolving around the assertion that Jesus Christ had fathered a daughter through a relationship with Mary Magdalene. Protests were held in many countries in a bid to get the film banned for its alleged blasphemous content. The film is directed by Ron Howard and stars Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou.

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The Exorcist

This 1973 horror film, directed by William Friedkin and based on a novel by William Blatty, is shrouded in controversy relating to its production. A number of mysterious events, such as the death of actors’ relatives, fires on set and scenes going missing, are said to have taken place during filming. The Catholic Church also added to the controversy surrounding the film by asking for certain scenes to be removed that it considered blasphemous. To further exacerbate the situation, many cinemas arranged for ambulances and medics to be on hand cater for viewers who fainted during showings.

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The Last Temptation of Christ

Martin Scorsese directed this 1988 film which shows a more human side to the life of Jesus. In agony on the cross, he imagines himself in various situations of temptation, including life with Mary Magdalene. This approach angered many Catholics. In some countries the film was boycotted, while the film could not be shown in one cinema in Paris because the building was set on fire.

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This sexually suggestive tale, involving a novice nun, is another film in our list which caused controversy for its supposed blasphemous content. One of the most controversial scenes in the film, directed by Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel, is when a group of beggars pose for a photograph in the exact same positions as Jesus Christ and his disciples in Leonardo Di Vinci’s famous painting of the last supper. The dictator Francisco Franco banned the film in Spain.

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Brokeback Mountain

This love story between two cowboys caused controversy in a number of countries across the world when it was released in 2005. The film, directed by Ang Lee and starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, was banned in the Bahamas and China because of its portrayal of homosexuality.

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Basic Instinct

That moment when a knickerless Sharon Stone uncrosses her legs has gone down as one of the most notorious scenes in cinema history. Basic Instinct, directed by Paul Verhoeven and also starring Michael Douglas, also caused a stir on its release in 1992 as Stone’s character is bisexual. Many moral groups labeled the film as indecent. However, it is likely that the controversy surrounding the film actually helped to fill cinema seats across the world.

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This Italian film’s explicit violence, sadism and sexual content caused controversy on its release in 1975. The film’s producer was arrested and jailed in Italy for alleged "obscenities" shown in the film. The director Pier Paolo Pasolini was murdered before its premiere. The film was banned in Spain in 1978.

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The controversy surrounding this 1922 film relates to a legal wrangle over alleged plagiarism of Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula”. Director F. W. Murnau made changes to the film after his studio failed to obtain the rights to the book. However, Bram Stoker's widow pressed ahead with legal action and won an infringement of copyright case. The judge ordered prints of the film to be destroyed but it had already been distributed across the world and the film survives to this day.

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