We take a look at some of the most controversial films that have ever graced the big screen. From canny movie bosses invoking shock-inducing publicity tactics to copycat crimes carried out after the film’s release and images that caused public outcry, these are the films that whipped sections of the public up into frenzied outrage.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)
It’s argued that Monty Python’s skewed satire was aimed more at big budget religious films than religion in general. That didn’t stop massive criticism upon its release, with Catholic groups horrified at the comedy - namely the upbeat song ‘Always Look On the Bright Side of Life’ during a mass crucifixion.
Mary Whitehouse led the campaign against the film in 1979, with fellow campaigners picketing cinemas that dared to show the comedy classic - resulting in several towns across the UK banning the movie.
In 2009, Aberystwyth finally lifted its 30-year ban, and it was only screened in Bournemouth for the first time in 2015.
Yup, the cute Disney film with its Robin Williams-voiced Genie and general japery caused considerable offence when it was released in 1992.
The reason? The lead characters Aladdin and Jasmine were accused of being anglicised in both appearance and voice while the villains were dark skinned, had thick accents and generally played up to ugly Arab stereotypes.
Another controversy arose from one of the songs, 'Arabian Nights’, which featured the line “Where they cut off your ears if they don’t like your face / It’s barbaric, but, hey, it’s home.”
However, the video release saw the line changed to the less offensive “Where it’s flat and immense and the heat is intense / It’s barbaric, but, hey, it’s home.”
The Da Vinci Code (2006)
Ron Howard’s film adaptation of 'The Da Vinci Code’ was always going to have a whiff of controversy, considering the furore surrounding Dan Brown’s novel. Essentially a page-turning adventure, the novel also tries to convince readers with the historic 'fact’ that Jesus fathered a child.
The film received opposition from the start, with religious groups condemning the movie and urging for a boycott. Not only did it spark protests from Catholic and Opus Dei groups outside cinemas… but also vocal outrage from cinemagoers who had the misfortune of seeing the film. Their bone of contention — the endlessly boring monologues and general dullness.
Last House on the Left (1972)
Wes Craven may currently be best known for making horror films with a comedic tint like the 'Scream’ series, but his debut was deemed so grotesque and nasty that only recently could you buy the uncut version in the UK.
The low budget and grisly movie, focusing on a family seeking revenge on a group of violent criminals, was also marketed brilliantly. While the film was indeed pretty difficult to sit through, the trailer did try to make it clear that it shouldn’t be taken quite as seriously as many did, with the words 'It’s only a movie’ repeated to great effect.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
The 1971 movie caused huge controversy following its release, particularly the rape scene featuring Malcolm McDowell attempting his own version of 'Singin’ in the Rain’. Even author Anthony Burgess, whose book the film is based on, said the film was so brilliant that it might even be dangerous.
It was eventually withdrawn in Britain by its director Stanley Kubrick after the movie was blamed for a series of violent copycat incidents, and was subsequently re-released in the UK in 2000, a year after the director’s death.
Child’s Play 3 (1991)
The 1991 movie was originally released with little fuss. However, it became notorious two years later, after it was linked to the devastating death of two-year-old James Bulger. His two ten-year-old killers were initially believed to have imitated a scene from the film, most notably splashing their victim with blue paint.
The incident sparked widespread debate about horror film video legislation. However, a police investigation later concluded that it was unlikely they had ever seen the film.
Deep Throat (1972)
The infamous X-rated adult film became a box office hit, no doubt aided by the huge furore surrounding its release in 1972.
Its lead star, Linda Lovelace, denounced the film, insisting that she was coerced into doing some of the scenes, while both conservative pundits and feminists attacked the movie.
However, it’s now become such a cultural phenomenon that it spawned a fascinating 2005 documentary, 'Inside Deep Throat’.
The Birth of a Nation (1915)
It may be visually stunning and hugely influential from a technical standpoint, but D.W Griffith’s 1915 Civil War drama is best known for its unbelievable racism.
Still used as a recruitment piece for the Ku Klux Klan, the film was blasted for making Klan members the heroes of the story, endorsing enslavement and its hugely negative portrayal of African Americans.
Upon its release riots broke out in several American cities, with several states refusing to show the film.
The Outlaw (1943)
Howard Hughes’ western was pure B-movie schlock. So why was it one of the most notorious movies of the 1940s?
Realising that his female star Jane Russell had, erm, ample assets, Hughes made sure the camera lingered on her chest at every opportunity, and that the publicity pictures focused on her rolling about in hay.
The result? A three-year battle with the censors, and one US judge commenting that Jane Russell’s cleavage “hangs over the picture like a summer thunderstorm spread out over a landscape”.
Gaspar Noe’s unflinching tale of revenge is a hard-hitting one, packed with brutal and disorientating images. However, it’s the nine-minute real-time rape of Monica Bellucci’s character that caused the controversy, with many people walking out during the screening at the Cannes Film Festival.
Newsweek would blast the film, saying that it displayed “an adolescent pride in its own ugliness”.
Image credits: Paramount/Disney/Sony Pictures/MGM/Warner Bros./Universal/Bryanston Pictures/Rex/StudioCanal