Every once in a while, a scene comes along in a movie or a TV show that leaves viewers stunned and outraged. When this happens with a film, there will be reports of people walking out of the theater or maybe even of protests outside cinemas. When it happens with a TV show, the networks will receive complaints, and they might ban the episode from ever airing again.
Regardless of whether you personally think the extreme content was justified by the story, all of these scenes truly made an impact, surprising everyone and resulting in a backlash — and, in one case, in the director actually being arrested.
1. The crucifix scene — The Exorcist
Some of the most controversial horror movies of all time are ones that were so disturbing, they never actually made it to theaters. But one of the highest grossing horror films ever made, The Exorcist, was also fairly controversial.
These days, it might be difficult to understand why. But back in 1973, seeing graphic language and violence used in this religious context in a major motion picture was incredibly shocking. The movie is full of moments that left audiences speechless, but probably the most upsetting was the scene in which the demon in control of Regan’s body violates her with a crucifix.
Despite being at that time the highest grossing horror movie ever, The Exorcist was so insane that it wasn’t available on home video in the United Kingdom for over a decade.
Next: This movie from Martin Scorsese offended Christians.
2. The Jesus and Mary Magdalene scene — The Last Temptation of Christ
In Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, Willem Dafoe plays Jesus, who is tempted by his Earthly desires, including sex. This idea itself was highly controversial, but the movie culminates in a scene in which Jesus has sex with Mary Magdalene.
This is only a dream sequence, and the idea is that Satan is trying to tempt Jesus to not die on the cross. In the reality of the movie, Jesus does die on the cross and does not actually have sex with Mary. But regardless, the very idea of showing this sparked outrage. Christian groups boycotted the film and pressured some theaters into not showing it at all. Some countries also banned it.
The movie did receive positive reviews from critics, though, and Scorsese received a nomination for Best Director at the Oscars.
Next: This 2017 movie was not received well by the general population.
3. The baby scene — mother!
Moving to a fairly recent example, Darren Aronofsky’s mother! features one of the most out-of-nowhere and shocking scenes we’ve seen in a mainstream film in quite some time.
Nothing that graphic happens for the first hour or so of the Jennifer Lawrence thriller. But in the second half, things spiral out of control. It all leads up to a sequence in which Lawrence’s character gives birth, only for a crowd to take her baby away and accidentally kill it.
That wasn’t enough, though, as the crowd proceeds to actually eat the baby. Audiences were left stunned and upset, and this scene likely played a large role in the movie receiving an F CinemaScore.
Next: Some fans felt this popular series took things too far with this scene.
4. The Sansa Stark rape scene — Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones is constantly sparking controversy, but the scene that caused the most outrage by far came during the show’s fifth season. In the episode “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” Ramsay Bolton rapes Sansa Stark on their wedding night.
This scene was controversial for a number of reasons. For one, the camera focused on Theon’s face for much of it. Some were uncomfortable with the fact that the show was apparently more interested in the man’s pain than the woman’s. But also, many viewers just felt this served little storytelling purpose, in which case the show had used sexual violence for shock value one too many times.
The scene was so controversial that some declared that they would stop watching the show as a result, including U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill.
Next: This movie featured a sex scene that was 100% real.
5. The real sex scene — The Brown Bunny
Even the most realistic sex scenes in movies and TV shows are virtually always simulated. But not in The Brown Bunny. The 2003 Vincent Gallo film features a scene in which Chloë Sevigny performs oral sex on Gall. It is 100 percent real and incredibly graphic.
When the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, it shocked audiences. Roger Ebert, in fact, declared the movie the worst in the 56-year history of the festival.
In a 2011 interview, Sevigny spoke about this controversial scene, saying, “What’s happened with that is all very complicated. There are a lot of emotions. I’ll probably have to go to therapy at some point.”
Next: This episode of a hit animated comedy was condemned by The Catholic League.
6. The Virgin Mary scene — South Park
South Park is a show that has upset people so many times that there exists an entire “South Park controversies” Wikipedia page. Maybe the biggest controversy ever had to do with an episode depicting Muhammad that Comedy Central ended up censoring. But in terms of scenes that actually made on air, one of the most outrageous was the Season 9 episode “Bloody Mary.”
In the episode, a statue of the Virgin Mary begins bleeding, and everyone thinks this will be able to cure diseases. It leads up to a scene in which Pope Benedict XVI himself comes to visit and the statue sprays him in the face with blood. Benedict then concludes that the blood is actually coming from the statue’s vagina and that Mary is simply on her period.
It should go without saying that this scene infuriated a lot of people, especially since it aired the day before the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The Catholic League demanded that Comedy Central not show the episode again and remove it from the DVDs; the network did not do so, however.
Next: Many Christians also found this 2017 episode of a popular show to be highly offensive.
7. The Jesus scene — Preacher
A Season 2 episode of Preacher opens with a fairly graphic sex scene that lasts a full minute and shows about as much as you’re allowed to on AMC. This wouldn’t be so bad except that you soon find out that the man in the scene is actually Jesus Christ.
The scene is meant to depict Jesus losing his virginity on the night of the Last Supper. When the woman asks him to stay for supper, he says he already ate, and he needs to leave to do something for his dad. It also turns out the woman in the scene is married.
The episode offended some people, and the Catholic League released a statement calling it an “assault on the sensibilities of all Christians.” Series co-creator Seth Rogen responded to the outrage by saying, “If this isn’t a good endorsement of #Preacher, I don’t know what is.”
Next: This scene from a Nicole Kidman movie raised eyebrows.
8. The bath scene — Birth
When the Nicole Kidman movie Birth premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2004, theatergoers booed it. This was in part due to one particularly controversial scene.
In the movie, Kidman plays a woman who becomes convinced that her late husband has been reincarnated as a 10-year-old boy. There’s a scene in the film in which Kidman’s character and the young boy, both naked, share a bath. There’s also a scene in which they kiss.
The bath scene sparked such controversy at the Venice screening that New Line Cinema had to come out and assure the public that Kidman and the 11-year-old actor were not in the same room when this was filmed, and the boy was never actually naked.
Next: At the time, this was one of the most graphic scenes ever in a movie.
9. The surgery scene — Eyes Without a Face
The 1960 French horror film Eyes Without a Face featured one of the most insanely graphic scenes ever depicted on film up until that point. And what made it even more shocking was the fact that it came long into a film that was otherwise not that graphic at all.
The Georges Franju movie follows a doctor who was responsible for an automobile accident that severely injured his daughter and left her disfigured. So he kidnaps a woman and removes her face, grafting it onto his daughter. We see the entire surgery on screen.
For some historical context, this was the same year that Psycho shocked American audiences by showing a toilet on screen. Now, here was this movie where someone’s face is removed, and the camera doesn’t cut away. One critic at the time called the movie “the sickest film since I started film criticism.”
Next: The director of this movie was actually arrested for it.
10. The turtle scene — Cannibal Holocaust
The 1980 Italian movie Cannibal Holocaust was an early example of a film purporting to be real, like its successors The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. In it, cannibals kidnap and murder a crew of documentary filmmakers. The movie seemed so realistic that people thought the actors were actually killed for real, and the director was arrested; he was cleared of murder charges after proving that the film was, in fact, fake.
But unfortunately, although the murder of the humans was not real, all of the animal killings were. Especially noteworthy was a scene involving a sea turtle being killed; a real turtle was legitimately killed on screen for the movie. It was because of the genuine animal cruelty that Italian courts decided to ban the film.
Next: This scene is considered one of the most difficult to watch ever.
11. The assault scene — Irréversible
The 2002 French film Irréversible features what might be the most difficult-to-watch scene in the history of cinema. The entire movie is incredibly graphic and violent, but the worst of it is the brutal rape of Monica Bellucci’s character, Alex. This occurs all in one take and lasts about 10 full minutes.
When the movie had its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2002, about 250 people walked out before the end, according to BBC News. It received mixed reviews, with some critics praising it but others feeling like the extreme violence was gratuitous. These days, Irréversible has become infamous mainly for that scene.
Next: This is the most shocking scene in a movie that was actually pulled from theaters.
12. The ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ scene — A Clockwork Orange
Some of the scenes on this list come near the end of the movies they’re in. But here’s one that truly took audiences aback in that it came right at the start of the film.
About 10 minutes into the Stanley Kubrick classic A Clockwork Orange, Alex DeLarge and his gang go to a writer’s house, beating him and raping his wife while singing “Singin’ in the Rain.” It’s one of the most disturbing opening minutes of any movie in history.
The film was so shocking that The National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures condemned it, meaning Catholics were forbidden from watching the movie. It became even more controversial when copycat violence began to pop up in the United Kingdom, resulting in Kubrick pulling the movie from distribution.
Next: Some felt that this scene from a 2017 Netflix show went way too far.
13. The suicide scene — 13 Reasons Why
Hannah Baker committing suicide at the end of 13 Reasons Why‘s first season was hardly a surprise; the show established this would happen from the first episode. But what was surprising was just how graphic the scene was. We watch her cut her wrists with a razor blade in the bathroom and slowly bleed out. Never does the camera cut away. Even the viewer discretion warning at the start of the episode didn’t prepare us for how brutal this would be.
This scene turned out to be highly controversial, with many feeling it was too much. Worst of all, even though the show’s creators said their goal was to make clear how unglamorous suicide really is, experts suggested it could lead to an increase in suicide attempts.
Next: The actress in this scene would later say it made her feel violated.
14. The butter scene — Last Tango in Paris
To this day, the 1972 movie Last Tango in Paris is most famous for the scene in which Marlon Brando’s character rapes Maria Schneider’s character using butter as a lubricant.
This shocked French audiences when the movie opened there. By the time the film came to America, there were protests, though many critics hailed the film itself as revolutionary.
This scene became even more controversial when the public found out that it wasn’t in the script; Maria Schneider would later say she felt raped by Brando and the director.
Next: This is still one of the most unforgettable and shocking endings of all time.
15. The shooting scene — Bonnie and Clyde
Bonnie and Clyde was already somewhat controversial in that some felt it glorified the titular murderers. But nothing in the already violent film compared to the stunning ending: police gun down Bonnie and Clyde, repeatedly shooting them over and over for about 20 full seconds.
At the time, this was one of the most violent sequences ever seen in a major motion picture. It sparked a debate about whether the brutality was too much, and it opened the door for far more violent films to come.
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