10 Most Controversial Classic Movies

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Controversial films have been part of the medium since the dawn of cinema. Sometimes the controversy comes from the subject, and other times it comes from a film ahead of its time. Something that was considered controversial back then can be considered tame in modern times.


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However, there are films where the polemic has stood the test of time. Certain controversies have plagued some classic films since their release. Some of these controversies have even affected the way people view classic films today. It is clear that there will always be controversies for films, regardless of the era.

This article is about sexual assault, racism, and the unethical treatment of others

10/10 A clockwork orange got an X rating when it was released

Directed by the legendary Stanley Kubrick, A clockwork orange follows gang leader Alex, who is arrested and participates in a behavior aversion experiment. Based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Anthony Burgess, A clockwork orange was nominated for 4 Oscars, including Best Picture, and has since gained a cult following.

A clockwork orange originally received an X rating in its first release due to subject matter which included theft, drugs, sexual assault, and gang violence. It was a controversial film with critics and viewers alike, which left many divided. A clockwork orange was notoriously banned in a number of countries, including Malta, Ireland and Singapore, for almost 30 years.

9/10 The birth of a nation was revolutionary and reprehensible

Birth of a Nation is an example of a film that made groundbreaking technical advancements that influenced cinema forever, but the film itself is objectionable. Released in 1915, the story follows the Stoneman family through the American Civil War and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. It also covers the formation of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).

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Birth of a Nation is blatantly racist towards African Americans and portrays them in a poor and misleading light. Additionally, most of the African Americans in the film are played by white actors in blackface. The KKK is also perceived positively, which is absolutely appalling. Writer and film historian Anthony Slide called Birth of a Nation the “most controversial film ever made in the United States” in his book American Racist: The Life and Films of Thomas Dixon.

Ecstasy was hugely controversial when it was released in 1933. Eva had just married an older, wealthy man, but she was bored with him and left. Eva meets a young engineer and they become lovers, but her ex-husband unexpectedly reappears.

Ecstasy was controversial for several reasons. For one thing, it was the first non-pornographic film to depict a woman having an orgasm. This caused an uproar with censors at the time, also for a scene in which Eva swims naked. On top of all that, director Gustav Machaty; in order to get an accurate reaction from her star, Hedy Lamarr, stuck a needle in her buttocks, which is problematic on so many levels.

7/10 Disney will never let the southern song out of the vault

southern song has kind Uncle Remus telling the stories of Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear to young Johnny. Using a mix of live-action and animated characters, the film is set on a plantation during the time of America’s Reconstruction. He won two Oscars, including an Honorary Oscar for James Baskett for his portrayal of Uncle Remus.

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southern song has generated a lot of controversy due to its portrayal of race. Critics have pointed out how the film reinforces stereotypes of African Americans and glorifies slavery. It never received a home release, and former Disney CEO Bob Iger has confirmed that the film will never be released on Disney+.

6/10 Brian’s life was considered blasphemous

Life of Brian from Monty Python came from the infamous comedy group Monty Python. In the film, Brian Cohen is constantly confused with Jesus Christ after being born on the same day and growing up next to Jesus. Brian’s life becomes increasingly complicated as he is continually mistaken for the Messiah.

Whereas Brian’s life was well received by film critics, it faced charges of blasphemy due to its religious satire. Religious groups have also criticized the crucifixion scene to mock Jesus’ death. This only fueled Monty Python, as they used the film’s reviews as part of marketing for comedic effect.

5/10 Fritz the cat was ahead of his time

In 1972, Fritz the cat became the first animated film to receive an X rating. Based on the comic book by R. Crumb, the film follows Fritz, a womanizing cat in New York City, as he drops out of college in the 1960s and inadvertently becomes a left-wing revolutionary.

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Surprisingly, Fritz the cat ended up being a financial success, grossing $90 million worldwide. Despite being a satire, the film was criticized for its use of sex, drug use and profanity, particularly from conservative audiences and Crumb himself, who felt the film was too criticism of the radical left movement. It’s safe to say the film paved the way for shows like South Park and family guy in the future.

4/10 The Good Earth did not cast Chinese actors for the lead roles… of Chinese farmers

The good ground follows Chinese farmers as they struggle to survive in pre-World War I China. It is based on the novel of the same name by Pearl S. Buck, adapted for the stage in 1932 by Owen & Donald Davis. The film was nominated for five Oscars and won Best Actress and Best Cinematography.

Star Luise Rainer won Best Actress for her portrayal of the lead role’s wife, O-Lan. However, Rainer herself was German, not Chinese. Buck and producer Irving Thalberg intended the cast to be all-Chinese, but the studio determined that American audiences would not be interested in a film with a Chinese cast – something that still happens all too often today. Chinese-American actress Anna May-Wong; a friend of Buck, famous for the role of O-Lan but who was ignored, which left her devastated.

3/10 Freaks left viewers disgusted

Monsters was released in 1932 and is about a group of carnival performers. In the film, a trapeze artist joins the group, marries the dwarf leader, and conspires to kill him in order to take his inheritance.

The film was a critical and commercial bomb. Test screenings revealed that audiences were horrified by the film, especially the ending where the trapeze artist is tortured by the performers and turned into a “human duck” in revenge. The film had several cuts and endings in order to appeal to censorship and was even banned in a few countries.

2/10 Paris’ most infamous scene’s latest tango wasn’t coordinated with the actress beforehand

Last Tango in Paris starred Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider as a couple who begin a sexual relationship in Paris, France. It was the seventh-highest-grossing film of 1972, the same year Brando starred in The Godfather.

The film received an X rating primarily for its sexual content. A famous scene that sparked controversy was a scene where Brando’s character assaults Schneider using butter as a lubricant. Schneider was uncomfortable filming the scene, and the director later said that the use of butter was improvised on the day and that Schneider had not been warned beforehand. After this information was released, the film’s status as a classic and the kind of message it sends to aspiring filmmakers has often been debated.

1/10 Straw Dogs Angry Viewers

straw dogs stars Dustin Hoffman as David, a small-town man who exacts revenge after his wife Amy is brutally assaulted. Tensions boil over and David responds violently, struggling to protect his wife.

The film’s controversy came from its two sexual assault scenes, which were considered brutal, shocking, and prolonged. He was also criticized for glamorizing the act, as Amy hugs and kisses her attacker in one of the scenes. The extreme violence also led some to say that the film endorsed violence as redemption.

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