10 Most Controversial Movie Moments

The most controverisal movie moments come from films including Psycho, Prometheus, and American Histoy X.

By Jonathan Klotz | Published

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There have been hundreds of controversial movie moments over the last century of cinema, but these are the best, or the worst, of the lot. Television has its own controversies, from Star Trek to television finales, but there’s something different about a movie that inspires that level of emotion and discussion. Every moment on this list has been debated, analyzed, and sometimes derided for years.

10. The Naked Fight – Borat

Borat is a movie full of controversial moments, from the dinner party to the frat boys on the bus and the various interview segments spliced between the cringe-worthy scenes of Sacha Baron Cohen traveling across America. The lengthy naked fight between Borat and Azamat (played by a game for everything Ken Davitian) happens during a San Diego mortgage convention, horrifying onlookers and the audience. It’s hard to top the attempted kidnapping of Pamela Anderson, but somehow, seeing the two comedians roll around naked in public for over five minutes manages to be the strangest, most unexpected scene in one of the most controversial and funniest movies of all time.

9. Alien Birth – Prometheus

The Alien franchise has featured xenomorphs bursting out of humans since John Hurt in 1979. Still, none have been as disturbing as Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth conducting a c-section on herself in Prometheus. Ridley Scott’s prequel is a controversial movie for a whole litany of reasons, but the scene with the laser on the medical table caught viewers off-guard with how visceral and detailed it was.

This scene goes through each step of the medical procedure in great detail, ending with a disgusting alien hanging from a hook, and it could be argued that skipping a few steps or leaving it open for viewer interpretation would be easier to handle.

8. The Curb-Stomp – American History X

American History X, starring Edward Norton, is a controversial movie, but when it first came out, all anyone could talk about was the curb-stomp scene. After Norton’s Neo-Nazi character, Derek Vinyard catches a truck thief, he administers vigilante justice in a graphic, disturbing sequence that is, sadly, true to the physics of what happens to people. It’s harder to watch the curb stomp than it is the entirety of Fight Club or any Quentin Tarantino movie, and even today, the scene stands out for its brutality.

7. The Ending – Gone Girl

It’s hard for a movie adaptation of a best-selling novel to be considered controversial when it’s known what happens, but Gone Girl managed to anger a large group, even including book readers, with the alleged misogynist ending. Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) reveals she framed her cheating husband (Ben Affleck), trapping him in a loveless marriage and fulfilling the fears of a whole community of online forums devoted to hating women. Considered to be attacking women while enforcing a negative stereotype, the ending could also be interpreted as a woman taking back her power, but either way, it’s still divisive over a decade after the novel’s release.

6. Rape and Revenge – I Spit On Your Grave (1978)

I Spit On Your Grave is considered by many to be the worst film ever made, starring Camille Keaton as Jennifer Hills, a woman that is viciously gang-raped before setting on a path of revenge against her assaulters. What makes this one of the most controversial movies of all time is how graphic it is; not only the initial assault but what Jennifer does is….disturbing. A 2010 remake, despite being bloody, isn’t as gruesome as the original, which does deserve some credit for its influence on the horror genre with its take on the Final Girl trope.

5. Russian Roulette – The Deer Hunter

One of the most successful films on this list, The Deer Hunter was a controversial movie for both how it framed the United States involvement in Vietnam and the Russian roulette sequence engineered by their Vietcong captors. The three soldiers, played by Christopher Walken, Robert de Niro, and John Savage, have to put a loaded gun to their heads and pull in an intense yet disturbing scene. Echoed later in the film’s tragic climax, Russian roulette became the enduring symbol of the war., from the psychological impact on soldiers to the seemingly random nature of horrible things happening to their friends.

4. The Ending – No Country For Old Men

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The Coen brother’s award-winning No Country for Old Men was one of the best films of 2007, but what makes it a controversial movie isn’t the violence or oppressive darkness of the plot; it’s the ending. Tommy Lee Jones’s sheriff recounts dreams to his wife, leaving the final fate of Javier Bardem’s villainous Chirguh up in the air, a dissatisfying ending to an otherwise fantastic film. The pair of dreams, inside of bringing the crime plot to an end, serve to explain the film’s title, with the sheriff as the titular old man realizing that time has left him behind.

3. Ultra-Violent Opening – A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange is still a controversial movie 52 years later, so imagine the uproar when it started with Malcolm Mcdowell’s Alex leading his gang of Droogs on a night of “the good old ultra-violence.” A serious debate about how far a movie can go in the name of art resulted following the scene, which included a rape and an assault on a man. The segment was one of the reasons why the film was banned in multiple countries, including Singapore, Spain, and Ireland.

2. The Shower – Psycho

When Marion Crane, on the run after stealing cash from her boss, stops at the Bates Motel for the night, she settles in, starts up a shower, and is promptly murdered in one of the most unexpected scenes in movie history. Hitchcock famously had a “no late arrivals” policy implemented at theaters for the film, and no one would miss the slow, agonizing build-up to the most famous shower scene in movie history. In the moment, it wasn’t clear that Norman was the killer, and none of the marketing hinted at the fate of Janet Leigh’s character, making this Hitchcock’s greatest misdirect.

1. Is It A Dream – Inception


Christopher Nolan‘s Inception is famous for having one of the most ambitious endings in movie history, which is still being argued today. Did the top wobble at the end, and does that mean Leonardo DiCaprio‘s thief, Cobb, is still stuck in Limbo? It is such a controversial movie that the final shot makes some people think the top stayed level when it wobbled.

Comparable to The Soprano’s television finale, which had a sudden fade to black under equally as ambiguous circumstances, Nolan insists the point of the ending is that Cobb isn’t watching the top, but rather, his children, not caring if it’s real or not. Most controversial movies can be debated for years, and with Inception, the discussion will never let up.