10 Controversial Movies That Now Seem Tame Source: YouTube

There have been a lot of controversial movies over the years. In fact, controversial and disturbing movies hit theaters each and every year. Yet time has a way of making movies that were once considered blasphemous and appalling seem rather tame. Laughably tame in some instances. Many movies that were banned from theaters when first released are now shown on television on a Sunday afternoon—uncut and unedited. And subject matter that was once extremely controversial and polarizing is no longer. As society evolves and people’s tastes change, so too do the subjects, issues and movies we consider controversial or in bad taste. Here then are 10 movies that were controversial when first released that now seem tame.

10. Death Wish (1974)

This Charles Bronson vehicle, about a mild mannered architect who becomes a gun toting vigilante and takes it upon himself to clean up New York City after his wife is murdered and his daughter is raped, was extremely controversial when first released in 1974. The film struck a nerve with urban dwellers who were grappling with rising crime rates and violence at the time—particularly in major cities such as New York and Chicago. The movie’s premise, which made a violent and lawless vigilante its hero, plus the violent shootings it depicted, made Death Wish highly controversial 40 some years ago. Fast forward to today, and this movie seems pretty sedate. In fact, it could pass for a “made for TV movie” these days. The shootings aren’t that violent and there is very little blood shown on screen. There’s also no real bad language used, and, in the age of the comic book film, vigilante antiheroes are pretty common place. You can now see worse than Death Wish in PG rated summer films. Source:

9. Friday the 13th (1980)

When the home video market began in the early 1980s, there used to be a special section for horror movies such as Friday the 13th—it was an “R rated” area in the video store where all the violent, controversial horror movies were kept together and away from impressionable kids. You had to be 18 years of age, or older, to rent a movie like Friday the 13th, and kids and teens had to rely on their parents to rent them a Betamax or VHS horror movie for their weekend sleepover. Now, you can see Friday the 13th broadcast on television on a Saturday afternoon. And the violence that was so deplorable and controversial back in 1980 today looks cartoonish and ridiculous. Is that a head flying off or a pumpkin? What is that dripping from the ceiling, ketchup? Yes, the once controversial hack and slash films of the 1980s now look ridiculous and tame compared to what passes for a horror film these days. This film ain’t Saw or the The Blair Witch Project, that’s for sure. Source:

8. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

As far as bank robbery or heist films go, Bonnie and Clyde is pretty mild. There’s not a lot of violence in most of the movie except for the sound of gun shots being fired from a car over banjo music as Bonnie (actress Faye Dunaway) and Clyde (actor Warren Beatty) escape from their latest heist. There’s also barely any killing, as most of the people working at the banks they rob are compliant and give up without a fight. However, it was the final scene of the movie where Bonnie and Clyde are gunned down in a hail of slow motion bullets from police wielding Tommy guns that made this movie controversial when released in 1967. Yet now, the killing looks pretty matter of fact. Audiences today, who are used to seeing heads blown off in movies such as Drive and extended shoot outs in bank robbery movies such as Heat, no doubt find the final 15 seconds of this movie pretty run of the mill. Poor Bonnie and Clyde. Source:

7. Cruising (1980)

In the era of gay marriage, the 1980 movie Cruising, about a New York City cop who infiltrates the homosexual subculture to catch a serial killer, not only seems tame but out of date and pretty ridiculous. Actor Al Pacino plays the straight-as-nails detective who has to go undercover in the gay community to find the killer praying on gay men. True to its era, the movie depicts homosexuals as leather-clad degenerates hiding in the shadows and partying in underground clubs. Pacino himself has to get into the act—perming his hair and wearing tank top t-shirts and leather—in order to track the killer down. The whole thing was considered highly controversial when released in 1980. But today, the movie looks like a relic from another era. And a pretty insulting and stereotypical one at that. Watching this movie, one realizes how far we’ve come as a society. Source:

6. The Exorcist (1973)

Creepy kids are pretty common in horror movies today. But back in 1973 when The Exorcist was released, audiences had never really seen a young child possessed before, or play the villain for that matter. Children in movies tended to be treated like the angels they are. So to see 12-year-old actress Linda Blair literally possessed by Satan was a lot for moviegoers at the time to handle. Plus, the gory make-up and special effects that had Linda Blair’s head spin around while she spewed vomit was literally unlike anything people had seen before. However, it was Linda Blair’s sex act with a Crucifix that sent church groups running for their protest placards. This movie was denounced as blasphemous, amoral and anti-Christian upon its initial release. Many smaller towns across America refused to screen the film. However, it spawned a whole genre of horror movies that featured children—from The Omen and The Shining to Poltergeist, Village of the Damned and Children of the Corn. When watching The Exorcist now you might still get a little creeped out, but the movie certainly doesn’t prompt the reactions it got back in the early 1970s. Source:

5. Straw Dogs (1971)

This Sam Peckinpah-directed film is about a man forced to protect his home and wife from hoodlums who are trying to break into it. Basically, it’s the same plot as Home Alone. Yet, when first released in 1971, the movie Straw Dogs was considered extremely controversial. The violence and depiction of cruelty festering in the bucolic English countryside did not sit well with film critics or tourism boards in either the U.S. or England. And a scene where the actress Susan George is shown being raped put people over the edge—especially since, as some critics noted, the character getting raped is shown to be enjoying the experience. While not everyone agrees with the rape scene in question (Susan George is seen later in the film having flashbacks about it and breaking down), the fact is that Straw Dogs was greeted with protests and bans when it hit cinemas. But now, the violence and rape scene seem ho-hum compared to the average action thriller in multiplexes today. Proof that this film has mellowed with age can be found in the fact that it was remade in 2011 and greeted by critics and audience with a big yawn. Source:

4. First Blood (1982)

I know what you’re thinking: “First Blood was controversial?” Yep, it was. When released in 1982, this movie was criticized by the U.S. military and protested by Vietnam veterans who took exception to the depiction of soldier John Rambo (actor Sylvester Stallone) as an emotionally scarred, unhinged maniac who shoots up small town America. While critics took issue with the violent, nihilistic tone of the movie, military command and veterans accused First Blood of sensationalizing the trauma caused by the Vietnam conflict and predicted that the movie would spawn copycat incidents like those shown in the film. With Vietnam still a fresh wound in American society, this movie was a case of too much too soon. But more than 30 years later, this film comes off as a passable, low-tech action film and not much more. And traumatized soldiers out for revenge is a plot thread that’s been exhaustively repeated in movies since First Blood debuted at the start of the Ronald Reagan presidency. Source: YouTube

3. The Life of Brian (1979)

It’s arguably the best movie Monty Python ever made, but The Life of Brian, about a lazy Nazarene who is mistaken for the Messiah, caused huge controversy when it bowed in theaters in 1979. Monty Python members John Cleese and Eric Idle even received death threats over the film that mercilessly skewers religion. Christian groups in England and the U.S. formed picket lines and complained that The Life of Brian mocked Jesus, Christians and faith itself. Catholic leaders accused the Monty Python group of committing a mortal sin and radio talk shows were flooded with callers denouncing the movie. Today, The Life of Brian comes across as a sharp and hilarious send-up of the very religious zealots who attacked this movie back in 1979. And, as they sing at the end of the film while hanging from Crucifixes, “Always look on the bright side of life.” Source:

2. Do The Right Thing (1989)

Race relations are still an issue in society, but with a black president in the White House, it seems that we have come a long way from the controversy that greeted director Spike Lee’s classic movie Do The Right Thing when it reached theaters in 1989. The ideas expressed in the movie, as well as the riot featured at the conclusion, made many people uncomfortable. However, Do The Right Thing is a film about ideas, and those ideas are expressed very intelligently. There is very little violence in the movie, and to watch this film now is to wonder what all the fuss was about more than 25 years ago. Certainly there have been more violent and controversial depictions of race relations before and since. Perhaps what made Do The Right Thing so unsettling for some is that it speaks an uncomfortable truth to power and holds a mirror up to society that people didn’t want to look into. Either way, this is a movie that has gotten better with time though it seems less controversial and even more intelligent today. Source:

1. Midnight Cowboy (1969)

The 1969 movie Midnight Cowboy is the only X-rated film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Directed by John Schlesinger, Midnight Cowboy is about a young and naïve hustler and male escort, played by actor Jon Voigt, who heads to New York City with dreams of making a fortune sleeping with women for money. In the Big Apple, he meets up with a homeless character named Ratso Rizzo (played by actor Dustin Hoffman) and the two descend into the dark street culture of New York. This movie was lauded by critics when released and won big at the Oscars. However, its depiction of drugs, homosexuality and men turning tricks for money got it slapped with an X-rating and caused a ton of controversy. Time though has softened this movie, and today it seems pretty tame compared to what passes for drugs and sex in the cinema. In fact, the movie Midnight Cowboy is best remembered today not for its controversial subject matter, but for the popular Harry Nilsson song “Everybody’s talkin’ at me…” that is featured in the film, and is a rather uplifting tune. Source:
Jack Sackman

Jack Sackman

Jack Sackman has been writing about movies and TV for Goliath since 2013.