The question of the moment is: what constitutes a disturbing movie? Essentially, a film that shakes us to our core; a film that is deeply moving in a painful, intense, invasive manner; one which leaves an everlasting impression of disgust, hate, fear or embarrassment in our minds. The factors that define a disturbing movie are many – ranging from unwatchable, torturous sex scenes to gore and violence that is way beyond the norm of a crime or an action film. A few names like Lars Von Trier, Gaspar Noe, Tom Six, Michael Haneke are synonymous with these kind of movies that are so disturbing that they would give you jitters the moment you think about them.
Movies are generally considered to be for entertainment. But what if a filmmaker is not intending to entertain you but rather shock you? We think a film’s ultimate goal beyond entertainment should be to reach inside the audience’s mind and change people’s thoughts. If a film manages to do that, by our books, it is a successful film. Some filmmakers take a different approach to reach that goal: they make disturbing movies with a hope that they will help you confront the brutal realities of life. Well, sometimes it works, and sometimes, it doesn’t.
We won’t make judgement on whether the approach used by the aforementioned directors is right or wrong, at least for the sake of this article. With all that said, here is the list of top disturbing movies ever made. These psychologically disturbing movies will not let you sleep at night. These films are not only gruesome, disgusting, unsettling, shocking, horrifying, grotesque and vile but are also everything in between. You can also find some of these deeply disturbing movies on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime. The list includes the most disturbing horror movies as well.
25. Teeth (2007)
In a grossly weird and unimaginable sort of story, ‘Teeth’ revolves around a teenage girl named Dawn, who has a rare (and fictional) medical condition called “vagina dentata”. Although she initially doesn’t realize it and bites off the organ of a man having intercourse with her, she later realizes the condition makes her less vulnerable in a world of perverse male friends. Her next few sexual encounters end up bloodied, for all of them were forced upon her. When she visits a gynaecologist, he too tries to take advantage of her when she bites off his fingers with the vaginal teeth. Soon, she starts using the condition for favours, as the movie ends. With a rather funny and gory overtone, ‘Teeth’ does boast of an original story that gives a feminist tone to the typical ‘I Spit on Your Grave’ kinda stuff.
24. Hostel (2005)
Perhaps one of the classic examples of gory, deeply disturbing, sadistic movies, ‘Hostel’ begins with three American backpackers, Paxton, Josh and Oli who are on a much awaited European trip, while they have the penchant for sex, weed and booze. As the trio is on their drug and booze spree, they reach Amsterdam and meet up with a stranger who shows them pictures of a hostel in Slovakia with hot, sultry women of promiscuous nature and promises them the fun of their lives if they visit the place. As the trio drools and heads to Bratislava, Slovakia into the hostel, they discover that they were sold to a murder-for-profit organization called Elite Hunting, which hunts people of different nationalities and subject them to bloody torture in the hostel. Though there’s no story or logical thought surrounding the movie per se, if you’re a fan of gory movies with absurd level of violence, then this is THE movie for you.
23. Mother! (2017)
I guess Jennifer Lawrence couldn’t have settled for any more disturbing flick than ‘Mother!’, which comes from the kitty of Darren Aronofsky, the creator of gems like ‘Requiem for a Dream’, ‘The Fountain’, ‘Black Swan’ et al. The story begins in a simple, straightforward manner, but turns into a nightmare after an inexplicable series of events. It begins with a couple – Him and mother – who’ve moved into a burnt-down but remodeled mansion. The man is a poet who aspires to be a big shot someday, while the woman starts experiencing supernatural phenomena in the house. When strangers start pouring into the house, much to her resentment and surprise, she discovers she’s been pregnant. As Him’s poem earns him accolades and acclaim, she becomes increasingly disturbed with the influx of people into her house. And so do we, as an audience, thinking about how things are transpiring. ‘Mother!’ ends on a weird, disturbing, inexplicable note which can’t be put in words easily. You better go watch it now!
22. The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael (2005)
The thing with this film is that once you’ve seen it, however reluctantly that might have been, you cannot unsee it. Not a bit. The movie revolves around the titular Robert Carmichael, a teenager who smokes weed and indulges in alcohol and sex the whole day with his friends in a confined dilapidated house in Newhaven. The session of ecstasy and drug overdose continues to the extent when drowsy teenagers forget what is right and what isn’t. That is followed by the rape of a teenage girl and an elderly woman, both of which are extremely disturbing in nature, executed by a bunch of semi-unconscious men. A movie without any moralistic boundaries, ‘The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael’ is not for the faint-hearted.
21. Hereditary (2018)
A recent addition to the list of all-time disturbing movies, ‘Hereditary’ is a horror film at the very outset and a pretty bone-chilling one at that. The movie revolves around a miniature artist Annie Graham, who lives with her family – husband Steve, son Peter, and daughter Charlie. As Annie’s mother Ellen passes away, it is revealed that many members of Annie’s family suffered (and later died) of mental illnesses. Shortly, Ellen’s grave is found dug up and Annie often sees Ellen’s spirit. Charlie dies in a car accident following an allergy and Peter starts seeing Charlie’s apparition after. ‘Hereditary’ has a lot of jumps and scares and mind-boggling, unsettling, disturbing sequences that will keep you awake at nights. Prepared to be scared like never before. And perturbed a lot!
20. Meet the Feebles (1989)
The weirdest and goriest movie directed by Peter Jackson, something that would remain etched in the memory of the audiences for long, especially because it came from the kitty of a future great who oversaw ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. And many others apart from that. ‘Meet the Feebles’ is a dark comedy, surrounding anthropomorphic puppets who are part of a performing troupe, along with a bunch of actors with costumes. Heidi, the hippo, is the leading star of a show called “Meet the Feebles Variety Hour”, who finds that Bletch, her walrus lover, is cheating on her with Samantha, a cat. A series of insults, guilt, attempted rapes, adultery and the so-called “struggle” for survival follow in this weirdly irritable cult movie which needs a cult audience for it to be likable. Okay, I am out.
19. The Woman (2011)
To start with, nothing in ‘The Woman’ is not strange. The movie begins with a happy family, (well, apparently) with Chris, a lawyer, being the head of the family. During one of his hunting outings, he captures a feral woman who has had no contact with mankind as we know it. Chris confines her in the basement below their house and asks the family members to bring her to “normalcy”. Turns out, his family is a dysfunctional family wherein each member enjoys a particular method of torment or torture. While Chris’ son torments the woman by raping her, others have their own ways. The conclusion is equally bloody and nearly expected as it is. ‘The Woman’ got critical acclaim for its unique script and execution. But of course, it’s a difficult watch.
18. Bite (2016)
A biological horror, ‘Bite’ features Casey, a bride-to-be who is returning from her bachelorette party. As it turns out, she has an insect bite on her waist which she ignores for quite a while. As Casey believes it to be harmless initially, she tries to ward off her wedding and begins showing the traits of insects. Soon, she starts laying eggs and transforms her house into a hive, just like an insect. Soon, there are preys who would give her flesh in the form of food. Gore and ample bloodshed form part and parcel of this body horror which is not for the faint-hearted. Although the movie was a failure, both critically and commercially, ‘Bite’ is still remembered for some of the most disturbing sequences ever filmed.
17. The House that Jack Built (2018)
Lars von Trier’s latest venture may not be as rigorous or intensifying as were his earlier works, but ‘The House that Jack Built’ still manages to bring those cringes on the faces of audiences. It is the story of a serial killer named Jack and his “evolution” as a serial killer. The movie spans a course of 12 years and depicts five really gruesome murders that showcase his rise as a vile, lecherous and ”artistic” killer. ‘The House that Jack Built’ might not be Trier’s finest work, but it’s definitely one of the boldest films to have come out in recent times.
16. The Bunny Game (2011)
‘The Bunny Game’ is the story of a prostitute named Bunny who is doomed to the streets and is living a low-lying life, subject to sexual abuse while she has to constantly “beg” to her customers for money to satiate her desires of alcoholism and drug addiction. Enter Hog, a truck driver who is apparently an ex-serial killer, who kidnaps Bunny and restrains her in his truck. There begins a chain of events including extreme mental, physical and sexual torture that Bunny has to endure; something that will make you flinch many-a-times. There comes a point when death is a cleaner way to go and ‘The Bunny Game’ has left no stone unturned to explore and exploit that limit to its greatest extent. Watch this if you want yourself subjected to a viscerally intensifying yet a captivating experience. Your choice.
15. Sweet Movie (1974)
This film tells the story of two women: a nearly-mute beauty queen and another who captains a ship laden with candy and sugar. Both lure men and boys aboard for sex and death. The movie is way ahead of its time and as expected, was trashed down by critics. ‘Sweet Movie’ is not as disturbing as the others on the list, but it still is a tough watch. It is replete with visceral sex scenes, including rare sexual phenomena, killings, lust, and pedophilia.
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14. The Skin I Live In (2011)
In honour of his late wife who died in a flaming car accident, a scientist tries to synthesize the perfect skin which can withstand burns, cuts or any other kind of damage. As he gets closer to perfecting this skin on his flawless patient, the scientific community starts growing skeptical and his past is revealed, which shows how his patient is closely linked to tragic events he would like to forget. It is not a difficult film to watch but it does certainly leave you feeling disturbed. Featuring Antonio Banderas and Elena Anaya in leading roles, ‘The Skin I Live In’ received numerous accolades due to the performances, editing and cinematography. The film is directed by the iconic Spanish filmmaker, Pedro Almodovar.
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13. Antichrist (2009)
A grieving couple retreats to their cabin in the woods, hoping to repair their broken hearts and troubled marriage. But nature takes its course and things go from bad to worse. When a genius like Lars von Trier (who I’m a big fan of) makes such a disturbing film, you do try to convince yourself that there must be something in it. And even though it is not a bad film, there isn’t much to hang on to either. It is simply one of the most disturbing movies ever made. If you can stomach ‘Antichrist’, you might as well be able to make do with most of the movies on this list. With ample gore and visually uneasy sequences, ‘Antichrist’ is capable of turning your guts inside out.
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12. Oldboy (2003)
‘Oldboy’ has everything in it – brutal gut-wrenching violence and gore, the protagonist at unease, a shady antagonist, and incest. Watching this movie for the first time will certainly blow your minds, and you’d probably feel disgusted for some time. I did. But its cult status can’t be denied. It is horrifying, yet mesmerizing, and inspired two remakes. The story revolves around Oh Dae-Su, a businessman who had been wrongfully imprisoned for a period of 15 years without having any whereabouts of his captors. Once he’s released, he must seek his family, while going through a whirlwind of things he couldn’t understand. Some bizarre, unwatchable scenes have been thrown in, including his live octopus-eating scene which could make you squirm.
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11. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
A stunning cinematic masterpiece, perhaps Darren Aronofsky‘s best effort so far, ‘Requiem for a Dream’ depicts the dark and disturbing lives of four drug junkies and addicts — Harry, Tyrone, Harry’s mother Sara and his girlfriend Marion. The film focuses on their individual desires and dreams that are ruined due to their dependency on drugs and the deplorable paths they take on to overcome their problems. With scenes depicting oral sex, and drug addiction, ‘Requiem for a Dream’ explores all possible avenues of addictive pleasure and pain, portrays them in a forlorn way and rouses deep empathetic emotions in between, all within a span of 90 minutes.
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10. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
‘A Clockwork Orange’ is a true masterpiece by Stanley Kubrick. A serial sex offender and pugnacious murderer, Alex traverses from one place to another with his cohorts, raping women and hatching new plans for his delusional ventures. Caught by police and imprisoned thereafter, he is supposedly treated in the prison by a Ludovico Technique involving an eye-clamper that forces him to watch a couple of vicious movies a day. Post his treatment, Alex gives in when he pays for the crimes he committed. He’s tortured by his own cohorts after landing up at the same places where he committed those crimes. ‘A Clockwork Orange’ is a mix of hysteria, pain, and sadness and it portrays a frightening future.
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9. I Spit On Your Grave (1978)
‘I Spit On Your Grave’ is a rare exploitation movie that has spawned sequels and a series now, which started with the remake in 2010. The series of films focus on rape victims who exact revenge on their assailants. The movies are a sorry excuse for portraying the atrocities a victim goes through as it indulges so much in violence that it forgets to convey its message and feels like a shallow inspiration of Wes Craven‘s ‘Last House on the Left’. But those who love provocative flicks might find it interesting.
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8. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
The fact that ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ remains banned after 37 years of its release in some countries, and is only available in a heavily cut version tells a lot about the film’s nature. If ‘Blood Feast’ gave birth to torture porn, then Cannibal Holocaust pushed the genre to an age of adolescence. It transformed from primitive splatter to something so realistic and disgusting that many hardcore fans couldn’t stomach the changes. Apart from being a landmark in torture porn, the film also revolutionized the found footage style, as it follows a missing documentary crew who had gone to the Amazon rainforests to film cannibal tribes.
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7. Inside (2007)
Four months after the death of her husband, a woman on the brink of motherhood is tormented in her home by a strange woman who wants her unborn baby. It falls into the horror genre and of course, there’s a lot of gore involved, but what makes it disturbing is the idea that a woman can go so far in her quest for revenge. ‘Inside’ showcases sequences that involve blood and gore surrounding the troubled life of a pregnant woman, most of which will seem disturbing to many. The concluding delivery scene, wherein a woman pulls out a newborn child out of a dead body is unsettling to its core. Watch it with English subtitles but visuals convey the most of it.
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6. Funny Games (2007)
Two psychopathic young men take a family hostage in their cabin. A sadistic game of cruelty starts with the bet that the captives will not be able to sustain by the next morning. You keep watching the movie with the hope that eventually someone will escape their murderous intentions. Alas! With a wink, they drown the last of their captives and again start looking for their next target. Don’t be surprised if you feel very angry after watching this film.
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5. Martyrs (2008)
A young woman’s quest for revenge against the people who kidnapped and tormented her as a child leads her and a friend, who is also a victim of child abuse, to a terrifying journey into a living hell of depravity. There’s no question that ‘Martyrs’ is a brutally disturbing film to watch, but was it a necessary film to make? One can argue either way, considering that the film can also be looked like a study of a psychologically damaged girl.
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4. Irreversible (2002)
Events over the course of one traumatic night in Paris unfold in this film in reverse-chronological order as the beautiful Alex is brutally raped and beaten by a stranger in the underpass. Her boyfriend and ex-lover take matters into their own hands by hiring two criminals to help them find the rapist so that they can exact revenge. I know it is a very disturbing film, but at the same time, I think it has a clear message in it. A simultaneously beautiful and shocking examination of the destructive nature of the human mind, it is a film that shows how cruel time can be. ‘Irreversible’ is also infamous for one of the most intense, gruesome sexual assault sequences ever filmed in the history of cinema.
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3. The Human Centipede (2009)
A mad scientist kidnaps and mutilates a trio of tourists in order to reassemble them into a human centipede, created by stitching their mouths to each others’ rectums. Let me just confess this upfront – I couldn’t bear the film for more than ten minutes. Not because it is disgusting, but more so because it is a horrible movie. And yet, I’m mentioning this movie only because I know this is possibly one of the most disturbing movies ever made. ‘The Human Centipede’ is an unwatchable, deeply horrifying movie that is the stuff of the nightmares.
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2. Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
Perhaps there can’t be a more sickening and disturbing movie on misanthropy than ‘Salò’, which even surpasses the greatest extreme pornographic acts of sodomy, coprophagia and orgies combined. While flaying, leashing, anal intercourse, fondling, victimisation and objectification of men and women are ubiquitous in the movie, what is extremely disturbing is the questionable sanity of the filmmakers, or the conjurers of ‘Salò’. How could a rational person even think of this? Watching a group of nine young men and women getting sodomized, mutilated, forced-fed with faeces, humiliated, tortured and killed can be a truly horrifying experience. It’s a big challenge for even the most ardent lover of provocative cinema.
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1. A Serbian Film (2010)
An aging porn star agrees to participate in an “art film” in order to make a clean break from the business, only to discover that he has been drafted into making a pedophilia and necrophilia themed snuff film. Notwithstanding the idea of going back to what he did before, he tries escaping but all in vain. Showcasing newborn rape scenes and fellatio, bloodied genitals and much more, ‘A Serbian Film’ stoops so low that it will make you question your morals while you watch the film. I don’t think any film can be more disturbing than this one. It’s just sadistic on every level you can imagine. Truly, the most disturbing movie ever made.
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