Moments in cinema can build up notoriety all by themselves if they are against the general norm, instead being disgusting, dirty, scary, or even dangerous. Sex scenes have been prime targets of controversial and differing opinions since their existence in film, and though many-a-times this is because of people taking legitimate and understandable offense to the content, upon research I have discovered that some scenes were way ahead of their times to have its audience appreciate them for what they had to offer.
‘Controversial’ does not necessarily mean bad – it instead highlights that there is something about the following moments that were… different. That doesn’t automatically make any of these scenes good either, but what it does do is make them interesting enough for us film lovers to dive into and examine. Why exactly did these particular cinematic moments cause a lot of disruption in the society when they came to light? Well, this is the question that the article sets out to answer by examining what connects film with culture. Here is the list of top most controversial sex scenes ever.
10. Crash (1996)
David Cronenberg is a director whose work has more or less satisfied me. I really enjoy his ‘Crash’, and find it a little saddening that the 2006 Oscar winner had to be given the same title, since that film pulled this away from the limelight. Cronenberg is a very bold director, and I’ve felt as though he shows what he has on his mind on the screen, no matter how unpleasant or disturbing. Therefore, it shouldn’t come off as surprising that the sexual content in his 1996 release was met with some unhappy backlash. The film depicts sexual acts initiated by violence. Its protagonist, played by James Spader, is a man who gets aroused by car accidents in such a way that he “makes use” of the wounds left behind on those injured. Because of all this, the film was banned by the Westminster Council, and many critics spoke harshly on its sexual depictions. The picture was heavily edited in many parts of the world as well, most notably Australia.
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9. The Brown Bunny (2003)
‘The Brown Bunny’ is one of the most controversial films of all time, and is now remembered for the feud between the director and famed critic Roger Ebert (who called it the worst film to ever premiere at Cannes) more than anything else. Among the many things about the film that people took offense to was an unsimulated blowjob nearing the end, performed by popular actress Chloe Sevigny. The scene riled its audience up so much that the aesthetic qualities of the supposed “art” film were since lost to its notoriety. ‘The Brown Bunny’ is, unsurprisingly, a very divisive film, but I find it to have many points of merit. Sadly, due to the rumors and news that spread nearing the release of this film, Sevigny was dropped as a client of the William Morris Agency. Following this, though, she has proved herself to be a noteworthy actress with some challenging roles to her credit.
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8. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Sometimes it isn’t the sex act presented on screen that people take note of – rather it is the circumstances and people involved. Such was the case in the beautifully filmed 2005 movie ‘Brokeback Mountain’, which became the first major motion picture to showcase a sex scene with two male participants. It was something that was unheard of in a year as recent as 2005, and therefore this scene, despite not being either explicit or graphic, was met with criticism and very strong reactions from religious groups and major news networks like Fox News. Many theaters all around the world refused to allow it to be displayed on their screens because of this. Thankfully, modern filmgoers think of ‘Brokeback Mountain’ as a prime example of pristine filmmaking. The ongoing controversy at the time of its release might have led to its Best Picture snub at the Oscars the following year.
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7. 9 Songs (2004)
‘9 Songs’ has been referred to as “the most sexually explicit film of all time”, and this could very well be the truth. Most of the movie contains real and unsimulated sex acts performed in graphic detail by the two leads. It was filmed with very little protection during the called-out scenes, with a condom worn during penetrative vaginal sex (though this was not the case when it came to oral sex). The film sparked debates all over the country regarding its explicit content, and it received an 18 certificate from the BBFC. In Australia, the film received an X rating, and New Zealand banned the showing of this picture in its theaters to a large extent. I found this picture unbearably bad, with the titular 9 songs being what I couldn’t stand the most. Still, it is an interesting watch, if only to acknowledge the controversy surrounding it.
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6. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
I think controversy is a given when the film in question is directed by legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. His 1971 masterwork is probably the one that made newspaper headlines and debate topics based on its sexual endeavors the most. The film has its themes surrounding the topics of violence and rape, which it displays in graphic, disturbing detail during the first few scenes itself. A couple of explicit sex scenes and a very shocking rape scene from early on landed the film with an X rating in the US. The picture was held up during several court cases at the time surrounding brutal episodes as something of an inspiration for the perpetrator. UK cinemas claimed its content of sexual violence to be of a very extreme nature. Following the heated critical backlash though, ‘A Clockwork Orange’ has now been regarded as a landmark of cinema, with many even claiming it to be the master director’s best work.
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5. Irreversible (2002)
Another director whose films have faced a lot of controversy regarding its content, Gasper Noe, with his ‘Irreversible’ tells a non linear story that holds romance and violence as its core themes. Several sexual scenes in the film stand out, but nothing is more memorable (in a disturbing sense) than a pivotal rape scene halfway in that goes on for longer than one would expect. It is both graphic and painful to watch, which is what led to its infamy among moviegoers and critics alike. Adding to this the fact that the rapist (as well as the antagonist of the film) was a homosexual led to people classifying the picture as a “homophobic film”. Noe has since come out and said in interviews that this was never his intention, and that he wasn’t a homophobic person himself. I find ‘Irreversible’ to be one of the most fascinating cinematic experiments of all time, and though it is hard to watch, it is well worth viewing.
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4. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ is one of my favorite Martin Scorsese films, and it isn’t hard to see why it was offensive to many Christians upon its release in 1988. For one, its anomalies from Gospel narratives wasn’t something that was welcomed with open arms by its religious audience members. The scene that most people noted as being preposterous is one that takes place nearing the end of the third act, when Jesus Christ is nailed and receives a vision from the Devil that portrays how his life would’ve been had he got down off the cross. In it, he sees himself get married to Mary Magdalen, with whom he later has sexual relations, giving rise to children. Later he is shown to have an adulterous affair with Martha when Mary is out. Naturally, few were pleased with what they saw, and this led to some dangerous incidents like death threats that were made, theaters that were bombed, and one in particular where a school bus was driven into a theater showing this film.
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3. The Devils (1971)
There are few films that are as good as ‘The Devils’ is. Upon its release though, this picture was harshly criticized due to its violent nature and outlook on sex and religion. The film was rated X in both the US and the UK, while being outright banned in many other countries. It’s depiction of the Catholic Church is what people mainly took offence to. The film is about a priest named Father Grandier who the Sisters take a liking towards (in a sexual manner). There is a particular scene that riled the audience in which a stature of Christ is attacked and the crucifix is used as an object of sex, as the sisters go berserk in the altar. Director Ken Russel had to cut many scenes from the film in order to maintain the X rating. The picture is still controversial to this day, but its boldness and astute approach have been appreciated by both general moviegoers and critics alike.
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2. Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
Though this is not a film I particularly enjoy, it isn’t hard to see why ‘Salo’ holds its position as a “Great Movie” among some people. Still as controversial and divisive today as it was back in ’75, the portrayals of rape and torture in this film resulted in it getting banned in several countries. The fact that many of the participants in these scenes looked younger than the age of maturity was also cited as a major issue. I found many of the scenes hard to watch and downright disturbing, but it is argued by the film’s supporters that the purpose of it is to make you feel so. It isn’t to be liked, but to be repelled by, and from this reaction comes forth a sense of appreciation for the film’s contents. Ultimately, what one thinks of this picture is up to themselves, because the general consensus has never leaned towards either side. Upon release, the BBFC rejected it, Australia banned it, and so did New Zealand, though in later years they have taken a more liberal stance with their actions towards the film.
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1. Last Tango in Paris (1972)
The controversies regarding a particular scene in this film has a lot to do with what happened behind the scenes. It is a moment where Maria Schneider’s character is anally raped by Marlon Brando’s character after he uses butter as lubricant. It came to the limelight after the actress claimed that she was immature (being 19 years of age) and wasn’t aware of how to react when such a scene (that was never in the script) was given to her. According to her, the film “ruined her life” and during the scene, she “felt a little raped”. New evidences that support the authenticity of her claims were shoveled out late last year, wherein Bernardo Bertolucci “confessed” to having raped her. The film and this specific moment from it remain highly controversial to this very day, and it has become one of the most mysterious incidents to happen backstage in cinema history.
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