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15 Most Violent and Shocking Movie Scenes of All Time

July 30, 2017
12 min read

Depiction of violence in films has always been a subject of debates and discussions among cinephiles. A lot has been said about how much violence can be depicted in cinema but what’s important here is the purpose of it. And very few filmmakers have managed to explore the emotional and psychological aspects of violence. Most films exploit violence for shock value and entertainment purposes and they aren’t intended to disturb the audiences in any way. These films manipulate the viewers’ fantasies and provide them with a wholesome entertainment package full of action and mindless violence.

But as the great Michael Haneke once said, violence is too brutal and painful to even talk about and many filmmakers, who often regarded as provocateurs, make their viewers aware of the realities encompassing their existence which, contrary to popular opinions, makes them a lot less cynical and more optimistic. This article takes a look at the list of top most violent, shocking and disturbing movie scenes ever.

15. Taxi Driver – The Climactic Shootout

Much of the violence in ‘Taxi Driver’ might not have the same effect it had more than 40 years back. But what’s stunning here is the sheer intensity of the scene. Much of what happens in the climactic shootout still remains effective because of how much we are able to connect with Travis or empathise with him. He is truly lost and playing vigilante was his only way out. And the gun mimic he does at the end feels truly liberating in every sense. Like Roger Ebert said, we are scared of him and want to look away but we also care for him and he’s there, right there.

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14. Raging Bull (1980) – Jake La Motta Loses to Sugar Ray Robinson

Arguably Martin Scorsese’s greatest work, ‘Raging Bull’ is one of the most harrowing cinematic experiences I’ve ever had. It’s extremely painful to watch this man destroy himself, his life and the people who cared for him. And what makes this scene so powerful is the emotion that’s running through it. We finally see La Motta losing out to himself and confronting his own inner demons in a rare, human moment of vulnerability as he accepts defeat inside the ring at the hands of his greatest rival. Scorsese masterfully makes use of silence that lets us sink in on the emotions behind the scene, intensifying the madness of the moment. It’s dark, brutal, tragic and painful beyond words.

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13. Videodrome (1983) – “Long Live The New Flesh”

Canadian horror master David Cronenberg is probably one of the most controversial filmmakers of all time. His obsession with human fears has often produced some of the most bizarrely frightening and viscerally affecting movie images of all time. His cinema was more of a physical embodiment of human horror and this is perhaps best depicted in his 1983 sci-fi horror ‘Videodrome’. Max watches himself on television, murdering and uttering the words “Long Live the New Flesh” before shooting himself in the head as the television explodes and shatters into pieces. It’s bizarrely surreal and nightmarish in the way it just manages to crawl on to you and though it may seem like it is intended to provide mere shock entertainment, the impact just stays on and you could never forget what you just saw.

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12. City of God (2002) – Kid Shooting

‘City of God’ blew me away with its brutal realism and raw energy. It is, in my opinion, right up there with likes of ‘The Godfather’ and ‘The Goodfellas’ as one of the greatest gangster films ever made. The scene that shook me the most in the film happens somewhere midway through when Li’l Ze shoots two kids in their feet and asks another kid to shoot anyone of them. The kid then reluctantly shoots one, killing him instantly. What’s incredible about the scene is the acting by the kid who got shot in the foot. It’s unbelievably realistic and in a moment makes you feel how hopeless human lives can be. The scene is shot with breathtaking intensity and in many ways the cry of the kid encapsulates everything the film was all about.

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11. Once Upon a Time in America (1984) – Deborah’s Rape

Sergio Leone made us realise what it really feels like to be raped. I cannot think of any other filmmaker (barring Gaspar Noe probably) who has brutally managed to capture the true pain, disgust and horror of rape. Noodles attempts to impress his love Deborah and tries to mend their broken relationship and the two kiss passionately but in a moment of weakness, Noodles rapes her and leaves her in the car. It’s a long scene that painfully depicts the sheer brutality of rape and manages to leave a harrowing effect on you long after the scene is over.

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10. American History X – The Curb Stomp

‘American History X’ is today most remembered for Edward Norton’s stunning lead performance as the charismatic leader of a Neo-Nazi group. Probably the most famous scene in the film is the one where Derek (Norton’s character) has sex with his girlfriend in his room while a black gang attempts to steal his truck. His brother tells him about this and soon comes out of his house and shoots one of them. He nabs another one and at gun point forces him to “kiss the curb” and stomps his head from behind, killing him instantly. It’s a viscerally brutal scene that is further intensified by Norton’s remarkably brilliant acting prowess.

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9. No Country For Old Men (2007) – Anton Chigurh’s First Kill

‘No Country For Old Men’ is a masterpiece of American cinema. Plain and simple. Never has violence in cinema felt so beautiful, poetic and elegant and the film truly stands out as one of the greatest of this century. The Coens masterfully sets the tone for the film with a gorgeous opening scene depicting the beautiful Texan landscapes. It’s a brilliant use of irony as the place bears witness to the most brutal of human realities. We see a man getting arrested and taken to the nearby station but he strangles the officer from behind using the handcuffs and after an intense moment of struggle that lasts for about a minute, kills him.

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8. The Godfather (1972) – Horse Head

The infamous severed horse head scene in ‘The Godfather’ generated a significant amount of controversy back in 1972. Coppola later admitted that he obtained the horse head from a dog-food company from a horse that was to be killed regardless of the film. However, it remains as one of cinema’s most shockingly violent scenes. The scene was intended to depict the badassery of the great Don Corleone as he sends Hagen to threaten Jack Woltz, a Hollywood big shot who is reluctant to give Johnny Fontaine, Vito’s godson, the lead part in a movie. Woltz refuses to do so only to wake up in his bed next morning with the severed head of his horse.

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7. Antichrist – The Crush Scene

Of course, a Lars Von Trier film had to make the list. ‘Antichrist’ is probably his most disturbing film and it really is a genuinely shocking piece of provocative cinema. It might well be one of Von Trier’s most personal works and the film reflects his issues with depression. The atmosphere is truly horrific and the scene that stands out as the most disturbing in the film is the scene where the woman gets violent and the two share an intensely intimate moment after which the woman smashes a large block of wood onto the man’s testicles. He loses consciousness and the woman then drills a hole through his leg.

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6. Irreversible (2002) – Rectum

The reason why the rectum scene in ‘Irreversible’ is so disturbing is because it really is very disturbing. Gaspar Noe blankets you with an air of discomforting madness that chokes you and you almost scream out for help because you want to run away from this world that is so devoid of any kind of hope or sympathy. It’s this unapologetic world of nihilism that Noe crafts that makes the experience so harrowing and devastating. It’s absurd and even comical in a way because Marcus runs in and is desperate for revenge but ends up nabbing the wrong guy and tries to fight him. He is subdued and almost raped but is rescued by his friend who brutally kills the wrongly accused guy by crushing his skull using a fire extinguisher.

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5. Benny’s Video (1992) – The Murder

Michael Haneke’s second feature film follows a teenage boy obsessed with video games and action films. His frequent consumption of violence has detached him from reality and his mind seems to have blurred lines between reality and fantasy. The film is nowhere near perfection and is more like a warm up to Haneke’s greatest ventures but this scene in particular stands out as one of the most disturbing scenes of all time. Benny invites a girl to his house and shows her violent videos of a pig slaughter. He then playfully picks up a gun and holds it against his chest asking her to shoot him to which she refuses. She then asks him the same thing and when he doesn’t react, she calls him a “coward”. He then discharges the gun and she falls down as the camera looks on to the video monitor behind her in which we see Benny dragging her to the corner, cut from our vision as we only hear her screams throughout. Violence happens off-screen bu in typical Haneke fashion, the scene lingers on in our minds and what’s truly disturbing here is Benny’s utter desensitisation towards violence.

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4. Irreversible – Alex’s Rape

The infamous rape scene in ‘Irreversible’ is utterly disturbing because of the sheer length of the scene. And it gives you that feeling of watching it in real and that makes the impact more infuriating and frustrating because you know that there’s nothing you could do about it. Noe makes you realise how we remain oblivious to the brutalities that take place right within the sight of our own eyes and yet we, as humans, could do nothing about it. That’s what makes this scene and the film so powerful. It’s a hard-hitting reflection of the most painful of human realities.

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3. Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) – The Final Murders

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s ‘Salo’ is probably the most divisive film ever made in the history of cinema. For some, it’s a stone cold masterpiece while others consider it to be a disgrace to the art of cinema. However, its entry on this list wouldn’t raise many eyebrows as the film, for the most part, is plain unwatchable due to its raw depiction of violence and brutality. I could well have added the entire film, to be honest but if I were to pick just one, it would be the final scene where the victims are finally murdered but in the most brutally inhuman way you could ever imagine.

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2. The Seventh Continent (1989) – The Destruction

What’s really disturbing about the scene in Michael Haneke’s ‘The Seventh Continent’ is not what’s visible to the eye but the sheer emotion behind it. Visually, it isn’t anywhere near unwatchable but the raw emotional power of the scene makes it incredibly painful and almost nauseating in its intensity. The family decides to destroy all their prized possessions and the husband destroys the fish tank. The kid runs in and cries out loudly as the camera focuses on the dying fish. The father coldly consoles her with a sorry. This is in fact the only instance in the film where we see an outburst of an emotion. It’s absolutely terrifying to watch these people meltdown emotionally and slipping out to the darkest corners of the human psyche.

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1. Cache – Majid Suicide

I am not going overboard when I say that Majid’s suicide scene in Michael Haneke’s ‘Cache’ is simply the most shockingly violent scene ever captured in cinema. Haneke’s camera doesn’t move and it’s this freezing stillness that brings in an unsettling realism to the scene, making it so intense and emotionally powerful. I wouldn’t want to spoil the impact of the scene with my meagre words but I’ve said this before and will say it again, it is the most shocking movie scene of all time.

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