When it comes to R-Rated movies, there’s an imaginary line drawn in the sand so that potential movie viewers can know what to expect. Without that line, viewers wouldn’t be able to tell whether or not a movie they can handle what’s in the film, mentally.
With movies like Deadpool, we pretty much know what to expect with the R rating it has received (strong language, sex, and violence). And although we haven’t seen it yet, we’re comfortable saying that we know what to expect because of that imaginary line (and our knowledge of the Deadpool universe).
While so many rated R movies may have lived up to the expectations of their audiences, there are more than a few movies that left viewers wondering whether they should have been rated X, or better yet, not have been allowed to feature beyond the walls of their production houses. These movies are abound in controversy, and it’s apparent that they were inspired by the need to be controversial as opposed to serving as an entertainment and informative piece.
Here are six R rated movies that went too far (and probably should have an X rating):
**Editor’s Note: While we’ve tried to make this piece much easier to swallow than actually seeing these films, this piece contains content that might be hard for some to read. Be thankful we haven’t included any of the more graphic images from the R-rated films below in their descriptions, as even a simple Google image search of these films is disturbing. Reader discretion is advised.**
I Spit on Your Grave (2010)
Director: Steven R Monroe
Starring: Sarah Butler, Jeff Branson, Rodney Eastman
This 2010 American film is a remake of the 1978 film of the same name, and it featured rape and vengeance. The storyline of this movie revolves around a battered woman who seeks to exact violent revenge against the men who sexually assaulted her at her cottage retreat. Revenge movies often resonate well with viewers because they can relate to it. However, I Spit on Your Grave sensationalizes this theme in a manner that completely turns the audience off. The first half an hour of the movie is characterized by scenes of sexual assault. What follows in the name of vengeance is hanging, removal of genital parts, and disembowelment by motor propeller. The hard-to-watch movie has been dismissed by many for taking vengeance too far by focusing on retribution as opposed to restoration of justice.
Key Reasons It’s Controversial
- Graphic Sexual Violence: The movie includes a prolonged rape scene, which has been criticized for being too explicit and gratuitous. Critics argue that it could be triggering for survivors of sexual assault.
- Exploitation vs Empowerment: Some people see the film as empowering because the female protagonist takes revenge on her assailants. Others, however, argue that the movie exploits the trauma for entertainment value.
- Misogyny: The film has been accused of being misogynistic, as it portrays extreme violence against women. Even though the protagonist gets her revenge, the initial violence is seen by some as perpetuating harmful attitudes towards women.
- Censorship and Bans: Due to its explicit content, the movie has faced censorship issues and has been banned in some countries. This has sparked debates about freedom of expression versus the potential for harm.
- Artistic Merit: Some argue that the film lacks artistic merit and exists solely to shock and provoke. Others believe that it serves as a raw commentary on the cycle of violence.
- Comparison with Original: The 2010 version is often compared to the 1978 original, with opinions divided on whether the remake adds any new depth or perspective to the controversial themes.
- Audience Reception: The movie has a kind of cult following and has been successful financially, but it’s polarizing. Some viewers appreciate its unflinching look at revenge and violence, while others find it distasteful and irresponsible.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Director: Ruggero Deodato
Starring: Robert Kerman, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen
Cannibal Holocaust is a 1980 Italian horror film that was inspired by the Italian media reporting of the Red Brigade terrorism, and it’s often considered the most controversial movie ever made. The main narrative of the movie is depicted through footage acquired by an anthropologist that depicts an ill-fated film crew’s vain attempts to film cannibalistic tribes in the Amazon. It is not unclear why the documentarians would abandon their noble cause and turn criminal, killing and harming some of the villagers. What ensues is gory, TOO gory, as they are attacked and killed by the tribesmen in retribution. The movie received a lashing for containing actual footage of animals being killed and mutilated, as well as its over-the-top depiction of fictionalized violence.
Key Reasons It’s Controversial
Men Behind the Sun (1988)
Director: T. F. Mous (Tun Fei Mou)
Starring: Gang Wang, Hsu Gou, Tie Long Jin
Men Behind the Sun is a Chinese film that features a graphic depiction of the atrocities that were committed by the Japanese at Unit 731, a secret biological unit for weapons experimentation during the Second World War. Some of the depictions include vivisections on live and unanesthetized patients as well as deliberate subjection to venereal diseases. While we understand why the director wanted to highlight some of these atrocities, the manner in which the film depicts these acts is over-the-top, and the imagery is too strong for viewers. In his defense, Mr. Mou insists he was trying to depict historical accuracy with his film. After being censored around the world, and Mou receiving death threats, the director probably now realizes that the mere act of representing facts as they are is not all there is to film production.
Key Reasons It’s Controversial
- Graphic Content: The movie is known for its extremely graphic and disturbing scenes, which include human experimentation and torture. Some people argue that the film crosses ethical boundaries in its portrayal of violence.
- Historical Accuracy: While the movie claims to be based on real events that took place during World War II in Unit 731, a Japanese secret military unit, there are questions about the film’s historical accuracy. Critics argue that it might sensationalize or distort the events for shock value.
- Exploitation vs. Education: There’s a debate on whether Men Behind the Sun serves as an educational piece about the horrors of war and human experimentation or if it’s merely exploiting these themes for entertainment.
- Censorship and Bans: Due to its graphic nature, the movie has faced censorship issues and has been banned in several countries. This has sparked conversations about the limits of artistic freedom.
- Ethical Treatment of Animals: The film has been criticized for its alleged mistreatment of animals during production. A particular scene involving a cat led to accusations of animal cruelty, although the filmmakers have denied harming any animals.
- Audience Reception: The film has a sort of cult following but is also widely criticized for its content. This polarized reception adds to its controversial status.
- Moral and Ethical Questions: The movie raises a lot of moral and ethical questions, like the responsibility of filmmakers when dealing with sensitive and violent historical events.
Saw III (2006)
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Starring: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Angus Mcfadyen
If you’ve seen the SAW films, you’re probably not surprised to see at least one of them on this list of R rated movies that took it too far. The horror film is the third installment of the 7-part SAW franchise. It initially focused on the crimes of Jigsaw, the serial killer who made his victims choose between life and death by all means possible. Some of the options the killer presented to his victims included killing others as well as mutilating themselves. This film is now infamous due to its cozy depiction of mutilations and killings. The ruthless removal of limbs and vital body organs, coupled with wounds inflicted on a patient by a literal pit of hypodermic needles are some of the main undoings of the movie. As if that is not enough, there is a gory scene where a certain character is forced to perform a grotesque brain surgery on Jigsaw himself while wearing a collar made of shotgun shells. The collar is primed to blow if the serial killer’s heart rate flatlines. With all these depictions, Saw III comfortably finds its place on films that went overboard.
Why it’s Controversial
- Graphic Violence and Gore: The Saw series is known for its “torture porn” elements, and Saw III took it to another level. The intense scenes of violence and gore were a major point of debate, with some critics and viewers questioning whether it was too much.
- Censorship and Rating: Due to its graphic content, the movie faced censorship issues in some countries. In some cases, it was given an adult-only rating, limiting its audience reach.
- Moral and Ethical Questions: The movie’s plot, which often involves characters making life-or-death decisions under duress, sparked discussions about morality and ethics. Some people felt the film was pushing boundaries just for the sake of shock value.
- Copycat Fears: Like other movies that involve elaborate traps or acts of violence, there were concerns that Saw III could inspire real-life copycat crimes.
- Cultural Impact: The movie, and the franchise as a whole, has been criticized for potentially desensitizing viewers to violence and suffering, given its graphic nature and lack of substantial narrative to balance it out.
- Commercialization of Violence: Some critics argue that Saw III, like its predecessors, commercializes violence and suffering for entertainment, raising ethical questions about what we find entertaining and why.
Director: Lars von Trier
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Storm Acheche
Antichrist is an experimental film that tells of a story of a couple that retreats to their cabin in the woods after the death of their child. The man begins experiencing strange visions while the woman manifests uncontrollably violent sexual behavior and sadomasochism. The woodland cabin to which the couple retreats is ominously referred to as ‘Eden.’
The director appears to have missed quite a few points as the film is unable to explain the growing animosity between the couple. The violent tendencies of the woman lead her to crush her man’s balls and force him to masturbate till he ejaculates blood. This low-budget film has been heralded as well thought-out and well-acted, but its violent depictions of inexplicable animosity between two people who should love one another are what makes pundits poke a few holes in the film.
Key Reasons It’s Controversial
- Graphic Sexual Content: The movie has some extremely graphic sexual scenes that made a lot of people uncomfortable. Some critics and viewers even labeled it as “pornographic.”
- Violence and Gore: Antichrist has scenes of extreme violence and gore, which led to debates about whether it was necessary for the story or just gratuitous.
- Misogyny: The film was accused of being misogynistic due to its portrayal of women and the themes it explores. Lars von Trier faced a lot of heat for this.
- Animal Cruelty: There are scenes involving animals that raised concerns about ethical treatment, although it was later confirmed that no animals were harmed.
- Religious Themes: The movie plays around with religious symbolism, particularly related to Christianity, which didn’t sit well with some religious groups.
- Mental Health: The film delves into psychological trauma and mental health in a way that some found to be insensitive or stigmatizing.
- Censorship and Bans: Due to its explicit content, Antichrist faced censorship issues in several countries and was even banned in some.
- Critical Reception: While some hailed it as a masterpiece, others absolutely loathed it. This polarized reception made it a hot topic for debate in film circles.
- Festival Drama: At the Cannes Film Festival, the movie received both boos and a standing ovation, making it one of the most divisive films to be screened there.
The Nightingale (2018)
Director: Jennifer Kent
Starring: Aisling Franciosi, Maya Christie, Baykali Ganambarr
The Nightingale is a 2018 Australian historical psychological thriller directed by Jennifer Kent. The movie is set in 1825 in Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania). The story revolves around Clare, a young Irish convict played by Aisling Franciosi. She’s out for revenge against Lieutenant Hawkins, portrayed by Sam Claflin, who raped her and led the soldiers who killed her husband and daughter. Clare teams up with an Aboriginal tracker named Billy, played by Baykali Ganambarr, who’s also seeking vengeance for the genocide of his people.
The movie starts with Clare working as a servant for a Colonial force led by Hawkins. She’s nicknamed “Nightingale” and sings for the men. After a series of horrific events, including the rape of Clare and the murder of her family, she decides to take matters into her own hands. She enlists the help of Billy, initially treating him poorly but eventually forming a bond with him. Together, they navigate the harsh wilderness, facing both natural and human obstacles.
As they journey, Clare and Billy come across the soldiers responsible for their suffering. Clare brutally kills one of them, Jago, but it’s Billy who eventually kills Hawkins and his second-in-command, Ruse. The movie ends with Clare and Billy at a beach, both physically and emotionally scarred, but somewhat relieved that they’ve avenged their loved ones.
The film delves deep into the themes of colonialism, racial violence, and personal vengeance. It also generated controversy for its graphic portrayal of rape and murder.
The Nightingale has been the subject of controversy mainly due to its graphic and explicit content. The movie includes multiple scenes of rape, brutal murders, and other forms of violence. These scenes are not just implied but shown in a very raw and unfiltered manner, making it extremely hard to watch for some viewers. The film doesn’t shy away from showing the harsh realities of colonial Australia, including racial violence and the mistreatment of women.
While the movie has been praised for its performances, writing, and cinematography, the extremely graphic content has led many to question whether it went too far in its depiction of violence and suffering. Some argue that the explicit scenes could potentially be triggering for survivors of sexual assault or other forms of violence.
So, while The Nightingale is a critically acclaimed film, its R-rating is well-deserved, and the movie’s explicit content has sparked debates about the ethical boundaries of depicting such brutal events on screen.
Key Reasons It’s Controversial
- Graphic Rape Depiction
- Brutal Murders
10/25/23: I added ‘Key Reasons It’s Controversial’ sections underneath each movie for added depth.
10/19/23: After watching The Nightingale (2018) tonight, I immediately decided that it belonged on this list. WARNING: THIS MOVIE IS HARD TO WATCH.