The 10 Most Blasphemous Movies in History
Over the past few months, director Darren Aronofsky has experienced firsthand how creating a film based on the Bible can put you in hot water. His latest movie, Noah, has been protested and banned in markets worldwide because of its inaccurate depiction of the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark. While Hollywood has a history of controversial religious films making huge profits at the box office, other times the material is deemed so offensive that it causes a movie to become D.O.A. with audiences.
The good news for Paramount is that Noah has already opened strong overseas, although it hasn’t been tracking like a record-breaker in the U.S. As we wait to see if Noah can stay afloat amongst a flood of criticism from religious groups, take a look at where it lands on our list of The 10 Most Blasphemous Movies in History.
Director: Antonia Bird
Stars: Linus Roache, Tom Wilkinson, and Robert Carlyle
Most blasphemous moment: showing a priest engage in sexual intercourse with another man
In Priest, a young clergyman struggles with his vow of celibacy and his own homosexual desires. At many points during this film, clergymen are shown engaging in forbidden sexual exploits, but it’s Father Pilkington’s gay affair that received the most attention. It’s a delicate subject to tackle, and Priest pulled it off without crass exploitation; however, it still kicked up controversy within the religious community.
Still, despite its subject matter, Priest didn’t inspire the types of protests and anger that other films on this list have. That’s most likely due to the fact that the struggle was shown in realistic fashion, as opposed to other films that set out to cause a stir. Priest managed to go places no film had gone before, enraging certain groups in the process.
Director: Brian Dannelly
Stars: Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, and Macaulay Culkin
Most blasphemous moment: When seeing an actor as a crucified Christ in a loincloth, one character remarks, “Now that’s what I call being hung on a cross.”
When Mary Cummings’ longtime boyfriend reveals that he’s gay, she has a vision from Jesus demanding that she save him by keeping him on the literal straight and narrow. That’s the basic premise of Saved!, but it’s hardly the whole point. Most of the movie takes a satirical bite not only out of religion but pretty much every issue a teenager will ever face, including sex, discrimination, and abortion.
Although director Brian Dannelly has scathing points to make, most of them completely valid, Saved! is unfortunately most remembered for the controversy it generated. But, hey, you can’t make a joke about Jesus’ junk without raising a few eyebrows.
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Stars: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, and Anthony Hopkins
Most blasphemous moment: the entire movie fundamentally changes the Bible’s original story
Bible stories and blockbuster budgets never mix well, and it’s looking more and more like director Darren Aronofsky will learn that the hard way when Noah hits theaters this Friday. Based on the biblical story of Noah and the great flood, Aronofsky is saturating his version of the tale with action, adventure, and expensive special effects, enraging religious groups worldwide in the process.
As if the casting of Russell Crowe as Noah wasn’t strange enough, the movie’s trailers have also showcased oddities such as fiery swords and cartoonish super villains going for Noah’s head. There’s even talk of Noah running into some six-armed angels along the way, although no footage of that has appeared online yet.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)
Director: Terry Jones
Stars: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin
Most blasphemous moment: turning a crucifixion into a musical number
Monty Python has left a string of offended groups in its wake over the years. The British comedy troupe is at its best when getting under the skin of religious leaders. In Life of Brian, a young boy named Brian is born on the same exact day as, and directly next door to, Jesus Christ. After being mistaken as the Messiah, Brian attracts a group of followers, despite his best efforts to lose them, eventually running afoul of Pontius Pilate, who has him crucified.
And it’s no Mel Gibson torture porn crucifixion. Brian is strung up on the cross in what eventually turns into a catchy musical number. Unsurprisingly, Life of Brian was banned in many countries; in the United States, massive protests and picketing broke out. Apparently the only time it’s suitable for the Bible to be set to music when Amy Grant records an album.
The Da Vinci Code (2006)
Director: Ron Howard
Stars: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Alfred Molina, and Paul Bettany
Most blasphemous moment: making claims that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married with children
While it’s universally accepted to be offended by Tom Hanks’ tragic hairstyle in The Da Vinci Code, many Catholics took issue with the film’s plot. Ron Howard’s adaptation of author Dan Brown’s best-seller depicted a fictional conspiracy surrounding Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” painting that implicates the Church in a wide-ranging cover-up of the truth.
Years before a strung-out Charlie Sheen rambled on about Vatican assassin warlocks, Howard painted a less-than-desirable portrait of his own of the Holy City, depicting the Church as a corrupt and evil organization hell-bent on keeping secrets at all costs.
One of these secrets was that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were actually married with children. It’s obviously meant as fiction, but that didn’t stop church groups across the globe from protesting the film when it hit theaters in 2006. Apparently the church doesn’t look fondly on best-selling books filled with fictionalized religious events. Yes, that’s irony sense tingling right now.
Director: Kevin Smith
Stars: Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino, Alan Rickman, Bud Cort, Salma Hayek, and Chris Rock
Most blasphemous moment: portraying God as Alanis Morissette
Dogma doesn’t come at the Catholic church with one controversial idea or scene—the entire film is peppered with outright blasphemy. Whether it’s mocking the Catholic Church’s profiteering ways or showcasing over-the-top violence between angels and mortals, director Kevin Smith pulls no punches when skewering society’s modern views of religion.
The most controversial moment comes when it’s implied that the virgin Mary wasn’t as pure as people thought, with one of Jesus’ forgotten apostles (played by Chris Rock) commenting that “the nature of God and the Virgin birth, those are leaps of faith. But to believe a married couple never got down? Well, that’s just plain gullibility.”
Dogma outraged Catholics worldwide in 1999, but it also helped bolster Smith’s name in mainstream pop culture. You can’t cause that much hate without gaining some new fans along the way.
The Devils (1971)
Director: Ken Russell
Stars: Oliver Reed, Vanessa Redgrave
Most blasphemous moment: an orgy of nuns, which results in fornication with a statue of Christ
The Devils is easily one of the most controversial movies of all time, and few people who weren’t around when it first opened will ever see it in full. Based around the historical events that lead to the execution of a 17th century priest named Urbain Grandier, the movie features the type of blasphemous sex that should make even the most hard-line exhibitionist blush.
It’s basically one long test of squeamishness, but nothing tops the scene when Vanessa Redgrave’s Sister Jeanne character takes part in a vicious orgy of nuns. This bare-assed debauchery ends with a statue of Christ being molested as perverts from all over look on. It makes the scene later on when Sister Jeanne masturbates with the executed Grandier’s femur bone seem tame.
In addition to the explicit sex in The Devils, there are also accusations of corruption and violence towards the church throughout the movie, which helped earn drastic censorship and outright bans in all major markets. In the end, director Ken Russell’s audacious flick has been either thoroughly censored or banned everywhere.
The Exorcist (1973)
Director: William Friedkin
Stars: Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, and Max von Sydow
Most blasphemous moment: Linda Blair masturbating with a cross
Sometimes for a movie to be considered a classic, it can’t be afraid to offend along the way. And while horror fans will quickly put The Exorcist on the genre’s Mount Rushmore, others view it as a blasphemous piece of celluloid filth that mocks Catholicism and everything they hold dear.
The movie revolves around a priest who must exorcise a demon from a young girl named Regan. When The Exorcist first screened, even the most ardent atheist was likely shocked when a possessed Regan begins masturbating with a crucifix while screaming “Let Jesus fuck you!”
The Exorcist didn’t spark the types of protests and petitions that some of the other films on this list have, but it did show the world that there isn’t an orifice on the human body that should be occupied by a crucifix.
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey, David Bowie
Most blasphemous moment: Jesus’ sex scene. Nuff said.
The whole idea behind Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ was to portray Jesus as a deeply flawed, and human, individual, someone who gets tempted by Earthly desires, mostly involving sex. Scorsese’s version of Jesus’ life enraged Christians worldwide, leading to massive protests against the movie.
The worst of this was an attack on a theater that was showing the film in Paris: a radical right-wing Christian group actually bombed the theater with Molotov cocktails, injuring a dozen patrons. Unlike with most other controversial films, the anger and violence surrounding this one didn’t help The Last Temptation when the ticket sales were counted. Moviegoers actually feared for their well-being, causing the film to bomb at the box office.
The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Director: Mel Gibson
Stars: Jim Caviezel, Monica Bellucci, Maia Morgenstern
Most blasphemous moment: the persistent vilification of many Jewish characters
The Passion of the Christ was one of the most successful movies of the 2000s, but it was also the most divisive within the religious community. Jewish groups around the world condemned Gibson’s version of Christ’s life, feeling that his views placed all of the blame for Christ’s crucifixion on the Jewish people. Others, meanwhile, praised the film for its unflinching look at Jesus’ last day. Ultimately the controversy didn’t go away, and it still haunts Gibson to this day.
There was one line in the film in particular that stirred the shit. It’s when Caiaphas says, “His blood [is] on us and on our children!” This line was interpreted as placing a curse on the Jewish people for Christ’s death. Gibson denied claims of anti-Semitism, but he has also been accused of saying things like “the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world” in his spare time. He might refute those anti-Semitic claims, but if it walks like a duck…