Chantel Brink
Chantel Brink
June 16, 2024 ·  6 min read

12 of the Most Shocking Movies of All Time

In the realm of entertainment, trends often surge into popularity before fading into obscurity, and horror cinema is no exception. Shocking movies captivate both audiences and critics alike, reigning supreme for a period. However, a recent shift has seen horror films veering towards darker and more unsettling territory, perhaps mirroring the pervasive anger and frustration prevalent in contemporary culture and politics. For aficionados of horror, the quest for a spine-chilling experience or a visceral scare is perpetual. Many seek out films that push the boundaries of discomfort and horror, whether through shocking imagery or psychological terror. Classic entries like A Serbian Film, Cannibal Holocaust, and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre often dominate discussions of disturbing cinema, providing audiences with a glimpse into the depths of human depravity.

Are You Brave Enough?

Horror movie. Terrified young couple eating popcorn while watching movie at the cinema
Credit: Shutterstock

Yet, amid this landscape, a new wave of horror films from the past five years has emerged, delving even deeper into themes of depravity and horror. These recent offerings explore a spectrum of disturbing topics and visuals, confronting viewers with unsettling narratives and triggering content. Notably, these films are not for the faint of heart, as they push boundaries and challenge sensibilities. However, for those brave enough to venture into the darkness, these films offer more than mere shock value. They provide a cathartic exploration of the darkest recesses of the human psyche, inviting audiences to confront their fears and anxieties head-on. In embracing the extremes of horror, these films offer a glimpse into the abyss, where terror and catharsis intertwine in unsettling harmony.

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Crimes of the Future’ (2022)

shocking movies Crimes of the Future' (2022)
Image Credit: Collider

A 2022 offering from the maestro of body horror, David Cronenberg, transports audiences into a sleek yet disheveled sci-fi future. Here, humanity has transcended its synthetic origins, evolving to a state where pain and medicine are relics of the past. In this eerie dystopia, the macabre has become mundane, with open surgeries and self-mutilation serving as societal norms.

A Serbian Film (2010)

A Serbian Film (2010)
Image Credit: Flickering Myth

Earning its status as the reigning monarch of shocking movie cinema, A Serbian Film commands reverence and repulsion in equal measure. Surrounded by a legendary aura, the film was once regarded as the “Holy Grail” of poor taste, with cinephiles going to extreme lengths to procure uncut copies. Despite its repulsive nature, A Serbian Film’s audacious exploration of uncharted limits, pushing viewers beyond perceived boundaries, warrants acknowledgment as a cinematic tour de force.

Pink Flamingos (1972)

Pink Flamingos (1972)
Image Credit: Flickering Myth

Securing the tenth spot on any list, particularly one featuring peculiar films, signals an impending journey into the bizarre. John Waters’ Pink Flamingos, celebrated as an “exercise in poor taste,” unfolds like a peculiar documentary entwining drag queens and murder. Director John Waters and his team diligently pursue realism while infusing the proceedings with an undeniable sense of enjoyment. The film’s premise alone warrants its inclusion: two factions, prominently featuring the iconic Divine, engage in a competition to claim the title of the filthiest individual alive. Regardless of the victor, the audience finds itself on the losing end.

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

shocking movies Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
Image Credit: Flickering Myth

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom, leaves no taboo unexplored, provoking offense and shock in equal measure. Adapted from a 1785 novel, the shocking movie’s relentless portrayal of systematic torture inflicted upon adolescents by the elite spares no sensibilities, unearthing discomfort in every viewer. Released in 1975, Salo’s unapologetic depiction of offensive content remains as shocking as the events depicted within the narrative.

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August Underground (Film Series)

August Underground (Film Series)
Image Credit: Flickering Myth

The grotesque film series known as August Underground presents a challenge in selecting just one entry for this list. Each installment plunges deeper into depravity, challenging conventional cinematic norms with its unrelenting commitment to realism. While other entries strive to deliver a traditional “movie” experience, August Underground opts for a stark portrayal of reality. Among the films listed here, this one warrants the least recommendation from me, as its realistic depiction of gore and low-budget production tends to unsettle.

Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

shocking movies Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Image Credit: Flickering Myth

Cannibal Holocaust serves as a cinematic initiation for many. Heralding the advent of the found footage genre while simultaneously serving as a gateway to the realm of transgressive cinema. For decades, the film’s notorious reputation, fueled by real acts of violence and subsequent criminal investigations, fostered an aura akin to urban legend status. Individuals are either drawn to or repelled by the visceral experience it offers.

Nekromantik (1987)

Nekromantik (1987)
Image Credit: Flickering Myth

Nekromantik stands among the most banned shocking movies in history. Prohibited in numerous countries including Iceland, Norway, Malaysia, Singapore, and certain regions of Canada. The rationale behind its banning becomes evident upon viewing, as the film unfolds as one of the most shocking and obscene creations ever conceived. The casual treatment of necrophilia within Nekromantik prompts one to ponder the origins of such a concept. Fortunately, German filmmaker Jörg Buttgereit possessed the audacity to transgress every conceivable boundary.

Come And See (1985)

shocking movies Come And See (1985)
Image Credit: Flickering Myth

War films inherently exude intensity and desolation, yet none encapsulate the depths of despair quite like Come And See. This 1985 Soviet production immerses viewers in the brutal reality of World War II, evoking emotions reminiscent of the somber moments in Schindler’s List intertwined with the visceral impact of Saving Private Ryan’s opening sequence. Regarded as a classic by many, Come And See’s aspirations even extended to the Academy Awards, albeit fruitlessly.

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Irreversible (2002)

Irreversible (2002)
Image Credit: Flickering Myth

Gaspar Noe’s filmography brims with works that test the limits of viewer endurance, with Irreversible standing as his magnum opus in nihilistic storytelling. The 2002 film epitomizes a profound disdain for humanity. Underscored by an extended sequence depicting sexual assault followed by brutal acts of violence. A viewing of Irreversible inevitably leaves one in dire need of a protracted cleansing.

Martyrs (2008)

shocking movies Martyrs (2008)
Image Credit: Flickering Myth

For aficionados of bleak cinema, Martyrs ascends to the summit of must-watch films. The harrowing journey of two young women seeking retribution for their abuse leads audiences down a path of relentless torment. It is when one of the women endures systematic torture, akin to the trials of Jesus Christ, that the audience realizes the descent into uncharted territories of despair. The 2008 masterpiece Martyrs exerts a profound mental toll. A testament to its status as a pinnacle of New French Extremity cinema, duly contested by France’s film board.

Antichrist (2009)

Antichrist (2009)
Image Credit: Flickering Myth

Lars Von Trier’s oeuvre is a fertile ground for shocking cinema, whether it’s the sprawling five-hour epic Nymphomaniac or his earlier work like Antichrist. Despite its visually stunning presentation, Antichrist’s exploration of sex, violence, and grief resonates with a disquieting intensity. Filmed during a tumultuous period in Von Trier’s life, the film exudes an unrelenting bleakness devoid of any semblance of joy, punctuated by scenes of visceral body mutilation.

Infinity Pool (2023)

shocking movies Infinity Pool (2023)
Image Credit: Collider

At the core of “Infinity Pool” lies a chilling exploration of the moral quandaries surrounding the manipulation of clones for personal gain and retribution. The film delves into themes of morality, control, and the corrosive nature of unbridled desire. With its labyrinthine plot and symbolic depth, “Infinity Pool” captivates viewers while plunging them into a nightmarish odyssey.

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Sources

  1. “The 10 Most Disturbing Movies of the Past 5 Years, Ranked” Collider.
  2. “Not for the Faint of Heart: The Most Shocking Movies of All Time” Flickering Myth.
  3. The 18 most disturbing movies of all timeAV Club.