ByMark Newton, writer at
Movie Pilot Associate Editor. Email: [email protected]
Mark Newton

Movies are certainly no strangers to moral outrage. Indeed, seeking out the moral outrage of religious or parent groups is sometimes the express objective of controversial film makers. However, courting this kind of reaction can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can send swarms of people flocking to theaters, on the other it can leave a movie dead in the water.

Here are 6 movies which caused moral outrage on their release.

Cannibal Holocaust

As the name suggests, Cannibal Holocaust isn't exactly a family friendly flick. The movie, which arguably started the found-footage genre, was never shown in theaters when it was first released, while many video stores refused to stock the title.

Much of the controversy surrounded whether or not the film showed actual scenes of real human death - making Cannibal Holocaust a kind of snuff film. The original version of the movie did indeed feature scenes of real execution-style deaths, however these were not explicitly filmed for the film. Instead they were stock footage taken from a documentary called The Last Road to Hell. The film also included scenes of real-life animal cruelty, including scenes which were considered tantamount of animal torture. Later much of this footage, inlcuding both human and animal deaths, would be removed for the various DVD re-releases of the film.

Despite this controversy, Cannibal Holocaust became a much sought after 'video nasty' and is now considered a horror classic.


Back in 1971, a group of Argentinian filmmakers released a relatively standard gore-flick titled, Slaughter. Eventually the film was purchased by an American company which was specializing in the burgeoning sexploitation genre and renamed it Snuff. As with Cannibal Holocaust, the suggestion was that the film featured actual scenes of death - however, Snuff went even further.

The American marketing team behind the project attempted to generate buzz around the title by leaking false stories that Snuff featured scenes of death filmed explicitly for entertainment purposes. They even created a false organization that claimed it wanted to shut the film down, further increasing the mass public hysteria.

As a result, Snuff rocketed to the top of the box office when it was eventually released in January 1976. The Los Angeles Police Department actually investigated the film to see if the accusations of murder were true. Despite completely clearing the production of wrong-doing, myths and rumors surrounding Snuff continue to exist.

The Hobbit

Initially, you wouldn't have thought Peter Jackson's family friendly tale about a bunch of dwarves wandering around a fantasy land would be mentioned alongside movies such as Cannibal Holocaust and Snuff. However, The Hobbit also did its fair share to generate ethical outrage.

Back in 2012, news emerged that there had been a spate of animal deaths associated with the filming of The Hobbit. Apparently, animal handlers hired for the film had originally left the set when their concerns regarding the conditions animals were being kept in were ignored. As a result of these conditions, four ponies died and countless sheep and other farm animals also needlessly perished.

The American Humane Association claimed it had no jurisdiction over the issue since the animal deaths did not occur on set, while Peter Jackson also claimed the welfare of animals was outsourced to another company and had nothing to do with him. As a result of this situation, the authorities are looking to extend the powers of monitors to investigate animal deaths that also occur away from the set.

Blue Lagoon

A movie about the thematic sexual awakening of a 15-year-old girl stranded on a desert island was always going to court controversy among certain groups, even though Blue Lagoon's director, Randal Kleiser, described the film as the "R-rated film I hope parents take their kids to see."

Blue Lagoon featured 14-year-old actress Brooke Shields acting beside the 18-year-old Christopher Atkins. It seems that from the start both Kleiser and Shields' mother, Teri Shields, were eager to foster genuine chemistry between the two. Teri Shields apparently invited Atkins to sleep alone in the same tent with Shields, while prior to the pair meeting, Kleiser also gave Atkins a picture of Shields to keep above his bed.

However, despite the presence of her mother and claims by the director that he was exploring an interesting subject area, parenting groups claimed Blue Lagoon was exploiting a minor. They even went further to suggest it was tantamount of child pornography, despite the fact a 33 year old body double was used for all scenes requiring nudity.

The Amityville Horror

Like Cannibal Holocaust and Snuff, The Amityville Horror is another classic horror movie which confused viewers about its authenticity.

The marketing team for the movie heavily implied the film was the true story of the horrors encountered by the Lutz family after they moved into the apparently haunted house. They claimed to have experienced supernatural happenings resulting from a series of grisly murders which were conducted on the property. The story goes that they managed to hack only 28 days in the house before fleeing. They later published a book about the experience.

However, after they moved out, later tenants stated nothing unusual was happening at the house - while they also revealed that apparent supernatural damage had been faked. It was later suggested the reason the Lutzes made up the stories was to get out a mortgage they couldn't afford. Furthermore, the attorney of the man convicted for the murders also claimed he went along with the story to make some cash. He later exposed the Lutzes as fraudsters when they disagreed over what percentage he should get from the book's and films' profit.

Soon lawsuits started to come their way as new tenants claimed their hoax had made living in the house a nightmare - due to the large number of sightseers and invasive tourists.

Heaven's Gate

Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate now has the honor of being the 10th biggest box office bomb when adjusted for inflation - and it seems much of this has to do with Cimino's own unethical filming practices.

Back in 1980, Cimino was still riding high after directing Vietnam war film, The Deer Hunter. However, it seems he had a bit of a bone to pick with Francis Ford Coppola, who also released a well-received Vietnam War film at about the same time, Apocalypse Now. For his next film - a Western called Heaven's Gate - Cimino was apparently determined to out do Apocalypse Now's massive production. It seemed MGM, the studio behind the project, were all for it, stating he could spend as much as he liked as long as the film was made.

Cimino took this as permission to go a bit crazy. He introduced massive amounts of animals to the production (many of which died), he hired 500 extras instead of the originally allotted 100, and continued to build and rebuild massive sets. When he decided the grass for one scene wasn't green enough, he actually went through the rigmarole of constructing his own underground irrigation system.

However, it seems he also ruled the set with an iron fist. Many actors and crew deserted, while others claimed to be essentially kept hostage by unfair contracts and threats. Since all of this was occurring on a closed set, one freelance writer went undercover as an extra to expose the unethical production. This expose, plus the fact the film just wan't very good, meant Heaven's Gate only got $3 million on a budget of $44 million.


Which of these movies do you think is the most morally reprehensible?

Source: Listverse


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