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Times People Were Furious A Movie Was Actually Made

You can't please everybody. When a movie's made, some people will like it, and some won't: that's just the way art goes. Often, this is just a matter of taste; sometimes, it has more to do with how the film's central idea was executed. But when the idea itself is the problem, a film's reputation can grow far beyond its audience, stirring up controversy along the way. These films might take aim at a specific culture, social more, or historical event. They might just have a sense of humor that gets taken the wrong way. Whatever the reason, they get a lot of people mad before they're even released.

Of course, all the controversy usually helps these films in the end, by giving them free attention and word of mouth. It's not a coincidence that the most controversial films continue to draw viewers long after they've left the theater. They're movies worth examining, even for those who disagree with them. From movies critical of Christianity to those supporting it, from adaptations the author hated to satires of living dictators, here are times people were furious a movie was actually made.

The Last Temptation of Christ

As an adaptation of the 1955 book, Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ already had a legacy of controversy before it was even filmed. The book, from Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis, infuriated the Greek Orthodox Church and inspired religious protests upon its publication. So it probably wasn't much of a surprise when Christian groups rose up against the production of Scorsese's film, even if it was 30 years after the book arrived on shelves. What might have been more of a surprise was just how broad the resistance had become, as some Catholic and evangelical Protestant communities joined with the original Greek Orthodox Church in their condemnation of the film.

Why did Last Temptation draw so much pushback? The film portrays no less than Jesus Christ in the lead role — specifically, Christ as a human figure wrestling with his own divinity. Christ is wracked by various temptations: not only lust, but fear, doubt, and anger, too. The titular "last" temptation involves an extended sequence during which Jesus renounces his divinity, marries, and has children.

Though Jesus later rejects this possibility, the very fact that he was presented as a human and even sexual being was considered unconscionable by conservative Christian organizations, who had the film banned at certain theater chains and got 25,000 people to protest outside of distributor Universal's headquarters. Nevertheless, the film earned Scorsese a Best Director nomination, and has retained a positive reputation among cinephiles over the years.

Pearl Harbor

Hollywood has produced endless World War II films over the years and usually, they don't inspire much in the way of controversy. But Disney found itself sailing into choppy waters when it announced a film based on the Pearl Harbor bombing that brought America into the war in the first place.

The film itself focused on a small number of characters and the heroic actions they took during the Japanese attack on the naval base. The trouble was that these characters were entirely fictional, and many veterans of the actual raid took issue with the fact that real heroes weren't being represented. It probably didn't help much that the film was being directed by Michael Bay and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, a duo known for creating popcorn action movies like The Rock and Bad Boys. And while all movies have to take some artistic license with history, Pearl Harbor was considered an especially egregious case, which isn't a great look for a portrayal of an American tragedy.

At the end of the day, Pearl Harbor appears to have been following Titanic's lead: take a historical disaster, throw in a romance, and profit. Where they ran aground was in using a military assault in place of an iceberg: one inspires strong passions, the other is a giant hunk of ice. On release, the film was widely panned anyway, which probably led Disney to wonder why they'd bothered at all.


Once upon a time, comic book superheroes were for kids. They wore brightly colored costumes, fought bad guys, and always did the right thing. After decades, though, the comics industry was ready for a transformation. In the mid-'80s, a number of comics presented a darker, bloodier, more adult look at heroes and their worlds, and revolutionized what these "funny books" could be. Among the greatest of these was Watchmen, a brilliant deconstruction of the entire superhero genre that showed the flawed humanity underneath the spandex.

Watchmen was written by comics virtuoso Alan Moore, who had already created a few masterpieces like V for Vendetta. However, Watchmen was a project he'd created for industry titan DC Comics, which was itself owned by film studio Warner Bros. That meant that, at any time, WB could take his creation and turn it into a movie. After the success of the comic adaptation 300, WB gave the rights to Watchmen to director Zack Snyder — and Moore was furious. Calling the very idea of a Watchmen movie "regurgitated worms," Moore insisted that his work was intended exclusively for the comic medium and was never intended to be adapted into anything else.

But his protests fell on deaf ears, and Watchmen arrived in theaters in 2009. When it did, Moore's name was nowhere to be found: he had himself removed from the credits and even rejected any share of the film's profits.

Slender Man

The entire point of internet meme culture is that a single, repeated idea can grow into its own touchpoint in the popular consciousness. And while this term is usually used to denote something funny, some memes come from a different sensibility altogether. In 2009, a horror character called the Slender Man was created by inserting a monstrous creature into pre-existing photos. The internet myth grew, the character started popping up in all sorts of web venues, and Slender Man became an underground sensation.

Given the character's popularity, it isn't much of a surprise that he eventually gained Hollywood's attention. Sony announced they were interested in the film for their Screen Gems horror label. Horror movies often attract a teenage crowd anyway, and the internet is the native homeland of that demographic. Combining internet culture with Hollywood production values seemed like a natural fit.

So what was the issue? Sadly, Slender Man has inspired some disturbed teenagers to commit actual crimes. The father of one of the attackers protested the film for being a sensationalist cash grab, and a petition was even started to halt the film's release. The question is really whether Sony just wanted to capitalize on real-world notoriety, or whether they're simply attaching themselves to a popular IP. The film is currently still slated for a fall 2018 debut, at which point audiences can judge its merits for themselves.

The Interview

Seth Rogen and James Franco are two of the biggest comedy stars currently working in Hollywood. Their films tend to be modern updates of the classic stoner genre, such as Pineapple Express. Occasionally they do veer into stranger territory, such as This Is the End. One thing they are not renowned for is insightful political satire. And indeed, their 2014 film The Interview wasn't really intended to change that. It's a screwball comedy about two idiotic talk show producers contracted by the CIA to assassinate a dictator.

One minor detail: that particular dictator was a real person, and he was very much still alive. Kim Jong-Un was and is the supreme leader of North Korea, an isolated nation where Hollywood doesn't export any films. Kim was likely seen as a safe villain to portray, given that most other nations don't get along with North Korea and the movie would never be shown in that country anyway. Clearly, however, distributor Sony underestimated just how much offense Kim would take at the film's release. He reportedly ordered a cyberattack on Sony Pictures, which led to the leak of trove of embarrassing emails.

While the email leak was bad enough, the hackers later threatened violent action if the film was ever released. Facing a PR disaster, Sony pulled the film from theaters. However, in defiance of the dictator, The Interview was almost immediately made available on streaming services, so it was still entirely possible for audiences to watch Franco and Rogen carry out their plot against a fictional Kim.

The Passion of the Christ

Where The Last Temptation of Christ deliberately deviated from the Bible's official account of Jesus' life, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ was intended to be as faithful — and violent — a representation of Jesus' last days as possible. With traditional Hollywood studios unwilling to bankroll the project, Gibson put up the money himself and made the movie anyway. The devoutly religious movie star and director felt wanted the story told, one way or another.

But Gibson was and is no stranger to controversy, and The Passion of the Christ drew the most of his career up to that time. In particular, Jewish groups accused the film of anti-Semitism for depicting rabbis as driving forces in Jesus' crucifixion. Protesters dressed in concentration camp uniforms jeered the film's release in New York. It was claimed that the film was actively promoting ancient stereotypes of Jews as vicious manipulators and powermongers, and in this case, active conspirators in the death of Jesus.

Gibson denied it all at the time, and audiences powered the film to a stunning $600 million worldwide gross. However, when Gibson was later pulled over for drunk driving, he went off on an anti-Semitic rant that largely confirmed what Jewish groups had suspected about him when The Passion was released. Though Gibson is now planning on making a follow-up film, it will be facing headwinds that the first film did not, not least because of Gibson's damaged reputation.


Some films are created by great artists who are inspired by a grand vision for a work of art that can inspire humanity to higher ideals. And then there's Caligula, the brainchild of Penthouse magnate Bob Guccione. Essentially, the long, sordid story of the creation of this long, sordid film is a case of convincing the world that the picture was going to be high art, only to pull a bait and switch and turn it into a porn film. That a film produced by Guccione had a lot of sex in it probably isn't surprising. More surprising is just how much sex there is, and how strange it all gets. And most surprising of all is the fact that it stars great actors like Malcolm McDowell and Helen Mirren, and was written by Gore Vidal.

While the stars and writer thought they were making the next great historical epic, Guccione secretly shot a bunch of hardcore sex scenes and then spliced them into the film during the edit. The result was so shocking that the rest of the cast and crew revolted. Vidal had his name removed from the film altogether, and the actors were furious.

Ratings boards agreed with them, as Caligula was banned in Britain, where most of the cast was from. Over the years, the film has gained something of a cult reputation as one of the wildest films ever made at its budget. As you might expect, it was also Guccione's last movie.

United 93

Coming off the success of The Bourne Supremacy, director Paul Greengrass chose to turn his attention to a real-world tragedy: no less than the events of September 11, 2001. The film, United 93, went into production in 2005, just a few short years after the largest terrorist attack in U.S. history. With America still involved in two wars wrapped up in the resulting War on Terror, the film was primed to set off strong reactions — and it did.

When the trailer for the film was first shown in theaters, it sparked outcries of protest. People accused Hollywood of callously cashing in on the horror of that day, without any regard or respect for the people directly affected by it. The backlash was pronounced enough that distributor Universal had to publicly announce that they would not be pulling the trailer from movie theaters, although the studio did agree to donate ten percent of the opening weekend's gross to a 9/11-inspired charity.

Fortunately in this case, the finished film allayed concerns of a crass capitalization of tragedy. Reviews were glowing, and family members of victims found United 93 to be respectful to the memory of those lost. United 93 became an example of a film with genuine artistic merit that had to weather initial doubts in order to at last be embraced as a triumph. Sometimes, controversy ends well.

Do the Right Thing

Spike Lee was a little-known filmmaker working in New York when he wrote, directed, and starred in Do the Right Thing in 1989. An examination of the Bed-Stuy (Bedford-Stuyvesant) neighborhood of Brooklyn, the film dealt frankly with issues of race, poverty, and gender. But while the majority of the film is peaceful enough, it ends on an extended, and shocking, outpouring of public anger that eventually spills over into a flat-out riot — specifically a riot fueled by black denizens of the area, angry at a white man.

Some critics immediately pounced on the film for inflaming racial tensions, even accusing it of actively promoting violence. Joe Klein of New York magazine declared that the film's message to black youth was that "White people are your enemy" and "The police are your enemy." Other publications, such as Newsweek, claimed that white people, too, would be riled up by the film. Suddenly, Spike Lee wasn't so little-known anymore. He had become, overnight, a lightning rod in the film community, and considered an artistic provocateur.

Let there be no doubt, however, that Lee did the right thing. The film is widely hailed as a masterpiece today, whose themes are still relevant nearly 30 years later. The true point of the film is not to cause violence, but to help understand its root. The title itself isn't meant to be ironic, but rather a call to action. The only question is, what does the right thing look like in a complex world? The film may not hold the answer, but it adds intelligently to the conversation.

Natural Born Killers

With a script penned by Quentin Tarantino, then altered by director Oliver Stone, Natural Born Killers is not a film made by people interested in conforming to social standards of taste, decency, or restraint. But even in the context of those two filmmakers' work, Natural Born Killers became a flashpoint of controversy. The movie features the adventures of two young lovers who, it just so happens, like to kill people. And they do, for two hours. In excruciating detail.

On release, the film drew plenty of criticism for its seeming glamorization of casual violence. But unlike every other film on this list, the backlash to Killers actually grew worse as time went on. In particular, a spate of murders were billed as copycats of the film, leading to accusations that the movie had itself been complicit in the victims' deaths. This eventually lead to a civil lawsuit against the movie, claiming that it was like a malfunctioning car: it had to be recalled and destroyed. This itself sparked questions of First Amendment rights, as well as the moral obligations of movie studios in the modern world.

The movie prevailed in the end, as the lawsuit was thrown out, but Natural Born Killers maintains its reputation as one of the most shocking films ever put out by a major Hollywood studio. Even today, the film is blamed for horrific real-world acts of violence. Frankly, more than 20 years on, it's very unlikely that this one movie is the root cause of these atrocities. But clearly, the fact that it's still in the conversation is a testament to just how far it pushed the envelope.