The 25 most disturbing movies ever made

Movies offer a window into the human condition, show us far-off lands that only exist in our mind's eye, or give us a voyeuristic glimpse of the intimate drama between two people. They can also gross us the hell out, as filmmakers use their twisted imaginations to get under our skin and shock us in new, increasingly more disturbing ways - ways that would have caused the members of the Production Code Administration to reach for the nearest crucifix.

Directors like David Lynch, Gaspar Noe, Lars von Trier, and many more have used cinema to explore societal conventions and taboos, often brushing against - or confidently striding past - the boundaries of good taste to tell their bizarre, stomach-churning tales. Alfred Hitchcock once said, "Always make the audience suffer as much as possible." These films took that advice a bit too literally, causing viewers to recoil in revulsion while they can't help but keep their eyes glued to the screen. Maybe keep a bucket nearby while you scan our list.

25. Antichrist (2009)

Backstory: Serial trickster Lars von Trier's deliberately provocative and hugely upsetting film, with Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a dysfunctional grieving couple who retreat to the woods and into self-mutilating depression.

Sickest Scene: Willem Dafoe's poor balls are crushed by Gainsbourg, who then proceeds to masturbate her now-unconscious husband until he ejaculates blood. Won't find that trick in the Good Lovers' Guide.

If It Was Family Friendly: The kid would have to be not-dead, for starters, and the trip to the woods would have to be a journey of adventure and discovery. Like Bridge To Terabithia, only with more sinister deer.

Watch Antichrist now on Amazon Prime Video 

24. Blue Velvet (1986)

Backstory: David Lynch, down and out after the phenomenal flop that was Dune, returned with a classic of suburban repression and psychological horror. Gee-whizz kid Kyle MacLachlan is the inquisitive Jeffrey Beaumont, who discovers a local crime that leads to a world of sexual depravity and fetishistic abuse.

Sickest Scene: When Jeffrey discovers a murder scene posed in a beautifully Lynchian way, with one of the victims inexplicably still standing. Indescribably weird.

If It Was Family Friendly: Isabelle Rossellini would just cry instead of making Jeffrey strip at gunpoint, and Jeffrey would give her a blanket and find a boy-scoutish way to free her husband and child. Hooray!

Watch Blue Velvet now on Amazon Prime Video 

23. Shivers (1975)

Backstory: David Cronenberg's breakthrough film is a sexually explicit satire featuring a parasite transferred through intercourse that leads to psychosis. Its a zombie film with fucking, in other words, and one that so upset the Canadian media (it was made with tax money) that it was debated in parliament and received press so stinging Cronenberg was thrown out of his apartment.

Sickest Scene: Barbara Steele is washing herself happily in the bath when a parasite begins to wriggle revoltingly towards her through the water.

If It Was Family Friendly: The parasite would be spread by kissing, and wouldn't lead to murderous madness but a funnier, less deadly ailment, like not being able to lie or having to walk everywhere backwards.

Watch Shivers now on Amazon Prime Video 

22. Martyrs (2008)

Backstory: A jolting French torture piece with a 90-degree turn at the halfway mark. It starts out as basic exploitation stuff - a traumatised young woman kills a family she believes held her hostage as a child - before descending into quasi-religious, bounds-of-human-experience nastiness. Bewilderingly unpleasant.

Sickest Scene: The final, spoilerific scene, in which our surviving heroine Anna is beaten and skinned alive in order to provide witness to the afterlife for the film's secret (and mad) society.

If It Was Family Friendly: All the torture would have to go, leaving us a with five-minute film about a sad girl in an orphanage.

Watch Martyrs now on Amazon Prime Video 

21. Man Bites Dog (1992)

Backstory: The low-budget Belgian serial killer mockumentary, which follows the charming but homicidal Benoit as he philosophises, explains his methods, and even demonstrates them for an increasingly complicit camera crew.

Sickest Scene: Benoit saves a bullet by scaring an old woman into cardiac arrest and slowly watches her die.

If It Was Family Friendly: It would be called Man Rights Door, and it would be one of those tradesmen shows that are so popular on rubbish TV, following Benoit as he puts up shelves and flirts with middle-class housewives.

Watch Man Bites Dog now on Amazon Prime Video 

20. Begotten (1991)

Backstory: A disturbing dialogue and music-free experiment from Shadow Of The Vampire director E. Elias Merhige. Shot in rough black and white, the film deals in big-ticket themes - creation myths, religious symbols - using sweeping, evocative imagery. An impactful, one-of-a-kind experience.

Sickest Scene: Not exactly sick, but one that'll stay with you. The Earth Mother emerging from the suicide corpse of God and arousing his dead body in order to impregnate herself. And they say Hollywood can't do romance.

If It Was Family Friendly: It would have blue cartoon birds and storks and would explain the beginning of life with a Disney orchestra playing in the background.

Watch Begotten now on Amazon Prime Video 

19. Aftermath (1994)

Backstory: A short film which packs in plenty of open-mouthed 'Whah?' into its 30-minute running time. The film is simply and clinically shot, focusing on a mortician working on a car crash victim who careful cuts then fucks the body.

Sickest Scene: The chilling closer, in which the mortician feeds the victim's stolen, pureed heart to his dog as he settles down to some TV.

If It Was Family Friendly: It would be about a miracle-working doctor magically bringing a dead woman back to life, without his penis being involved at any point.

18. The Human Centipede (2010)

Backstory: Dutch director Tom Six was inspired to make his imminent stitch-and-bitch horror after a joke made with friends about punishments for deviant criminals. His answer? Sew their mouths to the backsides of truck drivers, which is pretty much what happens to the victims of the crazed Dr. Heiter in his horrible film.

Sickest Scene: The first time that the head of the newly-formed centipede, Japanese tourist Katsuro, defecates into the unwilling mouth of next-in-the-chain Jenny.

If It Was Family Friendly: It would be about a superhero with loads of legs, who can run really fast and has a specially-made spandex costume.

Watch The Human Centipede now on Amazon Prime Video 

17. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Backstory: Stanley Kubrick's infamous adaptation of the Anthony Burgess novella on free will and human rights. Removed from distribution in the UK after death threats followed a media storm. Now available, but the dazzling orchestration of violence still shocks.

Sickest Scene: The toughest to watch are the scenes of Alex's enforced indoctrination: wide-eyed close-ups of Malcolm MacDowell's contorted features.

If It Was Family Friendly: Alex would learn a life lesson as painstakingly hammered home via voice-over about how everyone's free to choose their own path, and he's chosen the one with flowers and bears and stuff on.

Watch A Clockwork Orange now on Amazon Prime Video 

16. Flowers Of Flesh And Blood (1985)

Backstory: Part two of the seven-strong Guinea Pig series from Japan. Thanks, Japan! Flowers Of Flesh And Blood is a masochistic faux snuff film, in which a man dressed as a samurai cuts up a woman before adding her pieces to his extensive collection. It was so convincing that Charlie Sheen informed the FBI he believed it to be real after a viewing in the early '90s.

Sickest Scene: The killer joyfully posing his disembodied victims head with the rest of his collection, a frantic release after an age of tortuous cutting.

If It Was Family Friendly: The film would be a blockbusting adventure about plant men who've invaded the earth and need to be beaten, probably with flamethrowers. Will Smith would star in it.

Watch Flowers of Flesh and Blood now on Amazon Prime Video 


We recommend