Film violence has been around since the slapstick of the silent era but, like every other element of the film-making process, it's developed a great deal since then, both for good and for bad. As black-and-white became colour and stop-motion became CGI, so too did pratfalls and ‘planks to faces’ evolve into graphic, detailed evisceration and overindulgent shock schlock.
So, shall we pause for a moment to take stock of just how far we’ve come? Click on, to find out how deep the bloody, gore-stuffed rabbit hole goes, though don't expect a complete list of must-watch masterpieces. While some of these films succeed because of their violence, there's a good few which are either distastefully gruesome or just plain crap.
You'll find some of these in our best Netflix movies list.
And some on our best Amazon Prime Video movies list.
Evil Dead (2013)
The violence: Fede Alvarez's Evil Dead remake is hilariously vile. Hilariously. Eschewing the original trilogy's steadily growing penchant for overt comedy in favour of a relentless escalation of savagely brutal - and nastily creative - practical gore effects, it takes in nail guns, broken glass, bludgeoning, and no small amount of dismemberment, all in prolonged, graphic detail.
The reaction: Some old-school ED fans were disgruntled by the film's lack of obvious humour, but a great many more love it for delivering on the original film's promise of delivering the most gruelling splatter movie ever made. And besides, while it might lack jokes, Evil Dead takes a huge amount of glee in what it does, meaning that if you're the type who can find slapstick in excessive gore, it's a giddy hoot regardless.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
The violence: Don’t like seeing people skewered like pigs? Then don’t watch Cannibal Holocaust, which features the memorably grisly image of a girl doing a really good impression of a kebab.
The reaction: Cannibal Holocaust received just about the highest form of praise such a shocking film could, when it was banned in the UK. Meanwhile, director Ruggero Deodato was arrested in his native Italy where he was charged with making a snuff film. Now, the film is celebrated for its horrific, terrifying realism.
The violence: So gory it’ll make your eyes water. Constantly escalating from its start point of inverse home-invasion horror to untenable levels of torture and torment, Martyrs climaxes in possibly the most upsetting scenes ever put in a horror film. That said, it’s a very smart, brilliantly crafted movie; a bloody thriller with a statement.
The reaction: In France, the film’s extreme levels of violence meant it was slapped with an 18+ rating, which is akin to an American NC-17. It was the first time a French genre film ever received the rating.
The violence: The last 20 minutes are a blizzard of super-violent activity. Beheadings, bodies torn asunder by a turret gun, and then best of all, Sly clawing out a guy’s intestines. God bless the Noughties.
The reaction: Ah, the fickleness of the movie-going public. Spear a girl on a pole and it’s exploitation. Arm Stallone with a massive gun and it’s action entertainment. Although it largely skips the ‘legitimately good’ aspirations of the original First Blood, Rambo’s knowing embrace of the series’ later excesses makes it a heck of a lot of fun, if you’re in an ‘80s dialled up to 11’ mood.
Ichi The Killer (2001)
The violence: “Just a little torture, nothing special”, says Kakihara at one point. But this is special. One of the most brutal, bruising films ever committed to celluloid, Ichi features no end of gory sequences, including a wince-inducing scene with some hot oil and suspension chains.
The reaction: Ichi is a cult masterpiece and a rite of passage for any lover of extreme Japanese movie-making. If you can stomach this, you can pretty much stomach anything.
The violence: See the image above for a particularly gruesome example of the grim deeds contained in this gleeful ‘80s classic. Not only does this poor bloke get melted after he’s covered in toxic waste, he's then splattered into mist by a speeding van. Other victims of Paul Verhoeven’s bloodlust include an executive who gets shot into soup by ED-209, and pre-Robo police officer Murphy himself, whose sadistic ‘death’ scene is still legendarily painful to watch.
The reaction: The levels of violence in RoboCop earned it a severe X rating (11 times) in the States, forcing Verhoeven to dial back the gore. He cleverly inserted humorous TV spots throughout to lighten the film’s sombre mood though, ironically, the later director’s cut revealed that some of the film’s intended black comedy was actually lost through the initial reduction in violence.
Natural Born Killers (1994)
The violence: Sexual assault, bottles in faces, mass murder… Natural Born Killers really lives up to its title. Its shocking opening is the clincher; Mickey and Mallory play eeny, meeny, miny, moe, burying bullets in the customers of a roadside diner.
The reaction: Director Oliver Stone cut four minutes of footage in order to appease the MPAA, which earned the film an R rating. Ireland was having none of it, though, banning the film entirely. In the UK, the film was delayed while the BBFC investigated reports that copycat murders were taking place in the US and France.
The Raid 2 (2014)
The violence: So, so much. The original Raid is an immaculate ballet of brutal, crunching, martial arts destruction, but from the very opening seconds, its sequel cranks things up exponentially. Huge-scale, bone-snapping, tendon-slashing beatdowns, hammers, baseball bats embedded in skulls, improvisational use of hot-plates, and dear God, that last battle.
The reaction: Rapturous. The Raid 2 consistently matches its brutality with artistry, crafting fights that are equal parts expertly choreographed violence, nigh-musical feats of pacing, and powerful pieces of unfurling character drama. There's probably no better martial arts movie out there right now, and its conclusion delivers quite possibly the best fight scene of all time.
A Serbian Film (2010)
The violence: Rape, necrophilia, paedophilia, the desperately unpleasant. A Serbian Film’s got it all, including some stuff that we don’t really, really want to talk about. Sorry.
The reaction: The film is so horrific that it resulted in the Serbian state prosecution opening an investigation to determine whether or not it actually violated the law. Its depiction of questionable sexual morals was found to be particularly offensive. In Spain, it was banned entirely, while Norway pulled distribution after two months.