The record success of Clint Eastwood’s new film American Sniper, after its first full weekend release, pulling in over $100 million at the box office, raises once again the issue of the popularity of violent movies.
The film follows the story of a real-life sniper who fought in the Iraq war, and who commented in his autobiography that his only regret was that he hadn’t killed more people to save more lives. But this is hardly the first Hollywood hit to put violence at the heart of the action. According to a 2013 Variety article, 90 percent of the box office successes over a 25-year period featured a main character committing acts of violence. This was based on a study of 390 films, between 1985 and 2010.
Debates rage over how these movies effect us, with some claiming that there is a direct connection between increased levels of violence on the big screen and criminal activity, shootings and other forms of gun crime. Others maintain that we are capable of distinguishing between something made for entertainment purposes and how we should behave in real life. As the example of American Sniper shows, there’s no shortage of violent episodes in everyday life that provide inspiration for movie-makers. The following list includes 11 violent films which have done well at the box office over the years.
11) American Psycho – Over $34 Million Worldwide
A young man’s increasingly misanthropic view of the world is abruptly depicted in this movie, as he kills people for no apparent reason, while at the same time, holding down a tough Wall Street job. As well as a number of shootings and a stabbing, we see human bodies hanging in closets, heads in fridges, and bloody scenes following a murder. At one point, the man’s secretary opens a book showing shocking drawings of tortured and mutilated victims. Ticket sales amounted to a little over $34 million.
10) Texas Chainsaw 3D – Over $47.2 Million Worldwide
Not many people would be surprised to learn about the violence in this movie, given that its main subject is someone massacring individuals with a chainsaw. But the wide range of brutality on display was shocking to some, from a large, angry mob setting fire to a house and causing the deaths of all inside, to the hacking of a person in two with a chainsaw, and not forgetting someone being hung from a meat hook. It caused a stir when it was brought out in early 2013, performing well at the box office on opening weekend. Its total takings amounted in the end to over $47.2 million worldwide.
9) 28 Days Later – Over $82 Million Worldwide
This survival drama depicts the consequences of the release of a rage virus from an animal testing laboratory by an unsuspecting group of activists. There, initial intention had been to try to put an end to animal testing. The consequences are devastating, as London tears itself apart when the virus spreads. Viewers are treated to people spewing blood and goo when they catch the virus, while they go to incredible lengths to pass it on to others. There are other scenes involving zombies being hacked to death by machetes, stabbings and shootings. In what is maybe one of the goriest scenes, a group of zombies run through a minefield on the approach to a military base. The 2002 release from British director Danny Boyle, made over $82 million in ticket sales worldwide.
8) The Purge – Over $89.3 Million Worldwide
The first release in the series in 2013, The Purge attracted audiences who were keen to see what it would be like when no rules and no laws apply. The main point of the story is that all crimes are legal for a single day in the year. Predictably enough, the result is countless murders, including several innovative DIY executions. There are also stabbings and no shortage of spurting blood. The movie took in $89.3 million, and was apparently popular enough to justify a sequel in 2014.
7) Zero Dark Thirty – Over $132.8 Million Worldwide
The illegal torture methods employed by the CIA were already widely known when this film was released in 2012, but the graphic detail of Zero Dark Thirty’s first 25 minutes is still harrowing viewing. A detainee is water-boarded, beaten, force-fed and dragged across a room in a dog collar. According to reports, the film-makers had to be convinced to tone down the script, as the original had the prisoner being beaten to a pulp. It later emerged that they also had meetings with CIA officials in the course of making Zero Dark Thirty. Released just before Christmas 2012, it drew in revenues totaling over $132.8 million worldwide.
6) Saw II – Over $147.7 Million Worldwide
The second film in the Saw series brought in over $147.7 million worldwide, following its release in 2005. Following a detective who seeks to rescue his son and a group of others from the effects of a poison nerve gas, it contains extensive grizzly violence throughout. A man is killed by having nails in a mask driven in to his face, one woman is killed by poison gas, while another woman is thrown into a pit of syringes. Overall, the movie is absolutely bloody throughout.
5) Kill Bill Vol 1 – Over $180.9 Million Worldwide
Some reports claim that the reason for filming parts of the first Kill Bill movie in black and white, was that it allowed the crew to use colored water to represent blood, making things easier because there was so much of it. Among the most horrific moments is the killing of a combatant in front of her daughter, and the massacre of 88 people in a nightclub. Extensive scenes also show sword and knife fights. Quentin Tarantino’s fourth feature film secured a total gross of over $180.9 million worldwide
4) Fury – Over $208.4 Million Worldwide
The story of a tank commander named Wardaddy (played by Brad Pitt) and a group of fighting soldiers in the last months of the Second World War, doesn’t just show the usual scenes of war, but goes further than most in glorifying in them. A major part of the storyline revolves around the appearance of a new member of the tank crew who comes to replace an original member who has been killed, and how over time, he is persuaded to leave all of his scruples behind and become a violent killing machine. There is no shortage of gruesome detail in this work, starting out with Wardaddy repeatedly stabbing a German officer to death and continuing on to the rookie cleaning the remains of his predecessor from the tank. As of January 19th, 2015, Fury’s worldwide gross stood at over $208.4 million.
3) Inglourious Basterds – Over $321.4 Million Worldwide
Yet another Tarantino work, this war movie concerns the escapades of a guerrilla force of vicious killers who make their way through World War II Europe, butchering their enemies. Beyond the standard scenes of a war film, the characters in this movie revel in torturing and abusing their victims, including scalping those that they kill. This barbaric practice is encouraged by the group’s commander who sets them a target of 100 scalps by the end of the mission. On top of this, there is a character renowned for his practice of beating captured Nazis to death with a baseball bat. Following its run at US movie theaters in 2009, it grossed $120.5 million, and over $321.4 million worldwide.
2) Django Unchained – Over $425 million Worldwide
A freed slave, Django becomes involved with a bounty hunter who calls in his help to identify three brothers who are wanted men. In exchange for his assistance, the bounty hunter agrees to help Django free his wife from a plantation run by an especially brutal slave-owner. Played by Leonardo DiCaprio, the slave-owner has slaves fight it out to the death and even has one slave torn to pieces by dogs in front of the two visitors. The conclusion of the movie is a huge gunfight with bullets, gore and blood spraying everywhere. Tarantino’s work, set prior to the Civil War, raked in a total of $162.8 million across the US when it was released in 2012, and has a total worldwide gross of over $425 million.
1) The Passion of the Christ – Over $611 Million Worldwide
Mel Gibson’s 2004 portrayal of the last hours of the life of Jesus contained extensive and repeated scenes of violence. These included the most graphic depiction of a crucifixion ever on film, with close-ups of nails entering the victim’s hands and a spear in the stomach, as well as long sequences of whippings and torture. On top of that, Satan appears several times, at one point with a grinning demon baby, and children are shown to be possessed by demons in the course of the film. All of this prompted a critic to remark that out of the 127 minutes of the movie, at least 100 minutes were directly concerned with the torture and killing of Jesus. At the box office, the film took in over $370 million in domestic gross and over $611 million worldwide.