Everyone knows that sex sells. Particularly in Hollywood, sex scenes often have the power to increase the hype for a particular film, especially if the stars involved are famous to begin with. While plenty of indie flicks and lesser known films feature sex scenes that are more gruesome, disturbing or otherwise contentious, than those on this list, the films featured here are ten of the most controversial sex scenes in mainstream Hollywood films. The movies on this list have earned their spots for a variety of reasons, including violence, homosexuality, rape or the exploitative nature of the sex scenes. While the vast majority of people have a kink or two that they’d like to keep secret, violence and sadism are the chief reasons behind the notoriety and controversial nature of these films. Whatever the reason for their place on this list, each of these scenes have been extensively discussed and heatedly debated. Whether you love them or hate them, the sex scenes in these ten films are infamous for a reason.
The 2009 film Chloe, starring Julianne Moore and Amanda Seyfried, certainly covered an array of taboo topics in human sexuality: infidelity, adultery, a significant age gap and lesbian sex, all make an appearance in this thriller. Lesbian sex is rarely portrayed in Hollywood films, so, although the film was hardly a major blockbuster, Chloe was discussed at length during its debut. Religious groups disparaged the film for its portrayal of lesbian sex, in addition to its alleged lack of morals. Seyfried’s eponymous character, Chloe is an escort who utilizes manipulation and secrecy in order to sleep with Moore’s character, and there are multiple sex scenes in the film, the most notorious being the lesbian scene between Seyfried and Moore. Critical reception of Chloe was extremely mixed and as you may guess, extremely controversial.
9. Requiem for a Dream
This visually graphic 2000 film is rife with disturbing images about heroin addiction, but one of the most graphic scenes is when actress Jennifer Connelly, who plays Marion Silver, shares a sex toy with another woman, while being applauded by a crowd of ruthless men. In addition to the utter lack of enjoyment on either woman’s face, and shouts of “a** to a**,” the scene is juxtaposed with scenes of electro-shock therapy, infection, amputation and music that sets one’s nerves on edge. The final sex scene is obviously one of exploitation and degradation, and warns against heroin addiction, resulting in controversial reviews.
8. Brokeback Mountain
This 2005 film was the first Hollywood portrayal of a homosexual relationship, and the controversy surrounding the portrayals of sex in it, can hardly be attributed to an explicit nature – the main sex scene in the film occurs with a muted pallet, low lighting and allusion rather than explicit shots. Instead, the film has been heavily and repeatedly condemned for its “morally loose” nature and claims that it advocates an elusive “gay agenda.” Additionally, much of the backlash against the sex scenes in the film stemmed from its portrayals of both straight and gay sex. Despite the controversy surrounding the film, Brokeback Mountain garnered critical acclaim and several awards.
Since this 2006 film revolves around a man who must keep his adrenaline flowing in order to survive, you’d expect some thrilling sex scenes. Crank definitely delivers – the most controversial scene in the film is when protagonist Chev, played by Jason Statham, has public sex with his girlfriend Eve, played by Amy Smart, in Chinatown. This scene is especially notorious as it begins with a struggling Eve, who vehemently denies Chev’s advances with both words and physical violence. The most extreme parties have decried this violent and aggressive portrayal of sex as an obvious case of sexual assault, while milder parties have denounced it for its pornographic and explicit nature. The combination of sex and violence in Crank led to extreme controversy.
6. Eyes Wide Shut
This 1999 film starring Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise revolves around erotic intrigue, but the film’s most notorious and controversial scene features an anonymous upper-class session of group sex. The female participants are masked and nearly nude, and everything is extremely ritualistic, with chanting, robes and secret passwords. Although the scene is one of the less visually explicit ones on this list – the only nudity is topless women – the implication, intrigue, ties to the occult and threat of violence, earn it a special spot. Plus, it’s directed by Stanley Kubrick, who is also the director of the number one film on this list.
5. American History X
1998’s American History X is another film that has countless disturbing scenes. However, the scene where character Derek, played by Edward Norton, is sexually assaulted while in prison, was particularly controversial. After becoming disillusioned with the prison gang he was involved in, Derek is sexually assaulted and beaten, while in the shower. Derek’s neo-Nazi beliefs and overt racism, caused many to waive off the brutality of this scene, including the prison guard who ignores what he sees, by closing the door and allowing it to continue. While the entire film is distressing and controversial, this particular scene is perhaps the most notorious in the movie.
4. American Psycho
This 2000 film features a chilling performance by Christian Bale, as the socio-path, Patrick Bateman. The most controversial and violent sex scene in the film culminates in Bateman murdering two women that he just had a threesome with. Bateman stabs one woman to death during sex, and when the second woman attempts to escape, Bateman follows her and murders her with a chainsaw. The scene is rife with gore and blood, intertwined with remaining highly sexualized. The combination of sex and violence in this film elicited opposing responses from audiences and critics alike.
This movie is filled with violence and controversial portrayals of sex. The films opens with the protagonists having sex, juxtaposed with their child, who falls out of his window and dies. However, believe it or not, this morbid scene is one of the film’s least disturbing moments: Charlotte Gainsburg’s character is depicted during increasingly violent, masochistic and sadistic sex acts, including inflicting the ejaculation of blood, smashed testicles and the removal of her own clitoris. The film has been thoroughly disparaged for its depictions of sensationalized and over-sexualized violence, but many critics have also found it appealing. Of equal interest is the fact that the film was better received in Europe than in the US.
2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
This 2011 remake contains one of the most horrifying and controversial scenes in a Hollywood film, and receives the number 2 spot on the list, partially because, at $232.6 million, it has the highest box office earnings on this list. Protagonist Lisbeth Salander is brutally sexually assaulted by her state-appointed legal guardian, in one of the most disturbing scenes in existence. This scene is partially redeemed by an equally violent scene, where Lisbeth sexually assults her attacker, blackmails him and leaves him with a tattoo proclaiming, “rapist” across his chest. While viewers may feel a sense of justice after Lisbeth’s revenge, both scenes were highly controversial and disconcerting.
1. A Clockwork Orange
In addition to being the oldest film on this list, the most notorious sex scene in cinematic history is also the most controversial and disturbing one in existence. In 1971’s A Clockwork Orange, Alex and his “droogs” beat and permanently cripple an author and proceed to sexually assault his wife while joyously singing “Singing in the Rain” and displaying blatant enjoyment. Many critics have derided this scene as pornographic, citing the dehumanization of victims and the extensive sexual assault scene as intended for arousal. Others have claimed that the film was a contributing factor to sexually violent acts that occurred in Britain, shortly following the film’s release. The film’s violent sexual act was so controversial that it affected real crime and remains at the top of this list after more than 40 years.