The word “disturbing” can mean different things to different people at different times. Say, for example, that you recently lost a loved one to a disease. A movie that deals with a character dying from AIDS or from cancer could rub you the wrong way depending on when you watch it. Those of you who are a bit squeamish and who can not handle seeing even fake blood and fake injuries could feel downright sick upon viewing certain horror films. There is no one genre that has a clear hold on any “disturbing” category, which is what makes creating the list featured in this piece such an interesting exercise.
The most disturbing part about the 15 movies that are featured in this piece is that they are, in one way or another, based off of real life events. Real people who existed at some point in history were psychologically or emotionally scarred, battered, beaten, raped, tortured and murdered in the stories that were told in these films. These are the type of tales that can break your heart, that can make you think, that can make you squirm and that can lead you to turning off of your television set because you have seen enough and can take no more.
15 The Passion of the Christ
The historical accuracy of the details of The Passion have been questioned since much of the story does not come from the four Gospels. It is, when broken down scene by scene, as much of a “Jesus movie” as Jaws is a film about a loveable fish who is in the wrong part of the ocean and who is having a bad day. The Passion is far more a movie about the torture and killing of an individual than it is a religious film. While there are absolutely people who were touched by watching the movie, it is understandable if you tapped out and left the theater early upon first witnessing the movie.
Just how disturbing you find Jaws, a movie based off of the same name that was birthed from tales of real-life shark attacks, may depend on at what point of your life you first saw the film. Adults may have been more entertained than scared upon first seeing what was, even for its time, somewhat of a campy horror film. Those of us who were younger when we first saw Jaws had a different reaction, however, and we thought twice or even thrice before entering any body of water for some time after seeing it. I'd like to think that Jaws is a reason we get a “Shark Week” once every summer.
Mel Gibson checks in for the second time on this list. The truth of the matter is that Braveheart is, for the majority of the film, an entertaining movie and an interesting story about a group of underdogs looking to overthrow their oppressors. Sure, a few heads get lopped off here and there, but those types of things happen now and again during war. It is the torture scene at the end of the movie, one that goes on and on and on, that puts Braveheart into the disturbing category. Considering the final scenes of this movie, we shouldn't have been surprised by The Passion.
12 The Conjuring
Whether or not you believe that The Conjuring deserves to be on this list probably has less to do than how it made you feel and more to do with whether or not you believe Ed and Lorraine Warren. The Warrens, real-life investigators of paranormal activities (Edward passed away in 2006), claimed to have investigated over 10,000 cases over their careers, and that includes the story of the Perron family that supposedly occurred in 1971. Your belief or lack thereof aside, The Conjuring is seen by many critics as one of the scariest movies of its generation and an all-time horror classic.
11 The Wrestler
For those who have any kind of inside knowledge of the professional wrestling industry, The Wrestler is a disturbing movie that hit hard. Supposedly based on several former superstar performers who were, at one time or another, attempting to hold onto the fame that they lost in the twilight of their careers, The Wrestler tells the tale of a broken down man who (spoiler alert) eventually loses everything that means anything to him, perhaps even his own life depending on how you interpret the film's final scene. There is no happy ending at the end of The Wrestler, a story that is far too often played out in real life for those who performed inside of rings around the world.
10 Open Water
It is a nightmare scenario for any couple who decides to partake in a common vacation activity while at sea. Tom and Eileen Lonergan went scuba diving in Australia's Great Barrier Reef, but the boat that had transported them and a group of others left before the couple returned from their dive. Open Water tells what is, to this day, an unknown story of what may have happened to Tom and Eileen during what is believed to be their final hours. The bodies of the two were never found, and it is widely believed that they died while at sea.
JFK is a movie that is different than any other on this list in that it is disturbing in different ways to different people. Is it possible that the government of the United States actually had an acting president assassinated? Is the case that makes up the main storyline of JFK one that is merely conjured up by a man who has lost his mind and gone insane? Was the assassination all really the work of one deranged individual? Whatever your opinion on the matter, it is difficult to come away from watching JFK without at least having a notion that something not on the level occurred in Dallas on that fateful day.
8 Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The main plot of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre is entirely fictional, but it is the first of three movies to make this list that is based off of Ed Gein. Gein was a murderer who committed his heinous acts in Plainfield, Wisconsin in the 1950s, and he was also a collector of human remains. Among the artifacts that authorities found in his home after his arrest were masks made from human skin, other clothing and coverings made from human skin, and a variety of other body parts. The “Leatherface” character featured in Texas Chainsaw Massacre is taken from the tale of Gein's actions.
No movie about the life, times and crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer is not going to make your skin crawl at least a little bit, and that is the case for the movie that was released in 2002. Dahmer tells the story of the real life sociopath who checked off just about every box on a list of atrocious crimes; murder, rape, dismemberment, cannibalism and necrophilia. The most disturbing part about the movie is that Dahmer is not loosely based on a group of individuals. One person, one very deranged and sick person, actually committed all of those unspeakable acts of evil.
6 Silence of the Lambs
It would be silly to put together a list of disturbing movies that are at least slightly based on events that actually occurred without mentioning Silence of the Lambs. The novel of the same name based his “Buffalo Bill” serial killer off of the stories of actual murderers, most notably Ed Gein and Ted Bundy. The movie surprised some with the amount of success that it achieved, including multiple Academy Awards for the picture itself and for its main actors; Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. Filmmakers would do well to stop attempting to remake this classic. It is a one-of-a-kind thriller.
5 Saving Private Ryan
The main storyline in Saving Private Ryan is neither real nor is it disturbing; a group of soldiers are looking for the last son of a family that has suffered great loss during World War II. Many of the fighting scenes were, however, based on events that occurred during the actual war, and they offered extremely graphic depictions of how soldiers lost their lives at that time. Even the made-for-television version of Saving Private Ryan can be a bit much for some viewers, and that is nothing compared to the edition that was released in theaters.
4 Schindler's List
There is no way that any group of people could get together and tell the story of The Holocaust in one movie, but it is Schindler's List that is widely regarded as the one must-see movie on that particular subject. Based on the historical fiction book Schindler's Ark, Schindler's List tells the story of a member of the Nazi Party who works to save Jews from concentration camps. While the main storyline is positive – an unlikely hero rising and risking his own neck to save the lives of people he does not know – the overall context of what occurred during World War II makes the movie difficult to watch from start to finish.
3 Twelve Years a Slave
Twelve Years a Slave was based off of the memoir written by Solomon Northup, a free African-American who had been tricked and ultimately kidnapped and sold into slavery. While Twelve Years a Slave is an important film worthy of every award that it won, it is also not an easy watch for those who follow this form of media to be entertained. The idea that this story is based upon events that happened in real life points a massive spotlight on actual atrocities that occurred in the United States of America during what may have been the country's darkest era.
It has been over five decades since the classic film hit the mainstream, and some would still consider it to be the best horror film ever directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Robert Bloch had already put pen to paper on what would become the novel Psycho before Ed Gein of Wisconsin was arrested and charged with the murder of two women. Bloch did not base the film completely on the Gein case, but it was that story that gave him the ideas for what became his novel. That story gave birth to the first Psycho film and also to several spinoffs, none of which have been nearly as good as the original movie.
1 The Exorcist
The Exorcist, seen by many as one of the greatest horror films to ever hit the big screen, is based on the novel of the same name that was written by William Peter Blatty. Blatty got the idea for his novel from the story of a young boy who was allegedly possessed by a demonic spirit in 1949. While the film was not received well by all critics upon its original release in 1973, it has, in time, become an all-time classic of the horror genre, and The Exorcist provided viewers with some famous scenes that live long in the memory long after you watch the movie for the first time.