Could you imagine Greta Garbo having an alien come out of her chest or Groucho Marx having machetes for hands? Like so many things, violence has shifted a lot in movies. In the Golden Age of Hollywood, shootouts could be rare but they never featured blood flying around or anything too graphic. Ditto for sword fights and even murders came off rather sedate. That changed in the 1960s and then the ‘70s as horror movies began their rise. The ‘80s truly amped it up with slasher franchises like Friday the 13th amping up the blood and gore. That was added to by the wild action movies that showed how bloody things could get. Since then, violence has been commonplace in movies with notable bits of how some PG-13 films could be more violent than R-rated ones.
Some can go a bit too far, particularly the “snuff horror” genre that even most slasher fans dislike. However, others are able to balance the violence out with some real drama and storytelling. The Godfather had some harsh bloody scenes but is still regarded as a fantastic film. From horror to action, movies have really amped the violence factor and it’s easy to see recent ones as packed with them. That’s especially true in Europe and Asia, where they’re not as harsh on regulations. However, some older movies can still pack in the violence in ways that amaze you today. Here are 15 movies that push the violence factor majorly to rock you upon viewing and rank as the most violent films ever made.
15 The Raid
This international smash hit redefined action movies for modern times. It focused on a pack of police officers who attack a building, intending to capture a crime lord. However, just about everyone in the building is forced to work with the crime lord and so the squad find themselves in a running fight through the building. The entire film is basically one long fight scene, giving you a few moments to catch your breath before the next epic battle starts. The cast goes all out, both cops and crooks showing off stunning fight styles. The standout is Iko Uwais as Rama, the lead cop who soon is breaking out his fantastic martial arts moves against various thugs. The action scenes are stunning with amazing fighting and incredibly wild sequences that make you feel the impact of every blow and the close quarters combat makes it even more effective. The sequel amps up the action in many ways with a wider array of areas like a garage and gunplay. However, the first is still the best for its fans to redefine how action could look and its violence is realistic yet also stunning as hell.
14 The Wild Bunch
In many ways, Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 Western helped change the way violence was shown in cinemas. Today, some of it may seem quaint but at the time, it was utterly shocking and can still rock a viewer today. The movie focused on the changing times of the Old West as a gang of outlaws (including William Holden and Ernest Borgnine) deal with the progress of 1913 making their lives obsolete. Traveling to Mexico, they decide to pull off one last heist that goes horribly awry. Even today, the movie’s violence is sensational with blood flying in various battles, especially the blistering final shootout utilizing a machine gun. Many action films today don’t show the carnage like this and Peckinpah films it all with a glorious style that makes it both rough but also enticing to watch. Revered as one of the finest Westerns of all time, it was the film that led to shifts in how violence was made in cinema and still wows you with its bloodshed today.
Team up Quinten Tarentino and Robert Rodriguez and what else can you get but a smorgasbord of violence? A love letter to the style of low-rent cinema they loved in their youths, this massive epic is two movies in one. First, Planet Terror has Rose McGowan as a one-legged stripper facing a zombie outbreak. Packed with insanely over-the-top action, bodies are warped and twisted with McGowan getting a “leg” that’s a machine gun to take these creatures on.
Then, Death Proof has Kurt Russell as a driver using a special car to kill women with Rosario Dawson and Zoe Bell among the group who face off against him in a wild chase. Even better are the faux “trailers” for movies such as Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS. The best of these was Machete with Danny Trejo as an unstoppable warrior, which was so popular that it became a real movie. The film failed at the box office but still showcases some wild violence in its running time as you’d expect from two masters.
12 Dead Alive
Long before he dominated the movie scene with The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson was just a low-level New Zealand filmmaker. His first breakout was this 1992 film (known as Braindead in its native country) that became an international smash. It follows a run of the mill guy whose mother is bitten by an infected monkey that turns her into a zombie. Soon, she’s leading a new zombie army who attack the townspeople in assaults that make The Walking Dead look like a Disney cartoon. Folks have their limbs and guts ripped out, heads spun around, one has his face literally torn off and much more. Even wilder is when those people are reborn as zombies complete with all this damage to attack others. The hero has to use everything from a lawn mower to flame attacks to take these creatures down before facing his mother, now a twisted monster. It’s amazing that the man who score Oscar gold with one of the biggest franchises ever could also be behind one of the most twisted horror movies ever seen.
11 Hostel Part II
Eli Roth’s first Hostel movie was regarded as the kick-off to the “torture-theme” slasher genre. The original followed some Americans vacationing in Europe when they’re caught in a hotel that soon puts them into torture and murder. The opening of the sequel as the sole survivor of the first film getting decapitated and his head mailed to his boss. A trio of women (Lauren German, Heather Matarazzo and Bijou Phillips) join a model (Vera Jordanova) in visiting the same hotel. Soon, they are put through a horrific ordeal, one hung upside down and cut open while another falls victim to a chainsaw. A man is mauled by dogs and more utter bloodshed follows along with some gruesome assaults on the women. Like its predecessor, the movie was slammed for its horrible tone and finishes with kids playing soccer with a severed head. More than a few have worried about Roth’s state of mind and who can come up with such a twisted trip.
Truly ahead of its time in many ways (such as its view of corporations in power and a ruined Detroit), Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 film is still a sharp satire of the excess of the 1980s. It’s also a wild tale that showcases some of the bloodiest violence ever seen at the time. From the start, an ED-209 robot unleashes a barrage of machine gun fire that shreds a guy to a mess. The murder of Murphy (Peter Weller) is truly brutal as he’s blown apart slowly by machine gun fire. That’s just the start as we get sequences of Robocop trashing around, blowing away a den of drug dealers and more. The final battles are fantastic with such famous shots as a guy covered in toxic waste knocked to pieces and one stabbed bloodily in the neck. The violence was so extreme that the MPAA wanted to slap an “X” rating on the movie so Verhoeven had to tone down the gore a bit. The movie remains an iconic film for its tone as well as its over the top action (something the 2014 remake couldn’t touch) and the violence as sharp as its wonderful satire.
9 Hard Boiled
You have to have at least one movie by John Woo on a list like this. The Hong Kong director is revered for turning gun battles into almost balletic sequences that wow moviegoers. None of his films showcase this as much as his 1992 international smash hit. In his signature role, Chow-Yun Fat is Tequila, a Hong Kong cop hunting a deadly gang. The movie opens with a blistering tea house shootout that would be the climax of another movie with Tequila sliding down a bannister, blasting guys away with a gun in each hand. Then there’s a raid on a garage with plenty of nasty deaths. All of that is the prelude to what may be the single greatest Woo scene ever: Tequila and a fellow cop going floor to floor of a hospital, blowing away bad guys by the score. The entire sequence is done in one Steadicam shot to enhance the action and you feel every death and wild bullets flying around. It may well be the masterpiece of a man who transformed action films forever and turned a hero cop into a superman.
A major complaint of the 2013 Spike Lee remake of this movie was that it was too tame. This North Korean smash focuses on a man (Choi Min-Sik) who finds himself waking up in a room where food is delivered under a slot. His only connection to the outside world is news footage of his wife murdered, with him considered the prime suspect, and he spends his time training. 15 years later, he’s suddenly released and soon on a quest to find out who did this to him. Along the way, he’s soon picking fights, wiping the floor with a gang and then trashing an entire force at his prison, using a hammer to smash them to pieces…all with a knife in his back. Min-Sik did all his own training and fight scenes and lost weight for the part to make it all believable on screen. It works as you feel every inch of his punches and marvel at the stunning amount of crushed limbs and such. The remake came off rather pale as this film is a rollicking dark violent ride.
7 Saw 3D
The entire horror movie series is packed with some of the most grisly and gruesome deaths ever put on film. However, they might well have saved the best for last. It opens up with two men waking in a storefront on either side of a massive saw hanging over a woman. As the crowd watches, the two at first try to kill each other but upon realizing the woman is sleeping with both of them, let her die instead by cutting her in half. From there, the investigation to Jigsaw’s final game leads to some very grisly deaths: A gang of skinheads are killed in a sequence involving a woman crushed by a car that runs over another and rips a guy’s face off. A woman is skewered by spikes, another burned alive, another crushed and the “tooth trap” is too nasty for words. The entire series was a hit because of its violent content but it went out with a crazy style that is likely never to be topped.
6 Ichi the Killer
The magna this 2001 movie was based on was already notable for its gore and brutality. The movie version actually makes the source material look tame. The tale of a troubled man pulled into a war between Yakuza gangs, the movie showcases some of the most insane sequences imaginable. Forget simple decapitation; a man is bisected with a sword and his body falls in half. Another is sliced up in an elevator, gushers of blood exploding and his severed face flung on the wall. Gun battles showcase limbs flying off and faces torn apart. No one is safe as women are brutalized, guys take falls onto nails and a torture scene is enough to make a viewer scream themselves. Top off how the title character is a complete psychopath whose manipulated by a harsh past and you’ve got one very horrifying movie. It was banned in several Asian countries because of its content, even Hong Kong not wanting to view something so utterly horrific. You’d expect any movie with “killer” in the title to be a nasty deal but this was still something stunning.
5 A Serbian Film
Serbia isn’t exactly known as a cheerful place but it was still shocking when this 2010 film hit the arthouse cinema scene. It focuses on a teenage runaway who finds himself becoming an adult film star but wants out of the life. His bosses don’t take that well and kidnap him, drugging him and he wakes up days later with no memory of what happened. He then looks at videos to witness some true atrocities at work. Murder, drug use, incest, rape, it’s all there to an absolutely appalling degree. That’s not to mention outright child abuse and showcasing the horrors those in the industry can go through. The movie was banned in several countries because of its content and the Serbian government investigated to ensure everyone on set was of legal age and no actual abuse around. It remains one of the most grisly films you can ever see and makes you wonder about the mentality of folks in Serbia to come up with this.
4 The Passion of the Christ
Mel Gibson was not the first to tackle the touchy subject of Jesus’ final days. But no one before him had shown the sheer and utter graphic horror of what the man went through. As Jesus, Jim Cavizel nicely showcases the agony the man goes through as he’s captured by the Romans. He’s beaten by guards, slapped by priests, scourged so badly that his ribs are exposed, a crown of thorns raking his head and eyes, whipped while carrying the cross through the streets…and that’s before he’s crucified. Gibson got major heat from religious groups for accentuating the pain of the man having his limbs broken and nailed to the cross and then pelted with stones by the crowd. The movie was a box office smash but also inspired a massive amount of controversy over its tone with many feeling it crossed the line too much. It’s still hard to watch and even if you’re not the religious sort, you have to feel for what this man went through and a gripping experience.
When Sylvester Stallone announced he was going back to his iconic role of John Rambo in 2008, many rolled their eyes. Few could imagine that not only would the movie be a major hit, it would also be the most graphic of the entire series. Living in Thailand, Rambo just wants to be at peace after so long at war. When a group of missionaries are captured in Burma, Rambo transports a rescue team to get them. Soon, he’s pushed into helping and shows his combat skills have not lessened at all. As director, Stallone goes all out, showing Rambo as a force of nature in combat, slicing apart guys with knives and his bare hands more deadly than any weapon. The most notable bit is when he commandeers a .50 caliber machine gun in a truck, opens fire point blank at a man two feet away and the guy literally explodes into a bloody mess. That’s only the theatrical cut; the unrated version on DVD shows even more brutality and shocking moments. The Karen Rebel Army in Burma would adopt the film’s catchphrase (“live for nothing or die for something”) as their rallying cry and Stallone proved once and for all that age means nothing to a warrior like Rambo.
2 Battle Royale
A major influence on The Hunger Games was this 2000 Japanese hit inspired by a popular graphic novel. A pack of teenagers already with their own issues are taken on a “field trip.” Gassed on the bus, they awaken to find out that they’ve been chosen by the government for a special program to control the populace. They are outfitted with collars that will explode if they try to escape and are sent onto an island to fight to the death. The deaths are wild and bloody as everything from machine guns to spears to rocks and more are used to take competitors out. While Games could shy from the gore, Royale goes all out as you’ll see blood and limbs flying and the fact these are teenagers makes it gripping. Even more so is how we get to know their pasts and thus feel it when they’re put in this “kill or be killed” scenario. The movie’s violence helped make it one of the biggest box office smashes in Japan’s history but also banned for a decade in many nations. Games may get the glory but Royale shows how violent teens fighting it out can truly be.
1 Cannibal Holocaust
Long before “found footage” was a common trend, this 1980 Italian film focuses on the “lost footage” of a documentary team who vanished in the Amazon. The tapes show a series of events so horrific that a guy getting his leg amputated by a machete is the least offensive moment. There is explicit animal cruelty, a woman impaled on a spike, sexual assault, the mass burning of innocent villagers and, of course, cannibalism. It’s a horrible sight even as it links to the storyline of the man who finds the footage disgusted the network wants to air for ratings and “who are the real cannibals.” The film was outrageous for its time, appalling critics. When it first premiered, an Italian judge immediately ordered director Ruggero Deodato arrested on obscenity charges with many accusing him of making a snuff movie. Indeed, the story of at least one actor dying on set carried for years and the film was banned in several countries. Today, it’s seen by horror fans as a bit ahead of its time but in terms of gore, it’s hard to top something so majorly wild.