Violence in movies has been a source of controversy since cinema was in its infancy.
From the black and white gunplay of the gangster movies of the ‘30s, to the slow-motion shootouts of Arthur Penn’s landmark 1967 film, “Bonnie and Clyde,” to the rivers of blood flowing in Quentin Tarantino movies, the depiction of violence in film has long polarized critics and audiences. And that debate continues today.
Here’s a look at some of the seminal moments that shaped the conversation about violence in movies over the years:
“The Great Train Robbery” (1903) Edwin S. Porter’s famous western features several shootouts, a man being bludgeoned to death by a piece of coal and a close-up of a gun being fired at the camera. Audiences found the gun sequence so realistic they believed they were going to be shot.
“The Big Parade” (1925) King Vidor’s World War I epic was notable for its brutal scenes of German snipers gunning down U.S. soldiers, while another wounded soldier is shown with blood running down his head. Star John Gilbert’s character loses his leg when his character is hit by German mortar fire — an unusually graphic scene for its time.
“Scarface” (1932) After the brutal violence in the pre-Code 1930 gangster film “Little Caesar” and 1931’s “The Public Enemy,” director Howard Hawks upped the body quotient in this vivid drama. But this time censors in various governmental bodies clamped down on the film. A new ending was filmed and the subtitle “The Shame of a Nation” was added to let audiences know the film was meant to condemn, not glorify, gangsters. (Brian De Palma’s 1983 remake with Al Pacino also was criticized for its use of over-the-top violence, notably the buzz-saw sequence.)
“Blackboard Jungle” (1955) Richard Brooks directed this drama about teachers and antisocial, violent students in an inner-city New York school — a far cry from the peaceful and prosperous worldwide vision of post-World War II America. Its frank portrayal of teen anger and conflict in schools led to it being banned in some cities. Even after it was heavily cut in England, riots broke out among teenagers wherever it was shown.
“Bonnie and Clyde” (1967) The legendary bank robbers, played by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, are gunned down in a blaze of slow-motion bullet fire in Arthur Penn’s game-changing gangster film. “It was a time,” Penn later said, “where it seemed to me that if we were going to depict violence, then we would be obliged to really depict it accurately — the kind of terrible, frightening volume that one sees when one genuinely is confronted by violence.”
“The Wild Bunch” (1969) Director Sam Peckinpah turned up the volume even more to underscore the physical and psychological toll of violence. The ultra-graphic gunfights — especially the finale involving the Wild Bunch and Mexican soldiers — and scenes of torture set a new standard for savagery in films.
“A Clockwork Orange” (1971) Stanley Kubrick’s X-rated best-picture Oscar nominee featured extreme violence and a graphic rape. Its deeply disturbing images and message made it a cause celebre around the world. Kubrick would eventually withdraw the film from distribution in the United Kingdom because of copycat crimes.
“The Godfather” (1972) Francis Ford Coppola took an operatic approach to the unforgettable scenes of violence in the film, including Sonny’s death at a toll booth and the ruthless demise of Michael’s enemies during his daughter’s baptism. It paved the way for a new era of gangster films from such directors as Martin Scorsese that amplified the violence quotient.
“Death Wish” (1974) A brutal mugging and murder, a heinous rape sequence and several scenes of vigilante murders caused one critic to call this box office hit with Charles Bronson an “immoral threat to society.” Other movies such as the Clint Eastwood “Dirty Harry” series played on the pervasive fear of crime during this era.
“Reservoir Dogs” (1992) With a slash of an ear by a razor in his 1992 directorial debut, Quentin Tarantino announced that graphic violence would be a hallmark of his films. His use of blood and brutality in his follow-up films (“Pulp Fiction,” “Kill Bill I and II”) and especially in his biggest hit, “Django Unchained,” has made him the poster boy for violent cinema.
“The Passion of the Christ” 2004. Mel Gibson’s blockbuster about the final 12 hours in the life of Christ features such a detailed and graphically brutal depiction of his crucifixion that Roger Ebert declared it the most violent film he had ever seen.
“Hostel” (2005) Director Eli Roth told the Los Angeles Times that paramedics were called twice to treat audience members during the screening at the Toronto International Film Festival of his sadistic horror-thriller about a torture ring where rich people pay to kill and mutilate humans. It paved the way for dozens of copycat horror flicks that emphasized gore and guts over suspense and subtlety.
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