Films of all genres can be disturbing. Most people associate those awkward and intense feelings of queasiness and distress with horror movies, but that discomfort doesn’t always come from watching a killer chasing his victim or a monster chewing its prey.
Indeed, if Hollywood has taught audiences anything, it’s that any genre can become an exercise in repulsion. From intense dramas to subversive comedies to terrifying horror flicks, these movies will make you feel sick after you finish watching them, whether because of their striking visuals, perturbing themes, or a combination of all these icky factors.
1 ‘Man Bites Dog’ (1992)
Some of cinema’s all-time best mockumentaries are insightful and entertaining movies that reveal new layers to well-known topics. Then there are those films, like Man Bites Dog, that astound because of their boldness. The film follows a filmmaking crew documenting and eventually becoming accomplices to a serial killer.
Although a tad on the nose with its portrayal of humanity’s fascination with the morbid and morally reprehensible, Man Bites Dog is a worthy cinematic experience for those who can withstand its perversion. A shocking challenge to propriety, the film is uncompromising in its portrayal of the obscene and a must-see for cinematic thrill-seekers looking to step out of their comfort zone.
2 ‘Dogtooth’ (2009)
Yorgos Lanthimos rose to international prominence with his 2009 psychological drama Dogtooth. The plot centers on a family living in a fenced property without contact with the outside world. As emotional and sexual tensions rise, the family’s dynamic becomes tested.
Like many of Lanthimos’ films, Dogtooth is relentless and unforgiving. The film is as concerned with portraying human perversion as it is in deconstructing it, resulting in a disturbing picture that remains insightful because of its willingness to challenge conventions. If only more people could sit through it.
3 ‘The Human Centipede’ (2009)
Arguably one of the most grotesque movies ever, The Human Centipede is an exercise in poor taste and boundary-pushing repulsiveness. The story centers on a deranged German scientist who creates the titular “human centipede” by surgically joining three unsuspecting victims, mouth to anus.
It might be hard for most audiences to find any value whatsoever in The Human Centipede. Indeed, the film is so perverse that everything else it might try to convey falls flat and rings hollow. Fans of the extreme might want to endure this film as the sick challenge it is, but mainstream audiences will surely run away as far away from it as humanly possible.
4 ‘Antichrist’ (2009)
Danish provocateur Lars von Trier is infamous for his extreme depictions of recurring themes like mercy, endurance, sexuality, and mental health. 2009’s horror film Antichrist features these topics in spades, using them to tell the story of a grieving couple whose relationship deteriorates as she descends into chaos and violence.
Powerful work by the underrated Charlotte Gainsbourg helps elevate Antichrist, driving many of von Trier’s more ethereal ideas home. Antichrist is von Trier shaking his audience to the point of nausea, using two unbelievably talented actors to tell a deviant and polarizing story that only the strongest will endure.
5 ‘Pink Flamingos’ (1972)
John Waters, the arbiter of bad taste, delivered what is arguably his masterpiece in 1972’s Pink Flamingos. The late, great Divine stars as a fictionalized version of herself, a notorious criminal proud to be the “filthiest person alive.” Her life gets disrupted by a couple of equally depraved criminals looking to claim her title.
Although widely embraced by the LGBTQ+ community and the underground circuit, there’s no denying Pink Flamingos is a shocking film for mainstream audiences. Several scenes, including one where a live chicken is crushed and the infamous final sequence, where Divine eats dog feces, are more than enough to make any casual filmgoer nauseous.
6 ‘Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom’ (1975)
The Marquis de Sade was perhaps the most controversial figure of his time, and his work continues to scandalize, even today. In 1975, the influential Italian multi-hyphenate Pier Paolo Pasolini directed a loose adaptation of de Sade’s unfinished novel The 120 Days of Sodom. The film follows four corrupt Italian noblemen who kidnap 18 teenagers and subject them to various forms of psychological, emotional, and sexual torture.
Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, is a film made exclusively to shock and challenge. Excessively violent and relentlessly cruel, Salò is obscene and disturbing, proudly boasting its sociopolitical undertones while adding layers to de Sade’s original text. And yet, whatever intelligence it might boast lurks underneath imagery so reprehensible and repulsive that it’s hard to give it any kind of recognition.
7 ‘Ichi the Killer’ (2001)
There are black comedies, and then there’s Takashi Miike‘s horrifying Ichi the Killer. An adaptation of the manga series of the same name, the film centers on the title character, a sadomasochistic yakuza killer hunting down rival gang members and bosses while being pursued by an equally deranged enforcer.
Violent and employing a brand of macabre humor, the film is brutal with its depictions of violence and cruelty. Ichi is an unabashed festival of gore; however, its portrayal of barbarity never descends into the incredible, maintaining a remarkably realistic approach that will make it comfortable for many.
8 ‘Requiem for a Dream’ (2000)
Leave it to Darren Aronofsky to deliver a prestigious yet jarring look into addiction. Starring Oscar winners Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, and Jennifer Connelly, plus the underrated Marlon Wayans, Requiem for a Dream follows four individuals whose lives get derailed because of addiction.
Visually striking and intense to a fault, Requiem for a Dream is pure Aronofsky. The film might be the most mainstream and “manageable” in the distressing genre, but it remains a highly affecting and traumatizing experience that most people will only want to watch once.
9 ‘Funny Games’ (1997)
Acclaimed Austrian director Michael Haneke‘s unnerving horror masterpiece Funny Games might be too much for some to endure. The plot centers on a family on holiday whose idyllic vacation gets disturbed by the sudden arrival of two charming and sadistic young men who psychologically and physically torture them.
Funny Games pushes the boundaries of what audiences expect from a horror movie. Whenever things seem to get better for the protagonists, Haneke denies it and rewrites the genre’s rules. Funny Games is a critique of violence and society’s obsession with it, with a plot so macabre and chilling that more than one will find it hard to finish it. The emotional torture is too much and far more affecting than any gore scene in a lesser horror movie.
10 ‘A Serbian Film’ (2010)
Is A Serbian Film the most disturbing, violent, and reprehensible movie ever? Perhaps. The plot centers on a struggling pornographic actor who agrees to participate in what he believes will be an art film but turns out to be a snuff picture with disturbing themes.
Exploitation films are well-known for their shocking imagery and boundary-pushing topics. However, A Serbian Film looks at those movies in the rearview mirror. This film doesn’t require a strong stomach; it needs an iron digestive system capable of resisting its non-stop collection of gore and depravity. While some might find value in its unsubtle critique of “political correctness,” others might get scarred for life by its perverted imagery and moral bankruptcy.
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