12 Movies That Were Greatly Overshadowed By Controversies

Summary

  • Controversy and scandal can quickly overshadow the hard work and creativity put into a film, diverting attention from its merits and craftsmanship.
  • Unforeseen controversies during production or promotion can undermine the potential success of a film and negatively impact its reputation.
  • Casting choices, behind-the-scenes drama, and ethical concerns can dominate the discussion surrounding a movie, detracting from its intended artistic vision.


When a new movie is released, there are instances where events shift focus from the hard work and talent invested in the film to drama and controversies. This diversion takes attention away from the film itself, becoming the sole topic of discussion instead of acknowledging the effort and skill put into the project. The journey from initial concept to final cut requires tremendous collaboration, vision and effort from writers, directors, crew, actors, and countless other individuals over months or even years. Public scandals hijack the media coverage and attention these movies deserve. Rather than recognizing the creative craftsmanship involved, headlines become dominated by dramatics surrounding celebrities tied to the production.

The potential of many films has been undermined when unforeseen controversies arise during production or promotional tours. Incendiary remarks by a star draw film discourse into moral grandstanding and public judgment comes instead of thoughtful critique or appreciation of the cinematic achievement itself. Once trapped in such cycles of sensationalism, studios can do little but watch profits and artistic reputation erode as the creators’ vision is dismissed. While there are many different types of controversial movies, avoiding even unintended controversy remains an unpredictable challenge when celebrity visibility provokes intense media scrutiny.


12 Cuties (2020)

Accusations of child endangerment

The French coming-of-age drama Cuties aimed to critique the sexualization of young girls in the media. However, when Netflix obtained distribution rights in 2020, the streaming giant faced immediate backlash regarding its promotional materials. Netflix’s poster and trailer depicted the 11-year-old cast wearing revealing dance outfits and striking suggestive poses. Despite the film’s nuanced commentary, the images clash with the underage subjects, sparking outrage. Accusations of enabling pedophilia emerged swiftly, forcing the company to apologize and withdraw the condemned promotions, but fierce public contempt continued. Politicians called for investigations, while Texas indicted Netflix on felony charges for lewd content of a minor, which Netflix appealed and won (via Variety).

11 Alice Through The Looking Glass (2016)

Johnny Depp’s divorce drama emerged a week before the film’s release

The Madhatter and Alice in Alice Through The Looking Glass

Alice Through the Looking Glass had intended to honor late acclaimed actor Alan Rickman’s final on-screen role. However, leading up to the film’s release, stars Johnny Depp and Amber Heard underwent a contentious split. The publicity intensified when Heard alleged Depp physically abused her, prompting intense media attention. The abuse accusations developed a week before the movie’s premiere, shifting focus toward the celebrity scandal. Consequently, the film’s release proved largely overshadowed by the former co-stars’ divorce proceedings. While Rickman’s death and final performance originally drew interest, the Depp-Heard controversy soon dominated headlines instead. This directed discussion away from the film’s merits as a poignant tribute or family-friendly blockbuster.

10 Crash (2004)

A questionable award win tainted the film’s legacy

Crash

Release Date
May 6, 2005

Director
Paul Haggis

Cast
Don Cheadle , Sandra Bullock , Brendan Fraser , Terrence Howard , Thandie Newton , Michael Pena , Matt Dillon , Ryan Phillippe , Larenz Tate , Ludacris , Jennifer Esposito

Rating
R

The 2004 drama Crash scored a surprise Best Picture win at the 2005 Academy Awards, trumping the favored Brokeback Mountain. Many attributed Crash’s upset victory to Oscar voters harboring homophobic biases against the unconventional queer love story. In subsequent years, Brokeback Mountain’s positive appraisal endured partly due to the perceived snub. Ultimately, the questionable Oscar results, rather than its merits as a nuanced ensemble piece, cemented Crash’s legacy. Therefore, discussion of the film remains colored by accusations of homophobia within the Academy, as well as the belief that it robbed Brokeback Mountain of its rightful honor.

9 Don’t Worry Darling (2022)

Behind the scenes gossip, rumors, and alleged affairs

Director Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling debuted in 2022 with relentless gossip over the behind-the-scenes tensions of the production. Conflicting reports on whether co-star Shia LeBeouf quit or was fired fueled rumors of set hostility. Alleged romantic involvement between Wilde and leading man Harry Styles further fed public intrigue. As lackluster critical reviews emerged, the off-screen dramatics proved more compelling than the on-screen story. Largely due to its stars’ scandals, Don’t Worry Darling’s reputation centered around crew conflict, relationship speculation and personnel changes rather than its strengths as a suspense film. For many, the wildest elements were seemingly those unseen on screen.

8 Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

A disgraced director hindered the film’s success

Bohemian Rhapsody

Release Date
November 2, 2018

Director
Bryan Singer , Dexter Fletcher

Cast
Ben Hardy , Aidan Gillen , Gwilym Lee , Mike Myers , Rami Malek , Lucy Boynton , Tom Hollander , Michelle Duncan , Joseph Mazzello , Allen Leech

Rating
PG-13

Unfortunately, director Bryan Singer’s involvement darkened the legacy of the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody years before its 2018 release. Despite facing long-standing accusations of sexually abusing underage boys, Singer was attached to the film. His erratic behavior and mistreatment of the cast led to his firing, though he retained financial stakes and credit. After the movie achieved critical and commercial success, an exposé on Singer was published, detailing his survivors’ accounts. The day after Bohemian Rhapsody’s Oscar nominations, increased scrutiny emerged over honoring a project bearing Singer’s contributions.

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GLAAD and BAFTA withdrew nominations while the film’s star, Rami Malek, noticeably omitted thanking Singer in his acceptance speeches (via Los Angeles Times). Additional debates questioned the film’s perceived homophobia for downplaying Mercury’s bisexuality and allegedly linking his sexuality to his struggle with AIDS. Ironically, openly bisexual Singer had claimed past films as gay rights allegories. Through it all, Singer’s controversial legacy usurped wider discussion of Bohemian Rhapsody’s merits.

7 Ghost In The Shell (2017)

Backlash over casting choices

Scarlett Johansson as Major in Ghost in the Shell

Casting decisions ignited controversy for the sci-fi thriller Ghost in the Shell years prior to its release. Fury erupted over the selection of Scarlett Johansson to portray the Major, whose original anime incarnation is Japanese. Arguments that the film had whitewashed the character to bypass Asian representation in the lead role sparked hefty backlash. Amid calls for Johansson’s recasting, Paramount stood by its star while downplaying uproar over her casting as overblown. However, after a lackluster box office performance, the studio conceded that the unrelenting whitewashing controversy had critically impacted financial returns. Ultimately, the debated racial dynamics surrounding Johansson’s casting had overshadowed Ghost in the Shell.

6 Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961)

Racist portrayals of Asian characters dominate the film’s legacy

Holly Golightly eating a pastry and standing outside Tiffany's in Breakfast at Tiffany's

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Release Date
October 5, 1961

Director
Blake Edwards

Cast
Audrey Hepburn , George Peppard

Rating
pg-13

The legacy of the beloved Breakfast at Tiffany’s remains marred by Mickey Rooney’s racist portrayal of Asian neighbor Mr. Yunioshi. Rooney wore tape to alter his eyelids and buck teeth prosthetics while adopting a severe accent for the broadly stereotypical role. In subsequent decades, attempts to celebrate the Audrey Hepburn classic are dominated by necessary discussion of Rooney’s offensive performance. Members of the Breakfast at Tiffany’s cast and crew bluntly apologize for enabling such an insensitive caricature. Over 60 years since its premiere, the film’s aura now balances uneasily between its glamorous escape and the ugly stereotypes cemented by Rooney’s role as Mr. Yunioshi.

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5 The Brown Bunny (2003)

A controversial scene overshadowed the movie’s artistic elements

Vincent Gallo and Chloe Sevigny kissing in The Brown Bunny

Notoriety plagued the road trip film The Brown Bunny due to its explicit, unsimulated oral sex scene between stars Vincent Gallo and Chloe Sevigny. After the Cannes Film Festival’s hostile reception, Roger Ebert openly condemned the film as perhaps the fest’s worst ever. Gallo fired back publicly at Ebert with venomous personal attacks on the revered critic’s weight. Their war of words brought about sensationalized press coverage, focusing more on the media spectacle than the film’s artistic ambitions. Later, a drastically re-edited cut secured a wide theatrical release and an improved three-star assessment from Ebert. However, beyond Sevigny’s daring role, Gallo’s confrontational approach defined the film’s lasting notoriety.

4 Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Real depictions of animal cruelty taint the overall film

Woman screaming in the mud in Cannibal Holocause

Cannibal Holocaust

Release Date
February 7, 1980

Director
Ruggero Deodato

Cast
Luca Barbareschi , Perry Pirkanen , Robert Kerman , Francesca Ciardi , Carl Gabriel Yorke

Rating
r

The exploitation horror film Cannibal Holocaust instigated fierce controversy for its gruesome depictions of violence. Concerns over the graphic content’s legitimacy provoked legal action to confirm no human deaths occurred throughout its production and that the special effects were used to simulate carnage. However, several animals were, indeed, brutally killed on camera. The realistic portrayals of cruelty toward both humans and animals in Cannibal Holocaust sparked outrage. While director Ruggero Deodato voiced regret over incorporating genuine animal slayings, many still feel disgusted by the onscreen ethical transgressions. The undeniably repulsive inclusion of actual animal deaths continues to provoke condemnation and debate over the decades since its release.

3 Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

A fatal helicopter crash is what the movie is known for

A man screaming because of a monster in The Twilight Zone movie

The high-profile deaths of actor Vic Morrow and two child actors have haunted the legacy of Twilight Zone: The Movie since its release. The fatal helicopter crash occurred on set during an elaborate stunt gone terribly wrong. The segment’s director, John Landis, had illegally hired the children despite utilizing dangerous special effects. His reckless decisions paired with negligence resulted in the crash that killed all three instantly. When Landis went to trial on involuntary manslaughter charges, he was acquitted of liability. However, Hollywood permanently branded Landis’ segment of the Twilight Zone with the tragic accident.

2 The Birth Of A Nation (1915)

Racist depictions of black characters ruined the film’s pioneering legacy

Two characters from The Birth of a Nation

The Birth of a Nation

Release Date
October 7, 2016

Director
Nate Parker

Cast
Roger Guenveur Smith , Aunjanue Ellis , Esther Scott , Nate Parker , Armie Hammer , Aja Naomi King , Colman Domingo , Gabrielle Union , Mark Boone Junior , Dwight Henry

Rating
R

D.W. Griffith’s 1915 epic The Birth of a Nation pioneered film techniques still influential today. Unfortunately, its glorification of the Ku Klux Klan, reliance on white actors in blackface, and depiction of black characters as savages have justifiably overshadowed its cinematic innovations. A century later, filmmaker Nate Parker’s Nat Turner biopic The Birth of a Nation was intended to recontextualize the tainted title. However, resurfaced rape allegations against Parker from 1999 derailed the promising film’s potential. Complaints had already surfaced regarding invented rape scenes incorporated for dramatic effect. Between condemnations of Parker’s past actions and narrative exploitation, the film barely registered during the awards season.

1 Passengers (2016)

Misleading marketing revealed a problematic plot

Passengers Still Image

The marketing for the film Passengers proved deceptive, masking the real premise that provoked criticism. Trailers depicted characters played by Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt accidentally stranded together on a spaceship, eventually falling in love. However, in the film, Pratt awakes on the ship prematurely and revives Lawrence’s character out of loneliness. He then manipulates her into a relationship through lies. Negative reviews from critics, citing the dragging storyline, preceded Passengers‘ rapid descent into a box office bomb, overshadowing any merits it might have had. The film represented a case of misleading marketing backfiring severely once the real problematic story got exposed.

Source: Variety, Los Angeles Times