24 Most Disturbing Movies of All Time
Long-running horror publication Fangoria recently published an article entitled, “Mainstream Extreme: How 2022 Made ‘Disturbing’ Popular.” The interesting article discusses the rise in popularity of disturbing and extreme horror movies with general film fans. Releases such as Terrifier 2, Speak No Evil, and The Sadness have not only made money at the box office but are receiving rave reviews from critics. The article points to the pandemic and the general shitshow of the world since 2020 as a reason people are taking comfort in these types of deranged movies.
That got us thinking about the most disturbing movies we have ever seen. These movies aren’t just grisly horrors or torture porn, but ghastly features that will shock even the most hardcore gore lover. Some are psychologically deplorable while others have horrifying themes that are sometimes a little too close for comfort. What all these movies have in common is that they will have you on the edge of your seat, with your stomach squirming, and your mind doing backflips at the disturbing horrors you are witnessing on the screen. Try not to watch these movies before bed, otherwise, you might be in for a long sleepless night.
24 Most Disturbing Movies of All Time
1. A Serbian Film (2010)
There isn’t a more disturbing film on the planet. A Serbian Film is evil, and if you can manage to watch until the end then you have greater willpower than most. Director Srđan Spasojević’s abomination is meant to be a commentary on Serbia and its fascist government but it comes across as nothing more than an excuse for excess violence.
Nothing is off limits, with the film including scenes of rape, necrophilia, pedophilia, incest, and extreme violence. It really is a tough watch with no redeeming features. The ending is particularly brutal and will put you off visiting Serbia anytime soon.
2. Funny Games (1997)
Director Michael Haneke’s psychological thriller is about a couple of young lads who break into a house and take a family hostage. While occupying the home the two torture the family members and make them play a series of brutal games, making their life a living hell. What makes this film even more disturbing is the fact that it breaks the fourth wall, with one of the intruders, Paul, often turning to the camera and talking to the audience.
Haneke intended the film to be a meditation on violence in the media, but its gory overuse of violence without any real plot or satisfying conclusion makes it a difficult film to enjoy. It split critics down the middle, with some on board with Haneke’s commentary on violence and others put off by the senseless torture portrayed on-screen.
Fun fact: Haneke originally wanted to make the film in America (it was shot in Austria with an Austrian crew) but couldn’t afford it. Ten years later he got his wish and remade the movie as an English-speaking film starring Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, and Brady Corbet.
3. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
One of the original found footage movies, Cannibal Holocaust had people actually believing what they had seen on the screen was real. The movie follows anthropologist Harold Monroe as he enters the Amazon jungle to search for a lost film crew who were trying to find an Amazonian tribe. All he finds is their film which is then broadcast as a television special.
The footage shows the group making contact with a tribe but instead of trying to interact with them in a friendly manner, they are hostile and harass the tribe, eventually leading to the men raping one of the young tribeswomen. Things go downhill from there when the tribe discovers what happens and hunts down the film crew, taking their revenge in several horrible ways, including genital mutilation.
Cannibal Holocaust caused all sorts of hysteria when it was released, with counties such as Australia, the United States, Norway, and Singapore banning it. There are also several animal deaths that happen on-screen that didn’t impress, with director Ruggero Deodato admitting he might have gone too far with that aspect of the movie.
4. Audition (1999)
Takashi Miike makes movies that are not for the faint-hearted. He has a long list of viscerally disturbing movies in his catalog, including Ichi the Killer and Visitor Q, but it’s hard to go past the romantic horror Audition when it comes to his most disturbing.
Shigeharu Aoyama is a lonely widower who begins auditioning for a new partner. He meets Asami Yamazaki and becomes instantly smitten. The two meet up and profess their love for each, which is when things take a turn for the worse, at least for Aoyama.
Audition suddenly pivots 180 degrees as the film introduces needle torture and disembowelment, using torture as a comment on relationship dynamics, feminism, and misogyny.
5. Salò, or 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
If there’s one thing the Italians are good at, it’s making disturbing films. While the likes of Dario Argento, Mario Bava, and Lucio Fulci mastered the surreal world of horror, Pier Paolo Pasolini took art house cinema into new territory with Salò, or 120 Days of Sodom.
An adaptation of The 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade, Pasolini choose to set the film during World War II to make it more relevant to audiences of that time. The movie focuses on four rich elites who kidnap 18 teenagers and then indulge in four months of violence, sadism, sex, and psychological torture.
Some of the things depicted on-screen include tongues being cut off, gang rape, someone eating feces, and a hanging. Similar to A Serbian Film, this movie is meant to be about fascism but it comes across as a disgusting collection of scenes that will stay with you once the film ends.
6. August Underground (2001)
Serial killer movies are nothing new, but August Underground is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. This found footage movie stars Fred Vogel (who also directs) as an unnamed serial killer who is being filmed by his accomplice as he kidnaps and murders several people. There’s no rhyme or reason for the despicable acts being committed and the home video style footage gives the movie an authentic quality that will leave you feeling sick in your stomach.
In between torturing a woman in the basement and bludgeoning a prostitute to death, the duo goes about their boring lives, visiting a comic book shop and going to a rock concert. It’s this juxtaposition between the horrific crimes they commit and their mundane lives that creates a feeling of unease while you watch August Underground.
Far from a hit, there was a bit enough audience for two sequels, August Underground’s Mordum and August Underground’s Penance. Both are repulsive movies and up the ante when it comes to the type of violence that can be seen on film. Only for those with a strong will.
7. Guinea Pig: Flower of Flesh and Blood (1985)
This is the second of six movies from manga artist Hideshi Hino that feature all manner of depraved and bloody violence. To go into detail about what happens in each of the movies would take up too much space and more than likely scare the shit out of you, but just know that if you think Hostel by Eli Roth is torture porn, you’re still in the minor leagues.
Guinea Pig 2: Flower of Flesh and Blood has a long-lasting legacy thanks to Japanese authorities believing it inspired the crimes of the serial killer Tsutomu Miyazaki – also known as the Otaku Murderer – who kidnapped and murdered four young women in the 80s. Charlie Sheen also saw the movie in 1991 and thought it was an actual snuff film. He informed the police and after a short investigation, it was proven the movie was just that, a movie, but this story only helped mythologize the movie.
8. Tusk (2014)
Kevin Smith hasn’t made a good movie since the 90s, so you might wonder why Tusk makes this list. Well, it’s because it’s bloody bonkers and equally disturbing. Justin Long is perfectly cast as an arrogant podcaster who meets with an eccentric elderly gentleman while researching subjects for his next podcast. It’s about here when things take flight and the movie gets super weird. We won’t spoil anything but just know there’s lots of body horror and walrus humor.
Whether you enjoy this film depends on your love of Smith and your attitude toward disturbing horror flicks. Reviews were mixed but there is a cult fanbase who love this movie and hope Smith returns to the horror genre soon.
9. Eraserhead (1977)
David Lynch only knows how to make weird films, with Eraserhead arguably his most disturbing. The surreal black-and-white flick is Lynch’s directorial debut about a man caring for his deformed child. Of course, this is a Lynch film so nothing is as it seems, nor does it really make much sense.
It’s hard to tell what is meant to be real and what parts of the movie are happening in main character The Man in the Planet’s head. Or maybe it’s all meant to be reality? As well as themes surrounding sex, domestic life, and death, the movie’s sound is like another character, and when combined with the stark visuals, creates a feeling of unease and despair.
Critics loved it while most moviegoers didn’t get it, but no matter what you think, there is no denying Lynch is an interesting filmmaker. His movies might not make a lot of sense but they ask a lot of questions about life and reality, just don’t expect to find any answers.
10. Irréversible (2002)
Frenchman Gaspar Noé is one of those directors who is constantly challenging his audience with the movies he makes. His 2002 release Irréversible certainly fits that bill. Told in reverse, the movie stars Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel (at that time married) as a couple involved in a horrendous event one night in pairs. Bellucci is raped in an alley while Cassel and his best friend attempt to find the perpetrator and exact revenge.
The moments of violence sprinkled throughout Irréversible can catch you off guard, with the brutality of the rape scene lingering almost too long. The movie divided critics upon its release and can either be seen as an experimental revenge movie about the morality of vengeance or a horrible exploitation movie with no purpose other than to shock. The French Memento this is not.
11. Man Bites Dog (1992)
Man Bites Dog, also known as C’est Arrivé Près de Chez Vous in French (which translates to “It happened near your home), is hands down one of the most disturbing movies of all time. Shot like a documentary, it follows a crew of filmmakers following a narcissistic serial killer named Ben as he goes about his business. The longer the film goes the more the filmmakers become enamored with Ben, eventually joining in with his crimes and being accomplices.
Considered a cult classic, Man Bites Dog won the International Critics’ Prize at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival, although that didn’t stop the movie from coming in for criticism for its depiction of violence on screen.
12. Pink Flamingos (1972)
John Waters is a maverick filmmaker whose filmography is full of weird and wonderful movies that constantly push the boundaries. While hits Hairspray and Cry-Baby are fairly normal (by Waters’ standards), his 1972 movie Pink Flamingos is an entirely different beast.
Starring the drag queen Divine as criminal Babs Johnso, the loose plot revolves around Johnso – who claims to be “the filthiest person alive” – competing against two criminals envious of her reputation who believe they are just as disgusting. Murder, incest, rape, violence, sodomy, and castration are just some of the things that happen during the film’s runtime.
Originally banned in Switzerland and Australia upon its release, Pink Flamingos is widely considered a cult classic these days, with Walters fans loving the way he exposes different communities, fetishes, and sub-cultures, even if the movie itself is disturbing.
13. The Last House on the Left (1972)
Revenge movies became big business in the 70s and Wes Craven left his mark with The Last House on the Left. The directorial debut from the man who would go on to create the Scream franchise, the exploration film is played for shock value, with the rape scene one of the longest and most horrific scenes in horror movie history.
The Last House on the Left revolves around two young women who are kidnapped by escaped criminals and subjected to all manner of torture and sadistic behavior. The two are put through the wringer before being brutally murdered by the gang, who happen to get involved with one of the girl’s parents. When they discover what happened to their daughter, they take revenge on the criminals in a series of vicious and gory scenes.
The movie was heavily censored upon its release and there are multiple versions of the movie available online. That edits didn’t stop it from being a hot topic with conservative groups, with the movie banned in the U.K. for a period of time.
14. Kill List (2012)
Kill List is a disturbing movie more so for the strange goings-on that occur rather than the violence committed. From the mind of Ben Wheatley, one of the modern horror film directors making waves, Kill List is about two contract killers who take a job that begins to unravel as they discover not everything is as it seems.
To say any more will ruin the experience of watching Kill List for the first time, suffice it to say it’s part horror part thriller with references to English folklore and plenty of twists and turns. Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley as the assassins are both tremendous and really make this movie work.
15. Nekromantik (1987)
Necrophilia isn’t usually something you would expect when watching a romance but that’s what you get with Nekromantik. This German exploration flick about a couple who bring a corpse into their relationship to spice things up is about as unromantic as you can get but is widely hailed as a cult classic by film historians.
The wife becomes attracted to the corpse and falls in love, running off with the body while her husband falls into a deep depression as he tries to recapture the feelings he felt while with the corpse. It’s sick and twisted but is seen as taboo-breaking, which is why it the movie has such a big following among those who like disturbing movies.
16. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
Michael Rooker is incredibly compelling as serial killer Henry in John McNaughton’s hard-to-forget thriller Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Henry and his buddy Otis, loosely based on real-life killers Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole, embark on a killing spree across America, taking out a slew of people in various disturbing ways.
What anchors the movie is Rooker, who manages to find a slither of humanity in Henry, despite his violent crimes and disturbing psychological behavior. Shooting on 16mm film also helps create a style of authenticity, with this chilling profile of a murderer rarely bettered in movies since.
17. Mother! (2017)
Darren Aronofsky is known for making movies that challenge and Mother! certainly does just that. It’s not always easy to understand what is happening, as Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem’s idyllic life is interrupted by several strangers who move into their marital home.
The movie works through Christianity, feminism, and environmental issues as Aronosfksy explores big ideas with a cast that also includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Harris, Domhnall Gleeson, and Kirsten Wig. Although it received mixed reviews from critics, Mother! is another powerful offering from Aronofsky that showcases all his talents as a filmmaker.
18. Under the Skin (2014)
Under the Skin is disturbing in a different way. It’s not overly violent or bloody, but watching it puts you on edge. There’s something about former music video director Jonathan Glazer and the way he shoots that creates an eerie yet compelling visual feast. Much of the movie is filmed with hidden cameras, giving it a grimy, realistic groove.
The movie itself is weird, with Scarlett Johansson playing some type of humanoid alien creature that lures men to their death in Glasgow. There’s a guy in a motorcycle helmet, hints at other dimensions, and a violent conclusion that brings things to a close without really explaining anything. Under the Skin is a strange watch but one you will enjoy if disturbing movies are your thing.
19. The Neon Demon (2016)
Nicolas Winding Refn often prioritizes style of substance, but The Neon Demon, his attempt at psychological horror, does both fairly well. Elle Fanning is an aspiring model who moves to Los Angeles and makes it big. She becomes narcissistic and hated by other models for her natural beauty and begins having wild hallucinations as her life spirals out of control.
Drenched in the fluro hue Refn is known for The Neon Demon divided critics and fans who commended the visual aspect of the film but found the characters and overall story lacking. The film received a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival – if that means anything – and combines brutal violence with moments of surrealism. Not for everyone, The Neon Demon is one of those disturbing horror movies that will have you questioning the modeling world and people’s obsessions with unattainable beauty standards.
20. Hereditary (2018)
Similar to Under the Skin, it’s the atmosphere and vibe you get watching Hereditary that makes it disturbing. Avi Aster’s debut has been described by the director as a “family movie,” and while that is true, with the family going through the different stages of grief after a shock death, it’s also loaded with horror iconography and tropes.
Hereditary dips into the supernatural during the second half of the movie as the family try to come to terms with their feelings while noticing an unwanted presence in their home that is impacting them all in different ways. While not scary, Hereditary does have the occasional jump scare to keep young viewers entertained.
Without spoilers, the ending is batshit crazy and may take some time to process. This movie makes for a great double bill with Aster’s sophomore effort Midsommar, which is just as intense.
21. The Exorcist (1973)
One of the great horror movies, The Exorcist is about as disturbing as it gets when it comes to movie watching. There’s nothing like a possessed child whose head spins around 360 degrees and then vomits what looks like pea soup.
Directed by the great William Friedkin and based on the novel of the same name, The Exorcist focuses on Regan MacNeil, a young girl who is possessed by a demon. Two priests are sent to exorcise the demon from her, veteran priest Father Lankester Merrin and newbie Father Damien Karras, S.J.
This movie will have you questioning your beliefs and hoping demons really don’t exist. A box office smash, The Exorcist was the first horror movie nominated for an Academy Award, going on to win for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound. It had viewers fainting while watching in cinemas, causing a storm of controversy that eventually saw the movie banned in the U.K. for a short period of time.
22. We Are the Flesh (2019)
Lucio and Fauna and siblings wandering a post-apocalyptic Earth when they stumble upon Mariano, a man living in a partially destroyed building. He offers the two food and shelter but at a cost; they must help him turn the abandoned building into a cocoon-like structure that is a temple to depravity.
Quickly falling under his spell, Mariano forces Lucio and Fauna to have sex with each other while he watches and masturbates. This leads to Mariano making the siblings carry out even more disgusting acts that are both sexual and violent as the movie goes off the deep end. Hitting several taboos and brilliantly shot, We Are the Flesh is like a fever dream after a bad batch of mushrooms.
23. Kuso (2019)
Flying Lotus (Steven Ellison) is best known for his Avant-garde electronic creations that often take you on an adventure to the dark side. His debut feature film is just as wild, but be warned, it’s not for those with a weak stomach.
Pitchfork called it “the most vile body horror film ever made,” and to be fair, they’re pretty spot on. After all, this is a film that contains a segment where a boil on the neck of a woman comes to life and performs fellatio on the woman’s boyfriend.
If that hasn’t turned you off then Kuso might be the movie for you. Set in Los Angeles after a volcano has destroyed the city and turned the survivors into mutants, the movie contains four different stories that get increasingly more disgusting and disturbing. This is body horror that puts David Cronenberg to shame. It’s not going to be for everyone, but if you like your films squeamish, Kuso will be right up your alley.
24. Martyrs (2008)
Part of the New French Extremity movement, Martyrs is a horrifying movie that flips the script halfway through. A young woman who was kidnapped and abused as a child recruits her friend, also a sufferer of child abuse, to take revenge on the people who abducted and tortured her. This leads to revelations of a secret society trying to discover what the afterlife is like through extreme torture.
Martyrs is extremely violent and at times uncomfortable to watch. Although disturbing, the plot is original and the way the movie makes you think it’s heading one way and then suddenly changes course is fantastic filmmaking. Just be sure to watch the French version and not the American remake, which is horrendous, like most remakes of foreign movies.
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