While a descriptor like “gross” isn’t usually associated with the concept of a great movie, there are times when it’s an appropriate modifier. Sometimes horrific violence and disturbing imagery add to the visceral impact of the narrative in a way that something more benign or anesthetized would not. The shock to a viewers’ system can even elevate the material, even if it means they don’t want to enjoy the movie again any time soon.
Whether it’s the authentic horrors of war, a kidnapping situation, or a sexual assault, some movies need to communicate what makes audiences uncomfortable with strong visuals that duplicate reality. These great movies have elements that are so convincingly gross that they make it difficult to go through another viewing. Trigger warning for extreme violence and sexual assault.
10 Saving Private Ryan
Saving Private Ryan is widely considered to be one of the most authentic war movies of all time. Its attention to detail is so good, real veterans of World War II have said it accurately and viscerally depicted the horrors of the battlefield down to the last grim detail.
The incredibly graphic depiction of soldiers’ injuries, including one wounded man holding his intestines on the outside of his gut, make it truly difficult to get through despite its Oscar-winning cinematography and performances.
A slow-burning horror movie that infects its audience over time thanks to its symbolic subject matter, Hereditary focuses on a family in mourning over their mysterious grandmother, and a curse that’s been passed down for generations. Whether it’s a literal curse lurking or the insidious nature of mental illness is somewhat open to interpretation, and its strong acting and eerie narrative compete for prominence with its arresting imagery.
Some of the visuals in the movie, especially towards the end, haunt viewers long after they’ve finished watching it. For some, it will be impossible to look at certain scenes simply because of how disgusting they are.
8 127 Hours
Based on the gripping true story of a climber making a solo descent who suddenly found himself trapped in a crevice he couldn’t get out of, 127 Hours is a nail-biting adrenaline rush that will make even the most casual hiker fear going on a nature walk.
Trapped under a boulder, the climber makes a last-ditch effort to escape his situation. Out of water, out of earshot, and out of time, he’s forced into an impossible situation – cut himself out of the crevice, or die. In the end, he decides to do the unthinkable – cut his own arm off with the dull 2-inch pocket knife on his multi-tool.
When a young woman refuses the advances of a group of men, they savagely and violently violate her, leaving her boyfriend and a former lover with little recourse except to hunt down the thugs responsible and inflict on them a befitting punishment.
While a necessary movie about the atrocities that can be committed during a gang-led sexual assault, the level of detail included in this movie will be more than most viewers feel comfortable watching.
6 Black Swan
One ballerina’s impassioned mission to become the star of her dance company’s production of Swan Lake takes her to the brink of insanity. She allows her obsession with perfection to dominate her life, to the point where she loses track of her sense of self and begins to stalk her competition for the part of the Black Swan.
As she pursues the part of the Black Swan, she pushes her body to the limit, and viewers are subjected to hobbled feet, contorted limbs, and bizarre – almost supernatural- transformations as her dark side emerges. At one point, her mental health declines so much she obsessively picks at a hangnail, only to peel it to excrutiating detail.
Two wealthy parents, desiring to keep their three children ignorant of the outside world, keep them locked inside their compound until they’re stunted adults. Despite their handicap, the siblings begin to hatch a plan to outmaneuver their captors and escape, but their limited knowledge of how to go about it leads to some disturbing situations.
One involves the son, frightened by a stray cat, killing it with shears, and another where his parents force him to have sexual relations with his eldest sister. One of the most viscerally jarring (due to it taking place in an entirely uninterrupted edit) comes in the final scenes involving the eldest daughter knocking out one of her dogteeth with a dumbbell.
Not all Stephen King stories get worthwhile adaptations that accurately capture their unnerving appeal, but Misery succeeds primarily because of its strong visuals and commanding performances. Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes has the honor of participating in one of the most vivid scenes in horror cinema, aided by a sledgehammer.
She’s rescued her favorite author from the site of a serious accident and taken him back to her cabin to recover. A former nurse, she’s the perfect person to help him get back on his feet. She’s also the perfect person to make sure he stays with her forever, and when he considers leaving without finishing his latest novel, she decides to hobble him with a swift swing of her sledgehammer to his ankles.
3 Bone Tomahawk
When random deaths in a small peaceful town culminate in a man’s wife being kidnapped, the local sheriff mounts a posse to go after her, hoping the group will find her alive. Unfortunately, they end up at the mercy of a malevolent cohort that inflicts unspeakable horrors on trespassers.
The slow burn of Bone Tomahawk, with its thoughtful dialogue, strong character development, and beautiful frontier cinematography does not prepare viewers for the horrific violence they will see at a later point in the movie, especially involving scalping and a young man’s genitalia.
2 Event Horizon
When a coveted spacecraft known as the Event Horizon suddenly reappears after being thought lost years earlier, a research team comprised of scientists and its creator is sent to investigate it and review its mission logs. It becomes clear that the vessel isn’t completely abandoned, and that it’s returned from wherever it went with something sinister aboard.
Whatever horrors the Event Horizon experienced before on its journey are still very much present, and as crew members get picked off one by one, its creator begins to fanatically obsess over what secrets it can provide humanity. This leads to a bizarre and freakish final act in the sci-fi cult classic that is equal parts visually arresting and disturbing.
A little more of a niche movie, this ’80s gem nevertheless has broad appeal for fans of practical effects and truly disturbing visuals. It follows a teenager as he investigates the bizarre habits of his parents, upper-middle-class suburban yuppies who throw lavish parties that are concealing more than they seem.
The gluttonous depiction of capitalism is perverted in Society, which makes a not-too-subtle point of making the people obsessed with wealth and status absolutely gross. Even the thought of seeing the smug yuppie couple getting what they deserve may not be enough for some viewers to sit through the final scenes of this movie.
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