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The Most Controversial Movies Of 2024 So Far

Movies always generate conversation. Dating back to the days of the 1890s, when moviegoers thought a train on the silver screen was really headed for them, films have wielded the power to get people united in conversation. If your film isn't getting anyone talking, it likely didn't do anything too artistically engaging. This is just as true for modern-day motion pictures as it is for classic silent features. To stand out in the current crowded pop culture landscape, you've got to make some noise one way or another. 

Just look at the slew of 2024 movies that have already been put on people's radars because of certain deeply controversial creative choices. Some of these movies employed AI technology in a way that frustrated working-class artists. Others changed true stories to the point that real-life souls felt erased. Still other costly motion pictures had their general releases greatly overshadowed by pre-release chatter and memes.

Controversy comes in all shapes and sizes in the modern world. Some of it comes from marginalized or oppressed people making their voices heard. Other times it's due to matters that look quite silly in hindsight. Whatever the source of, or retrospective viewpoint on, these controversies, these 2024 motion pictures all reflect how easy it is to drum up publicity when your movie is sparking fiery conversations.

Late Night with the Devil

In "Late Night with the Devil," late night host Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian) gets the fright of his life when bringing a supposedly "possessed" little girl on his show as a stunt guest. For the characters in the movie, the scares come from potential Satanic forces creeping into the studio. In real life, though, the scariest thing about "Late Night with the Devil" was its use of AI art. For a handful of on-screen visuals indicating that Delroy's show was cutting to a commercial, directors Cameron and Colin Cairnes relied on AI-generated imagery. The revelation about the film's use of the technology broke in the days leading up to its March 2024 theatrical release, which sparked widespread debate over the ethics of using such material in a major motion picture.

It didn't help that "Late Night with the Devil" was coming on the heels of a pair of massive Hollywood strikes centered heavily around the idea of AI technology taking people's jobs. Complaints surrounding this element became so widespread that key creative folks associated with "Late Night with the Devil" eventually had to speak out about the matter. Cameron and Colin Cairnes released a statement to Variety emphasizing the minimal nature of these images and praising the movie's production team. David Dastmalchian, meanwhile, backed up the statement from the directors but also underscored that having discussions about the ethics of AI in cinema was extremely essential.

Civil War

Roughly a month before its release, "Ex Machina" mastermind Alex Garland's latest directorial effort, "Civil War," began inspiring discussions over the necessity of releasing such a transgressive movie in an election year. Outlets ran pieces collecting social media posts, illustrating concern that "Civil War" could inspire people to engage in violence against people as well as finding the very concept of "Civil War" unpleasant to consider in a toxic political climate. Ongoing extreme political strife in the United States made it seem like "Civil War' could just add more noise to the chaos rather than say anything interesting. 

There was enough debate over the ethics of releasing "Civil War" in 2024 that Garland had to field questions about the movie's relevancy during its press tour. A common refrain from Garland expressed the idea that "Civil War" wasn't meant to necessarily comment on America exclusively in 2024, but rather on a rampant disconnect between people across the modern world. Emphasizing that "Civil War" dealt with more general themes was meant to quell worries that this grim drama was uncomfortably ripped from the headlines. Still, the divisive nature of the movie was even reflected in its initial positive reviews, which noted that the film was a difficult watch destined to generate lots of heated debate.

Madame Web

Some comic book movies are initially greeted with excited anticipation only to be met by widespread disappointment. Months of bubbly enthusiasm quickly curdle into resentment over the underwhelming final product. "Madame Web," by contrast, was a punchline from the very start of its marketing campaign. An iconic line about how "he was with my mom in the Amazon when she was researching spiders right before she died" quickly became a viral sensation for all the wrong reasons. Expectations were low for the production and the eventual movie still came in below those hopes. 

It didn't help that the theatrical release was overshadowed by a barrage of mini-controversies over various statements given by Dakota Johnson during the "Madame Web" press tour. Johnson's entertainingly idiosyncratic style of deadpan verbiage was a sharp contrast to other comic book movie leads, who only speak about their projects with breathless reverence. As a result, Johnson's enjoyably flippant descriptions of experiences like shooting in front of a blue screen for the first time were interpreted to mean she despised "Madame Web" before anyone had even seen the movie. 

Discourse around Johnson's press comments quickly became more popular than actually talking about "Madame Web." Further controversy emerged when, just a day before the film's premiere, it was revealed that the "mom in the Amazon" line wasn't even in the final film. There was just no end to the whirlwind of negative controversies that plagued "Madame Web" even before its first public showings began. 

Kung Fu Panda 4

The fourth entry in many film series can often be an awful disappointment, either with critics, audiences, or both. In the case of the "Kung Fu Panda" saga, though, "Kung Fu Panda 4" is a box office hit destined for a domestic haul far above all other "Kung Fu Panda" sequels. But that impressive accomplishment hasn't been enough to fend off disaster for many DreamWorks Animation employees. Just a week after "Kung Fu Panda 4" premiered domestically, news broke that DreamWorks Animation was undergoing massive layoffs. The studio had reportedly let hundreds of contract workers go and even paused production on a proposed original feature for 2026. Countless animators and creative members of the company were about to lose their jobs.

Pop culture commentators lined up to lambast the news and especially criticized how the box office success of "Kung Fu Panda 4" wasn't providing job security for the folks responsible for bringing that movie to life. This only exacerbated prior concerns surrounding comments made by "Kung Fu Panda 4" co-director Stephanie Stein, about the behind-the-scenes troubles that plagued the creation of the movie. Her anecdotes about the film's screenwriting issues and rushed instances of fan-service already cast a dark shadow over "Kung Fu Panda 4." Having the film's release tied to widespread layoffs at DreamWorks Animation only furthered the controversy surrounding this box office sensation.

Mean Girls

While the 2024 musical "Mean Girls" movie updates many things from the previous 2004 "Mean Girls" film, it does retain a handful of cast members from the original feature. Among those returning actors was Lindsay Lohan, showing up in a surprise cameo as a judge during a climactic academic competition. Her screentime includes a meta line of dialogue where her character notes that the nail-biter finale of this competition has only "happened once before" (a reference to the original "Mean Girls"). That should have been the end of Lindsay Lohan's connection to the new "Mean Girls," but unfortunately, a joke in the remake soon earned her ire.

The theatrical cut of the "Mean Girls" remake featured a moment where Megan Thee Stallion (playing herself) references the term "fire crotch," a derogatory phrase previously associated with Lohan in the 2000s. Back when the "Mean Girls" update first premiered, Lohan's publicist disclosed that the actor was reportedly very distressed over the presence of this reference. Lohan's words seemed to have resonated with somebody behind the movie: a month after her outcry was first registered, the 2024 "Mean Girls" remake dropped onto digital platforms – but without the "fire crotch" line. The film's reverence for Lohan apparently extended far beyond just giving the actor a cameo appearance. 

Arthur the King

Initially, it'd be hard to imagine anything about "Arthur the King" ruffling any feathers. This is a very bog-standard dog/reluctant owner movie, in the vein of other titles ranging from "Alpha" to "The Call of the Wild." The specific story of "Arthur the King" concerns a stray dog by the name of Arthur connecting with runner Michael Light (Mark Wahlberg). The duo bond while making a near-impossible trek through dangerous terrain together in this adaptation of a true story, which altered the backdrop of the actual saga from Ecuador to the Dominican Republic.

This is where the controversy over "Arthur the King" enters the picture. Disgruntled responses arose from native citizens in Ecuador that the country had been erased from the history of the real man/canine duo at the heart of "Arthur the King." Arthur's origins as a pooch from Ecuador were apparently important enough for Mikael Lindnord — the real-life inspiration for Wahlberg's character — to mention the country in a 2020 Instagram post mourning Arthur's passing. 

Why wasn't Ecuador critical enough to warrant a presence in "Arthur the King"? Speaking to the Ecuador Times, Gabriel Carrión (a representative working with Arthur's legacy) noted that "Arthur the King" was shot in the Dominican Republic instead simply because shooting locations were more favorable in that country. No matter the reasoning, though, leaving Ecuador out of "Arthur the King" stirred up controversy over the last 2024 movie you'd expect to be divisive. 

Asphalt City

In director Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire's "Asphalt City," the average existence of New York City paramedics is framed through the eyes of newbie Ollie Cross (Tye Sheridan) and veteran Gene Rutovsky (Sean Penn). Their exploits in the Big Apple shatter Cross's preconceived notions of the world. Being a paramedic is grimy work that, in the hands of Sauvaire, involves Cross and Rutkosvky navigating the worst of humankind just to help the innocent. The proceedings are incredibly bleak and meant to make something like "Bringing Out the Dead" look like "Spy Kids" tonally. Such gnarly cinema is always going to be divisive, but "Asphalt City" was especially reviled by those who caught it in theaters.

Major review outlets chastised "Asphalt City' for being excessive misery cinema lingering on the pain of working-class and financially struggling souls. Such torment was deemed especially heinous due to screenwriters Ben Mac Brown and Ryan King failing to develop ordinary New York lives beyond the anguish they experienced. This led to widespread criticism over the film's generic portrayal of New York City. Certain reviews and social media posts even claimed the movie lapsed into racially insensitive material with its depiction of New York citizens. Being a paramedic in New York can't be easy, but the controversy surrounding "Asphalt City" made it sound like watching this movie was no picnic either.

Sasquatch Sunset

When movies premiere at big events like the Sundance Film Festival, audience reactions are bound to be more pronounced: this is usually the first time general moviegoers are seeing a finished film. There is no pre-release buzz over its quality or controversial elements to help orient one's expectations. This is especially true for indie titles like "Sasquatch Sunset," which debuted at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival shrouded in secrecy. 

Once the movie started rolling, audiences were greeted with a bizarre motion picture from directors Nathan and David Zellner about a family of Sasquatch that includes members played by actors like Jesse Eisenberg and Riley Keough. These cryptids do not speak English, but only communicate in grunts and roars. The Zellners are also very committed to depicting every aspect of Sasquatch existence, including defecating, mating, and anything else under the sun.

The unabashedly frank and unorthodox filmmaking choices of "Sasquatch Sunset" propelled many moviegoers at its Sundance premiere to run for the exit long before the movie was finished, a reflection of just how strange "Sasquatch Sunset" was. The film inspired so many walkouts that the departing audience members themselves became somewhat infamous. The same movie many critics praised as a new comedy masterpiece also repelled many moviegoers. Whether you loved or hated it, "Sasquatch Sunset" inspired more potent reactions than nearly any other 2024 Sundance title.

Inside Out 2

The "Inside Out" films chronicle the exploits of many different emotions living inside the head of a young girl named Riley. However, the only emotion many fans felt was anger when news emerged that two of the first film's voice actors wouldn't be returning for "Inside Out 2." In 2022, it was revealed that the follow-up would not feature Bill Hader and Mindy Kaling reprising their roles as Fear and Disgust, respectively. Their absence came down to a pay dispute, with both actors wanting more than the $100,000 they were each offered for the sequel. Disney opted to recast the roles entirely, with "Toy Story 4" veteran Tony Hale playing Fear and Liza Lapira stepping in as Disgust.

The news of two memorable "Inside Out" performers failing to come back for the sequel inspired rampant criticism from the internet. In hindsight, this development was especially strange because Hader was previously in five different Pixar movies (including "Inside Out"). Unfortunately, after this pay dispute, it's doubtful this fixture of Pixar movies from the 2010s will be working with the studio again anytime soon.


Before "Argylle" was released into theaters, there was an avalanche of controversy surrounding its source material. Initially, "Argylle" was announced as an adaptation of then-unreleased books by enigmatic author Elly Conway. Conspiracy theorists later went into overdrive when it came out that this supposed author might not even exist. In hindsight, this was just a cutesy detail which stealthily unlocked the fictional world of "Argylle," in which Elly Conway is the name of the film's protagonist, an author of espionage novels who gets wrapped up in a real spy adventure.

However, before that information was made clear, speculation ran wild on the underlying meaning of "Argylle." Things got so out of control that one popular theory persisted, suggesting that Taylor Swift was behind the single "Argylle" book that did see the light of day. All this controversy over the origins of "Argylle" put the film on the media's radar, but didn't move the needle with audiences. "Argylle" became a box office flop, leaving that pre-release trail of conspiracy theories as its sole pop culture legacy.

The People's Joker

Just as it debuted at the 2022 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival, disaster struck writer-director-star Vera Drew's "The People's Joker." The production had been hit with a cease-and-desist letter from Warner Bros. Discovery, owner of DC Comics and the Joker character. After its solitary screening at TIFF, "The People's Joker" had to be withdrawn from public view. Immediately, a wave of controversy surrounded Drew's passion project over the legal issues preventing "The People's Joker" from being seen by moviegoers.

For the first half of 2023, the film was stuck in cinematic limbo. Things got so bad that Drew even publicly reached out to folks like James Gunn on social media to help get "The People's Joker" out to the people. Other outlets ran pieces defending the movie as an example of fair use parody rather than something a studio could legally prohibit from existing. After months of protesting, "The People's Joker" finally had its U.S. premiere at Outfest in July 2023, with a general theatrical release occurring the following April. It took lots of patience, but "The People's Joker" survived a lengthy stint in film purgatory and even used all that controversy to build up its reputation as a transgressive piece of cinema.

Road House

The fights surrounding the 2024 "Road House" remake were not just limited to its onscreen bouts of violence. There was a ton of behind-the-scenes drama on the film that spilled over into the world. One of the biggest controversies surrounding the movie came through its director, Doug Liman, who lambasted Amazon MGM Studios for sending the feature straight to streaming. While Liman would later back off his initial promise to skip the South by Southwest premiere of "Road House," his initial criticisms of Amazon were still incredibly candid.

Then there was a lawsuit brought by original "Road House" screenwriter R. Lance Hill, alleging that Amazon and MGM were engaging in copyright infringement by pursuing a "Road House" remake. On top of that, Hill also alleged that Amazon MGM Studios had utilized AI technology to mimic the voices of "Road House" actors during the 2023 Screen Actor's Guild strike. Within a month, the reputation of the new "Road House" had been defined by two subjects (streaming and AI technology) that are currently at the forefront of all discussions about cinema's future. That didn't seem to turn viewers off, however, as "Road House" became a streaming success.