Today more than ever has Hollywood taken the use of violence to a graphic level. It’s gotten to the point where it’s just fun eye candy for the audience and not much else. I personally feel that violence in movies has gotten to the point where it’s overdramatized and doesn’t censor anything. Violence in films has always been a controversial topic as the first films were deemed too violent (even though it doesn’t seem like much today). At the end of the day, it’s how violent the director wants the movie to be. If there’s anyone to hold responsible for skeptical violence in a movie, it’s the director. Let’s look at the history of violence in Hollywood and if the violence in a certain picture crossed the line or not. 

History of Violence in Hollywood

In the earliest days of cinema, violence can first be seen in the 1903 short film The Great Train Robbery. It was also one of the first motion pictures made that displayed a form of violence. The violence seen here is simply the robbery itself. There’s gunfights, horse chases, and a bandit beating up an engineer driving the train. The final shot in the movie is one of the bandits looking at the camera, pulling out his gun, and firing it. An audience member can think that the bandit is shooting at them. This was where the controversy of violence came in; audiences everywhere were so convinced that the movie was realistic as the bandit in the final shot appeared to be shooting at them. In my opinion, I don’t see many faults in this even though I’m writing this article in the year 2020. The director’s objective was to give the audience a fun adrenaline rush, not a threat to their lives.  

Birth of Hays Code

As the late 20s rolled around and talkies started becoming a thing in Hollywood, the industry begins to see the birth of the Hays Code. The Hays Code gave censorship to movies, which included censoring anything involving sex, violence, profanity, drug use, infidelity, abortion, and homosexuality. The first time a movie crossed the line of the Hays Code was Howard Hawks’ 1932 flick Scarface. The movie was met with numerous depictions of gangsterism and violence. When screened for the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) to see if it was censored enough, the committee had a lot to say about it in response. The MPPDA suggested having the film be re-edited to have the gangsters know their wrongs or kill them off, deleting the more violent scenes, the word scarface omitted despite being the title of the movie and adding a prologue added to condemn gangsters. The committee even suggested having a new ending written and shot. Hawks came across as crossing the censored line of violence and could definitely be considered being overly violent with Scarface. My question is would it be deemed too violent today in 2020?

Not So Strict Censorship

As the years went by, violence was shown to be censored under the Hays Code. The next movie to test the limits of censorship in Hollywood during this era was the 1967 gangster film, Bonnie and Clyde. Arthur Penn’s heavily acclaimed true crime film about the famous criminal couple displayed a heavy amount of violence through shootouts and gunplay. For the majority, most of the graphic violence came from any scenes involving shootouts between the Barrow gang and authorities. One scene, in particular, is the ending where Bonnie and Clyde meet their fate and are brutally gunned down on the side of the road by police. Following this, Bonnie and Clyde are shown bloody and dead as a result of how mercilessly they were killed. By doing so, Penn captures the violent spirit of the couple and brutal their acts of violence were. Similar to Scarface, Bonnie and Clyde was seen to be over the top violent for 1967. However, the MPPDA didn’t seem to be down the movie’s throat about its display of violence. 

New MPAA Committee

The following year a new movie committee was formed in replacement of the MPPDA. This committee was the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). This new format gave ratings that we know today: G, PG, PG-13, R, and on occasion X which today is NC-17. In the years following the formation of the MPAA, Hollywood saw violent movies surface that paved the way for uncensored violence in Hollywood. These movies included Francis Ford Coppola’s crime epic The Godfather, Dirty Harry starring Clint Eastwood, and Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets

X Rating

In 1972, Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange was given an X rating for its depictions of cruel violence, disturbing images, and an uncensored rape. The movie was deemed so graphic in America that Kubrick had to consider not releasing it in the United Kingdom to avoid trouble at home. The movie is adapted from a novel of the same name by Anthony Burgess. The book is just as violent as the movie portrays the American version of the novel, which seemed to be what Kubrick wanted. 

Many years after the controversial violence of A Clockwork Orange, violence became a normal thing in movies. It wasn’t until the rise of director Quentin Tarantino that made people question violence in cinema again. Several of his movies have received backlash for its use of violence. In his 1992 film Reservoir Dogs, there is a scene that involves a mobster cutting off a cop’s ear. While the camera doesn’t show it happening, the mobster does hold it in his hand and mess with it when he’s done. In 2003 and 2004, Tarantino made a two-part samurai movie called Kill Bill. Both parts contained graphic violence, however, the first one involved a fight scene between the main heroine and a Yakuza gang. As the heroine fights and kills off each member, their death is as bloody and graphic as the next. 

When talking about violence in his movies, Tarantino stated in a 2009 interview on TODAY “When it comes to that, look, my feeling is just, you know, OK, somebody else’s violence is somebody else’s action. To me, it’s just cinema.” This is exactly my point when it comes to the director is responsible for their choice of violence in movies. Yes, Tarantino can come across as being overly violent in his movies; still, it’s his way of cinema. 

In conclusion, violence in Hollywood is only deemed as too violent if the director wants it to be that way. If a director’s goal is to make an overly violent movie, that’s on them and not anything else. People shouldn’t take a situation and point their finger at a movie saying it’s the problem. Yes, movies can be overly violent, but at the end of the day, it’s the director’s choice to have it be the way they wanted it.