We've combed through the most controversial movies on Netflix already. So what's the difference between controversial and disturbing? Not a whole lot except to say disturbing films are usually centered around violence or abuse. Controversial films can be also, but those movies cast the net wider. Disturbing films are more black and white.
Netflix may be trimming its selection of films and TV shows every month, but the site still has a wide selection of movies that cover every genre. The following disturbing movies are mostly dramatic thrillers and, be warned, most include violence against children. The one documentary I've included isn't about kids, but a violent animal attack and the subsequent fallout.
"Disturbing" content can mean many things: religious fanaticism, scientific warnings, anything that gives you that visceral gut punch to the stomach. For me, there's nothing worse than violence against kids or animals. In any context, those stories stick with me. Here are my picks for five disturbing movies you can watch on Netflix now. These aren't quite recommendations, but I found them all worthwhile despite how hard they are to watch.
[Editor's note: The following movies can be found in the American Netflix browse menu. Apologies if any aren't available in your area.]
We Need to Talk About Kevin (2013)
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John C. Reilly
A dreamy abstraction, We Need to Talk About Kevin is about one of the scariest kids you'll ever meet. Kevin was a bad kid from birth who grew up to be a school shooter and the film flashes between the past and present, focusing on Kevin's mother as her life crumbles after the event, and her memories of raising Kevin the hell spawn. His childhood is full of violent interest and the film's most disturbing moment, the shooting itself, is saved for last revealing a particularly ruthless twist. This film is chilling, from front to back.
Beasts of No Nation (2015)
Starring: Abraham Attah, Idris Elba, Kurt Egyiawan, Tiffani Person
Netflix's first real feature film production was an ambitious one. Set in an unnamed African country, Beasts of No Nation tells the story of Agu, a young boy whose family is killed when an army invades his tiny village. Agu takes off into the jungle where he's rounded up by the NDF rebels and their ruthless Commandant. The boy soon learns the brutality of the situation. He's handed a machete and told to kill a man. But the violence doesn't stop there.
The Selfish Giant (2011)
Starring: Connor Chapman, Shaun Thomas
You'll find The Selfish Giant most disturbing at the end, when violence enters the lives of two poor British boys trying to find some fun in a hopeless existence. Arbor and Swifty are best friends growing up in a run down area of Northern England. After a fight at school, the boys are both suspended and they spend their time collecting scrap to sell around town. But they soon get in over their heads with a local dealer and find themselves in a very grown-up situation. Directed by Clio Barnard, the movie is a throwback to the films of Ken Loach who gave voice to the working class families of 1970s England.
Mean Creek (2004)
Starring: Rory Culkin, Ryan Kelley, Scott Mechlowicz, Trevor Morgan, Josh Peck, Carly Schroeder
Mean Creek is the latest in a line of teen-on-teen violent films that also includes River's Edge and Bully. The movie follows a group of young friends who decide to pay back the neighborhood loudmouth with a good prank, but their plan turns into something much more serious than fun. Authentically filmed and featuring a bunch of solid performances by young actors (especially Peck), Mean Creek will stay with you.
Tyke Elephant Outlaw (2015)
Directed by Susan Lambert, Stefan Moore
The lone documentary on the list, Tyke Elephant Outlaw is a heartbreaking account of a circus elephant named Tyke who got loose and killed a man in 1994. At a public performance in Honolulu, Tyke stampeded both her trainer and groomer, killing the former, before breaking out of the arena and into the streets where police waited and proceeded to shoot her more than 80 times. The good news is Tyke became a symbol for animal abuse worldwide in the aftermath. Fair warning: Tyke Elephant Outlaw contains real video footage of both Tyke killing her trainer and the elephant's death by execution.