James Franco and director Danny Boyle's new film, '127 Hours,' has been grabbing a lot of buzz recently, but not exactly for the reasons they might have wanted: Some viewers have been so disturbed at the movie's climactic amputation scene that they have fainted from shock. But while widespread reports of physical illness at showings of '127 Hours' isn't (necessarily) the best PR for a movie, things could be a lot worse.
After all, nobody's actually died watching '127 Hours.' Yet.
That can't be said for some of the shocking films from Hollywood's past, however, which got us to thinking: What other movies have become infamous for making audiences physically ill? Franco and Boyle can take some consolation from the results, as many of these were huge box office hits and have since becomes classics of the cinema. But be warned: Read this list at your own peril.
Because on the Internet, no one can hear you scream.
Everyone knows that James Cameron's 'Avatar' killed at the box office, but you may be surprised to find out that it did so in a very literal way: A 42-tear-old Korean man fell ill while watching the 3-D epic and later died. His doctor's official verdict? "Over-excitement from watching the movie triggered his symptoms." An unfortunate footnote for the biggest smash in Hollywood history.
'The Passion of the Christ'
'Avatar' isn't the only blockbuster that left a wake in its wake, however. In 2004, 'The Passion of the Christ' shocked audiences with its graphic depiction of the crucifixion, a sequence which was later attributed as the direct cause of at least two fatal heart attacks suffered by audience members. Mel Gibson's follow-up, 'Apocalypto,' tanked at the box office -- and had correspondingly fewer fatalities.
'The Blair Witch Project'
You might expect horror movies to headline a list like this, but the mass sickness caused by 1999's 'The Blair Witch Project' was due less to the content than to the style: The movie's use of handheld cameras and jerky editing led to motion sickness among audiences from coast-to-coast. It got so bad that some theaters were forced to post motion sickness warning signs in order to help retain workers tired of cleaning up vomit after every showing.
When Warner Bros. released 'The Exorcist' in 1973, they got a little more than they bargained for: A film that rewrote the entire concept of horror movies, a blockbuster box office smash that continues to earn them money to this day and, lastly, an unusual lawsuit from a moviegoer. His claim? 'The Exorcist' was so scary he fainted -- and broke his jaw when he fell onto the seat in front of him. The suit was settled out of court, but may help explain why theaters began showing the movie with preventative measures, including 'Exorcist' barf bags, close at hand.
You wouldn't immediately think that the psychedelic cartoon from The Beatles would cause mass sickness, but urban legend has it that crowds around the world were affected adversely by the ground-breaking combination of animation and music, causing dizziness, fainting and worse. Of course, the key word here might be "psychedelic"; we're not saying that some of that illness might have been caused by bad trippin,' but, you know, some of that illness might have been caused by bad trippin.' And you thought theater popcorn was iffy.
Before 'The Exorcist,' of course, there was 'Psycho,' which shocked audiences in 1960 with the sudden and gruesome murder of star Janet Leigh less than halfway through the film. Audiences around the globe were reported to have been afflicted with widespread fainting and vomiting spells, which only helped pique interest about the movie. Director Alfred Hitchcock wisely played things up even further by instituting a policy that nobody was allowed to enter the theater after the movie began, ensuring that new groups of victims -- er, curious movie fans -- would line up to see what was causing all the sickness.
One of the most infamous movies ever made, 'Freaks' caused a firestorm when it was released in 1932; the story, about a normal girl who marries a sideshow freak and eventually tries to murder him, was so shocking that MGM edited out nearly a third of the movie -- including a graphic castration sequence -- before showing it in theaters. The damage was already done, though; one viewer from the first, full-length test screening threatened to sue the studio claiming the movie had caused her to suffer a miscarriage. The notoriety didn't help 'Freaks' at the box office, though, and led to the derailment of director Tod Browning's career.