This weekend, Paul Thomas Anderson's much-anticipated film "The Master" opens in theaters. The movie stars Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Lancaster Dodd, an intellectual faith-based leader who has a manipulative relationship with his followers, especially his manic, violent right-hand man (played by Joaquin Phoenix).
Anderson has stated that Hoffman's character was inspired by L. Ron Hubbard, the science-fiction writer-turned-founder of the controversial Church of Scientology. Despite the production's insistence that the film is not an expose about Scientology, it has still been the movie's biggest talking point -- and this week, angry members of the church have allegedly begun harassing the movie's distributor the Weinstein Company (and intend to mount more initiatives that will attack the film).
"The Master" is not the first movie to explore the origins of a faith-based organization. Moviefone looks at a variety of films -- from historical dramas to science-fiction adventures -- that have raised heated conversations simply for willing to question religious beliefs.
The Devils (1971)
<strong>What It Said:</strong> The violent erotic horror film showed that Urban Grandier, a real-life 17th-century priest who was burned at the stake for acts of witchcraft, was not only framed by the political machinations of Cardinal Richelieu, but also by an insane sexually-repressed nun. <strong> Reaction:</strong> Its criticisms of the Catholic Church's conspiratorial bid for power, combined with explicit sexual imagery, led to the film having many key moments cut for release in the U.S. and U.K. Footage was believed lost until recent restorations have attempted to complete the original version.
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
<strong>What It Said:</strong> Jesus Christ struggled with his divine mission and his humanity; he was at times self-loathing, sinful, doubtful of his destiny, conspired with Judas to hand himself over to the Romans and contemplated a life with many wives and children. <strong> Reaction:</strong> Several Christian fundamentalist groups protested the film before release, theater chains boycotted the movie and it has been banned in multiple countries. On October 22, 1988 the Saint Michael Theater in Paris was firebombed by fundamentalists for playing the movie; several people were severely burned.
The Wicker Man (1973)
<strong>What It Said:</strong> A devout and celibate Christian police officer learns how far an island of Celtic pagan practitioners will go to ensure a bountiful harvest when agricultural science fails them. <strong> Reaction:</strong> The film has been dubbed "the 'Citizen Kane' of horror movies," adapted for the stage and even been the subject of a three-day academic conference at the University of Scotland.
The Da Vinci Code (2006)
<strong>What It Said:</strong> Mary Magdalene is the real Holy Grail, and she produced a lineage with Jesus Christ. Furthermore, the Opus Dei of the Catholic Church will murder anyone in their path to ensure this secret never sees the light of day. <strong> Reaction:</strong> The Vatican called for a boycott; it was deemed morally offensive by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; was removed from public screenings in mainland China for unexplained reasons; and was outright banned in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Lebanon.
The Invention of Lying (2009)
<strong>What It Said:</strong> What appears to be a fantasy-based romantic comedy set in a world where everyone always tells the truth actually became an in-depth look at atheism. When Ricky Gervais' character invents the concept of lying to get money and beautiful women, he also stumbles upon the concepts of God and Heaven to comfort the dying. He quickly becomes a worldwide messenger for "The Man in the Sky." <strong> Reaction:</strong> The film received mixed reviews. Roger Ebert called it "remarkably radical" while <em>the NY Times</em> said it felt "heavy, cruel."
The Matrix (1999)
<strong>What It Said:</strong> Reality is an oppressive digital construct where humans are distracted with repetitive artificial computer lives, while their bodies are drained by a complex industrial machine starting from birth. Um... is this still considered science <em>fiction</em>? <strong> Reaction:</strong> It became one of the biggest science-fiction blockbusters of all time, and has gone on to become a widely-discussed subject for philosophical lecturers and publications at institutions like Harvard University.
The Passion of the Christ (2004)
<strong>What It Said:</strong> The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ was stomach-churning. <strong> Reaction:</strong> Amid criticisms of excessive violence and outdated Anti-Semitic depictions of Jewish priests, "The Passion" earned over $600 million at the global box office.
Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)
<strong>What It Said:</strong> Jesus' next-door neighbor Brian inadvertently lived a very similar path as a messianic figure, even though it all happened because he was trying to get a girl's attention. Also, crucifixion is not as bad as it seems. <strong>Reaction:</strong> The film was banned from several theaters and television outlets throughout the U.K and picketed in NYC before becoming regarded as a comedy classic. To this day, it still receives protests when religious leaders screen the film for discussion.
<strong>What It Said?</strong> A religious space explorer is confronted with the idea that humanity was an experiment created by an alien being, but fellow Engineers wanted to exterminate us with a weaponized black liquid. <strong> Reaction:</strong> "Prometheus" has become one of 2012's biggest hits, inspiring much commentary on the complex mythology of the 'Alien' universe.
The Profit (2001)
<strong>What It Said:</strong> L. Conrad Powers forms his Church of Scientific Spiritualism after learning how to form a profit-generating cult from a Satanic worshiper, before he descends into paranoia. <strong> Reaction:</strong> The film has never been released, thanks to a court order stemming from a lawsuit the Church of Scientology brought against the movie. The Church claimed that the film was trying to sway jurors involved in the wrongful death lawsuit of Lisa McPherson, a Scientology member who died while in the care of the Church's Flag Service Organization.
Battlefield Earth (2000)
<strong>What It Said:</strong> In the year 3,000, Earth will be ruled by the Psychlos, a race of giant, beast-like aliens (that have dreadlocks). <strong> Reaction:</strong> Based on a novel by L. Ron Hubbard, the movie was criticized for being secretly funded entirely with Church money, contained subliminal messaging and used sci-fi blockbuster spectacle to introduce children to Dianetics. The film tanked and is regarded as one of the worst movies ever made.