The Cannes Film Festival is quite famous for its standing ovations. Critics and audiences love a full crowd standing and cheering to determine if a movie is going to be a hit—especially noting the duration of said “standing O,” as they’re called in the business. They cheered for four minutes? Wow. 20 minutes? Now we’re talking. But just because Cannes Film Festival goers like to make their thoughts on the movie known doesn’t mean that we’re always counting the time in takes for people to applaud solid works of moviemaking. No, the French like to boo as well—and boo they do.
Perhaps the strangest thing about all that booing, though, is that it’s often great films that receive such a hostile reaction. Films such as Taxi Driver, Pulp Fiction, and L’Avventura received jeers—and walkouts. Eek. Now, they’re known as some of their respective directors’ finest works throughout their career.
This year, we’ll see the premieres of films by Wes Anderson, Ken Loach, Hirokazu Kore-eda, James Mangold, and Martin Scorsese. The 2023 edition of Cannes is promising to be especially big, considering that the slate includes the first episode of HBO‘s upcoming series The Idol, created by Sam Levinson and The Weeknd. The controversial and hedonistic series could easily see some backlash following the screening, but you never know with this audience. They booed Okja, for crying out loud. To remind audiences of how crazy this festival is, here are films that earned critical acclaim—despite Cannes audiences’ initial disgust for them.
The Neon Demon (2016)
Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn is kind of the king of Cannes walkouts. After 2013’s Only God Forgives divided audiences, he followed it up with 2016’s The Neon Demon—a “baroquely kinky gross-out surrealist horror,” according to Variety. “There’s less to it than meets the eyeball,” the review continued. “Beauty mingles with mangled flesh.” Cannes audiences reportedly left booing and yelling at the screen.
Dancer in the Dark (20oo)
Imagine booing Bjork. Insane! Sure, it’s not unheard of to be shocked and gagged by a Lars von Trier film premiering at Cannes. Have you seen Antichrist? Please. But Dancer in the Dark not only featured the Icelandic singer-songwriter—the film also featured original songs. Trier even took home the Palm d’Or for the dark musical, despite jeers from the crowd.
Booing a big, cute pig? Mean. But when Cannes audiences saw that Netflix logo appear at the beginning of Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, a few people in the crowd let off some hearty rejections. Reportedly, a second round of boos went off when a glitch during the screening later halted the film for a bit. Little did the audience know that they would standing and cheering for four minutes after the film ended.
Marie Antoinette (2006)
Sofia Coppola’s take on the the story of the tragic Marie Antoinette has its defenders and detractors, but where most audiences might’ve chosen to debate the film over drinks afterward, Cannes-goers chose to boo the film at its premiere.
Wild at Heart (1990)
No stranger to wild reactions, David Lynch’s violent, brilliant masterpiece Wild at Heart went on to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes, but not before receiving boos from a small contingent of people who thought it had gone too far.
Taxi Driver (1976)
It’s hard to imagine now that Martin Scorsese’s incredible Taxi Driver, which also won the Palme d’Or, was met with boos when it screened at the festival, but it did. The nihilism and violence at the heart of the film was apparent too much for some to bear.
The Tree of Life (2011)
Continuing the trend of Palme d’Or winners getting booed was Terrence Malick’s epic The Tree of Life. While most in the audience adored the film, there was a very small, very vocal group who took issue with the film’s grandeur, booing the film as it ended—only to be drowned out by a much larger standing ovation.
Michelangelo Antonioni’s audacious and slow film is now considered a masterpiece by anyone worth listening to, but when it first showed at Cannes in 1960, the audience there booed the film so loudly that its director and star had to run out of the theatre. Of course, cooler heads prevailed, with the film later picking up a jury prize at the festival.
Lars von Trier surely knew his film Antichrist would get a strong reaction, but even he might not have anticipated the film would get booed during the screening as well as after. Reactions to the film remain mixed, but on that night in France, the booing won out.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
No, Cannes audiences didn’t boo Pulp Fiction when it first screened to much adulation. It was when the film won the Palme d’Or over Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors: Red that some at the festival took issue and started a small wave of jeers.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)
David Lynch, again. His follow-up/prequel to Twin Peaks remains a strange affair, but if you get on its wavelength you’ll see its greatness. Cannes audiences were certainly not on that wavelength, though, giving Lynch another taste of the boos that can great filmmakers at the famous festival.
No, not the Paul Haggis film that probably would’ve deserved some jeers. This was David Cronenberg’s Crash, about people who get sexual satisfaction from car crashes. It may be Cronenberg’s greatest work, but that didn’t stop the audience at Cannes from booing it for its apparent depravity.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
It’s actually not totally clear how much booing there was at the first screening of Quentin Tarantino’s WWII epic Inglourious Basterds, but there were definitely reports at the time. One thing is for sure, the film was met by most at the festival with a great shrug. One of the great mistaken receptions for a film at Cannes. Only a few months later, the film was a hit and described by many as Tarantino’s masterpiece.
Josh Rosenberg is an Assistant Editor at Esquire, keeping a steady diet of one movie a day. His past work can be found at Spin, CBR, and on his personal blog at Roseandblog.com.