Some have won awards, some starred the world’s most high profile actors, and others have gone down in history as classics that film buffs everywhere must see before they die, but all of the movies on this list were also famous for something else. Believe it or not, they were seen as so offensive that entire countries banned them from being shown in their theaters.
The best movies are those that challenge viewers with satire, comedy, fear, sex, violence, controversy, and maybe even saw-wielding psychopath murderers wearing the peeled off face of one of their victims. And while those elements make them blockbuster hits in America, they may go against film regulations overseas. Great scripts are green-lit by movie studios dozens of times a year, but until they hit the silver screen, no one really knows whether or not they’re going to be as successful outside of the states — or even if they’ll be shown at all.
Audiences love controversy surrounding up and coming releases, but other countries don’t appreciate our movies making fun of their political leaders, blaspheming their religious beliefs, or the raunchy whips and chains-style lovemaking that films such as Fifty Shades of Grey have to offer. So, as Americans grab their overpriced sodas and extra buttery popcorn on their way to see the next “It” movie, they don’t realize that it’s a luxury not everyone can indulge in around the world- hence, these 15 motion pictures found themselves on the chopping block around the globe.
15. The Departed
Martin Scorsese is an icon responsible for creating some of the most celebrated films in history, but that didn’t keep him from earning a spot on this banned list twice. In his crime movie The Departed starring Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, and a number of other Hollywood A-listers, the story follows Colin Sullivan (Damon) who Frank Costello (Nicholson) plants as a mole in the Massachusetts State Police.
While this crime drama was a hit in theaters, the Chinese government wasn’t keen on one specific plot line that filmmakers refused to change. In the film Costello had a meeting with Chinese gangsters from Beijing who wanted to purchase a computer chip that housed advanced military secrets, but that didn’t go over too well in China. According to Reuters, the government didn’t understand why the creators had to involve China at all and it would have been just fine if they had changed the country. Their request was declined and this axed the film from being shown in theaters.
14. The Simpsons Movie
Love them or hate them, The Simpsons have been a staple in global entertainment culture for decades. In 2007 Simpson fans were given the ultimate cinematic gift of finally being able to see a major motion picture starring their favorite dysfunctional animated family, but the people of Burma, also known as Myanmar, were left out of that celebration.
There had been civil unrest in various parts of the country, causing censors to clamp down on what was allowed to be shown in theaters. The military is in control of the country and regulations are serious, including not criticizing religion or the regime. Thankfully The Simpsons didn’t violate either one of those rules, but because there were such heavy depictions of the colors yellow and red, the film didn’t make the cut. Those hues had been banned from being propagated in film because they believed it showed support of rebel groups that existed in the country who flew those primary colors.
13. The Interview
Going down in history as a film that allegedly almost started a cyber and/or nuclear war, The Interview, starring James Franco and Seth Rogen was a political satire that was beloved by millennials. The 2014 film follows a talk show host as he visits North Korea to interview their leader Kim Jong-un, while attempting to assassinate him under the advisement of the American government. It sounds serious, but Franco and Rogen lightened the mood by painting Jong-un as a joke rather than a serious dictator.
It wasn’t surprising that the government of North Korea wasn’t happy about the movie, especially the part about the United States government wanting to kill their leader. They claimed that the film encouraged terrorism.
12. Back To The Future
An ’80s movie about time travel should be the least of anyone’s worries, right? Wrong. Marty McFly might be a lovable character, but China wanted no part of Doc Brown jumping around through time, not because they were offended by how Chinese people or their government was being portrayed in the film, but because thy have strict policies to abide by. Specifically, they don’t allow any television shows and movies illustrating time travel to be aired. According to their theory, productions using time travel as a means of entertainment are distorting history and China’s State Administration for Radio, Film & Television stated that it “should by no means be encouraged anymore.”
Blue Steel may have been Zoolander’s showstopping look that made him a high fashion icon, but it wasn’t enough to win over the hearts of the Malaysian government. In the 2001 comedic film, Ben Stiller stars as the hilariously daft supermodel Zoolander- who becomes brainwashed into assassinating the Prime Minister of Malaysia. Sure, it was funny to the rest of the world, but Malaysia wasn’t laughing. The Malaysian Home Affairs Ministry Film Censorship Board didn’t jump on the Zoolander bandwagon and banned the film from being released in their country.
10. Fifty Shades Of Grey
The BDSM 2011 novel by E.L. James titillated the senses of housewives, but when the 2015 film hit theaters, no one could stop talking about dominant and submissive sexual relationships and how they could spice it up in the bedroom. It was a year of sex and bondage, but Cambodia wasn’t riding that train.
The film was supposed to hit Phnom Penh cinemas on Valentine’s Day, but after it was screened, the Ministry of Culture’s film censorship committee placed a big red “X” on any hopes of that happening.
A spokesperson for the committee said that “This movie is entirely related to sexual matters that are too extreme for Khmer society, who we have judged would not accept it. It features insane romance, a lot of sex, …the use of violence while having sex,” he added. “That is why we have decided not to allow it to be shown and Cambodia is not the only country that has stopped it being shown.”
9. Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World’s End
The Pirates of the Caribbean film series has knocked it out of the park with fans, but the Chinese government once again found fault, this time with the franchise’s 2007 release, At World’s End. In this particular case the government didn’t necessarily ban the film, but they did cut pirate lord Captain Sao Feng’s (Chow Yun-Fat) scene down from 20 minutes to only 10.
They explained that they found the character as a negative representation of Chinese people, laced with unforgiving stereotypes. A Chinese movie magazine called Popular Cinema described Yun-Fat’s character as being unfavorable because he was: “bald, his face heavily scarred. He also has a long beard and long nails, whose image is still in line with Hollywood’s old tradition of demonizing the Chinese.”
8. The Exorcist
Anyone who has sat through The Exorcist in its entirety — without closing their eyes — has been haunted by the memories of the demon-possessed 12-year-old Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair). When the film was released in 1973, moviegoers left theaters shaking, crying, and, not surprisingly, in need of therapy. However, it was the scare that audiences wanted and the movie went on to win two Academy Awards.
Our friends in England initially gave the film an X rating when it was first released, but frequently reconsidered the rating, most notably in 1979. The censorship board wanted to determine whether young actress Linda Blair was exploited in any way under the Protection of Children Act 1978 that made it illegal to distribute indecent images of children.
The film was never banned in the way that the others were, but when it was slated to go to video, Warner didn’t submit the film for classification because they feared they would be banned under the Video Recording Act of 1984. It wasn’t until 1999 that the movie was submitted and passed with flying colors, albeit with an 18+ rating.
7. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The incestuous, murderous, and cannibalistic Sawyer family has kept many a traveler from stopping to ask strangers for help, and we can thank the creators of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for that one. The 1974 horror film has gone down in history as one of the most terrifying visuals to hit the big screen, and for good measure.
The ending of the film was seen to be so terrorizing that in 1975 the British Board of Film Classification banned it in England. It wasn’t until 1981 that the frightening flick was released on video without a BBFC certificate, but everyone eased up in 1999 when the film passed their regulations and the uncut version was shown in theaters.
6. Schindler’s List
One of Steven Spielberg’s most moving films of his career, Schindler’s List, is the true story of German businessman Oskar Schindler, who saved the lives of over one thousand Jewish refugees during the Holocaust. The black and white period drama has been celebrated as one of Spielberg’s greatest productions, but many Arab and Islamic countries didn’t agree.
The film was kept from being shown in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, and Lebanon, because many Muslim clerics were offended by the nudity and what they called “propaganda with the purpose of asking for sympathy.”
Lebanon authorities confiscated any advertisements or imports of the movie, while Malaysia asked for several scenes to be deleted to which Spielberg refused. Meanwhile, the filmmaker told the New York Times that the opposition against the film was rooted in anti-Semitism, calling it “certainly an attack on the Jews.”
5. Brokeback Mountain
Jake Gyllenhal and the late Heath Ledger starred in Brokeback Mountain, a film that chronicled the secret romance between two cowboys over a number of years. Having two A-list actors play lovers in a major motion picture isn’t necessarily new, but there were those that didn’t think the subject matter would be good for their citizens.
Malaysia, once again, didn’t find the “themes” of the film to be right for their country, which fits in with many of their other decisions to ban films that may cross the line for their conservative social structure. However, the film also found resistance in its own country, specifically in the state of Utah. The mostly Mormon state banned the film and would not show it in local theaters.
4. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
From the onset, it was predicted that the Borat film would offend someone, somewhere. The 2006 mockumentary is about Borat Sagdiyev, a journalist from Kazakhastan who visits America and travels throughout the country to meet the locals. Although the premise sounds harmless enough, the movie was banned in the entire Arab world, minus Lebanon. There were people who were featured in the film that weren’t aware of the fake premise and thought that it was real, but after viewing it, they spoke out against the film.
The country of Kazakhastan thought Borat’s rendition of their national anthem was atrocious, so they wanted nothing to do with the movie. Now, Borat has found its place in the Arab world and has been allowed to air on local channels in the Middle East.
3. The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games gave the ‘Girl Power’ movement a brand new face with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and the book series became a money-making powerhouse for Hollywood. The film depicts action, drama, and violence, and while these on their own aren’t reasons to censor a film, Vietnam didn’t want to jump on the bandwagon of a movie that encouraged children to fight each other to the death.
Meanwhile, Thailand didn’t have a problem with the film until they found that protesters were using the hand salute to rally the rebels. The political tone of the movie got too close to home and they pulled the film.
2. A Clockwork Orange
Turning banning controversies on their heads, A Clockwork Orange was banned. The 1971 film was a cinematic adaptation of the 1962 novel by Anthony Burgess about a dystopian Britain and a violent gang of youths. The movie was laced with nudity, violence, rape, torture, and sociopathic tendencies that made many viewers uncomfortable. Iceland banned the filmed for the reasons previously listed until the year 2000 when they decided to lift it.
Kubrick stood by his film in the midst of criticism and contention about the movie’s jarring visual elements until there were a string of crimes across Britain that mirrored those of A Clockwork Orange. Youths were acting out, as one boy beat a homeless man, and another dressed like one of the main characters and assaulted a fellow teenager. There were increases in rapes and murders. A judge on one of the cases went on record to attribute the rise in teenage crimes as being directly linked to A Clockwork Orange. Kubrick became so concerned with the rising epidemic that both he and Warner Bros. decided to pull the movie from the United Kingdom.
1. Natural Born Killers
If you thought Iceland’s concern about A Clockwork Orange was intense, they were just as concerned with Natural Born Killers. The 1994 Oliver Stone crime satire starring Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Tom Sizemore, and Robert Downey, Jr. told the story of a couple who each endured harsh childhoods, only to grow up and go out on a killing spree together. The movie was said to be based on the real life murderous couple Charles Starkweather and his 14-year-old girlfriend Caril Fugate, who killed the teenager’s mother, stepfather, and two-year-old half sister. Before the young couple’s run was over, eight other people they randomly encountered would be added to their list of victims.
Because of the “true story” connections to the film, Iceland was concerned that there would be those who couldn’t separate fiction from fact, and they would find themselves handling crude copycat crimes. To be safe, they banned Natural Born Killers altogether.
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