Among the more interesting aspects of the arts, controversy has a unique way of dividing audiences and artists, opening the floor for debate about the boundaries that are allowed to be pushed. Whether it be literature, photography, or film, artists choose to express themselves freely, and the lines that they often cross open the door for criticism and censorship from those who feel that they have gone too far. The extent of what is acceptable is subjective to each person, but there are times where an overwhelming majority deems something highly offensive.
Film, in comparison, is a relatively young form of art that has steadily turned into a billion-dollar industry. Each year, filmmakers around the world choose to dive headfirst into the profitable medium, capturing clips and images that, if done correctly, will suspend reality for viewers, and will line their pockets with the type of wealth that is reserved for very few. In the process of creating these films, the decisions made by directors and approving movie studios can cause widespread controversy upon its release, and in very few cases, the images captured on screen are deemed wildly inappropriate, and the film is banned from being shown to the public.
The films that made this list sparked outrage from people throughout the United States, and they were dealt the unfavorable verdict of being banned from theaters. Whether it was due to a racist message, pornographic images, or simply the capturing of nature taking its course, these films pushed the boundaries of filmmaking, and they will forever hold the distinction of being banned in the United States.
15. The Birth Of A Nation (1915)
When you have a film whose original title was The Clansmen, you can rest assured that controversy is right around the corner. The United States’ long history of racism and civil rights struggles for minority groups is well documented, and in 1915, The Birth of a Nation sparked widespread outrage upon its release. The film’s use of blackface makeup and awful depiction of black males was appalling, and the KKK being shown as heroes was equally egregious. Because of this, Birth of a Nation was banned in several major cities in the United States, and was even banned outright in certain states, including Ohio and Kansas.
Controversy tends to spark interest, and The Birth of a Nation roped in an incredible sum of money during its theatrical run. Though there are no official numbers, it is estimated that the film raked in around $50 million. Given the year of its release, that is almost an unfathomable amount of money.
14. Haxan (1922)
While The Birth of a Nation divided audiences with its incredibly racist portrayal of African Americans as well as its depiction of heroic supremacist groups, Haxan horrified viewers with its depictions of torture, nudity, and use of witchcraft. Released in 1922, the Swedish-Danish documentary (which included scripted scenes) was ahead of its time, and the conservative American audience wasn’t ready for the terrors that were being shown on the big screen. The film was quickly banned in the United States, and versions of the film that were released in other territories were edited to tone down the film and make it more digestible for audiences.
Haxan received a great deal of acclaim upon its release, and it has garnered a major cult following over the years. Given that it was released nearly 100 years ago, the film is now readily available for audiences to watch at their leisure. It may not seem that intense by today’s standards, but in 1922, this film was downright terrifying.
13. Scarface (1932)
Before you go ahead and Google this, I assure you that this is not the film that you are thinking of. Sure, the Al Pacino version of Scarface was pretty controversial in its time, but this film preceded that version by several decades, and acted for the basis of Pacino’s classic. Much like its successor, Scarface was a gangster film that pushed the envelope for its era. Due to its graphic nature and crime glorification, the film was banned in several states and cities throughout the United States. Fortunately, Pacino’s Scarface was released in the 1980s, and by that time, the boundaries that a film could push extended far beyond what they could have imagined in 1932.
Scarface was a critical and commercial success in the 1930s, and currently has a 100 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Rumors have swirled that another Scarface film could be in the works, and given the success of the first two, it will have a tough time living up to these classics.
12. Ecstasy (1933)
Just one year after the controversial film Scarface played in theaters throughout most of the United States, the Czech-Austrian film Ecstasy would make its way to America and would immediately cause a tidal wave of controversy. With its generous use of nudity and sexually charged scenes, Ecstasy was quickly deemed too inappropriate for American audiences, and the film would be banned from being shown. In fact, it wouldn’t be until 1940 that the film would be allowed to be shown in the United States, and even then, there were still certain areas that wouldn’t allow it to be presented.
In modern film, the use of sex and nudity is commonplace, but in 1933, this was completely unheard of in the United States. Ecstasy holds the distinction of being the first film to include female nudity, and the first to include a sex scene. Just imagine Game of Thrones being released during that time.
11. Convention City (1933)
During the same year of release as Ecstasy, another film came out that sparked outrage, and was subsequently destroyed from existence. Convention City made its debut in December of 1933, and the subsequent fallout from the controversial content in the film caused Hollywood to resort to drastic measures to ensure that the film would cease to be shown. Unlike other films on this list, Convention City wasn’t released to a ton of acclaim from the press, but it was still allowed a full theatrical run at the box office. When the studio tried to put the film back in theaters several years later, they were met with a ban, and negatives of the film were eventually destroyed.
Outside of the surviving script, there are no known copies of the original version of Convention City floating around. The film contained enough racy material to be banned, and the destroyed negatives mean that modern audiences will never get to see why this film was so controversial for its time.
10. Ossessione (1943)
Italian film Ossessione wasn’t filled with racial undertones, nor was it pushing the limits of nudity and sexual content in film. There were no demonic elements to terrify audiences, and there certainly wasn’t enough foul language to call for censorship. Instead, Ossessione spent years confined to Italian audiences due to copyright issues. The film itself was a fairly simple story about a torrid love affair, but because it utilized the plot of The Postman Always Rings Twice, the film spent over 30 years fighting for a worldwide release.
Finally, in 1976, Ossessione was granted clearance to be released for audiences who had waited several decades to see it. Upon its release, Ossessione received a great deal of critical acclaim. The film’s worldwide release came during the same year that its director, Luchino Visconti, tragically passed away. These days, there are tons of movies that share similar plots, but none are withheld from the public for 30 years.
9. Lost Boundaries (1949)
Another American-made film with a controversial plot about race that sparked outrage in the South. Does this sound familiar? Released in June of 1949, Lost Boundaries centers around the story of a light-skinned couple who moves up North in order to live a peaceful life and pass as white people to unsuspecting neighbors. Even by today’s film standards, Lost Boundaries would have sparked an incredible amount of controversy, so it should come as no surprise that it was banned in both Atlanta and Memphis. Officials thought that the film could cause racial tensions in the area, and banned the film entirely to avoid the potential backlash.
Upon its release, Lost Boundaries was met with critical acclaim, and even took home some prestigious hardware. It took home Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival, and also received the award for Best Direction from the Screen Directors Guild. The film also hauled in $2 million during its theatrical run.
8. The Moon Is Blue (1953)
The “indecent and obscene” film The Moon is Blue was released in the United States in July of 1953, and while most every theater in the country allowed it to be played, it found itself banned in Jersey City, New Jersey. The film’s lead actress, Maggie McNamara, portrayed the character of Patty O’Neill, whose loose lips and willingness to engage in conversations of a sexual nature were just too much for the city of Jersey City.
Despite making over $3 million during its theatrical run, The Moon is Blue was met with a lukewarm reception from critics. It wasn’t outright loathed, but many felt that the actors are what carried the film as opposed to a combination of the writing and acting. For their efforts in the film, actor David Niven won the Golden Globe for Best Actor, and Maggie McNamara was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. Not too bad for a film that most seemed unimpressed with.
7. The Vanishing Prairie (1954)
Disney may be the last company that you would expect to appear on this list, but alas, their 1954 film The Vanishing Prairie found a way to piss off a lot of people. Now, Disney is no stranger to controversy, and those of you who have seen the film Songs of the South know exactly what I’m talking about. That film depicted African American plantation workers in a super offensive manner, and showed their relationship with their owners to be all good and well. A decade later, Disney would release the documentary The Vanishing Prairie, and due to the footage of a buffalo giving birth, it was banned in New York. Eventually, the ban would be lifted, and audiences were allowed to watch the documentary.
Controversy aside, The Vanishing Prairie was a successful documentary, and was met with critical praise. The film would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary, and the Big Gold Medal at the 5th Berlin International Film Festival.
6. Victim (1962)
Some of the entries on this list truly caused an uproar with the content that they displayed on the big screen. We have seen issues with racism, terrifying imagery, and even copyright claims, but the film Victim was banned in many cities in the United States for its use of vulgar language. A story of blackmail and betrayal, Victim was released to American audiences 1962, and holds the unique distinction of being the first film to use the word “homosexual.” The lead characters involvement in an affair with another man set the tone for the controversial film, and Victim is regarded as a film that was ahead of its time in helping with the widespread accepting of homosexual relationships in film.
The language used throughout the film was deemed inappropriate enough for it to be banned in many cities in the United States, but the acclaim that it was met with caused the film to have a successful run during its time in theaters.
5. Viva Maria! (1965)
If a film is considered offensive enough to be banned and then taken to the United States Supreme Court, then you would expect it to be a little more controversial than Viva Maria! was. Due to its strong sexual content and lack of respect for the Catholic church, Viva Maria! was met with outrage in Dallas, Texas, and was subsequently banned from being shown in the city. This would give way to a case now known as Interstate Circuit, Inc v City of Dallas, in which the film’s distributor argued that Viva Maria! should be allowed to be shown in Dallas. Eventually, it was decided that the film should be shown, and the ban was lifted.
Despite the controversy surrounding the film, Viva Maria! would go on to have a successful run at the box office, and would help set a precedence for future theatrical releases. It wasn’t met with a ton of critical acclaim, but the controversy surrounding the film no doubt aided in it making money.
4. I Am Curious (Yellow) (1967)
Even now, I can imagine this film running into some problems with getting a wide release in theaters. Back in 1967, I Am Curious (Yellow), the 2-hour long Swedish film, was released and was subsequently banned due to its extreme use of graphic material. In fact, the material was so controversial that this film was referred to as pornographic. I won’t get into too many details about the vulgarity of the film, but let’s just say that some of the film’s racier scenes are enough to make most people blush. Needless to say, the ban hammer was swift when this film hit the United States, and after several attempts, the ban would eventually be lifted.
This film received rave reviews for its social message as well as its ambitious nature. It pulled down an incredible $27 million while in theaters, making it a smashing success. It is crazy to think that someone actually burned down a theater because of how controversial this film was.
3. The Tin Drum (1979)
If you thought that a film deemed too pornographic for theaters was bad enough, just imagine a film that was considered child pornography being released in theaters. Back in 1979, The Tin Drum was released, and the content of the film not only saw it banned in Oklahoma, but it was also banned by the Ontario Censor Board in Canada. This was not a controversy that ended quickly in Oklahoma, and it wouldn’t be until 2001 that the film was completely free of any lawsuits, and it was readily available for citizens to purchase and watch. It seems ridiculous that a film would spend nearly 25 years waiting for approval from a state, but such was the case for The Tin Drum.
For those people who were able to watch the film at their leisure, they were treated to a film that received positive reviews from critics, and one that earned a few notable awards. The Tin Drum won the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
2. The Profit (2001)
Scientology may be considered one of the greatest scams of all-time, and the thriving religion was the subject of an unfavorable parody back in 2001. Despite its backing by a number of high-profile celebrities, those who have left the church have been vocal about what really happens behind closed doors, and the information that they have shared with the world is both fascinating and terrifying. They are incredibly protective over their public image, and when The Profit was released, they wasted no time in trying to get the film banned in the United States. The film was a spoof on the religion, and it was meant to show the dangers of following a cult.
It didn’t take long for distribution of the film to cease in the United States, and the film has been banned in other territories as well. It didn’t receive good reviews, but the Church of Scientology still sought to have it wiped out.
1. Hillary: The Movie (2008)
Hillary Clinton has had a pretty rotten go of things during the last 2 decades, including losing her shot at the presidency on 2 separate occasions. This documentary featured a number of high-profile individuals speaking out against Clinton, and showed her in a very unfavorable light. Given the time frame of the film’s release, it was blocked from being shown on cable television, though I’m sure that Clinton didn’t mind that one bit. It was scheduled to be released before the Democratic primaries, which Clinton would go on to lose. Believe it or not, this was not the only documentary released in opposition of Clinton, though this was the only one that was banned.
Hillary: The Movie has circulated around the Internet for some time now, and is readily available for your viewing pleasure. She has had a number of controversial moments throughout her political career, and this documentary highlights them all through the time of its release.
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