They’re classics — the kind of movies that are required watching for cinephiles and students alike. But many of these films were once banned upon their initial release. And the reason behind their release? Well, that’s what makes this story so interesting.
From politics to prudishness and censorship, see our list of films that were once banned but that people consider incredible works today.
1. The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
The 1925 film was banned in the UK upon its release until 1929 because it was deemed too terrifying for general distribution.
2. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
Based on the 1929 novel of the same name, this film was banned in Poland for being pro-German and in Nazi Germany for being anti-German. So basically, the U.S. released an anti-war movie set in World War I, and neither side liked the way they were portrayed.
3. Mickey Mouse’s The Mad Doctor (1933)
This Mickey Mouse cartoon short was banned in the UK on its initial release in 1933 because of its horror atmosphere.
4. Goldfinger (1964)
Israel banned this 1964 film after learning that actor Gert Fröbe, who played Auric Goldfinger, was a member of the Nazi party. The ban only lasted for two months. Israel lifted it after hearing that Fröbe helped a Jewish woman and her son during WWII.
5. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Although not explicitly banned per se, this film was withdrawn in the United Kingdom two years after its 1971 release upon request from its own director, Stanley Kubrick. This is allegedly because Kubrick received death threats against his family. It was not allowed to be shown again in the UK until after he died in 1999.
6. Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)
Known for its dry humor, wit, and religious satire, “Life of Brian” was banned in Ireland and Norway for its blasphemous content. Although the Norway ban only lasted for a year, the film made good use of the press by marketing it in Sweden as “…so funny that it was banned in Norway.” The Ireland ban lasted for eight years.
7. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Upon its release in 1982, Norway, Finland, and Sweden banned the film for all children under the age of twelve because the film portrayed adults as enemies of children. In the film, the main protagonist Elliot exhibits distrust and animosity towards the adult figures, something these countries didn’t want to be translated into the real world.
8. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
Based on a 1955 novel of the same name, this film (directed by Martin Scorsese) was declared “morally offensive” by Catholics and Christians worldwide. It was banned in South Africa and Southern India for its depiction of Christ as a sinful, imperfect man. In addition, the book’s author was excommunicated from the Greek Orthodox church in 1957 for his portrayal of the sacred figure.
9. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Though this Quentin Tarantino film was never formally refused a video certificate in the UK, one was not actually granted until 1995 – three years after it was submitted. Because of the British Board of Film Classification’s statutory powers under the Video Recordings Act 1984, the delay amounted to a ‘de facto’ ban during this period. A second theatrical release took place in 1994.
10. Schindler’s List (1994)
Spielberg’s first Academy Award-winning film wasn’t celebrated in all countries. In Indonesia, the film was officially banned for explicit sexual content, but the Committee for World Muslim Solidarity stated the film would harm the Muslim cause by creating too much sympathy for the Jews, raising questions about the true reason behind the ban.
11. Zoolander (2001)
Malaysia and Singapore banned this film for depicting an assassination attempt against the Prime Minister of Malaysia. In the Asian release, the film was censored, and Malaysia was changed to Micronesia.
12. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Ang Lee might be celebrated in China for his “cinematic talent,” but this Academy Award-winning film was banned there for its homosexual content. The United Arab Emirates and Bahamas also banned it, both citing homoeroticism as the reason.
13. Borat (2006)
The release of Sacha Baron Cohen’s comedy mockumentary was surrounded by controversy, resulting in bans worldwide. Before it was even released, leaders in Kazakhstan were outraged. It was banned in all Arab countries (except Lebanon) and discouraged by the Russian government from being played in Russian theatres. However, opinions have changed since its release, and Kazakhstan has even credited the film for increasing tourism numbers.
14. The Da Vinci Code (2006)
Lebanon, Pakistan, the Philippines, Jordan, Egypt, Samoa, and the Solomon Islands banned this 2006 film for blasphemy.
15. The Simpsons Movie (2007)
Myanmar (aka Burma) banned The Simpsons Movie in 2007 because of its use of the colors yellow and red together, as they can be seen to support rebel groups.
16. District 9 (2009)
After screening the movie for two weeks, Nigeria pulled the film and banned it for its portrayal of Nigeria as an exploitative nation that would take advantage of an extraterrestrial species. The film was criticized for depicting Nigerians as “criminals, cannibals, and prostitutes who sleep with extraterrestrial animals,” as stated by Dora Akunyili, Nigeria’s information minister. The west African country said they would repeal the ban if Sony would apologize and remove all references to Nigeria. This never happened.
17. 2012 (2009)
North Korea banned this apocalyptic film because it painted the year 2012 in a negative light. According to the North Korean government, 2012 was “the year for opening the grand gates to becoming a rising superpower.” It was also the 100th anniversary of the birth of the man who founded North Korea, Kim II Sung.
18. The Wolf of Wallstreet (2013)
The second of Scorsese’s films to make this list, this 2013 film about abundance and greed was bathed in scandal. It was banned in most African countries, Malaysia and Nepal, for explicit sexual content, nudity, drug use, and profanity. In addition, India, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates heavily censored the film. Although it wasn’t banned in Russia, theaters in Moscow fined for showing the film despite its “drug-use propaganda.”
19. Ghostbusters (2016)
The 2016 version of Ghostbusters was banned in China due to a 2011 decision by the Chinese authorities to crack down on the depiction of ghosts, reincarnation, and feudal superstitions. In 2016, the Ghostbusters movie was denied a Chinese release, despite Sony changing its name to ‘Super Power Dare-to-Die Team’ for Chinese audiences.
20. Wonder Woman (2017)
Despite Lebanon showing Batman V. Superman (2016) in theaters, which also featured Gal Gadot, the Lebanese government proceeded to ban 2017’s Wonder Woman for starring the Israeli actress. Lebanon has a long-standing tradition of banning Israeli exports, claiming such exports as “enemy attempts to infiltrate our [Lebanese] markets.” Just before the film’s release, Gadot shared her opinions on the ban in Lebanon, but the movie’s producers prohibited the piece from ever airing.
Like these films that were banned? You might also like this!