Dorlita In The Passion Dance
Dorlita in the Passion Dance (1894) might have been the first film ever to be banned in the U.S. More than a decade before Hollywood studios were even operating, this short film was banned in New Jersey after it began to appear in peepshows and burlesque houses.
Although it’s not discussed much in the press anymore, Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs(1992) was so controversial in Britain that censors prevented it from being released on VHS. This only served to help the indie flick’s box office, since stopping people from viewing the movie on tape led to its healthy theatrical run for years after.
The Last Temptation of Christ
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), a riveting account of Jesus Christ’s last days, is one of the few films on this list that is still banned in some parts of the world. Based on a 1953 novel, which was also banned at one time, the film presents Christ as a flawed and fearful human with vivid fantasies about being married to and bedding Mary Magdalene. Martin Scorsese’s adaptation was banned in Georgia, and continues to be banned in Chile, the Philippines and Singapore. A Paris theater showing the film was torched by Christian fundamentalists in protest.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Despite its status as one of the scariest horror films of all time, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) is surprisingly without much visual gore. Tobe Hooper, the film’s director, even thought it would receive a “PG” rating by the MPAA upon its release. Instead it was rated “R” and was banned for brief periods in Brazil, Ireland, Singapore and in Germany for over 25 years.
The Tin Drum
The Tin Drum won the 1979 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film the year before it was banned by the Ontario Censor Board in Canada and a district judge in Oklahoma. The dark comedy appears to show an 11-year-old bedding a 16-year-old girl (played by a 24-year-old). The ban was in place just long enough for authorities to confiscate all copies of the film and even attempt to prosecute people who had rented it.
Human Centipede 2
Say what it may about us Americans, when Human Centipede 2 was released in the U.S. in 2011, it faced a huge critical backlash but no censorship. But Britain and Australia weren’t on board with the horror film, which depicts a madman sewing a group of hapless people from front to end together, banning it. For those who haven’t seen it, the scenes to which Britain objected involved sandpaper and barbed wire coupled with, let’s say, sensitive areas. The ban on Human Centipede 2 has since been lifted in Britain.
What’s in a name? In the case of Grotesque (2009), it’s the reason many countries, including the U.K., banned the Japanese horror flick. Grotesque is about a demented loner who kidnaps a young couple and proceeds to humiliate, sexually assault, and mutilate them en route to a bloody finish. The British Board of Film Classification panned the film, saying “The chief pleasure on offer seems to be in the spectacle of sadism for its own sake.” They aren’t wrong — the film’s principal characters are pointlessly abused for 73 minutes.
Life of Brian
Named one of the greatest comedies of all time by movie critics, Monty Python’s Life of Brian(1979) was perhaps unsurprisingly banned for decades in parts of Europe. The classic parody, which tells the story of a man mistaken for Jesus, was banned in towns (where no movie theaters existed, mind you) because people accused it of being sacrilegious. In 2009, Sue Jones-Davies, the mayor of a town in Wales, finally lifted the 30-year ban on Life of Brianbecause she had acted in the movie.
Faces of Death
Released in 1978, Faces of Death prided itself on having been banned in over 40 countries, a claim that has since been disputed. But the truth of the matter is that the pseudo-documentary, showing both real and fabricated footage of death and the dying (including a monkey getting its brain smashed to bits) was a hit, making over $40 million. But with the notoriety came the backlash. It was banned in Finland, Australia, Norway, and New Zealand. It was also blocked from the British public for almost 20 years; the version that available there now is missing two minutes of its most startling material.
John Waters’ Pink Flamingos (1972) includes scenes involving the consumption of dog poop, unsimulated sex acts, and singing anuses. Not to mention a scene incorporating naked bodies and live chickens. The shocker was banned in Australia, Norway, and Nova Scotia until 1997, 25 years after its release. Opposition to his film did little to stop John Waters from continuing his defense of free expression in later movies such as A Dirty Shame.
The Exorcist (1973) is remembered for many things — think projectile vomit — including becoming one of the highest grossing movies of all time, with a $441 million worldwide take. But its popularity was first rooted in deep controversy: images of a desecrated statue of the Virgin Mary, a violent self-mutilation with a crucifix, and the strong language caused some theatergoers to faint. Reverend Billy Graham stated that he “felt the power of evil buried within the film itself,” and it was banned in Britain for over 15 years.
Ernest and Bertram
Ernest and Bertram (2002) is a short film that explores an alternate reality wherein Sesame Street’s Ernie and Bert might be gay lovers. Not surprisingly, the film was a hit at Sundance and the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. Sesame Street wasn’t laughing, and served the filmmakers of Ernest and Bertram with a cease and desist order, making the film totally unavailable to the public.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980) might take the honors for most controversial and most banned film of all time. Within the first 20 minutes, viewers experience a quick medley of rape, animal executions, and gun violence. Unlike Faces of Death, it was confirmed banned in 40 countries, with its ban lasting in the U.K. until 2001. Its content is so shocking that Ruggero Deodato, the film’s director, was tried in an Italian court for suspicions he had really killed his cast off. Although he paraded the “dead” actors through court, Deodato was fined for animal cruelty, of which there is plenty in this Holocaust.
Considered a parody of the Church of Scientology and founder L. Ron Hubbard, The Profitpremiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2001 before it drew the ire of Scientologists. Church members claimed that the film was libelous in the case of Lisa McPherson, who had passed away under the church’s care. It was initially banned by a county judge as a result of the McPherson case, but remained withheld from distribution by one of its own producers, Bob Minton. Though now deceased and unable to comment on the rumors, many believe Minton gave up on the film after the legal repercussions became clear.
Though today it’s dismissed as behind the times, Deep Throat was headline news in 1972. The X-rated film earned its rating with graphic masturbation, fellatio and group sex. Despite being banned in over 23 states, it soon became a cultural phenomenon, in no small part due to a court case that accused World Theater, host of the film’s premiere, of promoting obscene material. Mature Enterprises, the company who owned the theater, lost the case and was forced to pay a $100,000 fine.
Last Tango in Paris
Last Tango in Paris (1972), directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, is still a point of contention 30 years on. An improvised sex scene involving a stick of butter is to blame, although that wasn’t what broke Time magazine’s all-time letters-to-the-editor mark. The film was accused of “catering to the lowest instincts of the libido” and it was banned in Spain, Canada, and Bertolucci’s native Italy. The Italian courts sentenced Bertolucci to four months in prison for producing it. Paris, on the other hand, had no problem with the film.
Natural Born Killers
Because its based on a screenplay by Quentin Tarantino, you can expect Natural Born Killers(1994) to be a film full of glorified violence. According to some, though, that violence went too far, and effectively got the film banned in Ireland (though the ban has since been lifted). Even some of Oliver Stone’s colleagues bashed him for directing such a “loathsome” film. Named as the eight most controversial film of all time by Entertainment Weekly, it was doused in more controversy after mentally ill murderers, including the Columbine killers, claimed to have been inspired by the film.
Innocence Of Muslims
Innocence Of Muslims drew so much negative attention that even Google contemplated banning it from its search results. The anti-Muslim dubbed dialogue sparked anti-U.S. protests across the world and is not visible to residents of the Philippines, Russia, Turkey, Brazil, and Lebanon. Other countries like Afghanistan went as far as to block YouTube altogether.
A Clockwork Orange
The only film on this list to be banned by its maker, A Clockwork Orange was pulled from distribution in the U.K. in 1972 by director Stanley Kubrick. His family had been threatened after rumors appeared in the press that a host of copycat crimes, including separate rape and murder cases, were alleged by prosecutors to have been inspired by the movie. It wasn’t until 1999, 27 years later, that Kubrick died and the film began to pop up on British TV again.
Condemned by the Legion of Decency, this 1956 film of a Tennessee Williams script was blasted for being “grievously offensive to Christian and traditional standards of morality and decency” and instructed Catholics to skip it and wait 40 years till the invention of DVDs. Seriously, though, its sexually suggestive content got the film banned in Sweden and famously labeled by Time magazine as the “dirtiest American-made motion picture that had ever been legally exhibited.”