In case you missed it, Sony has delayed the opening of The Interview from its original Christmas Day release until probably around the same time we see Seth Rogen’s Green Hornet 2. In other words, don’t expect to be enjoying James Franco cracking jokes at Kim Jong-un’s expense any time soon—though the North Korean malcontent has certainly made a mockery out of our American values and self-image.
While it is a (horrifying) precedent that a foreign government can use cybercrime and terrorism threats to force an American industry to censor itself—taking away the right to choose for movie lovers around the world—it is still certainly not the first time that a foreign power has attempted to prevent an American film from being seen by folks in their own nation and/or around the world. Who knows? This list could be about films that a couple hackers and a fistful of keyboards can prevent from ever being screened for future rerelease! Enjoy 16 other movies that someone didn’t want you to see.
In a development that studios increasingly seek to prevent in the current decade, China decisively banned the film that won Martin Scorsese his Oscar, The Departed, from being imported to mainland China. The reason? Well none officially. The state-run distributor China Film Group simply informed the Hong Kong distributor Media Asia in 2007 that the movie was “inappropriate.” We imagine Chinese gangsters being depicted as procuring items needed to build nuclear weapons couldn’t have helped the movie’s chances…
The Last Temptation of Christ
Speaking of Martin Scorsese, his most controversial film was also infamously banned. Based on the 1955 Niko Kazanthakis novel, The Last Temptation of Christ took a very radical look at the Christian resurrection narrative, even supposing that Judas (Harvey Keitel) was the Christ’s closest confidant and betrayed Jesus (Willem Dafoe) as according to the Messiah’s wishes. Yet, you might be surprised that Israel was the country that banned the film. Israel’s Theater and Film Censorship Board made the decision for fear that it could hurt the feelings of Christians worshipping in the Holy Land.
From Dusk Till Dawn
But Christians proved that they can ban films all for themselves as well when Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s sexy bandits-and-vampire thriller was banned in Ireland in 1996. Apparently censors were not too happy with the depiction of demonic possession in the film, especially citing Selma Hayek turning from all-star erotic dancer to a herald of hell. Trust us, nobody here was happy to see Hayek go under that latex make-up either.
But if some Christian authorities can be a bit sensitive, the shoe sometimes falls on the other foot. China infamously banned the William Wyler masterpiece Ben-Hur for “objectionable superstitious parts” long before hating Biblical Epics was in vogue. For those who primarily know of the 1959 film because of the chariot scene, let me give you the source novel’s full title: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. The communist and atheist regime probably didn’t even make it to the third hour before dropping the axe.
And for one last religious based dust-up was this year’s very own Noah—banned in both Malaysia and Indonesia. Apparently Russell Crowe’s depiction of the prophet Noah was not in keeping with Islamic tradition. At least he wasn’t singing?
However, the most eye-opening ban in Indonesia’s extensive rejection of many Western films was the refusal to allow the distribution of Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust drama, Schindler’s List. Arguably among the most important American films ever mounted, the black-and-white nightmare that chronicled one the darkest chapters in human history was banned throughout much of Southeast Asia, supposedly due to the explicit sexual content in the picture. But Indonesia’s Committee for World Muslim Solidarity claimed the film made Jews too sympathetic, which is apparently detrimental to the religion of Islam. Indonesia would only allow the film’s distribution if it was extensively edited. Spielberg declined.
Malaysia meanwhile banned the far less important (but still very memorable) Zoolander. The film presents Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander, the world’s stupidest male model (which is quite an accomplishment). Over the course of the film, he bumbles his way into discovering a fashion industry conspiracy intended to assassinate a fictional prime minister from Malaysia. This certainly shares some similarities with North Korea’s issues over The Interview, however the film depicts the Malaysian government in a favorable light, with Zoolander saving the prime minister’s life. Still, they weren’t laughing. If only someone had gotten them all orange mocha frappuccinos…
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
We here at Den of Geek certainly think highly of this grim and gritty exploitation flick that accidentally created something iconic. But as proof that even “Western” nations can become finicky about this genre of “intense violence,” check out the laundry list of countries that banned The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: the Tobe Hooper independent slasher has been banned for at least a time in Australia, Iceland, West Germany (circa 1974), Norway, Sweden, and Singapore.
Saw 3D: The Final Chapter
It took seven films, but apparently everyone eventually has a limit. And in terms of taste, we can’t really blame Germany for trying to bury this abomination. On the last fumes of the torture porn craze, Lionsgate released the final Saw film, also known as Saw 3D, to mild acclaim in some Internet circles. However, don’t include the German government amongst that community.
In 2011, the Amtsgericht Tiergarten (a Berlin circuit court) found that Saw 3D violated §131 StGB, a law which bans the “glorification” of violence. Eventually an edited copy was allowed for retail and purchase with the gore and violence cut out, but the original version is still illegal to sell or screen in the Rhineland.
The Evil Dead (1981)
In case you’re sensing a trend with outrageously gory horror films, you’re not alone. Sam Raimi’s comically disgusting The Evil Dead put the eccentric filmmaker on a path that led all the way to the hallowed halls of Spider-Man (and Bruce Campbell on a one way trip to cult icon glory!). But while the UK famously edited down the film and marked it as one of the earliest “video nasties,” it was outright banned in a number of other European nations including Finland, Iceland, Sweden, and Germany. The original theatrical cut is still not legally available in Germany.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
At the end of the day, politics still seems to be the most white hot touching point for nations, particularly in masterpieces like Frank Capra’s seminal 1939 film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. While the picture met initial resistance both in Hollywood and Washington D.C. for its lightly critical gaze at Congressional sausage making—slack-jawed boy-scout Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart) discovers his political idol Sen. Joseph Paine (Claude Rains) is as corrupt as the day is long—it still became every bit the hagiographic salute at our political system that Capra intended. And it scared other nations that the U.S. was at peace with at the time.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was banned in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Franco’s Spain. It was also banned in Stalin’s Soviet Union, which viewed the film as dangerously seductive in its presentation of democracy. Some modern day Super PAC donors probably would agree…
What is arguably the best James Bond film ever made was also banned for a short time in Israel for a very uncomfortable reason; the nation learned after several weeks of its touring release that Goldfinger’s Gert Frobe (who plays the titular villain) was a member of the Nazi Party. Yep, that would do it.
But despite being a member of the Nazis since 1929 (he claimed he joined at 16-years-old for their “social program”), Frobe was proven to be only a casual member. Several months after the ban, the Jewish Mario Blumenau came forward to Vienna and revealed that Frobe hid him and his mother from the Nazis, likely saving their lives. The ban was lifted.
The Big Sleep (1946)
Clearly Ireland missed the memo during the Second World War, but Bogie and Bacall were the romance of the century. Of course, they are going to steam the celluloid right off the print.
In 1946, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall reunited for their second film as husband and wife (he was 46, she was 21), and they memorably bantered their way through one of noir’s definitive mysteries so labyrinthine that neither director Howard Hawks, nor screenwriter William Faulkner, and not even author Raymond Chandler knew what the hell was going on. And nobody cared. Well, except for Irish film censors. This classic was banned in 1946 for egregious “sexual references.” Too bad the same wet blanket who wrote that didn’t see To Have and Have Not a few years earlier during the war when Bacall shimmied into big screen immortality. He’d have had plenty to whistle about.
The Dark Knight
This one apparently crossed a line so thoroughly that after months of seeming preparation, Warner Bros. cancelled even screening The Dark Knight for Chinese government censors. Despite being one of the biggest films in the history upon its 2008 release, and the highest grossing movie in the U.S. since Titanic, WB decided in December to not let mainland China reject the film for objectionable content.
In the Christopher Nolan film, the tireless Batman (Christian Bale) chases a corrupt Chinese businessman to Hong Kong (where The Dark Knight actually filmed eye-catching scenes), because despite the villainous Lau having ties to organized crime in the U.S., “the Chinese won’t extradite a national under any circumstances.” Ergo, a blatantly vile crook who is paying the Hong Kong police for special protection can only meet justice at the hands of a Dark Knight. Just not in Chinese movie theaters.
A Clockwork Orange
And what would any banned list be without the perennial classic A Clockwork Orange? My favorite Stanley Kubrick film is also admittedly a difficult one to admire with its cynical embrace of violence, madness, and perceived youth culture decadence. It was also banned in Great Britain for 27 years. Sort of.
While perhaps the most famous banning, this one came at the request of Stanley Kubrick’s own hand—after much outcry from the British public. When released in 1971, A Clockwork Orange was rightly considered one of the most violent films ever produced—and possibly one of the best. However, it increasingly became the subject of controversy after British prosecution blamed A Clockwork Orange for several murders committed by teenagers, one of which included the beating of a homeless man. In response to public outcry, Stanley Kubrick withdrew the film from his native country, initially for only a year until a Dutch tourist was raped shortly afterwards by men singing “Singin’ in the Rain” (like a scene in the film).
For 27 years following that withdrawal, it was illegal to exhibit, distribute, or share the film in the UK. The picture was not released officially again until 1999, after Kubrick’s death. While it was the filmmaker’s own choice to ban the film, it certainly was to the celebration of many British people, including in the borough of Hastings, where a local committee banned A Clockwork Orange before Kubrick did in 1973 for being “unfit for viewing.”
The Great Dictator
But the most pertinent film I can think of in light of recent events is one of the greatest comedies ever made: The Great Dictator. Remarkably produced in the U.S. during the height of isolationist rhetoric about the war in Europe, this 1940 film was pushed through by the sheer star power of its writer, director, producer, and lead actor—one Charlie Chaplin. The definition of a passion project, the one-time silent film star used this film to get up on his soapbox and literally plead with his audience about the dangerous evil of Adolf Hitler in this geopolitical farce.
Obviously, The Interview would not strive for the eloquence and brilliance of this project, nor is North Korea comparable to Nazi Germany, but the U.S. still released a film that mercilessly mocked the foreign leader of a country we were ostensibly at peace with (despite Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s best efforts). It was obviously banned in Germany (albeit Germany banned all Chaplin films due to the mistaken belief that Chaplin was Jewish), and was likewise banned through much of Europe. Even Great Britain initially banned the film as part of an appeasement strategy with Germany…
That didn’t work out too well. After Germany invaded Poland, the UK realized that there was no reason to hide from this film and it became a London hit before Britain entered its darkest hour.
Laughing was the least of their problems.