Movies getting banned somewhere around the world isn’t really news these days, as quite a few countries are ruled by authoritarian governments. From North Korea to Iran to Russia, many otherwise-popular movies have been banned for speaking against their respective regimes, being too explicit, or hurting religious sentiments, which is honestly expected. It’s surprising, however, when the regime in question is a democratic one, like the USA.
Quite a few movies have been banned in the developed and free world, too, simply because they dealt with topics we weren’t ready for – or at least that’s what they told us. While we’d leave that for the reader to decide, a few of those movies also happen to be quite good and well worth a watch, regardless of your stand on the issue they deal with.
8. Apocalypse Now
The genius of Apocalypse Now – Francis Ford Coppola’s classic take on the Vietnam War – lies in the fact that it’s impossible to tell if it’s anti or pro-war. That’s probably why it’s unanimously loved by people from all over the political spectrum. Even Coppola has been infamously unclear about the film’s stand on war, which is probably for the best as every work of art doesn’t need to make a statement.
That ambiguity, however, didn’t sit too well with the South Korean regime at the time of its release. They watched the movie and decided that it was actually anti-war, and promptly went ahead and banned it. We don’t need to tell you to watch this movie – if you haven’t already – as it’s one of the best war films ever made, as well as one of the more accurate portrayals of the Vietnam War on the big screen.
7. Cannibal Holocaust
There have been quite a few ‘found footage’ style horror movies over the past few years, though the trend has only picked up recently. It wasn’t as popular back in 1980, which is why Cannibal Holocaust got the backlash that it did.
The movie follows a college professor looking for a missing film crew that had gone to the Amazon to document cannibal tribes. Obviously, he didn’t find the crew, or it wouldn’t be a horror movie. He did stumble upon their footage, and – as you can guess – it was full of some explicit stuff; so explicit that the film has since been banned in over 50 countries. The director was even taken to court on murder charges, as the film was initially publicized as a snuff film and everyone thought that the cannibalism and murder shown in the movie was real.
6. E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial
There are very few people who didn’t like E.T. when it was released back in 1982, as it was impossible not to adore the relationship between a harmless, lost alien and a bunch of kids. It’s pretty much a unanimously loved movie around the world, and a good movie by all accounts. That’s, of course, with the exception of Scandinavia, where it was banned for kids at the time of its release.
The reasons provided by the censor boards ranged from the frightening environment portrayed in the film to how it makes the adults sound like the bad guys. While we’d refrain from commenting on that one, it’s pretty weird to us that someone thought that E.T. is unsafe for children. Thankfully for the kids there, most of those Scandavian countries have since lifted the ban.
5. Monty Python’s Life of Brian
Anyone who has seen Monty Python’s Life of Brian could tell you that it’s one of the best pieces of satirical cinema ever made. As the name suggests, it follows the life of Brian, an accidental messiah in Roman-controlled Judea whose life is a lot like Jesus, except he’s not Jesus and it’s all a big mistake. It’s hilarious and obviously worth a watch if you haven’t seen it already.
However, that wasn’t the case back when it was released in 1979, and you can guess why. Because of its take on Christianity, the film was outright banned in Ireland and Norway (they sold it in Sweden as being ‘so funny it was banned in Norway’), as well as many theaters in the UK. In fact, it wasn’t even a noticeable release until it was banned, and its viewer-count only went up – at least in the US – after various religious organizations protested against its release.
Salo – or 120 Days of Sodom – is easily one of the most-studied films in almost every film school. Released in 1975, it’s considered to be one of the masterpieces of the last century, with critics generally giving it high ratings. Once you watch it, however, you’d also realize that it’s one of the most explicit movies you’ll ever watch.
Based in 1944 fascist Italy, the film follows four fascists as they go around and recruit young boys and girls for torture and other humiliating experiments. It’s quite gross, but critics have a more nuanced take on it. They say that glorification of fascism is actually the biggest stand against fascism, though that conviction wasn’t shared by the numerous countries that have banned it. Salo is currently – or has been at some point – banned in countries like Finland, Australia, Italy, Germany and New Zealand, among many others.
3. Men Behind The Sun
Released in 1988, Men Behind The Sun has been often categorized as an exploitation film, as it deals with the heavy issue of Japanese atrocities in WW2 in graphic visual detail, particularly at their biological and chemical research facility called Unit 731. It was estimated that over 250,000 Chinese died in the facility due to the severity of the experiments, or simply killed by the soldiers once they were done with them. It’s one of the less-talked-about parts of the war, which was what the director was trying to change with this movie.
Except, it was too based-in-reality. The scenes in the movie are overtly graphic and over-the-top, leading many countries (like Australia) to ban it, or at least heavily censor it. While an argument could be made that the movies that make us uncomfortable are the ones that need to be widely seen, not everyone may have a stomach for it.
2. I Spit On Your Grave
The debate on whether sexual violence in cinema glorifies it or serves as a deterrent has been going on for a while, and while there’s no easy answer, it also highly depends on how it’s portrayed. I Spit On Your Grave – a 1978 revenge horror film – sits somewhere in the middle of that conversation, though only for the critics. For the countries that have banned it, though – like Ireland, Malaysia, Iceland, UK, China, Finland, Australia and others – the movie definitely crosses over what they consider okay.
The movie deals with some pretty heavy topics, including rape and torture, as well as over-the-top revenge, and with some pretty real imagery, too. It’s definitely not an easy movie to watch, though it’s not a ‘gore for gore’s sake’ kind of a thing either.
1. The Exorcist
As far as horror movies go, The Exorcist doesn’t really hold a candle to some of the more recent releases, probably because the techniques it pioneered have since been polished to perfection by more modern directors. Still, the movie revolutionized the horror space back when it came out in 1973, as horror movies around that time were still psychological, slow-burning affairs. The Exorcist changed all that, and was by far one of the scariest movies up to that time.
That’s the reason many theaters around the world banned it at the time of its release, a trend that was fueled by the rumors of test audiences fainting and vomiting during experimental screenings of the film. Of course, we can probably thank the marketing team of the film for that one, though all that drama certainly led to the British censor board banning it for release on video until as late as 1999.