Explore the shadows of cinema’s past as we delve into a realm of controversial creativity. In this list we’ll uncover some of the most notoriously banned movies that pushed the boundaries of artistic expression and societal norms. These films have faced censorship battles that continue to shape the landscape of cinema. Hopefully your favorite flick isn’t here…
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
The Last Temptation of Christ, released in 1988 and directed by Martin Scorsese, faced bans in several countries. Jesus Christ, played by Willem Dafoe, appears human – experiencing doubt, fear, and temptation. It explored his inner struggles and the possibility of leading a normal life, including marriage and family, which many found blasphemous and contradictory to traditional religious beliefs.
Triumph Of The Will (1934)
Triumph of the Will, a 1935 Nazi propaganda film by Leni Riefenstahl, was banned in several countries due to its glorification of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. It featured massive rallies and Nazi imagery, promoting their ideology. The ban was aiming to prevent the spread of Nazi propaganda and their hateful message. The director, though, always professed not to be a Nazi sympathizer…
The 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
120 Days of Sodom explores the dark and perverse actions of four powerful individuals during a period of extreme cruelty. It was banned for its explicit and disturbing content, including graphic scenes of violence, torture, and depravity. The film’s extreme and controversial nature led to concerns about its potential to incite harm and its violation of obscenity laws.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
A Clockwork Orange, a 1971 film directed by Stanley Kubrick, follows Alex DeLarge, a delinquent who engages in violence and crime in a dystopian future. The film was banned in several countries, including the UK, due to its graphic scenes of violence and social anarchy. It sparked debates about the portrayal of extreme antisocial behavior and its influence on audiences.
It may have come up at some of your middle-school slumber parties, but were you brave enough to watch it? The film’s use of real-life circus performers with physical disabilities and it’s exploration of their lives challenged societal norms and was considered shocking and offensive at the time. Many audiences found the film disturbing and uncomfortable, leading to its censorship.
In The Realm Of The Senses (1976)
In the Realm of the Senses is a 1976 steamy drama that explores a passionate and intense love affair between a man and a woman in pre-war Japan. The film’s explicit content, including “non-faked” intimate scenes, led to controversies worldwide. It pushed boundaries, challenged societal norms, and faced censorship due to its graphic nature, sparking debates surrounding art and, well, adult content…
Peeping Tom (1960)
Peeping Tom, a 1960 thriller directed by Michael Powell, delves into the disturbing psyche of a voyeuristic serial killer who captures his victims’ final moments on film. The film’s explicit themes and its portrayal of violence from the killer’s perspective shocked audiences and critics. It was banned in several countries for its unsettling and controversial content, making it a landmark in cinematic history.
Ecstasy, a 1933 Czech-Austrian film directed by Gustav Machatý, tells the story of a young woman, played by Hedy Lamarr, who explores her sensuality and sexuality in a repressive society. The film, which featured Lamarr in a controversial nude scene and addressed taboo subjects, was banned in several countries and sparked debates about censorship and societal norms.
I Am Curious (Yellow) (1967)
I Am Curious (Yellow) is a 1967 Swedish film directed by Vilgot Sjöman, following a young woman’s journey of self-discovery and political activism. The film is known for its explicit content and was banned in some countries for its graphic scenes, igniting debates about freedom of expression and censorship. It served as a daring exploration of societal boundaries during a time of cultural upheaval.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
You’ve probably watched this one, covering your eyes and wishing that you hadn’t as you may never be able to un-see the horror. It faced controversy due to its intense violence, gore, and unsettling atmosphere. A cult favorite today, the film’s graphic content and realistic portrayal of brutality led to concerns about its impact on audiences and contributed to a subsequent ban.
Titticut Follies (1967)
This documentary delves into the harsh conditions of Bridgewater State Hospital, a Massachusetts facility for the mentally ill. The film exposed the inhumane treatment and abuse of patients, resulting in its ban and censorship. The authorities argued that it violated privacy and ethical standards, sparking debates about the boundaries of documentary filmmaking.
Borat, a parody film written by and starring controversial comedian, Sacha Baron-Cohen, depicts the life of a journalist travelling from Kazakstan to America. The film is banned in the entire Arab world (apart from Lebanon) due to it’s politically insensitive material. Good thing you can still watch it in the US, because Baron-Cohen knows how to write a hilarious script…
This movie shut down the film world when it came out earlier this year. Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling and Greta Gerwig revolutionized the cultural landscape… and did it all with pink glitter. The film looks at feminist issues and features LGBTQ+ actors and characters, something that some countries were less than happy about. Hopefully though, you got to see Barbie in theaters.
The Human Centipede 2 (2011)
This film is another piece of foklore from any middle-school experience, but did you dare to watch it? Whoever came up with this film should take a long hard look in the mirror because it’s seriously messed up. It features humans sewn together like a centipede (don’t ask how, because you know) and forced to recycle each other’s waste… It is so grotesque that it was banned in the UK.
The Great Silence (1989)
The Great Silence is a 1968 spaghetti western directed by Sergio Corbucci, known for its unconventional take on the genre. The film was banned in some countries due to its dark and violent themes, as well as its controversial ending that defied traditional western conventions. The exploration of moral ambiguity, brutal violence, and its bleak conclusion challenged the norms of the genre.
Dirty Harry (1972)
Dirty Harry, a 1971 crime thriller directed by Don Siegel, features Clint Eastwood as a maverick cop who employs unorthodox methods to catch a serial killer. The film faced a ban for its portrayal of vigilantism and its perceived glorification of police brutality. And that’s still probably not the most controversial thing that Clint Eastwood has done…
Although this film has recently bee heralded by some LGBTQ+ film critics for documenting an important part of gay culture, the film was not so well received upon release. The follows an undercover cop (played by Al Pacino) investigating a series of murders in New York City’s gay leather bar scene. It faced backlash for its portrayal of the LGBTQ+ community, violence, and explicit content.
Friday The 13th (1980)
Another classic horror film that was just too much for some people to handle. The film’s depiction of teenagers being hunted and brutally murdered at a summer camp was deemed too disturbing and offensive for some audiences. Its success also triggered concerns about the impact of violence in cinema, leading to bans in specific regions.
Of course, another one of Willem Dafoe’s film features in this list, although he’s not playing Jesus this time, in fact, it’s rather the opposite. Grief and psychological horror pushed the boundaries of what many viewers found acceptable. The film’s raw, unflinching portrayal of human suffering led to censorship and strong reactions, sparking debates about art, shock value, and censorship.
Saw 3D (2010)
Another ridiculously gory film that also manages to be ridiculously stupid. Although there are ten of these films, only this one in particular was banned, maybe because the 3D element was just too much. The graphic nature of the violence and torture depicted led to its restriction or banning in several regions concerned about its impact on viewers, particularly younger audiences.
If you weren’t seeing Barbie, you were probably seeing this. Christopher Nolan’s greatly anticipated film did not disappoint and was a massive hit around the world. It was, however, banned in Japan… for obvious reasons. Organisations claimed it failed to grapple with the destructive reality of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even celebrating the “father of the atomic bomb.”
The Birth Of A Nation (1915)
This film is a landmark in cinema history but is also infamous for its racist content. The film portrayed Black people negatively and depicted the Ku Klux Klan as heroes. The racist portrayal and potential to incite violence led to bans and protests in several cities, and it remains a contentious example of early film and societal attitudes toward race.
A bit of irony in the title of this one: Purity was the first mainstream American film to feature nudity. After weeks of ads in Washington newspapers, it was banned just as it was about to be released. The film follows a simple country girl in the city, hired as an artist’s model. A young poet becomes obsessed with her, distraught when he learns she has been posing nude.
Return To Oz (1985)
The unassuming sequel to The Wizard Of Oz has a darker past than you might think. The movie’s portrayal of a grim and nightmarish version of the Land of Oz, including sinister characters and unsettling scenes, was considered too frightening for children. This departure from the more whimsical tone of the original “Wizard of Oz” even led to bans in a few regions.
Monty Python’s Life Of Brian (1979)
The story of this one has a bit of irony involved. This film from the famous British comedy troupe depicts the crucifixion of Jesus in a satirical way, intending to poke fun at religious extremists. The irony of it all is that this film brought them all even more out of the woodwork in outrage. After several protests, the film was banned in certain states.
Pink Flamingos (1972)
This crazy John Waters film would certainly turn heads, even if you watched it today. Featuring famous drag queen Divine, the film comes to end by someone literally eating poop. Spoiler alert: there was no melted chocolate prop involved. It was banned in regions like Ontario, Canada, and some cities in the United States, where authorities considered the film obscene and offensive.
Flaming Creatures (1963)
Flaming Creatures, an avant-garde 1963 film by Jack Smith, was deemed too ‘hot’ to handle in its time. Society wasn’t quite ready for this movie’s gender-bending characters, bizarre imagery, and overt sexuality. Smith’s cinematic eccentricity raised eyebrows, resulting in bans that only added to its underground allure. Who could resist such cinematic rebellion?
The Vanishing Prairie (1954)
The 1954 Disney documentary that managed to upset some delicate sensibilities. This heartwarming exploration of wildlife on the American plains upset certain folks who thought it depicted animal brutality and nature’s raw realities a bit too honestly. Disney’s attempt at nature education led to a few bans in places where the truth about the animal kingdom was evidently too much…
Bicycle Thieves (1948)
“Bicycle Thieves,” Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 Italian neorealism masterpiece, was apparently too much for some governments to handle. Perhaps the honest portrayal of post-war poverty and the struggle of a man searching for his stolen bicycle hit a little too close to home for them. The film is now considered an important historical piece, though.
The Bunny Game (2010)
The Bunny Game is a film that pushed the boundaries of shock and horror, raising eyebrows in the world of censorship. Its graphic portrayal of violence and degradation was deemed too intense. The film is still sought out by controversial film lovers, proving that there’s always an audience for the most extreme forms of cinematic provocation.
Mikey, a 1992 horror-thriller, offers a heartwarming story of a young boy who hides a dark secret: he’s a remorseless killer. How charming! This film’s macabre take on childhood was apparently too twisted for some, leading to bans in several countries. Evidently, the idea of a pint-sized murderer left folks aghast. Who would have thought it?
Natural Born Killers (1994)
This satirical crime film directed by Oliver Stone follows a charming young couple on a cross-country killing spree. Apparently, some people didn’t quite grasp the satirical intent and found its violence, dark humor, and social commentary too much to handle. Naturally, it was banned in several places where a biting critique of media sensationalism and violence was simply too subtle to be appreciated.
The Good Son (1993)
The 1993 thriller The Good Son showcases the charming Macaulay Culkin as a child sociopath. It seems that this heartwarming portrayal of family dynamics gone awry was just too disturbing for some. The bans in various places suggest that the idea of a murderous child struck a nerve. But it’s okay when Kevin tries to kill those guys in Home Alone?
The Exorcist (1973)
The classic horror film that has scenes and lines that will be burned into all of our skulls forever. Although the sequel is currently in theaters, the original film was faced with some controversy. Banned in several places, it seems the idea of a possessed child cursing like a sailor while defying gravity just didn’t sit well with everyone. Not to mention the vomit.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
The title of this one surely says it all. This is a charming story about a documentary crew meeting indigenous cannibals in the Amazon. Banned in multiple countries, it seems the film’s method of raising awareness about media ethics and exploitation was perhaps too out there for Hollywood. Who would have thought it?!
The Evil Dead (1981)
Based on the famous video game, this is a charming tale about a group of friends coming together to fight a demon in a cabin in the woods. The bans in various places were apparently due to its delightful mix of gore and supernatural horrors. It was banned in several European countries such as the UK and Germany, so good luck if you feel brave enough to give it a watch.
I Spit On Your Grave (1978)
This revenge tale faced bans and censorship in various countries due to its extremely graphic and disturbing content. The film features brutal violence and revenge, which led to it being banned or heavily edited in several places. It was banned in Ireland, Australia and the UK. If you have a strong stomach, you might be able to get through this one…
The Last House On The Left (1972)
This is a heartwarming story about a couple who seeks revenge on their daughter’s attackers. It appears that the vivid scenes of violence, sexual assault, and gore were a bit too much for some. It was banned in various regions, including the UK and New Zealand. But, the good news is that it is available in the US if you’re feeling edgy.
The Phantom Of The Opera (1925)
You might think that this Broadway classic would be totally harmless to viewers but, in the 1920s, it was perceived differently. It faced bans in several places for its compelling tale of a disfigured musician haunting the Paris Opera House. Evidently, the idea of a tragic love story with a masked maestro and Gothic allure was just too much for some to handle.
The Mad Doctor (1933)
Oh no, not Mickey Mouse! This Disney animated short is one of the earlier entries in Disney’s animated series. While it may sound ominous by its title, it’s a classic example of early Disney animation with a touch of dark humor and spooky elements, which was relatively common in cartoons of that era. However, some found it too scary for children and it was initially banned in parts of the US.