E.T. peers from behind a door in a scene from the film 'E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.'

Why these famous films were banned around the globe

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November 15, 2022
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Why these famous films were banned around the globe

It should go without saying that art is subjective—one person's masterpiece could be another's obscenity. Movies have a way of drumming up conversation and controversy in a way paintings, sculptures, and music never could.

For those unconvinced, one need only look at the seemingly endless list of films that have been banned around the world for their content, subject matter, and even date of release. Many of history's most famous banned movies were condemned to the chopping block in the wake of religious outrage while others went too far in challenging political leaders or movements. Others, however, were banned for no apparent reason whatsoever. On the positive side, the growing popularity of streaming is giving these banned movies a second life—like the 2015 Owen Wilson film "No Escape," which was banned in Cambodia during its original theatrical release, but started trending on the Netflix charts when it hit the platform in late March 2024. 

Stacker researched dozens of famously banned films throughout cinematic history from across the globe and delved into the reasons why they were banned in certain locales. While many of the films on this list are campy B-movies that were made with the sole intention of stoking outrage and controversy, others are now considered motion picture classics. In fact, some of these banned movies are among the most successful films in history but may have collided with their political adversaries en route to that success.

Read on to discover 30 of the most famous—and most infamous—movies that have been banned around the world.

The Great Dictator (1940)

"The Great Dictator" was among the biggest hits of Charlie Chaplin's career. The film, which lampoons Adolf Hitler, is widely considered to be one of Chaplin's greatest achievements. Hitler, apparently, did not agree. The fascist dictator banned the movie in Germany and all Nazi-occupied countries. However, Hitler's curiosity clearly got the better of him when he allegedly secured a copy of the film and watched it twice by himself.

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Three decades before Martin Scorsese adapted "The Last Temptation of Christ" into a controversial film, author Nikos Kazantzakis' 1955 novel of the same name was banned by both the Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church, the latter of which excommunicated the author. When the movie—which portrays a conflicted Jesus Christ who shows interest in sex and marriage—was released in 1988, Christian groups across America and the world boycotted and protested the film. Multiple theater chains refused to play the film in nearly 4,000 theaters, and Blockbuster declined to carry the film in its stores.

The Exorcist (1973)

In 1999, audiences in the United Kingdom were finally allowed to purchase "The Exorcist" on video. Released in 1973 in the United States, the film was met with both critical praise and unmitigated disgust. The movie was legal in the U.K. until 1988, when the British government reclassified the film as dangerous and forbade its sale for over a decade.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

As one of the most beloved family films in American history, it's hard to imagine that Steven Spielberg's "E.T." could trigger a ban. The Swedish Board of Film Censorship did exactly that for children under 11, however, charging the film about a lovable and lost alien with portraying "adults as enemies of children."

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)

Although Cartman, Kenny, and the gang are the main stars of the animated television show "South Park," Saddam Hussein was a frequently recurring character in both the TV series and the movie. The real-life Iraqi dictator banned the show and the feature film "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut" for its less-than-flattering portrayal.

Noah (2014)

Before it was even released in theaters, Darren Aronofsky's "Noah" starring Russell Crowe as the titular biblical prophet was banned across the Middle East for its central plot line. Islamic law forbids the portrayal of any prophets of Allah. Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and several other Sharia-practicing countries condemned the movie and prohibited its citizens from seeing it.

I Spit on Your Grave (1978)

Graphic, disturbing, and brimming with sadistic violence, sexual assault revenge cult classic "I Spit on Your Grave" stars Camille Keaton, who is related to Hollywood comedy icon Buster Keaton. However, the star's family legacy was not enough to win over the censors in Ireland. Not only did Ireland ban the original 1978 theatrical version, but the 2010 DVD release as well.

Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Although it's now considered a classic ahead of its time, the 1925 Soviet propaganda film "Battleship Potemkin" was viewed as dangerous and subversive in many European countries. Germany banned it in 1933, while France banned and destroyed many copies of the film. While the U.K. lifted the ban on the film, it didn't do so until 1954. Even the U.S. banned the film out of fear that it gave instructions to sailors on how to conduct a successful mutiny.

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)

Fans of the "Rambo" franchise know that Sylvester Stallone's iconic character John Rambo returns to Vietnam to rescue POWs in the franchise's second installment. India banned the film for allegedly insulting the Vietnamese and for portraying the Soviet Union—one of India's major arms suppliers at the time—in a bad light. Vietnam also banned the movie.

Rambo (2008)

Nearly 25 years after Vietnam banned "First Blood Part II," Sylvester Stallone returned to play one of his most famous characters in "Rambo," the fourth installment of the "Rambo" franchise. This time, Vietnam allowed its citizens to see the film. However, Myanmar, where the movie's plot takes place, wasn't so tolerant, and the country's controversial government was quick to ban it.

Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)

Like so many banned films that are now considered classics, the British biblical spoof "Monty Python's Life of Brian" found itself in the crosshairs of the censors due to accusations of religious blasphemy. For nearly 30 years until the ban was lifted in 2008, the film was banned or given an X-rating in certain localities across the U.K.

The Birth of a Nation (1915)

One of the most controversial and consequential films in history, D.W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation" glorified the Ku Klux Klan as heroes and portrayed Black Americans as shiftless, sex-crazed criminal vagrants. Civil rights organizations fought to get the film banned. Their efforts were largely in vain, but a few states such as Ohio and Kansas did blacklist the film.

Wonder Woman (2017)

When "Wonder Woman" was released in the late 2010s, the film was a critical and commercial hit. However, several Arab-majority nations, including Qatar and Jordan, banned the film due to their objections to its leading lady, Gal Gadot. The ban was not a result of the actress being scantily clad or engaging in violence in the movie. The objection was that Gadot is an Israeli who, like most Israeli citizens, had served in the Israel Defense Forces.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

"The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" is probably more closely associated with blood, guts, and gore in movies than any film ever made. Horror fans made it a cult classic, but not before governments around the world banned it from theaters during various periods, including those of Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Ireland, Chile, Brazil, Singapore, and West Germany.

Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

Erotic blockbuster "Fifty Shades of Grey" titillated audiences around the world—at least for those who were allowed to see it. The movie was banned in India, whose censors had previously come under fire for muting the word "lesbian" in a Bollywood film, even after studios agreed to cut nudity out of the movie. Malaysia, Kenya, and Indonesia beat India to the punch, allowing exactly zero shades of the film to be seen in their own countries.

The Da Vinci Code (2006)

Dan Brown's bestselling novel "The Da Vinci Code" spawned a wildly successful movie series starring Tom Hanks. However, audiences in Pakistan and much of India never saw the novel's namesake film, thanks to bans imposed by the neighboring countries' governments claiming the film insulted their Christian minority population.

Ghostbusters (2016)

When the classic 1980s film "Ghostbusters" got a reboot with an all-female lead cast (also referred to as "Ghostbusters: Answer the Call"), the third film in the franchise was banned from theaters in the lucrative Chinese market. Censors forbade audiences from seeing the film because it portrayed supernatural events and, according to the Chinese government, promoted the occult.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006)

Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" is one of the most successful film franchises in history, but "Dead Man's Chest" received the same treatment in China as 2016's "Ghostbusters," largely for the same reasons. The film's depiction of cannibalism and ghoulish creatures earned the film a total ban from Chinese censors.

Deadpool (2016)

Another movie to fall on the censors' sword in China, the world's second-largest movie market, was the "X-Men" spinoff "Deadpool." The Ryan Reynolds film was banned for all the reasons that won over its American audience: strong language, violence, and nudity.

Dirty Harry (1971)

"Dirty Harry" stars Clint Eastwood as a renegade cop who doesn't always play by the rules, but never fails to get the job done—as long as that job isn't in Finland. The Nordic nation banned the film for more than a year.

Schindler's List (1993)

Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List" is widely considered to be history's defining Holocaust film. But countries throughout the Muslim world—including Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country—banned "Schindler's List," after it came out, with some nations declaring it to be "propaganda with the purpose of asking for sympathy" for Jewish people.

300 (2006)

In 2007, Time reported that all of Tehran was outraged by the Sparta-Persia fantasy film "300," despite not having seen it. Iran banned the film, citing its negative portrayal of the ancient Persian army and king.

Argo (2012)

In 2013, Iran banned another American movie, which was based on a much more recent episode than that which stoked Iranian ire in "300." The banned movie was "Argo," which told the story of the 1979 American Embassy hostage crisis. However, the movie failed to tell the tale in a way the Iranian government would have preferred. Not only did Iran ban the movie, but the country also commissioned the making of its own movie to tackle the subject from the Iranian perspective.

American Sniper (2014)

Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper," starring Bradley Cooper as a legendary Navy SEAL sniper in Iraq, earned both critical and commercial success in the United States. In Iraq, however, the population—and censors—were far less impressed with the story of a man who became famous for killing more than 150 Iraqis. The movie was banned as an insult to the country.

Natural Born Killers (1994)

Few Western countries ban movies as much as Ireland, which found enough wrong with Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers" to prohibit its citizens from seeing the film. Irish authorities banned the film, which explored violence and the impact of the media, without giving a reason.

Oliver Twist (1948)

Shortly after the founding of Israel in the late 1940s, "Oliver Twist" debuted in theaters—but not in the newly minted Jewish state. The Charles Dickens tale featured a hideous villain named Fagin, whose entire essence was an amalgamation of many of the most enduring and destructive Jewish stereotypes. After a lengthy debate among critics and proponents of a ban, Israel prohibited theaters from showing the film.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

The greed, sex, and drugs riddled throughout Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" proved too much for censors around the world. Countries like India cut scenes and censored content. Other countries, like Malaysia and Nepal, banned it outright.

Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)

In 2004, Michael Moore released a scathing documentary on the Bush administration's handling of 9/11 called "Fahrenheit 9/11." However, it was never seen in the tiny oil-rich nation of Kuwait. The government there banned it as offensive to the Saudi royal family and critical of the Iraq War.

2012 (2009)

The reclusive and isolated nation of North Korea is not known for embracing Western culture. It's no surprise, then, that the country would ban an American movie, which is exactly what its repressive government did when disaster flick "2012" hit theaters. However, the ban had nothing to do with the film's content. The 2009 science fiction film was a no-go because 2012 was the 100-year anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea.

Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

In a discussion about banned movies, it is impossible not to mention "Cannibal Holocaust." The movie "crossed every line it could reach," according to Rolling Stone. It was banned in 50 countries and its Italian director was charged with obscenity.

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