It isn’t just graphic sex and violence that gets filmmakers in hot water with the censors. Now and then, films are cut or even banned outright for reasons that few among us would ever have anticipated, often owing to different standards for what is or is not acceptable viewing material in different parts of the world. Consider the following movies, all banned for reasons you might not expect.
Goldfinger was banned in Israel because one of the actors was a former Nazi
As massively popular as the James Bond movies have always been, the series has always ruffled feathers, mainly because of the cruelty, sexism and racism of the debonair British secret agent. However, when third Bond movie Goldfinger was banned in Israel, it had nothing to do with Bond himself, but rather the actor who portrayed the villain.
The title role in Goldfinger was taken by German actor Gert Fröbe, and when the film was released it became known that Fröbe had been a member of the Nazi party. For this reason, all films starring the actor were banned in Israel, until it came to light that in the late days of the Second World War Fröbe had actually helped save the lives of a number of Jewish people.
Wonder Woman was banned in Lebanon because of Gal Gadot’s military history
When DC’s original super-heroine Wonder Woman finally headlined her own feature film in 2017, it was a huge success. Critics and audiences around the world praised director Patty Jenkins’ film as a celebration of a powerful example of female representation in the usually male-dominated arena of the comic book movie.
This sentiment was not shared in Lebanon, however. Wonder Woman was banned there due to the casting of Gal Gadot in the title role, as the Israeli actress had previously served as a soldier in the Israel Defence Forces and has voiced her support for her home country’s military on numerous occasions.
2012 was banned in North Korea for giving a negative representation of Kim Il-sung’s 100th birthday year
Director Roland Emmerich’s 2009 disaster movie played around the new age fear that the year 2012 would see the world come to an end. Some critics blasted the film for popularising these far-fetched theories, but the one nation that banned the film – North Korea – did so for a somewhat unusual reason.
The year 2012 marked what would have been the 100th birthday of North Korea’s founder Kim Il-sung, and for this reason the nation’s government deemed the film offensive for portraying the year in a negative light. As such, they banned the film, and made the possession or viewing of it a criminal offence.
Barney’s Great Adventure was banned in Malaysia for being ‘inappropriate for children’
Many adults were bemused by the massive popularity of Barney & Friends, the kids’ TV show centred on a purple dinosaur. Even so, whilst the cutesy characters may have profoundly irritated a lot of parents and elder siblings, no one could ever have accused the material of in any way posing a threat to its young audience.
The Film Censorship Board of Malaysia felt differently, however. When the TV show’s big-screen spin-off Barney’s Great Adventure was released in 1998, it was refused a certificate by the Malaysian censors on the grounds that the film was ‘not suitable for children’. The film remains banned there to this day, and what makes this a particularly fascinating case is that the exact reasons behind the ban have never been given.
Zoolander was banned in Iran for ‘promoting homosexuality’
Ben Stiller’s 2001 comedy Zoolander was a big hit, with most audiences and critics enjoying its satirical approach to the fashion industry. It didn’t go down well everywhere, however. In Iran, the film was banned outright due to concerns that it endorsed homosexuality; this despite the fact that the film features no same-sex love scenes, and ultimately ends with Stiller’s male model marrying a woman (Christine Taylor).
Zoolander was also banned in Malaysia, where the film was deemed offensive as a key plot device is a plot to assassinate the Malaysian Prime Minister. Singapore also banned the film in solidarity with Malaysia, although they ultimately changed their minds, releasing it to DVD with an adults-only rating.
1931’s Monkey Business was banned in Ireland for fear it would promote anarchy
Comedy legends the Marx Brothers have long been famed the world over for their distinctive, hugely influential brand of off-the-wall comedy. While the term ‘anarchic’ has been used to describe the Brothers’ humour, not too many of us today would imagine that their films could inspire genuine anarchy.
However, this was exactly what the Irish ratings board feared of the 1931 Marx Brothers classic Monkey Business. Believing the film would encourage ‘anarchistic tendencies’ in audiences, the governing body refused the film a cinema release at the time.
A Clockwork Orange was banned in the UK on the orders of its own director
Following its initial cinema release in 1972, dystopian sci-fi drama A Clockwork Orange was not legally available for viewing in Great Britain – the country in which it was made – for 26 years. It’s often been assumed that the controversial film was banned by the BBFC, but in fact the British classifiers had happily passed the film uncut with an 18 certificate. Instead, A Clockwork Orange was withdrawn from UK distribution at the behest of its director, Stanley Kubrick.
The great American filmmaker lived in Britain, and had received death threats and protests outside his family home over A Clockwork Orange’s provocative content. Because of this, Kubrick pulled the film from UK cinemas and insisted it not be made available in Britain during his lifetime. It was only after his death in 1999 that the film was finally re-released.
Back to the Future was banned in China because its time travel plot ‘disrespects history’
Director Robert Zemeckis’ 1985 sci-fi comedy adventure Back to the Future is one of the best-loved films of its decade, if not all time. Western audiences adored the film, as well as its two sequels – but it’s a slightly different story in the East. As of 2011, China has banned any films featuring time travel as a plot device.
The Chinese government justified this bizarre regulation on the grounds that time travel stories “disrespect history.” This isn’t an ironclad rule though, apparently; for some reason China had no problem allowing the release of 2019 blockbuster Avengers: Endgame, despite the prominence of time travel in the Marvel movie.
Brief Encounter was banned in Ireland for promoting adultery
1945’s Brief Encounter is often regarded one of the finest films ever made, and is especially highly rated among the ranks of big screen love stories. It won rave reviews, multiple Oscar nominations, adaptations for radio, television and the stage, and has been ranked by the British Film Institute as the second greatest British film of all time.
Alas, David Lean’s film didn’t go over so well in the Republic of Ireland for one simple reason: the central characters who fall in love are both already married to other people. As this was seen to promote adultery, Brief Encounter was frowned upon by the censors of the predominantly Catholic nation, and promptly banned.
Shrek 2 was banned in Israel over a lawsuit from an offended celebrity
The Shrek series hinges on giving fairy tale conventions a satirical spin, at times veering into somewhat provocative humour – but still, you’d have to be pretty thin-skinned to genuinely be offended by a Shrek joke. Unfortunately, when Shrek 2 was re-dubbed for Israeli audiences, one high profile figure did indeed take offence.
The Israel release of Shrek 2 threw in a joke unique to that nation: when proposing they neuter Puss in Boots, Donkey remarks, “let’s give him the David D’Or treatment.” D’Or, an Israeli singer famous for his high voice, proceeded to sue, and this legal action forced the distributors to pull Shrek 2 from its cinema release.
The Wolf of Wall Street was banned in Nepal, Kenya and Malaysia for its hedonistic excess
Few major studio films of the 21st century boast quite so much excessive adult content as Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. The acclaimed yet controversial 2013 film broke the record for use of the F-word (over 500 instances), and also sported vast amounts of nudity, sexual activity and depictions of drug use. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this has seen The Wolf of Wall Street hit some censorship issues.
The film had to be trimmed to avoid an NC-17 rating in its native USA, and faced further cuts in India, Singapore and the UAE (the latter of whom cut a staggering 45 minutes). However, it was simply too much for the censors in Kenya, Malaysia and Nepal, who banned it outright.
Apocalypse Now was banned in South Korea for being anti-war
It’s not so unusual to hear of a film being banned due to it featuring gratuitous violence. It’s rather more surprising, though, to learn that a film troubles the censors due to its presenting violence in a negative light. Curiously, this is what happened to Apocalypse Now in South Korea.
Director Francis Ford Coppola’s landmark 1979 movie set during the Vietnam War was banned in South Korea under the regime of President Chun Doo-hwan (a militant dictator who initially seized power unelected) on the grounds that it was too anti-war.
The Simpsons Movie was Banned in Myanmar due to prominence of the colour yellow
The Simpsons is one of the boldest animated comedies in TV history, challenging the idea that cartoons are only for kids and tackling all manner of provocative subjects, often to the ire of more conservative audiences. However, 2007’s The Simpsons Movie ran afoul of one country not for any political reasons, but for a simple cosmetic reason: the colour of its characters.
The government of Myanmar refused The Simpsons Movie a certificate due to its prominent use of yellow. This was because the flag of insurgent group the National League of Democracy used yellow and red, and it was felt that the Simpsons colour scheme would be taken as a tacit endorsement.
Finland banned Dr. Strangelove because it didn’t want to upset the USSR
One of the best-loved films from Stanley Kubrick, 1964’s Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is one of the most overtly anti-war comedies ever made, tackling very real fears about the prospect of nuclear armageddon at the height of the Cold War.
While Kubrick’s film certainly doesn’t portray the American military in an especially positive light, it’s also highly critical of the Soviets. Finland banned the movie as it shared a border with the USSR and feared that releasing the film might anger its powerful neighbour.
Eternals was banned in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait over a kiss
Marvel’s 2021 superhero ensemble film Eternals proved one of the most divisive films yet made by the comic book movie giant. Director Chloe Zhao’s film also drew a lot of attention for being the first film in the MCU to directly show a same-sex relationship, plus a kiss, between Phastos (Bryan Tyree Henry) and his husband Ben (Haaz Sleiman).
While Marvel’s parent company Disney had previously re-edited films with gay content to appease more restrictive territories, they stood firm on Eternals and refused to cut the scenes in question. As a result, the film was banned outright in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar, because of the stance on homosexuality in these countries.
Laurel and Hardy’s Scram! was banned in the Netherlands for a shot of the comedians on a bed with a woman
Together, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were one of the most popular comedy double acts of all time, and were among the first major stars to emerge from the early days of silent films into sound. Yet despite their global popularity, Laurel and Hardy’s light-hearted antics could still get them in a bit of trouble.
The duo’s 1932 film Scram! proved problematic, due to a scene in which Stan and Ollie are shown sharing a bed – though not doing anything remotely sexual – with Vivien Oakland. On release, the Netherlands banned Scram! for indecency, although this ban has long since been lifted.
The PG-13 Daredevil was banned in Malaysia for being ‘too violent’
2003’s Daredevil cast Ben Affleck in his first superhero role, opposite his future wife Jennifer Garner. Writer-director Mark Steven Johnson’s film was perhaps the darkest Marvel film up to that point, but its violence was still moderate enough to land a PG-13 rating (although it got a more restrictive 15 in Britain).
Surprisingly, Daredevil wound up getting banned in Malaysia on the grounds that it was simply too violent. It has been suggested that the diabolical moniker and appearance of the title character might also have been a factor in this decision.
Schindler’s List was banned in Lebanon for its sympathetic portrayal of Jewish people
1993 classic Schindler’s List remains a startling film for many reasons. Steven Spielberg’s fact-based drama explores the horrors of the Holocaust in an unflinching manner, and shocked audiences everywhere upon release.
More shocking is how the Lebanese ratings board reacted to the film. Due to the predominantly Muslim nation’s long-standing tensions with Israel, Lebanon banned Schindler’s List because it showed too much sympathy towards Jewish people.
Winnie the Pooh is outlawed in China because of jokes about the character’s resemblance to Xi Jinping
Few countries are quite so quick to impose bans on entertainment as China, and very often their reasons for doing so seem patently absurd. There is no finer example of this than the Asian country’s ban on all media involving Winnie the Pooh.
It is a common joke in Asia that China’s President Xi Jinping resembles the beloved cartoon bear, and this has been the subject of numerous internet memes mocking Xi. It is for this reason alone that Pooh’s image is outlawed in China.
Sausage Party was banned in Taiwan in case parents mistakenly took their kids to see it
Ever since Toy Story, computer animated movies have often aimed to appeal as much to adults as children – but it wasn’t until 2016’s Sausage Party that Hollywood produced a feature-length CG cartoon for adults only. This was a cause of consternation for some.
Taiwan decided not to take any chances, and blocked Sausage Party from a cinema release, just in case audiences mistook it for a family film and took their impressionable little ones to see it. An overreaction perhaps, but perhaps understandable given how closely the filthy comedy resembles a Disney-Pixar production at a glance.
Derek and Clive Get the Horn was banned in Britain for containing too many swear words
Before Dudley Moore became a big screen superstar via such hits as 10 and Arthur, he was best known for his comedy partnership with fellow Brit Peter Cook. The duo’s best loved comedy characters were two foul-mouthed Londoners named Derek and Clive, who were the focus of 1979 documentary film Derek and Clive Get the Horn.
Because of what was considered excessive use of the strongest swear words as well as blasphemous humour, the film was banned in its native UK. It would not be passed uncut on home video until 1993.
Noah was banned in many Muslim nations as the title character is considered a prophet
When director Darren Aronofsky, actor Russell Crowe and co decided to make an epic blockbuster about Noah, they were playing with fire. This retelling of the story of the Biblical character and the Great Flood was immediately met with scorn from many religious viewers.
Aronofsky’s film proved particularly incendiary in the Middle East, as Islam regards Noah as a prophet – and as such, any visual representation of the figure is strictly forbidden. As such, the film was banned in Malaysia, Indonesia, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Child’s Play 3 was (unofficially) banned by British TV after being linked to a child murder
Child’s Play 3 became a hugely controversial film in Great Britain in 1993, when it was suggested that the film had inspired two ten-year-old boys to murder the two-year-old James Bulger. Although this alleged link was promptly dismissed by investigators, sections of the public and the press fixated on the issue, calling for the film to be banned.
Legally, Child’s Play 3 was never withdrawn for sale or exhibition in the UK, but the controversy surrounding the film had a knock-on effect regardless. Britain’s satellite television network Sky refused to broadcast the film, and the controversy spread further afield as it was also blacklisted by Spain’s Canal+.
Fifty Shades of Grey was banned in Cambodia for its “insane romance”
There can be little debate that the Fifty Shades of Grey novels and their big screen counterparts have not been universally well-received. Critically reviled yet massively popular, many have attacked author E.L. James’ story for promoting unhealthy relationship ideals.
The 2015 film Fifty Shades of Grey was banned in many Eastern countries due its excessive sexual content, but Cambodia’s explanation for banning the film is a particular eye-opener: the Cambodian censor cites “insane romance” and being “entirely related to sexual matters that are too extreme for Khmer society.”
The Matrix Reloaded was banned in Egypt because it questioned the “three divine religions”
There’s a lot that can be said about The Matrix Reloaded, not all of it good. Still, it can be agreed that the 2003 sequel to the Wachowskis’ 1999 breakthrough movie touched on a lot of big questions about life, the universe and everything – and not everyone was happy about what it seemed to suggest.
The spiritual/existential overtones of The Matrix Reloaded didn’t go over well in Egypt. The sequel was banned there on the basis that it “explicitly handles the issue of existence and creation, which are related to the three divine religions, which we all respect and believe in.” Egyptian authorities feared Reloaded would “cause troubles and harm social peace.”
Rififi was banned in Finland because it showed audiences how to crack a safe
One of the thorny issues that often comes up in film censorship is that of imitable behaviour: the notion that viewers might try to recreate activities they see performed on film, especially if it is presented realistically in enough detail. This proved to be a particular concern with 1955 French crime thriller Rififi.
Director Jules Dassin’s film sees a gang of criminals plotting to pull off a big score. A key part of their scheme involves safe-cracking, and this raised red flags for the censors in Finland. They banned Rififi in fear that it would inspire viewers to give safe-cracking a go and start pulling off heists themselves.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was banned in Nazi Germany for depicting a functioning democracy
Production on legendary director Frank Capra’s 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was met with some concern in its native US, over concerns that the comedy drama presented the American government in too unflattering a light. Curiously, once the film was complete, it inspired quite the opposite reaction overseas.
In Nazi Germany and its occupied territories during the Second World War, a ban was imposed on Mr. Smith Goes to Washington over fears that it presented democracy in too favourable a light – something Adolf Hitler’s dictatorship didn’t want to risk audiences seeing.
The Harry Potter movies were banned in Saudi Arabia for being ‘Satanist propaganda’
Tales of witchcraft and wizardry may be considered kids’ stuff as far as most of us are concerned, but in some more strictly religious quarters they’re still frowned upon. This was the case for the Harry Potter franchise, which was outlawed in Saudi Arabia over the nation’s blanket ban on any depiction of magic.
In more recent years, however, the Saudi authorities have taken a more relaxed position on the matter. The Harry Potter films were screened in the country for the first time in 2018, the authorities admitting that the accessibility of international content online rendered their censorship efforts redundant.