Art has been subject to censorship since forever, and movies are hardly the exception. Several of them have been banned for different reasons — the presence of violence or sex, drug usage, blasphemy, abusive language — and these factors are dependent on the rating systems in different countries.
For instance, some nations censor cinema because of a perceived lack of their specific political agenda, while others do so on religious grounds. Nevertheless, there have been way too many incredible films, many of which have been critically praised, that have been banned across the world. Interestingly, a few of these restrictions have been slowly changed or lifted over time.
- The Last Temptation Of Christ (1988)
Martin Scorsese’s attempt at adapting the infamous Nikos Kazantzakis novel is a truly admirable achievement. It was widely praised for its cinematic brilliance, especially the original soundtrack and Willem Dafoe’s role as Jesus.
Unfortunately, it was not received well in many places, largely due to displaying the holy figure as a human burdened by desire. In addition to the death threats sent to the director, Argentina, Israel, Mexico and Turkey banned the film outright.
- Schindler’s List (1993)
One of Steven Spielberg’s greatest films, Schindler’s List was universally acclaimed in almost all respects, as shown by the 12 Oscar nominations and 7 victories.
It did face a decent amount of controversy, though, such as in the Philippines, where certain scenes were edited out, and the use of an iconic Israeli song by Naomi Shemer, “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav”, which had minor political repercussions. Indonesia and Malaysia refused to screen Schindler’s List, on the grounds that it was allegedly propaganda disguised as sympathy.
- The Great Dictator (1940)
The Great Dictator is Charlie Chaplin’s, through and through — there was nobody else who could have produced such a powerful satire of Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler while still retaining his roots in pure slapstick. Accolades aside, it was placed in the United States National Film Registry for its impact; and on the audience front, its popularity was global.
Although Great Britain first tried to maintain a tenuous peace between them and Nazi Germany by restricting the movie, they lifted it quickly enough. Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil, on the other hand, disallowed it on account of being sympathetic to Hitler’s cause. Also, the Nazis banned it for obvious reasons.
- Apocalypse Now (1979)
Francis Ford Coppola’s stunning take on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, combined with Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz made the inimitable Apocalypse Now.
The film remains one of the best Vietnam War stories ever told, as evidenced by the fact that it managed to secure the extremely prestigious Cannes’ Palme d’Or (as well as winning Oscars for Sound and Cinematography.) Apocalypse Now was prohibited during the military dictatorship of Park Chung-hee in South Korea.
- Ben-Hur (1959)
Ben-Hur is the first movie to ever win eleven Oscars, still the highest number to date. It was given an unprecedented budget, but more than made up for it at the box office ten times over.
Nevertheless, given the focus on the themes of religion (Christianity, to be specific), it was banned in many Middle-eastern and North African Nations. Similarly, Mao Zedong blacklisted Ben-Hur in China due to its “superstitious” propaganda.
- The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013)
Another Martin Scorsese cinematic creation to be banned, this time by Malaysia, Nepal, Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Cambodia, is The Wolf of Wall Street. On one side, it broke all records for the number of swearwords used in a single movie, while on the other, it gave Leonardo DiCaprio his second Golden Globe for acting.
It’s clear that it was restricted because the film offended many viewers, but animal rights activists also complained about the manner in which the poor chimpanzee was forced to roller-skate for an amused audience.
- A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange is a masterpiece, and its film adaption by Stanley Kubrick is as spectacular. For all its gruesome violence, the point of the narrative was not to immunize the audience to brutality as much as to portray a potential dystopian future from which humanity could not return.
In any case, Singapore, South Africa, China, South Korea, and Brazil forbade its screening for its “inappropriate” nature. Interestingly, the UK “withdrew” A Clockwork Orange in 1973, ceding to the wishes of Kubrick (who was understandably anxious about the personal death threats aimed at him.)
- Gone With The Wind (1939)
Gone with the Wind is a classic, and held the record for the highest-earning film for the next quarter century. In fact, adjusting for inflation, it remains at the top, having earned a whopping $3.7 billion since release.
It won Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Screenplay, as well as Best Director at the Oscars. As strange as it might sound, Nazi Germany banned Gone with the Wind because it supposedly displayed the difficulties of living through a war. The USSR followed suit, and for good measure, suppressed Margaret Mitchell’s novel as well.
- The Devils (1971)
It was no surprise to anyone when The Devils was subjected to severe censorship, because of the horrifyingly “disturbing” quality of the story (mixing together witchcraft, a Catholic priest, and overt amounts of sexuality.)
Edited or otherwise, the film garnered accolades from the National Board of Review and the Venice Film Festival. Multiple nations flat-out banned The Devils, and in Finland, the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. It was lifted only ten years ago.
The Battle Of Algiers (1966)
The uncotry of France banned The Battle of Algiers after hearing complaints from a number of its citizens, who were furious about its so-called “anti-colonial” and “Pro-Algerian” motifs, given that it had been based on the Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962).
It won quite a few awards, including the Golden Lion, the International Critics Award, and the Italian Silver Ribbon Prize. More importantly, The Battle of Algiers is acknowledged to be one of the finest films on the subject, and appears in several top lists of all time.