Comic book movies are one of the big mainstays of the modern movie industry. If an idea has been proven in printed form, there’s a good chance a movie studio will try their hand at adapting it, and thanks to the popularity of many comic characters worldwide, many comic book movies are more or less guaranteed global success, as long as they’re handled properly.
That said, not all comic book movies have been received with enthusiasm in all corners of the globe. Some movies, due to differing local tastes and cultural attitudes, have wound up causing offense or being banned due to their portrayal of colorful characters.
Let’s have a look at 10 Comic Book Movies That Were Banned Around The World
10. Deadpool – banned in China
The Merc with a Mouth’s solo cinematic debut hasn’t been released yet, but the Chinese government has already made its feelings very clear about the movie. The People’s Republic of China is historically been very skeptical about importing movies that challenge the ideology of the state, but in recent years they have been more permissive about Hollywood imports (and Chinese funding has even gone toward blockbusters like Transformers: Age of Extinction), but the potty-mouthed Deadpool probably took things a little too far.
Some movies deliberately cater to Chinese audiences in order to get approval. Iron Man 3 features some additional scenes in its Chinese release which are set in China, as an attempt to counterbalance the villainous character of The Mandarin, who has often been portrayed as an offensive cultural stereotype.
China has very strict laws about the content that can be shown in movies – pornography and graphic violence aren’t allowed in movie theaters, so Chinese censors weren’t thrilled with the levels of gore and nudity present in Deadpool. Altering the movie to remove this content wouldn’t have worked too well, and it’s not exactly Deadpool’s style to shy away from offending people, so it’s no surprise that China rejected Ryan Reynolds’ pet project. That said, the movie will probably have a healthy life the nation’s enormous market for pirated, black market DVDs.
9. Blade – banned in Malaysia
Some countries around the world are more tolerant of movie violence than others. Malaysia has a long history of banning movies that are excessively violent, as well as movies containing portrayals of homosexuality or heavy political themes.
In many ways, Blade was the prototype Marvel comic adaptation, beating X-Men and Spider-man to the box office by several years. Blade’s titular character, a vampire hunter, spent a lot of the movie violently murdering vampires, and this early Marvel movie shot for a higher rating than most which followed. The high levels of gore and violence in the movie meant that the Malaysian movie board were concerned about its content, and Blade was banned within the country.
8. Daredevil – banned in Malaysia
While Daredevil isn’t a movie known for its quality, it’s also not considered to be exceptionally violent – certainly not compared to Blade, at any rate. That said, Daredevil did aim for a darker and more bloody tone than other comic book movies that were appearing on the big screen at around the same time, and as a result, Malaysia decided to ban the movie for its high level of graphic violence.
Some fans may consider this to be a blessing in disguise, as Daredevil is not one of the most well-received comic book adaptations.
Daredevil was later approved for home video VHS and DVD release within Malaysia, so particularly eager Marvel fans in the country were eventually given a legitimate way to see the film. What’s more, since Daredevil, Malaysia hasn’t seen fit to ban any more Marvel movies, including the upcoming Deadpool movie, which will arrive in Malaysian cinemas on February 11th.
7. 300 – Banned in Iran
Violence and gore isn’t the only reason movies can end up being banned in foreign markets. Iran, a predominantly Muslim country which is known for strict laws surrounding movies and entertainments, chose to ban 300, Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the gritty Frank Miller comics of the same name.
While 300 is full of nudity and violence, the Iranian film board’s primary objection to the movie was its depiction of Persians as the villains. Modern day Iran sits on top of what was once ancient Persia, and 300 reimagines the historical folktale of a small number of Spartan warriors who strive to defend their home from Persian invaders. The Iranian government were unhappy that Persians, depicted as an amoral, teeming mass of savages, were the villains of the movie, and called 300 “American propaganda,” refusing to allow the movie’s legal distribution in the country.
6. V for Vendetta – Banned in China
Alan Moore’s story of a lone masked man convincing the British people to rise up against a dictatorship was adapted for the big screen in 2005, and instantly became a cult classic. The movie draws heavily on British culture and a historical figure named Guy Fawkes, who once attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London.
Considering the political nature of the movie, it’s unsurprising that China chose not to approve V for Vendetta for an official release. The country didn’t openly reject the movie, but its decision to reject it was taken by many to signify that China did not approve of the film’s core message.
Interestingly, in 2012, the entirety of V for Vendetta was broadcast unedited on Chinese national television, a move which some speculators assumed meant that China was relaxing its stance on Western movie imports. Since then, though, China hasn’t made things any easier for moviemakers, so their decision to show a Western movie about rising up to overthrow a controlling government doesn’t seem to have any deeper significance.
5. The Punisher – banned in South Africa and Sweden
Frank Castle, a.k.a. The Punisher, has had several appearances on the silver screen over the years, and with the character poised to appear in future Netflix shows, it seems that the hyper-violence of the comics can finally be captured, censorship free, in a tone and style similar to Daredevil and Jessica Jones.
Movie censorship rules haven’t always been kind to Punisher movies, with the character’s 1989 appearance (simply titled The Punisher) being banned in several countries, including South Africa and Sweden, due to its high levels of gore. Considering that The Punisher is known for brutally murdering criminals, it’s hardly surprising that his movie met with opposition in various parts of the world.
4. Persepolis – banned in Lebanon
Persepolis is both a graphic novel and a movie which reminds the world that comics should be taken seriously as an art form. The autobiographical story of a young girl growing up during the Iranian Revolution, the original graphic novel Persepolis was adapted into an animated movie of the same name in 2007. The movie received rave reviews from critics, winning the Jury Prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.
Because the movie contains a strong political message at its center, it’s no surprise that the Iranian government weren’t thrilled with its content. The story was already well known thanks to the graphic novel it was based on, and as such even before its debut, organizations connected to the Iranian government were publicly objecting to the movie’s screening at the Cannes Film Festival.
Public outcry in Iran eventually led to limited screenings of the movie in Tehran in 2008, but some scenes were censored to remove sexual content. Likewise, in Lebanon, the movie was initially banned, but public pressure eventually caused this ban to be overturned. The controversy surrounding the movie was also felt in other countries: Persepolis was removed from the Bangkok International Film Festival, and a private broadcast in Tunisia led to a public demonstration against the film.
3. Superman – banned in Beijing
Christopher Reeves first turn as the Man of Steel in the 1978 movie Superman is well remembered as the first time a costumed crimefighter felt believable on the big screen. The movie wowed audiences worldwide as Superman soared through the sky, saving lives and defending ‘truth, justice, and the American way’.
When in 1986 the movie made its way to China. However, government officials worried that the movie would upset an already difficult political climate. Many Chinese citizens in Beijing were increasingly calling for greater freedom and were becoming more vocal in their criticism of the government. While the movie only appeared in 25 cinemas across Beijing, it was drawing large crowds, and government officials began to worry about the danger of letting American ideology into movie theaters at such a time of unrest.
Without warning, the movie was pulled from theaters overnight, and the Chinese government refused to provide any commentary or explanation to their actions. A few days later, however, the Peking Evening News ran an editorial criticizing the movie and its ideology. The essay described Superman as “a narcotic which the capitalist class gives itself to cast off its serious crises,” and labeled the movie as American propaganda. While the movie continued to be shown in other large cities in China, such as Shanghai, Beijing audiences who’d been hoping to see the movie were left disappointed.
2. Constantine – banned in Brunei
While most modern comic book heroes are created through science, some have more otherworldly origins. John Constantine, a character initially created by Alan Moore, deals more with occult challenges of angels and demons, all heavily steeped in traditional Christian mythology. While the 2005 movie starring Keanu Reeves was anything but true to its source material, it kept much of the icons and themes of the series intact, which didn’t go down too well in all foreign markets.
Brunei, a small, Islamic nation in Southeast Asia, is known for its strict censorship and drastic attempts to restrict the influx of Christian ideology. Last December, the country chose to ban Christmas because it was seen as a threat to the faith of Muslims. Considering the Brunei Sultanate’s level of unease with Christianity, it’s no surprise that the government were unhappy with a movie that literally depicts the battle between Christian angels and their demonic counterparts.
1. The Dark Knight – banned in China
Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed second Batman movie is held by some to this day as the ultimate comic book movie, portraying the Caped Crusader in a realistic, grounded setting – well, most of the time. In one particularly high-flying scene, Batman travels to Hong Kong in a plan to extradite a Chinese money launderer, by base jumping off a skyscraper and into another building, all before ziplining into a waiting plane.
It’s an impressive shot, and Hong Kong’s beautiful skyline adds fantastic production value to the shot, but the Chinese government were less than impressed with the movie. While the government has never made it clear why The Dark Knight was refused an official Chinese release, many commentators have speculated that it was because of the film showed an American vigilante illegally kidnapping a Chinese citizen.
For whatever reason, the movie never officially graced cinema screens in Mainland China, although it was shown throughout Hong Kong, which in spite of being under Chinese control, has very different laws regarding freedom of speech. The movie was a massive success in Hong Kong, with audiences thrilled to see Batman leaping around on their city’s iconic buildings.
There’s plenty of reasons why a movie may end up being banned in various countries around the world. Every country has its own rules about what is deemed appropriate viewing, and sometimes the idea of a costumed crime-fighter taking down criminals outside the law is less than popular with government officials.
While China has appeared on this list several times, it’s important to note that a theater ban in China doesn’t necessarily mean audiences won’t see it. While many superhero movies including the upcoming Deadpool haven’t been given an official release in China, the country is known for its very active media piracy scene, and cheap knockoff DVDs of all major releases can be found throughout the country.
Movie audiences in China therefore get every opportunity to see all comic book movies in the comfort of their own home, albeit sometimes with unusual subtitles. When the Chinese government denies a comic book movie’s official release in the country, it simply means that getting hold of a copy is slightly harder and ensures that the movie won’t show up on legally on the big screen, meaning that a ban in China is mostly important because it means denying Western moviemakers any potential revenue from a film.
Which bans do you think were for legitimate reasons? Which movies should have been banned that weren’t? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.