Every culture has its own tastes, so naturally, a film’s reception (arguably the most subjective of art form) is going to be impacted by whatever country it’s being shown in. Normally, this means that a work may simply be perceived as “good” or not, depending on how it jives with societal norms. A good example of this is the comedy genre, which frequently sees many jokes be lost in translation or go over some moviegoers’ heads entirely.
And all that is relatively harmless in the grand scheme of things. Then there are the cases where a nation deems a movie so unfit for its people that they ban it from ever being shown. Obviously, different people are going to have different reactions to what is tangibly the same product, but is taking things to that drastic extreme the most reasonable thing to do? You be the judge, as we list Movies That Were Banned For Crazy Reasons.
E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial
Steven Spielberg’s heartwarming tale of a boy and his alien friend is one of the defining achievements of 20th century cinema. Showcasing the legendary director in his prime, the film garnered much critical acclaim (including a Best Picture nomination) and ended up breaking the record for highest grossing film of all-time with $359.1 million domestically. With its powerful message and thrilling sense of adventure, E.T. is one of those movies that can touch viewers of all ages in profound ways. However, youngsters living in Scandinavia missed out on all the fun.
When the film was released, the Swedish Film Board passed a rule that said any child under 11 could not see E.T. The reasoning was that the movie portrayed adults as “the enemies of children.” It’s true that the adults in the film aren’t exactly the friendliest bunch ever put to screen, but at the same time they aren’t necessarily malicious in their intent. Yes, the infamous scene where the guns are pointed at the bikes caused some to raise eyebrows, but it’s still hard to say Spielberg was depicting grown-ups as the kids’ foes; they mainly wanted E.T. (who just wanted to go home). And even if adults were the “enemy,” all good stories have a villain.
The Simpsons Movie
The Simpsons‘ brand of irreverent humor has made them a mainstay of pop culture for decades, but nobody expected Homer and his family to be at the center of a great political debate. But that’s exactly what happened when the Simpsons movie came out in 2007. The country Burma barred it from being shown in its theaters, and the greatest crime the film was guilty of was that the main characters’ skin color was yellow.
At the time when The Simpsons Movie was being released, Burma was ruled by Aung San Suu Kyi. The biggest perceived threat against his leadership was the National League of Democracy, whose official colors were red and yellow. We understand that people are passionate about their political beliefs, but this really is head scratching. It’s not like the film’s characters or its plot was making grand statements in favor of Burmese democracy, that was just simply how they looked. Subliminal propaganda can be a part of film, but this is an instance where yellow was just all fun and games.
Continuing with our theme that everyone has their own taste in film, there are certain moviegoers who prefer to only watch movies that will make them happy when it’s over. Even in America, where several genres are popular at the multiplex, some audience members aren’t going to sign up for a hard-hitting drama that serves up the despair. That said, there are still extremes to this measure, and the North Korean government showed just how far they would go to keep their moviegoers happy when Roland Emmerich’s 2012 came out.
The year of the film’s release, 2009, marked the 100th birthday of Kim Il Sung. In order to keep a country-wide party atmosphere alive, 2012 was banned in their theaters because leaders did not want anything negative being shown on their screens. Watching the world fall apart before your eyes can be distressing to watch, but many saw 2012 as nothing but a big, dumb mindless disaster movie that nobody really took seriously. Obviously, North Korea was not amongst those ranks, which makes us wonder what movies were shown there in 2009. After all, there are many things shown in film that could be described as “negative.”
In 2013, Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine was one of the biggest films of awards season, thanks in large part to eventual Oscar winner Cate Blanchett’s mesmerizing performance as the lead. However, moviegoers in India were not permitted to see what all the buzz was about. The country banned the film from its theaters because characters were shown smoking on-screen. A law in the nation requires there to be anti-smoking PSAs during scenes that depict this act. Allen was offered the opportunity to add the messages to Blue Jasmine prints, but the director refused, feeling the message would distract viewers from the movie’s story.
Regulations concerning smoking in films have gotten stricter as the dangers of tobacco have become more well-known (see warnings about “historical smoking” in period pieces), but one has to side with Allen here. It’s not as if Blue Jasmine was pro-cigarettes and tried to convince people that smoking was good for one’s health. That would be something else entirely. It’s worth pointing out that there are only two scenes in the entire film that show characters smoking, so Indian officials probably should have tried to work out a compromise with Allen. Laws are laws, but when it comes to film content (and not the actions of citizens in real life), there’s room for some leeway.
British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen was clearly going for shock value when he created the culturally insensitive and misogynistic Middle Eastern reporter Borat. And he was extremely successful in his efforts. Comedy, more than any other type of film genre, is subjective to one’s taste, and though the film was a hit in America, the humor did not translate well overseas. Claiming that certain scenes could “offend viewers’ religious or national sensibilities,” Russia banned the film from being shown in their theaters. And they were far from the only country to take issue with Cohen’s take on racial and ethnic humor.
It shouldn’t really come as a surprise (given the film’s depiction of these people) that all Arab nations except Lebanon barred it from being screened. Once the movie came out, Germany also attempted to ban the project, citing concerns over the defamation of the Gypsy people. It can be argued that we live in a far more sensitive, politically-correct time, so the problems are understandable to an extent. However, Borat is classified as a mockumentary, so perhaps the point was to show how biting satire was dying and the unwilling participants in the film’s production just took the bait.
More prominent for the heated controversy it caused than its actual narrative, there’s no denying The Interview is one of the weirdest cases in Hollywood history. With a premise of two American journalists tasked by the CIA to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, the film was sure to turn some heads, but things got out of hand very, very quickly. Obviously, North Korea banned the film from being shown, and anyone in the country caught watching a bootleg copy was subject to death by firing squad or sentenced to years in a prison camp. But that only scratches the surface of the insanity.
For a brief time, The Interview was even banned in the United States. Claiming to be behind the infamous Sony hack of 2014, the so-called “Guardians of Peace” posted a message that invoked the terror of September 11 to describe what would happen to movie theaters opting to show the film on its regularly scheduled Christmas Day release. Shortly after, some of America’s largest theater chains pulled it, with Sony resorting to digital distribution so their investment wasn’t a total loss. In the end, The Interview ended up being screened in a limited number of theaters (and luckily no incidents were reported), but it was still a bizarre footnote for what was a mainly mediocre comedy.
As we said at the top, every country is going to see films in a different way. What’s a great work of art to one moviegoer could be a dull drag for someone else. Since movies are extremely subjective, there’s no way to make one that’s going to be perfectly acceptable for all walks of life. And sometimes that means entire countries aren’t going to see what you’ve created, even if you shot every scene with no ill intent towards others.
Our list is not meant to be all-inclusive, so if you know of any films that were banned for crazy reasons, be sure to share them in the comments section below. And be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more fun videos!