For the most part, filmmakers follow proper channels and adhere to the law to make a movie. But sometimes a director or producer needs to skirt legality to film a scene or ignore vague infringements to complete a full movie – like Colossal, starring Anne Hathaway, which was sued for allegedly ripping off Godzilla.
The most common reason a movie has issues is violating copyrights of another film, television show, or franchise. Other reasons that don’t involve legal problems include questionable material that could offend a certain group – especially in a politically-charged climate or when a movie makes someone or some people look bad – or themes that are mainly meant to shock you, like the Faces of Death movies.
There are filmmakers who decide to make a movie no matter what is or isn’t authorized. Some filmmakers, despite knowing the film will have or cause issues, finish the movie for the art, and while noble, can remove respect for that person. However, others simply want the movie released to make money.
This list shows you what movies had legal and ethical issues when they were filmed and released and why they wouldn’t or can’t be made today. Here’s 15 Movies That Would NOT Be Legal Today.
Snatch, a popular comedy crime movie by Guy Ritchie, had one particular scene that would have made it not legal to make today. The movie stars Brad Pitt, Benicio del Toro, and Dennis Farina in multiple plots involving a stolen diamond and a gangster who wants a boxer to throw a fight.
Animal rights activists complained that animals were mistreated, especially during the dogfighting scenes, and a specific scene where three of the characters go “hare coursing,” which is basically dogs hunting down hares. The dogfighting scenes were dismissed by a special Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (U.K.’s ASPCA) operative with experience in dogfighting.
The RSPCA asked for specifics on the hare coursing scene – whether it was during an actual event or one created for the movie. While hare coursing is legal in the U.K., it would be not legal to make in the U.S. today.
14. Escape from Tomorrow
In 2013, Randy Moore directed a guerilla-filmed psychological horror called Escape from Tomorrow, which is about a father who has strange visions during the final day of family vacation at a Disney resort. The poster included a bloody, gloved hand resembling Mickey Mouse’s hand and a title font clearly recognizable as one the Walt Disney corporation uses.
Moore filmed on location at Disney World and Disneyland without the permission of the parent company as they vehemently protect their intellectual property. The cast and crew kept scripts on phones and used consumer video cameras to capture scenes. When filming was complete, Moore needed to continue the secrecy so he edited Escape from Tomorrow in South Korea.
Even though he didn’t get permission, Moore stated later that the film was an artistic vision of Disney that obviously fell under fair use. The Walt Disney Company eventually knew about the movie, but chose to ignore it as many experts believed Disney’s claims would be weak, though they could bring legal action if they wanted.
13. Star Trek: Axanar
Star Trek fan films have been around for decades and with the ability to distribute the fan creations via YouTube and through the internet, it’s easier now to enjoy more Star Trek, whether it’s canon or not.
In 2014, Prelude to Axanar was released. It’s a short film that showcases the goals of Axanar Productions, which was to create a professional fan made Star Trek film. For Prelude and the feature-length movie, Star Trek: Axanar, the company used Kickstarter and Indiegogo to raise money for production, which increased substantially when George Takei shared his support for the project.
However, Paramount/CBS said that Axanar violated various copyrights including settings and characters. Harder to prove was the usage of the money raised. Since Axanar Productions couldn’t make money on the film, Axanar couldn’t be considered fan-made, especially with using professional actors and crew members, and therefore infringed on intellectual property.
12. Friday the 13th
Jason Vorhees of the Friday the 13th franchise has delightfully scared horror movie-lovers since 1980 with over 10 films. His mask is instantly recognizable and often a popular prop at Halloween.
While not entirely clear why Paramount pulled the plug in February 2017 on a new Friday the 13th movie – Paramount claimed lackluster box office numbers – it seems the current legal battle between original writer Victor Miller and official rights holder Sean Cunningham could have played a part.
It’s a muddy rights fight where Miller looks to reclaim his copyrights on the original screenplay and treatment, while Cunningham will maintain rights to the title, the Voorhees character, and various other aspects Miller did not create. It’s possible that in the future, two different companies or producers could create two different franchise sequels or reboots. But as of right now, neither Miller or Cunningham can use any part of the franchise they didn’t create.
11. A Hulk movie from Marvel Studios
The Hulk has been in ensemble superhero movies (The Avengers) and has even had his own movie from Universal Studios. Did you know that Marvel, the company who birthed The Incredible Hulk, is not able to make a solo Hulk movie? That’s because Universal owns the stand-alone movie rights to Hulk.
Although Marvel obtained the movie rights to include him in The Avengers, Thor: Ragnarok, and Infinity War, the rights to distribute a stand-alone movie belong to Universal, which also owns theme park rights.
The relationship between Marvel and Universal is strained, meaning unless the two companies can come to an agreement, a Hulk movie from Marvel Studios may have to wait until the contract runs out, or if Universal decides to relinquish the distribution rights. Marvel/Disney could purchase the rights from Universal or make a deal, but either way, a stand-alone Hulk movie is years away.
10. Pretty Baby
Pretty Baby stars Brooke Shields, Susan Sarandon, and Keith Caradine. It takes place in New Orleans and is about a 12-year-old prostitute working through the final months of legal prostitution in the early 1900s.
The movie caused a worldwide uproar because of the themes of child prostitution, and more specifically, scenes where Brooke Shields was nude. Shields was the same age as her character at the time of filming.
While receiving a ‘R’ rating in the U.S., the nudity in two scenes was removed in order for Pretty Baby to be released in the UK. Two provinces in Canada, Saskatchewan and Ontario, banned the film until 1995.
9. More Lord of the Rings movies
Peter Jackson has taken the Lord of the Rings franchise and created two trilogies that will stand the test of time for cinema. For fans of the series, any future movies based on Tolkien’s work, like The Silmarillon, most likely will not happen.
As with most movie disputes, the issue is money. The Tolkien estate is guaranteed 7.5% of the profits, but the production company reported no profits, which the estate lawyer didn’t believe. When the estate took Warner Bros. to court, the case was settled out of court.
Back in the 1970s, Saul Zaentz purchased limited rights to The Lord of the Rings, eventually making an animated film. He currently owns the rights to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, but that’s where his reach ends. The Tolkien estate owns the rest of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, including The Simarillon, but Tolkien’s son, Christopher has retracted any further rights for additional movies.
8. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin
A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is an Italian film that was released in the United States under the title Schizoid. It tells of a woman who experiences disgusting LSD nightmare. In a vivid dream, Carol Hammond – played by Florinda Bolkan – commits a depraved murder. When she wakes, she is investigated for the homicide of her neighbor.
Besides the scenes of debauchery and intense drug use, the one scene that would make it not legal today is the infamous dog scene. Carol opens the door to a room of dogs being experimented on. All the dogs have their chests split open. The beating hearts and pumping blood caused censors to take the producers to court for animal cruelty.
Despite the scene being fake – the special effects person had to testify in court – the scene is absent from most available copies of the film.
7. Operation Avalanche
Operation Avalanche is a found footage thriller about two CIA agents who go undercover at NASA to find a possible Russian mole. Once there, they learn NASA can’t meet the 1969 deadline of the Apollo 11 moon mission, so the agents inadvertently become part of the plot to fake the moon landing.
In a way, Matt Johnson – the writer, director, and producer – received permission from NASA to shoot on location. But he lied. Johnson told NASA he was filming a student documentary about the race into space. Whatever reason NASA fell for this is up for much debate.
The line of legal and ethics values is thin for Johnson with Operation Avalanche. The movie appeared at the Sundance Film Festival and was eventually released by Lionsgate. The film has received a variety of nominations from Canadian festivals, even winning the People’s Choice Award at the Kingston Canadian Film Festival.
6. The Keep
The Keep had plenty of production issues without the soundtrack causing additional problems. Besides requiring extended filming that Paramount wouldn’t pay for and special effects supervisor Wally Veevers passing away two weeks after post-production started should have been enough to deal with.
But the soundtrack by Tangerine Dream eventually caused further headaches for Michael Mann, the director. A few of the arrangements in the movie were from other artists and songs. It wasn’t entirely clear if anyone had the rights to include those arrangements in the movie.
A full soundtrack was planned for release – a limited number of 150 were made and sold at a Tangerine Dream concert in 1997 – but the worldwide release of the soundtrack was halted due to legal problems.
5. This is Not a Film
Jafar Panahi was arrested in 2010 and banned from making films by the Iranian Islamic republic for “making propaganda against the system.” While he didn’t go to jail at that time, he was put under house arrest and unable to write scripts, give interviews, direct films, and leave the country for 20 years.
That didn’t stop Panahi from making a documentary about a movie he would make if he was allowed to. This is not a Film follows Panahi around his home as he delivers dialogue and narrating locations he’d film at. The film actually obeys his house arrest and the Iranian stipulations as Panahi worked with fellow director Mojtaba Mirtahmasb – who was also arrested later – to circumvent Panahi’s direct involvement with technically making the film.
While the cast had big names like Daryl Hannah, Steve Guttenberg, and Michael Madsen, Eldorado founds it way to release only by direct-to-video; illegal paperwork filings kept the film from a theatrical release.
Eldorado is mainly a parody of musical theater and movies like The Blues Brothers and Little Shop of Horrors. In 2010, movie production was finished, but wasn’t released. In 2013, it was revealed that the director, Richard Driscoll, had falsified tax returns to the British government. This allowed Driscoll and the producer of Eldorado to receive tax rebates and government funds. Driscoll stated the budget of the movie was $15 million when it was really $1.5 million.
3. Dudleytown Curse
Dan Aykroyd once called Dudley Town, Connecticut the scariest place on Earth. It’s suspected that Dudley Town is a place where the boundary between our world and another dimension is very thin, allowing creatures and things to easily pass through. Red Bar Media decided to film a found footage independent feature about the old settlement.
The movie – called Dudleytown Curse – had many issues leading up to the arrest of eight of the cast and crew members. Most of Dudley Town is private property, and while the cast and crew tried to stay on public property, ultimately, they trespassed on property they didn’t get permission to be on.
2. Last Tango in Paris
Last Tango in Paris stars Maria Schneider and Marlon Brando, who plays a newly-widowed American starting a sexual relationship with a Parisian woman. The film released in 1972 to international condemnation due to the one particular scene of rape as well as the overall theme of sexual violenc
The questionable scene was where Brando’s character rapes Schneider’s character with butter as lubricant. Thirty-four years later in an interview, Schneider claimed the scene was not in the script and she “had a burst of anger” right before the scene. The writer and director, Bernardo Bertolucci, stated the scene was in the script, but admitted the use of butter was not. In discussing it with Brando, they decided not to tell Schneider to get a “more realistic response.”
For U.S. release, the rape scene was removed, but still received an ‘X’ rating. In 1997, the MPAA changed how ratings worked and the movie was downgraded to ‘NC-17’ for “some explicit content.” You can also watch a censored version that MGM released with an ‘R’ rating.
1. Cannibal Holocaust
Ever since its 1980 release, Cannibal Holocaust has been entrenched in controversy. The movie is about a documentary film crew that goes missing in the Amazon, where they were filming cannibal tribes. A rescue ensues, but the group only finds the documentary’s film cans. The movie is essentially a found-footage tale surrounding what was discovered on the film cans.
The violence and animal cruelty in the movie was purported to be real. The director, Ruggero Deodata, was arrested and even was charged with murder. Those were dropped when he proved the actors were still alive and how the death scenes were fabricated.
However, the animal cruelty allegations stuck since seven animals died in production, including a pig, turtle, and boa constrictor. Cannibal Holocaust was banned in 50 countries at release. Most countries have lifted the ban, but several countries still retain it.
Do you think any of these movies could have been made today? Or should they have been made knowing the issues that arose? Let us know in the comments!
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