There’s no escaping film controversy. No matter how enlightened society may get or how much their tolerance grows from years of viewing on-screen atrocities, it seems as if we are destined to endure some new wave of outrage created in response to a film that irked the sensitivities of viewers. There are many times when these controversies are understandable. You might not personally agree with them, but you can understand why certain films featuring outrageous scenes of violence or cultural insensitivity might bother some people.
Then you have the dumb controversies. With respect to the individual sensibilities of moviegoers, there are some headline-makers that just leave you scratching your head when you first hear about them. They’re sparked by all sorts of different things, of course. Some are the results of cultural differences, while others are products of a different era when the general world took a different view on certain matters. There’s always an explanation behind even the most bizarre of film controversies. It’s a testament to the dumbest of movie controversies, however, that knowing the explanation behind them still prompts a hearty “huh?” in reaction to them.
Here’s our take on the 15 Dumbest Movie Controversies Of All Time.
15. Iran Feared Zoolander Might Have A Homosexual Agenda
Zoolander was actually banned in three countries. In Malaysia, the government deemed Ben Stiller’s comedy to be “definitely unsuitable.” That’s really no surprise when you consider that it portrays Malaysia as the home of fashion industry sweat shops and uses the country for a few running jokes. There’s also that ending that involves the attempted assassination of the Malaysian Prime Minister. Singapore banned the movie for no official reason, but some believe it has to do with their close relationship with Malaysia. Finally, and most confusingly, Iran banned the film due to its homosexual content.
If you’re racking your brain right now trying to remember which scenes in Zoolander involved homosexuality, the closest you’ll come is the threesome scene between Derek, Hansel, and Matilda. According to reports, however, the film wasn’t necessarily banned due to a specific scene, but rather because the whole thing was just a little too weird and potentially driven by homosexuality. As the Iran government was cracking down on films that showcased homosexuality at all, they banned Zoolander just to be safe.
14. The Moon is Blue Used Forbidden Words Like “Seduction”
You’re going to quickly discover that sex tends to be the subject of many stupid film controversies. It was a particularly sore topic during the ‘20s and ‘30s, when audiences were just starting to get used to this whole “motion pictures” thing and certainly didn’t want to share a room with people who were all staring at something sexual happening on-screen. That’s just awkward. By the time that the ‘50s rolled around, however, you would think that people would have lightened up just enough to at least be comfortable with film characters talking about sex.
You would think that, but you would be wrong. Otto Preminger’s 1953 film The Moon is Blue had plenty of sexual overtones, but much of the film’s controversy can be attributed to what is said during the movie rather than what is shown. The film’s very casual attitude towards sex led to it casually dropping such words as “mistress”, “virgin”, and “seduction”. This kind of carefree approach to the subject of sex was more than some people could stand. The film was denounced by several groups, and often screened in front of men and women separately.
13. Burma Bans The Simpsons Movie Because Of Two Colors
The gem-rich region of Myanmar (also known as Burma) has long held a reputation for being one of the most dangerous places in the world. Years of political discourse as well as a fair few military coups have transformed the region, at times, into a hostile war zone. Democratic reform is helping, but Burma can still be a rough place. It’s the kind of place that could certainly use the lighthearted entertainment offered by such films as The Simpsons Movie. A few blue jokes aside, certainly nobody could find anything truly controversial in that film, right?
While Burma didn’t object to any specific piece of content in the film, they did have a problem with the animation. Specifically, they weren’t too keen on Bart’s red-tinted shirt and yellow skin. Why? Well, it has something to do with the fact that the primary colors of the opposing political parties in Thailand are red and yellow. Rumor has it that officials were worried the sight of those two colors together would cause outrage so they banned the film. Of course, it’s possible they just stopped being fans after Season 12.
12. The Kiss Draws Outrage For Showing A Kiss
It wasn’t long into the history of filmmaking before the movie industry started to realize that controversy retained its appeal even in this bold new medium. You probably know the stories of the peep shows that popped up almost the minute that filmmaking was invented, but even legitimate early studios capitalized on a little controversy from time to time. Now, you may be wondering what exactly was deemed controversial back in the late 1800s. While that’s a laundry list of topics, it turns out that early filmgoers could be upset with nothing more than a simple kiss.
Yes, a kiss. Specifically, the 1896 film from Edison Inc. called The Kiss. In this 18 second feature, May Irwin and John Rice share the first on-screen kiss in film history. Some people were not amused by this ludicrous display of lurid material. Critics, audiences, and the Roman Catholic Church denounced the movie for the way it cheaply exploited such an obviously sexual event. It was called disgusting. It also prompted a wave of films that imitated the moment in an effort to capitalize on its success.
11. Child’s Play 3 Is Forever Linked To Britain’s Most Brutal Murder
This is one of the most bizarre film controversies out there, and the devil is in the details. Mostly, though, it’s dumb because it involves a movie that should have been forgotten the moment it was released. The third film in the Childs’ Play series is about what you’d expect from such a flick. (That is to say, it’s pretty bad.) The movie has a lasting legacy in the United Kingdom, however, due to the tragic death of a boy named James Bulger. Bulger was a three-year-old boy who was horrifically murdered by two ten-year-old children. It was a true tragedy.
It was also bizarrely linked to Child’s Play 3. A small similarity between the murder and the film and the fact that one of the boy’s fathers had rented the movie months before meant that Child’s Play 3 was put in the media’s crosshairs. Even though it was proven the movie had nothing to do with the murder almost right away, the uproar surrounding the film raged on for years. It’s one of the most extreme cases of media sensationalism in the history of film controversies.
10. Midnight Cowboy Gets An X-Rating For An Honest Portrayal Of New York City
You probably know that Midnight Cowboy is one of the most controversial movies in the history of American cinema. It was the first and only X-rated film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It caused viewers to walk out of theaters en masse or otherwise break down into tears right there in the theater. For a time, it seemed nobody but United Artists and director John Schlesinger wanted the movie to be made. But have you ever stopped and asked yourself just what makes the movie so controversial?
If you do, you’re going to find that it has a lot to do with its setting. To be sure, there are elements of the movie (homosexual relationships, male prostitution, etc.) that are easy to see as being a bit racy for the the movie’s 1969 release. However, the major controversy at the heart of the film was its portrayal of 42nd street in New York City as a seedy place filled with hustlers , pimps, and dealers. It was a shockingly accurate loot at a world that existed right under people’s noses, whether they wanted to admit it or not. In any case, it was a lot tamer than the average movie shown at 42nd street theaters during that time.
9. A Singer Gets Shrek 2 Banned In Israel Because It Made Fun of Him
Shrek 2 wasn’t banned in Israel upon its release. Instead, it went through the same process that a lot of other movies imported from America go through. It was redubbed into another language and slightly recut in order to replace some America-specific jokes with ones that would apply to Israel’s audience. For instance, in the Israeli version of Shrek 2, there is a scene where one character threatens castration by saying “Let’s do a David D’or on him.” David D’or is the name of a high-pitched Israeli singer. Pretty funny, right?
David D’or didn’t think so. The singer remarked that the film attempted to portray him as a “man with no testicles” and turn him into a “laughing stock.” This he could not abide. He sued the distributers over the joke (in a movie full of jokes, mind you.) Shockingly, the Israeli court agreed with D’or, and actually ruled that the film was to be banned throughout the country until a new cut without the line was made. Not to be insensitive, but this sets a dangerous precedent for the power of pouting.
8. Nobody Could Believe The Outlaw Used Sex To Sell
In 1943, it wasn’t exactly against the law to give an actress top billing, but audiences weren’t yet used to the idea that a film’s marketing would focus entirely on a woman. That mindset resulted in strike one against Howard Hughes’ 1943 western, The Outlaw. The promotional material of the film almost exclusively featured a relatively unknown actress named Jane Russell. In fact, later versions of the posters were edited to only show Russell. Of course, the real reason that so many people were upset was because Russell was showcased in a highly sexual manner that emphasized her cleavage.
Here’s the funny thing about that. Hughes knew that people would be upset at the idea of a woman’s sexuality being so clearly shown on film posters. He was quite literally banking on it. Hughes drummed up most of the controversy himself in order to get people talking about the movie so that he could be sure it would receive the proper funding. It was quite remarkable, really. Even though people turned out in droves to watch Jane Russell on screen, the morality of the time seemed to force most of them to be upset about the idea of such a thing.
7. A Song In Blackboard Jungle Causes Riots
Deprive a fire of oxygen, and it will no longer burn. That’s a scientific fact that does not apply to necessarily apply to humans. There’s a passionate fire within people that usually cannot be suffocated by simply smothering it, a fact that’s especially true of young people. It’s why sometimes the worst thing you can do when you’re trying to keep someone from behaving a certain way is to deny them entirely. Otherwise, the slightest chance to rebel might result in them doing so.
At least that’s the best explanation we have for the sensation that followed the release of Blackboard Jungle. It’s (unfortunately) easy to imagine that this 1955 movie about a teacher at an ethnically diverse high-school might be controversial due to racial tensions or something along those lines. Instead, much of the film’s controversy revolved around its use of the song “Rock Around the Clock.” This was one of the first times a movie used a rock and roll song so prominently, and audiences across the world used the song as their anthem for riots, vandalism and general acts of hooliganism. All of this because of a more upbeat song played in front of deprived youths in revolt.
6. Portugal Bans Catch 22 Because Of A Man’s Butt
Depending on the source, a censor may or may not be under an obligation to say why they censored or banned a particular movie. Most, however, will freely divulge the reasoning behind such an action. If not out of a sense of professional obligation to do so, they will usually say why they chose to censor a movie simply to drive home a particular point they may want to make. That’s especially true in the case of government censorships. So what reason did the country of Portugal have for censoring Catch-22? It briefly shows a nude male butt.
The film Catch-22, much like the book it is passed on, is considered to be controversial by some for the way it cleverly takes on certain military conventions and parodies the notion of war itself. Never, however, had anyone drawn attention to this particular aspect of the story. Catch-22 is one of only two movies to be banned in Portugal (the other being Last Tango in Paris), leading some to believe there was an ulterior motive for this censoring. If there was, the censors aren’t telling.
5. The Netherlands Is Shocked Scram! Shows Men and Women Sitting On A Bed
As anyone who grew up watching I Love Lucy knows, couples sharing the same bed on-screen was a pretty big deal once upon a time. It’s a matter of some debate regarding why, exactly, censors of eras past felt that seeing a married couple lie in bed together was such a wild thing, but apparently, the mere implication of what they might be doing in that bed was too much for some to bear. It’s why wholesome, innocent entertainment such as the films of Laurel and Hardy were so prized by fans and censors alike.
Well, except for the 1932 Laurel and Hardy film Scram!, that is. This movie about two vagrants who stumble into a luxurious mansion where they frighten the female occupant clocks in at less than 30-minutes in length, but in that time, it managed to draw enough controversy to be worthy of a ban in the Netherlands. The offending moment in question involved a scene where Laurel and Hardy sat in the same bed as a woman that neither of them is married to. All they did was sit there, but that was enough to strike fear into the heart of censors.
4. Carnal Knowledge Shows A Condom On-Screen
It makes a lot of sense that a movie like Carnal Knowledge might generate controversy. The movie follows two roommates that become embroiled in a complicated relationship involving several women. The whole movie is designed to explore nearly every aspect of sex as it pertains to society, humanity,and the nature of relationships. It was one of the first major releases to address more complicated issues pertaining to sex openly, but it’s hardly an exploitative film. Still, it dealt with some sensitive subject matter.
The weird thing about the movie’s controversy is how it was directed. There was no shortage of words used to describe the movie’s supposed indecencies, but the one that kept coming up in most conversations involving the film was “condom.” Carnal Knowledge wasn’t the first movie to use the word condom, but it was the first major release to actually show one. Showing a condom wasn’t the sole source of the film’s controversy, yet it soon became one of the more talked about moments in the movie. You would think that people would be happy about the promotion of safe sex.
3. The Greatest Horror In Psycho Turns Out To Be A Flushing Toilet
This time, you can probably already form guesses on what the controversies in this film might be. After all, Psycho was a major release violent horror movie at a time when such violent horror movies were still almost exclusively relegated to small theaters. It was aiming to break the genre mold and help prove that such horror movies could be respected pieces of film. It’s understandable that elements such as the movie’s violence, it’s interpretation of the human psyche, and the controversial shower scene would stir up sensitive audiences.
While all of that did come to pass, the most bizarre controversy in the film is certainly the case of the flushing toilet. Director Alfred Hitchcock wanted to add a scene involving scraps of paper being flushed down a toilet, as he felt it added authenticity to the moment. In the process, he turned Psycho into the first American live-action film to show a toilet flushing on screen. Even though there was nothing particularly off-putting in the toilet itself, the simple uncut image of it flushing was interpreted as exploitative.
2. North Korea Takes 2012 As A Personal Insult
“Aren’t most American films banned in North Korea?” you might be asking. If so, you’d be right. For reasons that probably won’t surprise anyone, North Korea isn’t entirely fond of American films as a rule, and often worry about what kind of influence they might have on the populace. There are some films, however, which really bother the government. The Interview, for example, didn’t go over well in North Korea, given that the movie was an elaborate parody of the controversy and its leadership (and, you know, depicted a scene in which the nation’s leader is assassinated). That just makes sense.
What makes less sense, at first, is why the Roland Emerich movie 2012 attracted so much hatred from North Korea. As it turns out, 2012 marked the 100th birthday of North Korean founder Kim II-sung. Kim Jong-il saw 2012 as America’s attempt to imply that this monumental year for the country would somehow lead to the destruction of the Earth. North Korea came down hard on the movie and reportedly arrested anyone who possessed a copy of it or had even seen it. Possessing the movie was punishable by up to five years in prison. Naturally.
1. China Bans Back to the Future and All Other Time Travel Films
There’s no shortage of movies that have been banned in China. The Chinese government is particularly rigid when it comes to movies that may in any way upset the status quo or portray the country in a negative light. In short, just about any movie that potentially offends the pride of the country is more than likely going to get banned. Sometimes, a movie such as Avatar will even get partially banned on the grounds that it is too successful and might impact the domestic market (seriously). Of course, none of this explains why Back to the Future would get banned in China some 26 years after its release.
The answer to that question has to do with a national decree the Chinese government handed down in which they informed filmmakers everywhere that the popular trend of making movies that dealt with time travel had to cease immediately. Why? Apparently, the government felt that the very concept of time travel was disrespectful to history. In the case of Back to the Future III, we might agree with them, but preventing a country from watching the original 1985 classic by Robert Zemeckis? What happened to you China? You used to be cool.
What other mind-numbingly dumb movie controversies have melted your brain at one time or another? Let us know in the comments.
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