One person's masterpiece is another's obscenity. Art is subjective, and movies have a way of drumming up conversation and controversy in a way paintings, sculptures, and music never could. If you're not convinced, just look at the seemingly endless list of films that have been banned around the world for their content, subject matter, and even date of release. Many of history's most famous banned movies were condemned to the chopping block in the wake of religious outrage while others went too far in challenging political leaders or movements. However, some seem to be banned for no good reason at all.
While many of the films on this list are campy B-rated movies that were made with the sole intention of stoking outrage and controversy, others are now considered motion picture classics. In fact, some of these banned movies are among the most successful films in history, but they also may have collided with their political contemporaries.
Here are 30 of the best, worst, most famous, and most infamous movies that have been banned around the world.
"The Great Dictator" was the biggest hit of Charlie Chaplin's career in terms of box office receipts. The film, which lampoons Adolf Hitler, is widely considered to be one of Chaplin's greatest achievements. Hitler, apparently, did not agree. The fascist dictator banned the movie in Germany and all Nazi-occupied countries. However, Hitler's curiosity clearly got the better of him when he secured a copy of the film and screened it twice for private audiences.
Three decades before Martin Scorsese adapted "The Last Temptation of Christ" into a controversial film, author Nikos Kazantzakis' 1955 novel of the same name was banned by both the Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church, the latter of which excommunicated the author. When the movie, which portrays Jesus Christ as conflicted, and interested in sex and marriage, was released in 1988, Christian groups across America and the world boycotted and protested the film. Multiple theater chains refused to play the film in nearly 4,000 theaters, and Blockbuster Video declined to carry the film in its stores.
In 1999, audiences in the United Kingdom were finally allowed to purchase "The Exorcist" on video. Released in 1974 in the United States, the film was met with both critical praise and unmitigated disgust. The movie was legal in Great Britain until 1984, when the British government reclassified the film as dangerous and forbade its sale for a decade and a half.
As one of the most beloved family films in American history, it's hard to imagine that Steven Spielberg's "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" could trigger a ban. However, the Swedish Board of Film Censorship did exactly that for children under 11, charging the film about a lovable and lost alien with portraying "adults as enemies of children."
Although Cartman, Kenny, and the gang are the main stars of "South Park," Saddam Hussein was a frequently recurring character in both the TV series and the movie. The Iraqi dictator banned the animated television show and the feature film "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut" for its less-than-flattering portrayal of Hussein.
Before it was even released in theaters, 2014's "Noah" starring Russell Crowe as a biblical prophet was banned across the Middle East for its central plot line. Sharia law forbids the portrayal of any of "Allah's prophets." Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and several other Sharia-practicing countries condemned the movie and prohibited its citizens from seeing it.
Graphic, disturbing, and brimming with sadistic violence, rape-revenge cult classic "I Spit on Your Grave" stars the Irish-American granddaughter of Hollywood icon Buster Keaton. However, family legacy and national heritage were not enough to win over the censors in Ireland. Not only did Ireland ban the original 1978 theatrical version, but when an update was re-released in 2010, the country banned that as well.
Although it's now considered a classic that was ahead of its time, the 1925 Soviet propaganda film "Battleship Potemkin" was viewed as dangerous and subversive in many European countries. Germany banned it in 1933. France banned and destroyed many copies of the film. While Great Britain lifted the ban on the film, it didn’t do so until 1954. Even the U.S. banned the film out of fear that it gave instructions to sailors on how to conduct a successful mutiny.
Fans of the "Rambo" franchise know that Sylvester Stallone's iconic character John Rambo returns to Vietnam to rescue POWs in the second installment in 1985. India banned the film for allegedly insulting the Vietnamese and for portraying the Soviet Union—one of India's major arms suppliers at the time—in a bad light. Vietnam also banned the movie.
Nearly 25 years after Vietnam banned "First Blood: Part 2," Sylvester Stallone returned to play one of his most famous characters in “Rambo,” a fourth installment of the "Rambo" franchise. This time, Vietnam allowed its citizens to see the film. However, Myanmar, where the movie’s plot takes place, wasn’t so tolerant, and the country's controversial government was quick to ban it.
Like so many banned films that are now considered classics, 1979’s British biblical spoof "Monty Python's Life of Brian" found itself in the crosshairs of the censors due to accusations of religious blasphemy. For nearly 30 years until the ban was lifted in 2008, the film was banned or given an X-rating in localities across Great Britain.
One of the most controversial and consequential films in history, D.W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation" glorified the Ku Klux Klan as heroes and portrayed black Americans as lazy, shiftless, sex-crazed criminal vagrants. Civil rights organizations fought to get the film banned. Their efforts were largely in vain, but not in Boston, which was one of several cities to blacklist the film.
When "Wonder Woman" was released in 2017, the film was a critical and commercial hit. However, several Arab-majority nations, including Qatar and Jordan, banned the film due to their objections over its leading lady, Gal Gadot. It wasn't because she was scantily clad or that she engaged in violence in the movie. The objection was that Gadot is an Israeli who, like most Israeli citizens, had served in the Israel Defense Forces.
1974's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is probably more closely associated with blood, guts, and gore in movies than any film ever made. Horror fans made it a cult classic, but not before governments around the world banned it from theaters, including those of Norway, Sweden, Malaysia, Iceland, Ireland, Chile, Brazil, Singapore, and West Germany.
Erotic blockbuster "50 Shades of Grey" titillated audiences around the world—at least for those who were allowed to see it. The movie was banned in India, whose censors had recently come under fire for muting the word "lesbian" in a Bollywood film, even after studios agreed to cut nudity out of the movie. Malaysia, Kenya, and Indonesia beat India to the punch in allowing exactly zero shades of the film to be seen in their own countries.
Dan Brown's best-selling novel “The Da Vinci Code” spawned a wildly successful movie series starring Tom Hanks. However, audiences in Pakistan and much of India never saw the novel's namesake film, thanks to bans imposed by the neighboring countries' governments claiming the film insulted their Christian minority population.
When the classic 1980s film "Ghostbusters" got a reboot with an all-female lead cast, the remake was banned from theaters in the lucrative Chinese market. Censors forbade audiences from seeing the film because it portrayed supernatural events and, according to the Chinese government, promoted the occult.
Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" is one of the most successful film franchises in history, but "Dead Man's Chest" got the same treatment in China as "Ghostbusters," largely for the same reasons. The film's depiction of cannibalistic ghouls earned the film a total ban from Chinese censors.
Another movie to fall under the censors' sword in China, the world's second-largest movie market, was 2016's "Deadpool." The Ryan Reynolds film was banned for all the reasons that won over its American audience: strong language, violence, and nudity.
"Dirty Harry” stars Clint Eastwood as a renegade cop who doesn't always play by the rules, but never fails to get the job done—as long as that job isn't in Finland. The Nordic nation banned the film for more than a year.
Widely considered to be history's defining Holocaust film, Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List" is a story of redemption and bravery—depending on who you ask. Countries throughout the Muslim world like Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, banned "Schindler's List" in 1994 as Jewish propaganda.
In 2007, Time reported that all of Tehran was outraged by the Sparta-Persia fantasy film "300," despite not having seen it. Iran banned the film, citing its negative portrayal of the ancient Persian army and king.
In 2013, Iran banned another American movie, which was based on a much more recent episode than that which stoked Iranian ire in "300." The banned movie was "Argo," which told the story of the 1979 American Embassy hostage crisis. However, the movie failed to tell the tale in a way the Iranian government would have preferred. Not only did Iran ban the movie, the country also commissioned the making of its own movie to tackle the subject from the Iranian perspective.
"American Sniper," directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper as a legendary Navy Seal sniper in Iraq, earned both critical and commercial success in the United States. In Iraq, however, the population—and censors—were far less impressed with the story of a man who became famous by killing more than 150 Iraqis. The movie was banned as an insult to the country.
Few Western countries ban more movies than Ireland, which found enough wrong with Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers" to prohibit its citizens from seeing the film. Irish authorities banned the film, which explored violence and the impact of the media, without giving a reason.
Shortly after the founding of Israel in 1947, "Oliver Twist" debuted in theaters—but not in the newly minted Jewish state. The Charles Dickens tale featured a hideous villain named Fagin, whose entire essence was an amalgamation of many of the most enduring and destructive Jewish stereotypes. After a lengthy debate among critics and proponents of a ban, Israel prohibited theaters from showing the film.
The greed, sex, and drugs riddled throughout Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" proved too much for censors around the world. Countries like India cut scenes and censored content. Other countries, like Malaysia and Nepal, banned it outright.
In 2004, Michael Moore released a scathing documentary on the Bush administration's handling of 9/11 called "Fahrenheit 9/11." However, it was never seen in the tiny oil-rich nation of Kuwait. The government there banned it as offensive to the Saudi Royal Family and critical of the first Gulf War.
The reclusive and isolated nation of North Korea is not known for embracing Western culture. It's no surprise, then, that the country would ban an American movie, which is exactly what its repressive government did when disaster flick "2012" hit theaters. However, the ban had nothing to do with the film’s content. The 2009 science fiction film was a no-go because 2012 was the 100-year anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea.
In a discussion about banned movies, it is impossible not to mention "Cannibal Holocaust." The movie, which "crossed every line it could reach," according to Rolling Stone, is an orgy of violence, sex, sadism, animal abuse, and ritual sacrifice. It was banned in 50 countries and its Italian director was charged with obscenity.