Though movies are considered a form of entertainment, certain films have caused governments to ban them from being viewed by citizens.
People can feel inclined to watch a film for various reasons: because they love its director, its cast, the genre, because it was recommended, et cetera. But many people have this peculiar curiosity inside them that makes them want to watch a specific film for another reason: because it has been censored or outright banned.
There is this inclination inside us that tells us if we are not supposed to watch something, then it must be worth watching (that is obviously not always true). The films on this list were outlawed for many years and half remain like that to this day.
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Ben-Hur (Still Banned)
We kick off the list with what probably comes as a surprise, but this famous epic was banned upon release (1959) in China (still under the regime of Mao Zedong at the time) due to apparently “contain[ing] propaganda of superstitious beliefs, namely Christianity”; the ban has not been lifted ever since. Whether they forgot or simply never changed their minds is anyone’s guess. The film is about the tragic life-story of a Jewish nobleman, Judah Ben-Hur, after he is betrayed by his Roman friend Messala and sold into slavery. Judah swears to take revenge and save his imprisoned family.
A Clockwork Orange (Bans Lifted)
This famous (or infamous) Stanley Kubrick masterpiece was initially banned in Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Singapore, and South Korea for reasons that included its explicit violence and the apparent unhinged sexual culture of the film’s world.
The protagonist Alex is fascinated by what he calls “ultra-violence” and by committing acts of theft; he is sent to prison for rape and murder where he volunteers to take part in an experiment for the "Ludovico Technique": a method of psychoemotional coercion that renders the subject physically unable to commit crimes. The film explores the issues of nature vs. nurture, society’s complicity in crime, the choice to do good vs. the literal inability to do evil et cetera.
A Serbian Film (Still Banned)
If you have heard the reputation of this film and what it contains, then you will probably think people were right to ban it. The film remains banned in Australia, New Zealand, Norway, China, Ireland, and Spain (to name some). So… this movie by Serbian director Srđan Spasojević is about an aging and semi-retired porn star, Miloš, who -worried about his family’s financial situation- is persuaded by a friend to participate in an “artistic” porn movie. He reluctantly accepts and starts to shoot, only to realise that he is deep into something far more depraved and sinister than he had realised.
Mad Max (Bans Lifted)
This beloved dystopian action classic (the original 1979 one) was banned for a long time in Sweden and New Zealand due to its explicit violence and some gore. In a dystopian AU Australia, young Max Rockatansky (he’s got “rock” right there in the name; portrayed by Mel Gibson), the top pursuit man of the Main Force Patrol (MFP), goes after and kills an elite member of a motorbike gang, starting a lethal vendetta with the latter’s gang.
Currently the film holds a 90% Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, where it is praised for its impressive stunts and lively direction.
The Last Temptation Of Christ (Still Banned)
This now classic film, based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, is still banned in the Philippines, Chile, and Singapore (initially also in Greece, parts of the USA, and Argentina). This epic religious drama by Martin Scorsese presents an alternative narrative to that of the Bible about the life of Christ, depicting him as a man with human doubts and desires.
His “last temptation” is presented to him while on the cross when he sees the life he could have as not the son of God, but as a common mortal man with love, children, and a long life.
Battleship Potemkin (Bans Lifted)
This film was kind of banned retroactively: a Russian film initially released in 1925, it was banned in Germany from 1933 to 1945 (why was that period significant again?). The film was not only banned because it was Russian (Communism and Nazism were—and remain—on extreme opposite sides), but specifically because it was seen as supportive and inspiring of Marxism. The plot starts in June 1905 when the crew of the ship Potemkin of the Imperial Russian Navy rebel against their tyrannical commanding officers in the midst of the 1905 revolution (not related to the 1917 ones).
I Spit On Your Grave (Still Banned)
It is safe to say that up to a degree this rape and revenge exploitation film (the original of the franchise) deserved being banned. The film remains banned in China, Iceland, Ireland, parts of Canada, Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia.
It tells the story of a New York based writer, Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton), who rents a cottage in Kent, Connecticut, to finish her book and is subsequently humiliated and sexually abused by a group of local men. Afterwards, in her mentally deranged and angered state, she hunts down the men one by one.
All Quiet On The Western Front (Bans Lifted)
And another ban that took a while, this film by Lewis Milestone was released in 1929 but was banned in Germany from 1933 to 1945 (there is an obvious pattern here). This is an American film, but adapted from the homonymous novel of German author Erich Maria Remarque. It narrates the tale of some young German schoolboys that, impressed by the impassioned speech of their teacher, enlist for World War I. However, their dreams of glory on the battlefield are quickly shattered when they come upon the true brutal and unforgiving nature of war. The film was considered anti-German and Remarque’s books were often burned during the Nazi regime.
The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (Still Banned)
The notoriety of this film has elevated it to somewhat of a cult status, but if you are easily grossed out, then beware… this one is not for you. The film remains banned in Brazil, the Philippines, and Malaysia, while in Indonesia one has to be 21+ to watch it.
The film tells the story of two tourists in Germany (tourism, one of the most dangerous movie activities) that are abducted by mad scientist Josef Heiter, a supposedly renowned expert at separating Siamese twins. However, his dream is not to separate, but to join people by making a chain of people that share one digestive system: a human centipede…
In The Realm Of The Senses (Bans Lifted)
This French-Japanese art film by Nagisa Oshima was banned in Belgium from its release (1976) till 1994. The film also initially faced heavy censorship in Japan (it was almost not made), the USA, and Canada (till 1991). It tells the story of the tumultuous erotic relationship between Sada Abe (maid in a hotel and former prostitute) and Kichizo Ishida (the hotel’s owner). The two enter an obsessive affair, indulging in more and more extreme sexual experiments. The film was generally praised by critics, in spite of its notoriety; with a score of 86%, Rotten tomatoes calls it “fearlessly provocative.”
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