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17 Banned Films and What They Tell Us About the Power of Cinema

17 Banned Films and What They Tell Us About the Power of Cinema

“The Interview” (2014)

Why is a comedy starring James Franco and Seth Rogen at the top of the list? Because it is absurdly hilarious and equally terrifying to think that such a film could endanger world peace. Not only is this politically-charged bromantic comedy never reaching Pyongyang — hard to know if there are any theaters there anyway — but it also pushed Kim Jong-un’s kingdom to threaten “merciless” retaliation against the US. In all honesty, everyone should have expected the not-so-subtle Asian nation to do just that given the film’s premise. Certainly the team behind the film must be grateful for such a “flattering” reaction. The story follows the two friends, playing pop culture journalists, who are recruited by the CIA to assassinate none on other than North Korea’s supreme leader. Outraged, the country’s UN ambassador called the production of “The Interview” an “act of war,” which are strong words by anyone’s standards. Especially when they refer to a Hollywood flick that, at the time, hadn’t even been released. On the other hand, when your movie manages to ignite the possibility of nuclear warfare, then you know your PR team has done well. By that, of course, we mean the uncredited PR team: The North Korean government.

“Cannibal Holocaust” (1980)

For a 34-year-old film, this found-footage-pioneer still holds up as one of the most controversial and morally questionable horror spectacles ever created. Attempting to spark interest in his film, Italian director Ruggero Deodato went to great lengths to conceal as much information on the production as to make audiences believe it was a real documentary. By contractually forbidding his actors to appear on any visual media for a year after the release, he pretended to give the impression that the four Americans who travel to South America to shoot an ethnographic film about indigenous people were actually viciously murdered and devoured by the cannibal tribes. Deodato’s innovative and realistic filmmaking style, the convincing special effects and other marketing trickery worked so well that he ended up being accused of making a snuff film in which his cast were the victims. Eventually he was able to prove it was also make-believe by bringing his actors out of hiding. However, the animal cruelty shown in the film was actually real and earned him some punishment. Upon its original release, “Cannibal Holocaust” was banned in over 50 countries, today remains unavailable in several territories. Its graphic sequences made it very difficult for many to see the sophisticated commentary the Western notion of what is means to be civilized. Eli Roth’s recent feature, “The Green Inferno” is, evidently, heavily inspired by the sickening classic.

“A Serbian Film” (2010)

In the dark passages of brutally violent and exploitative entertainment there are gore porn movies and then there is “A Serbian Film,” a film so senselessly abhorrent it has become, by far, the most infamous production in recent cinematic history. Described by its director as both a statement about the post-war psyche of the Serbian population and a parody on the country’s film industry, the shock-horror production revolves around a retired porn star forced to commit the most depraved sexually violent and murderous acts in order to save his family’s life. Outright banned in almost a dozen countries including Spain, Norway, Australia and New Zealand, and released with major edits in others like the U.K, Germany and the U.S, “A Serbian Film” has achieved an unsettling cult status amongst horror fans. Viewing the film serves more to gain bragging rights for having endured the heinous collection of blood-splattered sequences than to provide any revelatory insight on the Balkan state. Do not look for it on Netflix, the company refuses to carry it both digitally and in its physical version.

“Last Tango in Paris” (1972)

One of Bertolucci’s finest films became the subject of fierce censorship based on what was considered by authorities as obscene images that masked “self-serving pornography as art.” But the film’s claim to notoriety was gestating long before its release. Erratic star Marlon Brando and French newcomer Maria Schneider both accused the Italian auteur of emotionally raping and manipulating them. According to the actress, the scandalous sex scene near the end of the film was not part of the original screenplay about a grieving American man falling primitively in love with a young Parisian woman. She claims to having found out about such sequence when it was already being filmed, which made her feel humiliated and betrayed. Critically the film was praised almost unanimously making it a financial success as well. In Italy, however, the Supreme Court seized all copies of the film, burned them, banned its exhibition for over a decade, and painted Bertolucci as a criminal. Its raw eroticism also caused “Last Tango in Paris” to be banned in countries like Chile, Portugal, South Korea, and parts of Canada.

“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974)

Deranged power tool aficionado Leatherface has a special place in the hearts of numerous horror fans, who have turned “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” into a highly profitable franchise for the past four decades. In 1974, Tobe Hooper’s original film became a cultural phenomenon that announced itself as a nightmarish tale based on true events. While loosely inspired by serial Ed Gein, this claim was for the most part false, but it did enhance the unnerving allure of the film. Although the idea of a group of teenagers being victimized by a sadistic murderer and his family for the sake of collecting keepsakes made out of flesh sounds extremely violent, Hooper’s approach was surprisingly not gory or overly graphic. Aware of this, he wrongly believed the MPAA would grant him a PG rating. Evidently, the level of psychopathic behavior displayed in his slasher magnus opus was more suited for adult viewing. At the time, Brazil, Germany, Iceland, France, Singapore, the U.K and other governments refused to allowed their citizens to watch it. Today it is regarded by some as the one of the greatest horror films ever made, how is that for a film that cost somewhere around $300,000. 

“The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988) 

It was obvious that portraying Jesus as a man with sexual desires and doubts about his own holiness would cause some people to lose their cool. Based upon the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, the film by legendary Martin Scorsese starred Willem Dafoe in the title role and Barbara Hershey as Mary Magdalene. In this fictional iteration, the pair is shown engaging in carnal pleasures and living a seemingly normal life away from what the Gospels dictate. Incendiary demonstrations against Marty’s religious reinterpretation came quickly. Thousands of protestors affiliated with numerous Christian organizations succeeded at forcing major theater chains not to screen the film, which served as a partial ban across the U.S. One of their leaders even offered to buy the negatives from Universal in order to destroy them. Nevertheless, the ferocious attacks the film received in California and other part of the country, faint in comparison to the violent reaction in France. During a screening of the film, a Christian fundamentalist group entered the Saint Michel Theater in Paris and launched Molotov cocktails into the crowd injuring about a dozen people and severely damaging the building. Traditionally Catholic nations like Mexico, Argentina and Chile condemned the film for over 15 years. In the Philippines and Singapore, “The Last Temptation of Christ” remains outright banned. 

”Cruising” (1980)

After receiving the stigmatizing X rating from the MPAA, director William Friedkin (“The French Connection”) was forced to cut around 40 minutes of the most sexually explicit material in his homosexual-themed psychological thriller “Cruising.” The film follows Al Pacino as detective Steve Burns, who goes undercover and immerses himself in the underworld of leather bars and S&M clubs to uncover the identity of a serial killer targeting this community. Controversy aroused long before the release with several outraged groups within the gay community protesting at several locations throughout NYC where the film was being shot. Stating that the film promoted violence by depicting homosexuality as a deviant lifestyle, furious protesters attempted to disrupt the production of what they considered a homophobic attack. On the mythical deleted footage Friedkin has mentioned he believes it was destroyed at United Artists, and that it mostly included graphic sexual acts that might have clarified the ambiguity of Pacino’s character. Departing from such intriguing occurrence, James Franco and Travis Matthews set to make an experimental reimagining of those missing images in their film “Interior. Leather Bar.” Added to the polemical reception at home, the film was banned in diverse countries such as Finland, Iran and South Africa. 

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How about ‘Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom’?


@daniella, while I mostly agree that the 40 minute claim is over the top, I disagree with your reasoning here. For one thing no one is suggesting it was a full forty minute block of sex, but forty minutes worth of such scenes, e.g. a minute here and there in the leather bar scenes, which are already pretty explicit, maybe quite a few minutes in that scene where the cops raid pacino’s liason too early. I can certainly believe full 5-10 minute sequences involving pacino in gay sex scenes were shot, as the film is waaay too ambiguous – to the point that its less an ambiguity and more a total lack – as to how deeply he identifies with the scene to the extent that the twists in the final cut of the film fall flat. pacino’s character is absurdly blank because of the lack of such scenes – whether he ends up being into it or not its important to have a bit more info! So id suggest 15-20 mins were cut at most.

Also this was the 70s New Hollywood where directors were given a lot of free reign to make whatever they wanted, hence a film like Cruising being greenlit at all, it was only after Heavens Gate and One More from the Heart went massively overbudget and failed at the box office that the studios went all out on the blockbuster route and reclaimed full control (the work of george lucas and spielberg in the late 70s paving the way for this)

Nathan Duke

My comment that your photo for ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ was from the wrong movie was deemed spammy.

Steven Millan

It’s pretty ironic upon how KEN PARK practically never had a U.S. release while the just-as-sexually explicit SHORTBUS received both a theatrical and DVD release. And plus,SALO:THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM is strangely missing from this list, and those cannibal clips are actually from the Other controversial cannibal film CANNIBAL FEROX,a.k.a.:MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY.


@Daniella Isaacs, then you probably don’t know what Hollywood is capable of. Did you ever hear about Greed ?


Nice article ! But Jean-Luc Godard isn’t from France as you write it but Switzerland.


Um, what about THE DEVILS?


I saw the movie Persepolis, i loved it. But the story is true about Marjane because it takes place during the Cold Wars, before and after. It wasn’t just the war between Russia and America but the anti-communist acts that lead many countries into revolution against their own governments. What i like about the film is that even though its a cartoon, the characters are more relatable and more colorful even if it is a black and white cartoon. That alone should say allot about the characters, even the bad ones who point guns at people and make threats. Now, the Iranian government denies that everything in the movie ever happened. I call bull shit on that because Iran isn’t a very friendly place, sure America had its share of foreign enemies, from the British from the revolutionary war, Germans and Japanese from World War 2, ext. but the enemy America fought the longest is the far east and middle-east. This movie is full of so much symbolism you would have to be ignorant not to see it. Thats extra for not paying attention to the story, the plot and everyone’s personality and how everyone reacts to change in the public or talk of war. I enjoy this movie and i’ll watch it a hundred times when i feel like i need some closure. To be honest, i feel sorry for anyone who hasn’t watched this movie once.


A movie that should be added to the "banned" list is "The Killer Inside Me" because I was awaken at 2:30 a.m. Saturday morning to the sound of Casey Affleck pounding a woman’s ace until she either died or passed out…I’m not sure which one because I was so disturbed that I had to turn the channel. I did not take the time to see the title of the movie at that hour, but I was still so disturbed by this scene that I did a Google search today and finally found it and was compelled to share my thoughts. Posting comments is not my thing, but I am extremely disturbed that the director felt it was ok to include such a graphic scene. What is wrong with this world???


No one ever thinks of short bus!! Banned in most theatres at its release.


Screw you! Most of this films suck? "The power of film would be to influence people and society in a certain direction" no it’s not, films aren’t educational lessons or manipulating propaganda messages, films are experiences ART and it should affect the viewer. So what now? According to you every film must have an inspirational message? Persepolis, Irreversible, The Texas Chain saw(1974), Brokeback Mountain? How do this films suck? Eh? Besides films don’t actually change the world, they are about personal experience.

Natasha Fubi

It would be great to start the list from last to first. Going from greatest to the mediocre is a weird way to do a list.
Reading it backwards, its a great list. A Serbian Film belongs in number 2, though. Cannibal Holocaust’s violence was gory, nasty and all that, but content and subject matter make it a more horrifying film. Whereas Cannibal’s ban was lifted in many places, Serbian’s will be lifted after we are all dead.


Cannibal Holocaust animal scenes werent bad at all, killing a big huge spider? That to me is petty. The other things that were done in the movie made my mouth drop. Its a keeper, check out Serbian Film, some F’d up scenes….


most of these films suck,they don’t really have much of a redeeming quality to them.I don’t see how these examples are of the power of film.The power of film would be to influence people and society in a certain direction

Luis j. Cruz

What about The french film "The Lovers"…?


After reading about the film on many people’s personal blogs I think the main reason this was banned was that there is a child actof in the film and it felt very disturbing for many to not be able to tell if the child actually was in some vulgar scenes or edited in.


And what of CALIGULA?


You can find Cannibal Holocaust and A Serbian Film at (only for mobile devices). You’re welcome!

Jim Kong Un

Is Indiewire contractually obligated to mention James effin’ Franco in every article?

Please, gods, make the New York bright and Franco-free!


It’s not unusual at all for large amounts of film to be cut from a finished cut. Countless director’s cuts are proof of this. And sometimes the footage is lost forever. Going back to Von Stroheim’s Greed, or John Huston’s The Red Badge of Courage. On another note, this appears to be another Indiewire article where the editor was hitting the gin before going to work.


First things first. There is not a slightest hint that this is a political allegory or anything of the kind. The film is utter rubbish. Do some other films justice and don’t put it in the same boat. Pornography and horror aspect of it aside, it is just annoyingly weird with a stupid plotline and a fair share of bad acting. Don’t bother.


do people actually believe that bruno is a homophobic movie???
Its clearly a satire of homophobia as well as borat is.


Umm, A Clockwork Orange ANYONE? And Netflix wont show that but will show hard core sex scenes like in the Nympho films???


By now, this movie is probably not banned in Portugal, but since in 1972, we were still in a dictatorship, it’s no big surprise it was banned back then


Joe and Gary, "Cannibal Holocaust" IS available on Netflix. It is "A Serbian Film" that is not available on Netflix.


Uhm, I live in the Philippines and I bought a copy of "The Last Temptation of Christ" last year at the local video store.


Some of these mentions are kind of strange, considering how many more important, difficult or provocative films have had trouble with censors over the years, compared to tripe like 300 or Bruno. Where’s Salo, for starters?

Brian McInnis

‘Misuranistic’: Gay-hating

Brian McInnis

‘Homophobic’: Human-fearing


Have you actually seen Last Tango? I don’t know how anyone could find it erotic or pornographic. There is human debasement of a psychological and spiritual nature, and nudity, that’s all. While uneven, it is brilliant however.

Nathan Wardinski

Can anyone substantiate the controversy over BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN? I don’t recall much actual controversy (which is to say, people debating the merits of the movie or attempting to censor it). I’m sure the movie wasn’t popular with religious/social conservative audiences but there are lots of movies that fit that bill, In fact, the only mainstream controversy I recall was its loss at the Oscars.


Absolutely hated CRUISING. Awful film.


Netflix banned a Serbian film not holocaust. Read.


JOE, Cannibal holocaust actually brutalized animals during it’s shoot. So, to a certain extent, I understand how Netflix would keep it from being viewed, A LITTLE. Though, I am sure some netflix documentaries are just as bad, if not, worse.

Eric Kohn

This movie deserves to be banned. But not because of its content…

Eric Kohn

This movie really sticks with you. It’s only an allegory if you choose to read it that way, but considering its shock value, if you do look for the allegory, it certainly has staying power…


Love this movie.


Netflix bans the cannibal movie but has no problem showing Human Centipede, the original and the sequel both, among many other similarly nasty films. Thank you, Netflix, for your moral superiority. How about creating a system with a password that will prevent kids from seeing this nasty programming? Any kid who can access Netflix can instantly access anything in the catalog, whether it is rated or not. I can protect my kids via DirecTV with no problem, but Netflix has NOTHING.


Irreversible is an extremely important film. Tough watch but I’m glad I’ve seen it. FIlmmaking as pure artistry.

Daniella Isaacs

I don’t believe for a minute that CRUISING had 40 minutes of material that was cut after the film had been given an X rating. I know the director keeps saying that, but I call bullshit. Warner Bros. would never have allowed the money to be spent shooting that much footage knowing (or suspecting) it would have to be cut. Since we’re likely talking sex scenes, that would mean the police mystery plot of the film would come to a halt for FORTY MINUTES just so that the film can show of gay sex and SM. This was a Warner Bros. production costing millions of dollars, not Pasolini’s SALÒ or Bruce LaBruce’s RASPBERRY REICH. Director’s do make stuff up about their films. All the time. Let’s see the shooting script, shall we. Friedkin claims the material has mysteriously been "lost". Fine. Let’s see the shooting script and see if there are 40 pages of descriptions of sex or violence that didn’t make it into the final cut.

Karen Sargsyan

Amaizing list.Thank you.But are you sure that the film entered Cannes?It premered in Berlin if I’m not mistaken.

Ventilador de pedestal

Thanks for share I didn’t know most of this movies were banned

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