They say that from controversy comes great art.
Controversial films have long been a source of both criticism and fascination, pushing cultural boundaries while allowing filmmakers to express their perspectives in challenging ways. But not all controversial films have been welcomed with open arms – some have been banned outright in the United States for being too extreme or offensive to the general public.
While these bans raise important questions about artistic censorship and freedom of expression, they also provide us with an opportunity to peek into the dark corners of cinema that we wouldn’t normally get otherwise.
So let’s take a look at some of history’s most talked-about banned movies from around the world—from graphic horror films to coming-of-age flicks that depicted explicit sexuality—and explore how they challenge our beliefs while illuminating critical contemporary issues.
Facts Verse Presents: Controversial Movies That Are BANNED in the United States
Cannibal Holocaust – 1980
Cannibal Holocaust is a fictional film that has been banned in multiple countries due to its controversial content and has been mired in scandal since its release. It follows an anthropologist as he ventures into the Rainforest of South America to uncover the truth about a team of four missing filmmakers. The movie featured footage that many believed to be genuine, leading to allegations that it was an actual snuff film.
Cannibal Holocaust is considered one of the most banned and controversial films on record, shocking viewers with graphic violence and imagery while igniting a heated debate among film critics. Despite the harsh criticisms, many consider it an effective piece of filmmaking that puts a spotlight on issues such as human rights and colonialism.
Cannibal Holocaust was also criticized for it’s gratuitous depictions of animal cruelty, and according to a report by SlashFilm, a few of the people involved in it’s production ended up receiving suspended sentences in Italy after being convicted of violence and obscenity charges.
Pink Flamingos – 1972
The cult classic film, “Pink Flamingos”, by “Hairspray” director John Waters, has long been banned in several countries, including at one time America, due to its controversial and scandalous portrayal of “perverse” sexual acts that depicted homosexual and heterosexual relations as well as numerous scenes of full-frontal nudity.
However, despite this initially discouraging response, the film remains a testament to honest artistic expression. It also helped launch the underground stardom of the legendary drag queen and actress Divine. The film dives deep into the world of underground subcultures, highlighting aspects of taboos that society tries to ignore. To this day, it is remembered as a timeless piece of banned cinema that was arguably ahead of its time.
I Am Curious – 1967
The banned movie “I Am Curious” created a massive stir in its day. When it was released, it caused quite a scandal and shocked audiences.
The film was all about the sexual awakening of a young girl. In the state of Massachusetts, it ended up getting banned for being a “pornographic” film. The movie received it’s ‘obscene’ label for showing several scenes that depicted explicit sexual acts and nudity, including one scene that showed the young actress kissing an actor’s flaccid member.
Despite the controversy, it remains a popular film that is remembered for breaking boundaries in regard to sexual expression, free speech, and censorship. The movie started a new era of films that pushed the limits on what could be discussed and depicted openly and freely. To this day, the movie retains its iconic place in cinema due to the pivotal role it played in banned movies and films. That said, you probably shouldn’t watch it as there’s simply no understating just how awful the sexual exploitation of minors is.
The Last Temptation of Christ – 1988
The Last Temptation of Christ is a religious drama directed by Martin Scorsese that stirred up controversy among Christian viewers. Viewers were dismayed at the scandalous premise of the film, which follows Jesus, portrayed by William Dafoe, in his struggle with his own temptations and mortality.
The movie included scenes that involved Christ fantasizing about engaging in sexual activities. Obviously, this was met with wildly mixed responses from audience members. Many went as far to claim that the film was blasphemous, while others simply saw it as an artistic re-imagining of the Passion story.
Despite being banned in numerous regions including parts of the US, and being barred from entering film competitions, it was hailed as a remarkable piece of filmmaking when released to theatres. Even today it remains an example of one of the most controversial films ever created. Though scorned by many, its impact on cinema cannot be denied.
Monty Python’s The Life Of Brian – 1970
Monty Python’s Life Of Brian is one of the most banned movies in film history. At its time of release, it caused a great deal of controversy and scandal due to its irreverent take on religion. The movie’s mocking nature of faith was so shocking to audiences that its initial showing at an American theater drew protests by hundreds of people – making it the one of the first banned movies of the 1970s. Despite backlash, this classic comedy went on to become one of the Monty Python troupe’s most successful films, spawning both spin-off books and even a musical adaptation.
Haxan – 1922
Häxan is an early 20th-century Swedish banned silent film that caused quite a stir back in the day and still stands as a classic horror film today. Written and directed by Benjamin Christensen, the film was banned in many countries due to its controversial, albeit revolutionary, blend of documentary footage and horror themes that touched on topics like witchcraft and demons. The film proposed that the witch hunts of the 15th century may have stemmed from misunderstandings of mental illness triggered by mass hysteria.
Though it faced much controversy and scandal due to its subject matter when it was first released, Häxan has since cemented itself in history as one of the most influential banned films ever created. To this day, many individuals praise it for its subtle terror, raw emotion, and ability to captivate audiences.
Scarface – 1932
The original Scarface has been banned in multiple regions since its release, making it one of the most controversial films of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Despite a cycle of bans and re-releases throughout different nations, this classic movie stands firm as a sustained success in the medium of film.
The movie would be banned for containing “excessive violence,” and was met with scandal not only due to its controversial content but also its perceived moral relativity towards gangsters. Scarface pushed boundaries and explored crime scenes typically untold, giving this epic an ever-lasting mark on cinema’s history.
Despite being banned, the film was praised for its sound and cinematography. Reportedly it was a turning point for the gangster film genre, influencing subsequent films of this type. Scarface has left an ongoing impression on popular culture to date, with many people still recognizing the iconic logos and posters associated with the movie years later.
Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story – 1981
This early-80s film is arguably one of the more famous banned movies in history. Despite being banned and shrouded in controversy, it has since become a classic film and beloved tribute to late star.
Directed by legendary director Todd Haynes, best known for his work on I’m Not There and Far From Heaven, this 48-minute biographical tragedy paints an honest portrait of The Carpenters singer Karen Carpenter’s life, fame and downward spiral, exploring themes such as her relationship with her mom and battle with anorexia.
The film was shown at many film festivals but immediately after Richard Carpenter saw it, he objected to the insinuation that it made about his sexual orientation as well as how it shed a bad light on his family. He went on to argue that Haynes had never obtained the music licenses for the film and that legal battle ended up getting the movie banned.
The Tin Drum – 1979
The Tin Drum, a film based on the 1959 novel of the same name by Günter Grass, stirred up quite a bit of controversy when it was released in 1979. Despite being banned in several states and countries due to explicit content, the film still managed to become one of the most successful German films ever made.
Set in Poland in the 1920s, the movie follows a young boy named Oskar who begins exhibiting strange abilities after being gifted a Tin Drum on his third birthday. The actor who played Oskar, David Bennet, was just 11 years old at the time of the film’s production. In one scene he appeared alongside a 24-year-old actress in a sexually provocative situation.
Due to David’s young age and the scandalous content of that scene, the movie was first banned in Oklahoma County where reportedly all copies were confiscation. Not only that, but a man that had rented the film even faced prosecution.
The Profit – 2001
“The Profit” is one of the more controversial banned movies in recent history, drawing intrigue and interest through years of scandal surrounding the film. This critically-lauded film was based upon the life of Scientology creator L. Ron Hubbard and is essentially a parody about a cult leader who fleeces his followers.
Despite not mentioning Hubbard by name, The Profit tells the story of a charismatic business man’s unethical methods to generate significant profits while living in a society that looks at his actions with disdain. By using ridiculous tricks, he manages to con his disciples out of mountains of cash.
The Church of Scientology ended up securing an injunction against the film due to it’s similiarites to it’s leader, and distribution was subsequently blocked.
The Birth of a Nation – 1915
This silent film drama was initially lauded by critics thanks to its cinematic quality. It’s usually regarded as one of the landmark films of early cinema. That being said, it has been frequently described as one of the most racist Hollywood films of all time. Not only does it depict white actors in blackface, but it also depicts the KKK in a way that’s not only positive but downright heroic.
Set duting the American Civil War, following the story of two families, one Southern and one Northern, The Birth of the A Nation sparked an explosion of controversy, especially among Black Americans who protested it heavily after it’s release, calling for it’s ban so as to not incite senseless violence.
With that, we’ll go ahead and wrap this video up. We hope you’ve enjoyed checking out these controversial banned movies with us.
Which BANNED movie is your favorite, and can you think of any other film that has been heavily censored or banned that deserves a shoutout? Let us know in the comments, and as always, thanks for watching!