Cinema is now well over one hundred years old, and so is the phenomenon of censors banning films for various reasons. From political reasons to graphically violent and overly salacious scenes, countries across the globe have refused to allow films to play for myriad reasons, and it’s not likely to stop anytime soon.
1. Barbie (2023)
Barbie may have dominated the global box office in 2023, but it did so with little revenue from Algeria, Kuwait, Russia, or Vietnam. Algeria, Kuwait, and Russia banned the film for moral and cultural reasons, while Vietnam did not allow the movie to play due to a map that showed a contested area as belonging to China.
2. Oppenheimer (2023)
The other half of the “Barbenheimer” phenomenon didn’t fare any better in Russia. Deputy Culture Minister Andrei Malyshev argued that Barbie and Oppenheimer “do not meet the aims and objectives set out by the head of state to preserve and strengthen traditional Russian spiritual and moral values.”
3. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023)
Sometimes, minor details get films banned. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse was banned in the United Arab Emirates for the inclusion of a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it piece of decor in a character’s room that reads “Protect Trans Kids.” It’s a small detail, but the pro-trans message contrasts with the UAE’s extreme stances on gender conformity.
4. Top Gun: Maverick (2022)
Top Gun: Maverick re-affirmed many film fans’ faith in the legacy sequel and raked in over $1 billion at the global box office. But the film didn’t play in one of the biggest movie markets: China. The film was never released in the nation because of the inclusion of a Taiwanese patch on Tom Cruise’s jacket in the film, a symbol banned in China.
5. Minions: The Rise of Gru (2022)
Not even the beloved bright yellow banana-lovers are safe from censorship. Minions: The Rise of Gru was banned in Lebanon, most likely because of a nun wielding nunchucks. It may seem silly to many viewers, but Lebanese censors found the image offensive enough to keep the film from playing in the country.
6. Eternals (2021)
The superheroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe aren’t immune, either. Eternals features the franchise’s first gay couple and includes a kiss between the husbands, which led to a ban in several countries on the Persian Gulf where same-gender relationships are illegal.
7. Wonder Woman (2017)
One superhero of the DC Extended Universe has also faced bans in several Arab countries. Wonder Woman was banned in multiple countries for casting former Israeli Defense Forces soldier and vocal supporter of Israel’s military actions, Gal Gadot, in the role of the eponymous superhero.
8. The Great Dictator (1940)
Now a beloved classic, Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator was banned in several countries upon its release in 1940. It’s not hard to understand why the satire of Hitler, Mussolini, and the rise of fascism was banned in the countries he lampooned. It’s a little more challenging to understand why Ireland banned the film, but apparently, they were very dedicated to their neutrality.
9. Jojo Rabbit (2019)
“Funny Hitler” is a provocative concept and has remained so for the last 80 years. Almost 80 years after The Great Dictator, Taika Waititi offered up another satire of fascism and Hitler in Jojo Rabbit, which sees a young boy in Nazi Germany create an imaginary friend version of the dictator. The film was banned in Russia, where millions of people died during World War II.
10. Casablanca (1942)
Like The Great Dictator two years before, Ireland banned Casablanca because the government felt that the film would break their stated neutrality concerning fascist Germany. That’s right, one of the most famous and beloved romance films of all time was banned for portraying Nazis as bad guys.
11. Apocalypse Now (1979)
Apocalypse Now is one of the best Vietnam War movies and one of Francis Ford Coppola’s best films. But it was banned for years in South Korea during the dictatorship of Park Chung-hee, who presumably held the film out of the country for its explicit anti-war stance.
12. Borat (2006)
The first Borat film, which sees the eponymous journalist character engage in a series of uncomfortable interviews and a gross-out naked fight, was banned in several countries in the Middle East, including Dubai where one censor called it “vile, gross and extremely ridiculous.” The film was also banned in Kazakhstan, the country from which the fictitious character hails, upon its release. But more than a decade later, the nation used the character’s catchphrase in a tourism ad.
13. Brüno (2009)
Sacha Baron Cohen, the creator of Borat, didn’t take long to make a film with another one of his characters: the gay Austrian fashion reporter Brüno. Like Borat, Brüno sees its eponymous character engage in interviews under false pretenses and various very, let’s say, “revealing” antics — antics that got the film banned in several countries, including Ukraine and Malaysia.
14. Zoolander (2001)
Zoolander is another movie about the fashion world that was banned in Malaysia, but the reason for its ban is much more apparent. A key plot point in the film is the attempted assassination of the prime minister of Malaysia, something the country wasn’t comfortable having a comedy depict as lighthearted.
15. Some Like it Hot (1959)
The United States may be “the land of the free,” but film censors nationwide have a significant track record of banning films. One such film was Some Like It Hot, which follows cross-dressing musicians who pretend to be women to join a band, a premise that censors in Kansas found “too disturbing.”
16. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)
South Park has always courted controversy, so it’s no surprise that the movie spawned from the show found itself in hot water. The film was banned in Iraq by then-president Saddam Hussein, most likely because a decent amount of the movie centers on a gay relationship between him and Satan — yes the Satan.
17. Shaolin Soccer (2001)
Unlike South Park, Shaolin Soccer wasn’t made to provoke. The film is about a monk who unites his brothers to use their superhuman abilities to play soccer. It’s a lighthearted and silly comedy. But that lighthearted silliness was exactly the problem in China, where the film was banned for making “too much fun of football,” according to a censor. It’s likely that the timing of the film’s release, just a year before China would make its debut in the World Cup, had something to do with the censors taking the sport so seriously.
18. Back to the Future (1985)
Banning a film for featuring time travel stands alongside banning a movie for making too much fun of soccer in China’s censorship history as one of the funniest reasons a film couldn’t play in the country. In 2011, the Chinese government banned media featuring time travel because it treats “serious history in a frivolous way.” One of the most famous victims of the ban was the beloved time-travel classic Back to the Future.
19. The Simpsons Movie (2007)
Like the South Park movie before it, the cinematic adventure of The Simpsons was also banned from appearing in theaters. But unlike the Iraqi ban on Bigger, Longer & Uncut, which took issue with a specific plot point, The Simpsons Movie was banned in Myanmar because of the significant use of yellow and red, the colors of a rebel organization’s flag.
20. Abominable (2019)
Barbie isn’t the only movie banned by Vietnam for its maps of the South China Sea. In 2019, the children’s film Abominable about a Yeti and a teenage girl’s adventure was also banned in the country for including a map that depicted contested territory as belonging to China.
21. Christopher Robin (2018)
While Vietnam bans some films for maps that favor China, China’s reasons for bans remain more abstract. The year before Abominable’s release, Christopher Robin, which tells the story of Winnie the Pooh’s human owner as an adult, was banned in China because Winnie the Pooh had become a symbol of those critical of Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping.
22. Fantasia (1940)
The same year that Ireland banned The Great Dictator for making fun of the very real German and Italian fascist movements, the country banned Disney’s fantastical animated anthology film Fantasia for reasons that remain unknown. The best guess is that the film’s depiction of magic upset some more conservative religious censors.
23. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial wasn’t outright banned like most of the films included on this list. But it was specifically banned for children under 12 in Sweden. It’s included here less because of the severity of the ban and more because the Swedish Board of Film Censorship at the time argued that the movie portrayed adults as the enemies of children, an apparently horrifying message the censors had to stop at all costs.
24. Shrek 2 (2004)
Upon release in 2004, Shrek 2 faced a ban in Israel for an off-color joke that was added specifically for the Hebrew translation of the film. It wasn’t just any off-color joke, though. The joke took specific aim at Israeli singer David Da'or and his masculinity, leading him to sue and for the film to be banned until the joke was changed.
25. Dirty Harry (1971)
Dirty Harry made a splash when it was released because of its depiction of a super tough cop on the trail of a serial killer. But it failed to make a splash in Finland, where the film was banned for its violence and unspecified mental health reasons, likely to do with the psychopathic killer.
26. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Censors ban most movies, but A Clockwork Orange, adapted from the novel of the same name by Anthony Burgess and featuring significant scenes of all types of violence, is perhaps the only movie to be banned by its creator. Filmmaker Stanley Kubrick did his best to ensure that the film no longer played in Britain after the press heavily criticized it, arguing it inspired copycat crimes.
27. The Last House on the Left (1972)
The United Kingdom was no stranger to banning films in the 1970s, whether at the filmmaker’s request or based on censors’ suggestions. The latter got Wes Craven’s debut feature, The Last House on the Left, banned from cinemas upon release and from home video years later. The English censors argued that the film, which tells the story of a mother and father who take revenge on the gang that violated and murdered their daughter, was “unsuitable” for audiences.
28. The Exorcist (1973)
The year after The Last House on the Left was barred from playing in cinemas in the UK, the censors there stopped William Friedkin’s The Exorcist from playing as well. While The Exorcist features significant scenes of violence, the film was also hugely controversial for its depiction of Catholic priests battling a demon possessing a young girl, which offended many Christians. There’s no doubt both had an impact on the film’s ban.
29. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Another horror classic that fell victim to UK censors in the early 1970s, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was banned initially upon its release in the country for its intense, if not precisely graphic, violence. The film premiered theatrically in the country more than 20 years after its release elsewhere.
30. Mad Max (1979)
Some bans come with disturbing backstories. George Miller’s first Mad Max film, which follows Mel Gibson’s Max on a quest for revenge in post-apocalyptic Australia, was banned in New Zealand because a scene in the movie in which a man is set on fire resembled the recent murder of a police officer by a gang.
31. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Few films are as infamous as Cannibal Holocaust. The film includes actual footage of several violent animal deaths, and its special effects were so believable that director Ruggero Deodato was arrested in his native Italy for murder and had to prove that his actors were still alive. Whether the actors survived or not, though, the film was banned in several countries for its extreme violence.
32. The Evil Dead (1981)
Sam Raimi may now be most famous for bringing Spider-Man to the big screen, but he started his career with one of the goriest horror movies ever made. The Evil Dead is now a beloved classic for its over-the-top violence. But on its release, the film was banned in several countries, including Britain, Germany, and Finland.
33. Evil Dead (2013)
It’s not often that both an original film and its remake more than 30 years later provoke the same level of response. But the 2013 remake of The Evil Dead, which drops the definite article, is even more bloodsoaked than the 1981 film and was banned in many of the same countries that banned the original decades earlier.
34. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Silent Night, Deadly Night wasn’t the first horror movie to place its killer in a Santa Claus costume, but it became the most notorious. The film was released in theaters in 1984 but met with such intense backlash from protestors and critics that it was pulled from U.S. theaters just a week after its release.
35. Hostel: Part II (2007)
As the ban on 2013’s Evil Dead shows, horror movies remain likely targets for bans even in the 21st century. Eli Roth’s Hostel: Part II includes a scene inspired by the myth of Elizabeth Bathory bathing in blood that censors in New Zealand found too salacious. They banned the film, arguing that the scene would be “injurious to the public good.”
36. Saw VI (2009)
As should be clear by now, the logic of film banning rarely makes any sense. But some of the funniest bans come from the same long-running and widely loved horror franchise: Saw. After allowing the first five films in the series to play in theaters, Thailand’s Ministry of Culture banned the sixth film because it “might affect peace and order and public morals.”
37. Saw 3D (2010)
A year after Saw VI was banned in Thailand after the country allowed all previous entries to play, Germany banned the following film, Saw 3D (aka Saw: The Final Chapter), because of its violent content. Again, the country had allowed all previous entries in the series to play without incident. Who knows what made the nation finally put their foot down, but it highlights how silly censorship can be that it took them so long.
38. The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) (2011)
Following in Hostel’s footsteps, the first The Human Centipede film, while extreme and disgusting, made it past censors only for its sequel to be banned. To be fair, The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence), which follows a fan of the first film who attempts to amateurishly create a much larger human centipede, is more graphic than its predecessor. So it’s not all that surprising that Britain and New Zealand banned the film.
39. Deadpool (2016)
Similarly banned for its violence, which seems tame compared to any of The Human Centipede films, was the first Deadpool. Chinese censors found the film, centered on the eponymous anti-hero’s quest for revenge, too violent and generally offensive, something Deadpool might be proud of.
40. The Dark Knight (2008)
While The Dark Knight may be widely considered the best Batman movie and was partially filmed in Hong Kong, a public screening of the film there was shut down by censors in 2022. No official reason was given for canceling the screening of a movie that was once welcomed as a likely boon to tourism.
41. 300 (2006)
Zack Snyder’s 300 creates a stylish action movie from the story of 300 Spartan soldiers and other Greek allies who fought against an invading Persian army in the Battle of Thermopylae. But the film’s depiction of Persian characters is stereotypical at best and outright evil at worst, leading to significant condemnations and a ban from the Iranian government at the time of the film’s release.
42. The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
Horror movie franchises aren’t the only ones that have had their first films pass censors only to see sequels banned. However, the reasoning for Egypt’s ban on the second film in the Wachowski sisters’ Matrix series is more specific than most horror movie bans. Egyptian censors did take issue with the film’s violence but were more concerned about the film’s “religious themes” and that those themes might “cause troubles and harm social peace.”
43. The Hunger Games (2012)
The first film in The Hunger Games series was banned in Vietnam for its cruel premise that teenagers are forced to fight to the death in a television spectacle. But all subsequent films in the series made it onto screens in the country just fine. It’s not the only time The Hunger Games has been banned; Suzanne Collins's book from which the film is adapted is one of the most banned books in the United States.
44. Battle Royale (2000)
When The Hunger Games first gained popularity, many film fans accused the story of rehashing the plot of another film: Battle Royale. The film, based on the novel of the same name by Koushun Takami, centers on a group of teenagers who are forced to fight to the death due to a new law meant to curb juvenile delinquency in a dystopian Japan. Unsurprisingly, for an intensely violent movie about teens fighting to the death, the film was banned in several countries.
45. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction became an instant classic upon its release in 1994, but audiences in Malaysia weren’t able to see the film. Censors in the country banned the movie for its many scenes of drug use as well as a famously brutal scene of violation.
46. The Da Vinci Code (2006)
Being banned in Egypt is perhaps the only thing The Matrix Reloaded and The Da Vinci Code have in common. The adaptation of Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code was banned in Egypt and neighboring Jordan, where censors said the film “tarnishes the memory of Christian and Islamic figures and contradicts the truth as written in the Bible and the Koran about Jesus.”
47. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
Similarly banned in many places for its treatment of Jesus Christ, Martin Scorsese’s adaption of The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis was banned in several countries and multiple U.S. cities. The film explores Christ as a human being capable of being tempted, a story that some Christians see as a beautiful exploration of faith and others are deeply offended by.
48. Kundun (1997)
The Last Temptation of Christ wasn’t the last time that a film by Martin Scorsese about religion was banned. Scorsese’s Kundun, which tells the life story of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, was banned by China upon its release because the government considered the Dalai Lama a “threat.”
49. The Departed (2006)
Scorsese’s experiences with censors didn’t get any easier with the change of the millennium, especially regarding China. His Oscar-winning film The Departed was barred from playing in the country because of an illicit military technology deal in the film that portrayed Chinese criminals as buyers.
50. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Scorsese’s most recent (for now) run-in with bans came in 2013 with his adaptation of Jordan Belfort’s memoir The Wolf of Wall Street, which depicts Belfort’s drug-fueled and salacious life in significant detail. Malaysia and Nepal both banned the film outright for the depravity of its characters' behaviors.