The leaves are starting to change, everyone’s back to the school and work routine, and the weather’s turning chilly—the perfect time for a movie marathon of NCAC’s top 40 censored flicks.
40. Blue is the Warmest Color
Blue gets the cold shoulder in Idaho
Despite winning the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, Blue wasn’t the right color for Boise theaters. The film is an adaptation of Julie Maroh’s graphic novel about a young woman’s search for herself and love. Despite rave reviews, awards and nominations, and standing ovations from theatergoers around the world, even independent theaters in Idaho wouldn’t show the film, citing its NC-17 rating. Perhaps the main character’s controversial path to discover desire and independence as a woman and an adult also had a little something to do with the not-so-warm welcome in Boise?
39. South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut
Are you really that shocked, Uncle F–ka?
South Park creators, writers, and directors Trey Parker and Matt Stone managed to cross cultural bounds and offend film censorship and review organizations around the world with this 1999 release. In the flick, the kids of South Park see an R-rated movie that supposedly corrupts them, causing parents and teachers in town to pressure the U.S. to attack Canada, home of the movie’s stars Terrance and Phillip. The film was well received in the U.S. but was banned in Iran, Iraq, Singapore, Kuwait, and Sri Lanka, among others, based on political and moral offenses. Apparently the social satire and political comedy didn’t translate.
38. Last House on the Left
In the mood for a disturbing flick?
Wes Craven’s directorial debut, the film is an exploitation horror with rape and torture scenes so sadistic that it was banned in the UK for more than two decades. Though it is rife with violence and sexual humiliation, a case has been made for its historical importance, and it has been included on numerous Top Thrills and Disturbing Flick lists.
37. District 9
Social segregation as an alien concept
Exploring themes ranging from racism and xenophobia to fear of state reliance on multinational corporations, District 9 manages to be both thought provoking and an entertaining and critically acclaimed sci-fi thriller. The flick follows an extraterrestrial race forced to live in slum-like conditions on Earth who find an unexpected ally in a government agent who has been exposed to their biotechnology. The movie’s setting was inspired by events from both the apartheid era and contemporary evictions and forced removals to suburban ghettos in South Africa, and was shot on location during a time of unrest in Chiawelo. Due to the perceived negative portrayal of Nigerians, the movie was banned in that country.
Because sex is a universal language
Although the movie has been branded pornographic and one of its stars was nearly fired from her day job for her participation in the film, Shortbus director John Cameron Mitchell’s intent was to “de-eroticize” sex and “remove the cloud of arousal to reveal emotions and ideas that might have been obscured by it.” The movie follows a group of New Yorkers, each with their own emotional and sexual storyline, who gather at a weekly Brooklyn artistic/sexual underground salon. Mitchell’s vision for Shortbus was to “employ sex in new cinematic ways because it’s too interesting to leave to porn.”
Not your warm and fuzzy, feel-good mobster flick
Heavily criticized for its violent content, this film tells the tale of greed, deception, money, power, and murder between two mobster best friends and a trophy wife over a gambling empire. When first submitted to the MPAA, the film received an NC-17 rating due to its depictions of violence; several edits were made to reduce the rating to R. Although it was released in theaters in 1995, the movie was banned from video release in Finland in an uncut form due to its violent content until 2001. Despite the criticism, Casino received many nominations and awards and is still lauded as one of the best gangster movies ever made.
34. The Evil Dead
Does anything good ever happen at a remote cabin in the woods?
On a lark to a remote cabin, a group of friends discovers a Book of Dead that leads them to unknowingly release demons who possess every member of the group but one, who is left to fight for survival. The original was released in 1981 with an equally scary 2013 remake, both of which were banned in countries including Finland, Ukraine, and Singapore due to the high-level of violence, blood, sex, and gore. Makes you think twice about what books you take camping.
33. Requiem for a Dream
The not-so-glamorous side of drug addiction
If you’re looking for a Scared Straight approach to the Just Say No message, consider a viewing of this 2000 release. The film follows four average people that are shattered by drug addiction despite attempts to redeem their lives. The desperate tale original received an NC-17 rating, so the studio released the film unrated. The brutal reality of their struggle is captured in all its raw and ugly truth, earning this film a spot in most Top Controversial Film and Disturbing Flick lists. As Rotten Tomatoes puts it, “Though the movie may be too intense for some to stomach, the wonderful performances and the bleak imagery are hard to forget.”
The irony starts with the title
Is the territory you’re exploring too dark if the Sundance Film Festival deems your movie “too disagreeable” to be accepted? In Happiness, director Todd Solondz’s 1998 follow-up to Welcome to the Dollhouse, the storyline follows the interconnected lives of seemingly mainstream folk who are seeking happiness, but from dark and far-from-orthodox sources. Given an NC-17 rating, the film is highly controversial due to its sexual themes, in particular its portrayal of pedophilia. Featuring a stand-out performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman, the movie leaves it to you to define or at least consider what constitutes disagreeable, dark, mainstream, and of course, happiness.
31. Last Tango In Paris
A classic controversy
When this controversial film opened in France in 1972, people waited in two-hour lines and crossed borders to see the story of a young Parisian woman’s sordid affair with a middle-aged American businessman. For its raw portrayal of sexual violence and the resulting emotional turmoil, the film still faces controversy and has been banned in Italy, Portugal, Singapore, South Korea, and Spain, among others. The film still holds an NC-17 rating, although an edited R-rated version is available.
30. Blue Velvet
Rossellini’s breakout role
Originally banned in both Canada and United States, this film from David Lynch continues to strike up controversy. When a young college student finds a dismembered ear in a field, he undertakes an investigation that ends up revealing a seedy underworld to his wholesome hometown. The movie’s depiction of drug abuse, rape, violence, and graphic nudity have been deemed vulgar by critics, but the film earned Lynch a second Academy Award nomination for Best Director and remains critically acclaimed.
Not exactly a date movie
This low-budget indie caused much ado upon release, as it touches on the drinking, smoking, and sexual escapades of a group of NYC teens — made even more taboo by the quasi-documentary style and the young age of the actors. Disturbing and dark, the story focuses on a day in the life of a teen whose goal is to deflower as many virgins as he can, unknowingly exposing his exploits to HIV. The movie remains non-judgmental about the actions of the protagonists, leaving viewers to orient their own moral compass – perhaps the true source of the movie’s disconcerting effect?
28. The Exorcist
Still terrifying after all these years
When the story of two priests’ attempt to save a young girl possessed by a mysterious entity hit theaters in 1974, it had already been steeped in controversy, as the original trailer was banned from many theaters for being “too scary.” When the film was released, theaters provided “Exorcist barf bags” as a result of the moviegoers’ physical reaction to the movie. Despite the hullabaloo, the film was the first horror movie nominated for an Academy Award, and was the highest grossing picture until the release of Jaws.
27. Salo, 120 Days of Sodom
Not for the faint of stomach
Described as foul, not for the queasy, vile, disgusting, and brutally shocking, this film has caused even freedom-of-expression defenders to question its production. Interpreted as an analogy of the condemnation of fascists or capitalists in World War 2 Italy, the film follows four fascist libertines who round up 18 teenagers and subject them to 120 days of physical, mental and sexual torture. The film remains banned in many countries due to its graphic portrayals of rape, torture, and murder of adolescents, but has been praised by film historians and critics for its exploration of political corruption, abuse of power, sadism, perversion, sexuality, and fascism.
26. A Real Young Girl
An uninhibited coming-of-age drama
This 1976 French drama about a young woman’s summer of sexual awakening has been banned around the world for its open portrayal of sexuality and blunt language, as well as the exposure of the main character’s vulva. The frank treatment of 14-year-old Alice’s growing sexuality led to much controversy, and the film wasn’t released in theaters until 2000.
25. The Baby of Macon
A film you’ve likely never even heard of
Peter Greenway’s 1993 drama The Baby of Macon stars well-known and acclaimed actors Julia Ormond and Ralph Fiennes, and yet it remains practically unheard of in the United States. In the movie, a baby is born from a supposed virgin, and the hysteria that follows is manipulated the main characters, the townspeople, and the church in a struggle for power. This film explores corruption and exploitation on all levels of society as well as the use of images of innocence to control faith and lives. Deemed unmarketable by U.S. distributors and therefore remained unofficially banned in this country, raising the question, Who decides what you have access to watch, whether you choose to do so or not?
24. Ken Park
A West Coast version of Kids?
This film follows four Southern California teenagers’ struggle with dysfunction at home and uncertain futures. The treatment of sex in the movie has been criticized as offensive to the standards of morality and decency, much of the controversy stemming from the fact that the characters involved in the sexual activity were portrayed as minors. The film has either been banned or remains unreleased in most of the world, and has not been released in the United States since its original screening at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival.
A horror movie for car insurers
Applauded as daring and original, it’s no surprise that this movie was then also criticized. The film follows a group of car-crash victims who become aroused from the sexual energy of car accidents. Originally given an NC-17 rating and challenged in the UK, Australia, Italy, and U.S., the controversy has cooled and the movie is now readily available on DVD.
22. Pink Flamingos
An exercise in poor taste
A 1972 transgressive black comedy exploitation film written, produced, scored, shot, edited, and directed by John Waters—what more needs to be said? Now a beloved cult favorite that made drag queen Divine a star, the movie caused quite a stir due to its subject matter and various perverse acts shown in explicit detail. The film’s popularity was cemented by a rerelease in 1997 and has earned a spot on the UK’s 50 Films to See Before You Die. Not bad for a movie made on a budget of $10,000.
21. The Devils
Tracking down a copy is the real devil
This historical horror drama has got it all: priests, possession, and a sexually repressed nun all in the context of a true story. The film is based on the execution of a 17th-century Roman Catholic priest based on accusations of witchcraft and possession. The movie received an X rating in both the United States and UK based on the disturbingly violent, sexual, and religious content, and has never been released in its uncut form in many countries.
20. Carnal Knowledge
A reflection of the times
In this groundbreaking work, Mike Nichols produced a movie that serves as both a reflection of the changing sexual mores of the 60s and 70s and a depiction of the complexity of friendships and sexual relationships that has stood the test of time. Carnal Knowledge was banned in Italy for a time, and caused such a stir in Albany, Georgia that the case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was ruled that the film was not obscene. A classic that is so well written, many of the conversations would sound natural in a new release—all the more reason to watch it again.
A great film that barely survived
Branded as blasphemous by the Vatican, this 1961 Spanish film was banned in Spain and all copies were ordered to be burned. The film was smuggled to Paris, and eventually went on to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes. The movie has continued to win critical acclaim, and the dark tale of a young nun’s disillusionment was voted 37th on the Directors’ top 100 films of all time in the 2012 Sight & Sound poll of the greatest films ever made.
If you can’t laugh at yourself…
Not surprisingly, Borat was originally banned in Kazakhstan and Russia, as well as every Arab country except Lebanon. Even in the United States, the film was embroiled in controversy 2 years before its release and the controversy continued long after the movie was in theaters, with participants claiming they were not fully aware of what they were getting into. However, officials in Kazakhstan had a change of heart after recognizing that the movie “put Kazakhstan on the map;” the Amazon UK has reported significant numbers of orders of the DVD from addresses in Kazakhstan; and artists there have spoken to the fact that the movie’s unflattering light shines most brightly on America.
17. A Clockwork Orange
Oh my brothers…
This 1971 British classic from Stanley Kubrick has earned a place on so many movie compilation lists, it hardly needs mention. However, as those listmakers must have felt, any round-up of controversial films would be mistaken to ignore this cult-favorite groundbreaking crime sci-fi dramatic thriller. Through disturbing and violent images, the film offers commentary and the relationship between social, economic, and political position and juvenile delinquency that rings true today.
16. Mildred Pierce
Bad seed or bad mama?
Is there such a thing as a bad kid or does it all come back to the parents? If only a parent stayed home with the kids, would they grow up more productive, well-balanced contributors to society? No, you haven’t accidentally stumbled upon a current parenting blog; these questions arose in challenge to the 1945 release of Mildred Pierce. Obviously the controversial topics broached by the movie have a place in modern dialog and the theme of the long-suffering parent and the ungrateful child is just as relevant today.
15. Schindler’s List
A testament to the good in us
Banned for being sympathetic to the Jewish cause and challenged as a depiction of fictional events by fundamentalist Christians in the United States and elsewhere, Schindler’s List incites a strong reaction in viewers. Winner of 7 Academy Awards, the film is based on the true story of a Polish man who protects a Jewish workforce after witnessing their persecution at the hand of the Nazis. The movie is still challenged in school districts and universities despite critical acclaim.
14. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
That’s the bloody truth
The fact that this low-budget slasher thriller was even loosely based on a real small-town American murderer and body snatcher fueled the fire of controversy upon its initial release in 1974. The film was originally rated X due to the gore and violence, and the director cut scenes to gain an R rating. However, at least one distributor restored the offensive material and the entire uncut version was shown. The public reaction to the movie ranged from disgusted walkouts to threats of arrest on morality charges to theater owners. The notoriety was so great it spawned two sequels, a prequel, and a remake.
13. Battleship Potemkin
Censorship vs. propaganda
Though it was produced in 1925, this dramatized account of a Russian naval mutiny, the resulting demonstration in the sailors’ hometown of Odessa, and the police massacre that put down the demonstration is still lauded as a masterpiece. However, at the time of its release, not everyone was as enthusiastic. The British Board of Film Classification rejected the film, officially citing violence; however, the annual report mentions that the film was rejected for “inflammatory subtitles and Bolshevist propaganda.” The film had caused unrest in Germany, and was too politically charged to risk screening to the Western population.
12. L’Age d’Or
An artistic collaboration between Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali, this 1930 French surrealist comedy follows a passionate couple whose attempts to consummate their romantic feelings are continually thwarted. The film is shown in a series of five vignettes that explore class warfare, the effects of sexual repression, and the dangers of organized religion. Banned for more than 50 years for its controversial imagery—including a woman fellating the toe of a statue of Venus—and message, the movie has its legal premiere in the United States at the Roxie Cinema in San Francisco just 49 years after its original release.
11. The Blue Kite
No one can undermine the party
This historical film provides a personal perspective on life in China during the first two decades of communist rule, following the life and family of Tietou, a child born in 1954, and the effects of politics on his family life and destiny. Before the film was finished, it was blocked by officials, and upon its 1993 release, was banned in mainland China. In addition, a 10-year ban on filmmaking was imposed on the director Tian Zhuangzhuang, who has said, “The fact that it can appear today seems like a miracle… The stories in the film are real, and they are related with total sincerity. What worries me is that it is precisely a fear of reality and sincerity that has led to the ban on such stories being told.”
10. Farewell My Concubine
A beautiful but tainted triumph
The first Chinese film to win the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival, director Chen Kaige thought he would return to his homeland a hero. He was sure the international acclaim would make it difficult for the Chinese government to outright ban the film. Instead, the movie was held from screening until the government could make “appropriate cuts.” Whether it was the political content or the homosexuality that resulted in the government’s ire, the complete film in all its beauty has yet to be shown in its home country.
9. Je Vous Salue, Marie
How would a pregnant virgin fare in the modern world?
In this 1985 drama, director Jean-Luc Godard provides a modern retelling of the virgin birth in which Mary works at a gas station, Joseph is a taxi driver, and Gabriel is just passing through town. The modern interpretation wasn’t appreciated by all, as it was banned in Brazil and Argentina and criticized by Pope John Paul II. One angry critic was so unhappy with the film, he threw a shaving cream pie into Godard’s face at the Cannes Film Festival.
8. The Tin Drum
Overreaction to underage copulation
One of the highest grossing German films of the 1970s and winner of the 1979 Academy Award for best foreign language film, The Tin Drum caused an uproar as a result of a scene where it appears an 11-year-old boy is having oral sex and intercourse with a 16-year-old girl (the actress was actually 24). Banned in Canada and by a district judge in Oklahoma as “child pornography,” all copies of the film in Oklahoma City were confiscated and a person who had rented the movie was threatened with charges. All copies of the movie were returned and all charges dropped after a lawsuit filed by the ACLU resulted in a reversed decision.
7. The Last Temptation of Christ
What if Jesus was just a regular guy?
Banned or censored around the world, including in Turkey, Argentina, Mexico, and Chile, and still in Singapore and the Philippines, The Last Temptation of Christ explores the life of Jesus Christ from the perspective that he is a human man. This portrayal of Jesus’ struggles with fear, temptation, doubt, and lust, as all humans do, was so offensive to fundamentalist Christians that numerous physical attacks were made on theaters and theatergoers in Europe and as many as 600 protesters gathered in one of many events to prevent the screening of the film in the United States.
6. Monty Python’s Life of Brian
It’s not so bad once you’re up!
One of the top 250 movies to see according to the IMDB, the film tells the tale of Brian, born on the same day as Jesus but in the stable next door, who spends the rest of his life being mistaken for a messiah. Considered blasphemous and containing “inappropriate” religious content, Life of Brian was banned in Ireland, Norway, Bhutan, Oman, Singapore, and South Africa, and in many towns in the UK who had not even viewed the film. In response to the accusations, Monty Python comedian Terry Jones said the film “isn’t blasphemous because it doesn’t touch on belief at all. It is heretical, because it touches on dogma and the interpretation of belief, rather than belief itself.”
How far have we come in 80 years?
The original 1932 film Scarface was one of the most controversial films released in America. The violence (the movie features more than 30 deaths) and perceived glorification of the gangster lifestyle led censors to demand cuts, rewrites, and even an alternate ending. After making demanded changes and having the movie still held up by New York censors, producer Howard Hughes released a less altered version of the original, with the first ending. This version was screened only in states with more lax censors. Scarface was one of the first but certainly far from the last American film to undergo release delays and intense censorship.
4. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
What’s scarier than no rating?
Despite controversy, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf was met with great critical acclaim and is one of only two movies to be nominated in every eligible category at the Academy Awards. In addition, the film was so commercially successful, it proved that controversy can boost the bottom line. Accused of being perverse and dirty minded, the filmmakers kept the tone and dialog of the original play, including the expletives and sexual implications. The need to protect youth and young adults from such content helped fuel the creation of the MPAA rating organization. Would we know what’s safe to see without a rating?
3. Some Like It Hot
Sexual confusion, cross dressing, and costumes that were just short of nudity didn’t help curb the critics’ confusion over this before-its-time film. Now considered a comic classic, at the time of its release, the movie’s blatant sexuality combined with the homosexual implications caused censors to challenge the movie with claims that it “promoted homosexuality, lesbianism, and transvestitism.”
2. From Here to Eternity
Artistic license only after Army approval
Based on the popular novel of the same name, From Here to Eternity was instantly recognized as a hit with critics and the public. However, the filmmakers had to jump through hoops to get the movie made. Due to the controversial book’s highly negative attitude toward the military, the screen adaptation had to be cut and edited to gain approval from the Army. As with military films made in America today, filmmakers were forced to cooperate with the government’s script demands to secure the assistance of the Army for filming.
This 1933 Czech film about a woman who marries an older man then takes a strapping young lad as her lover was highly controversial. Hedy Lamarr, who plays the main character Eva, swims in the nude and runs through the countryside naked. But the real controversy stemmed from the portrayal of sex as well as female orgasm. Although the film never shows more than the actors’ faces during the sexual encounters, Ecstasy is the first non-pornographic movie to portray sexual intercourse.
Top 5 Bad Banned Films: The Censors Were Doing You a Favor
5. The Brown Bunny
Even the controversial final scene where Chloe Sevigny performs unsimulated fellatio doesn’t liven up this boring and pretentious film.
4. The Human Centipede 2
Heralded as “artless art,” The Human Centipede 2 was banned in the UK for being “tasteless and disgusting;” they failed to mention tedious, plotless, and a dreary slog.
3. Body of Evidence
Earning an honorable 6% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes to match the six Golden Raspberry nominations, Body of Evidence fueled the fire of controversy surrounding Madonna at the time. The graphical sex scenes between the actress and lead actor, Willem Defoe, earned the controversy and an NC-17 rating.
2. The Da Vinci Code
Banned in many countries and boycotted by the Vatican for being blasphemous and full of theological errors, the movie’s most offensive traits are being dull and bloated.
To date, this movie was the first NC-17-rated flick to be given wide release, enabling it to underwhelm a broader audience. One critic concluded that movie “deserved all the mean things people said about it.” Raunchy fun for how bad it is, Showgirls could be on the wrong list. What do you think?
This is the third list in a series of Top 40s to commemorate NCAC’s 40th anniversary year. Are books more your style? ICYMI, browse our summer reading list.