Movies are a pillar of modern-day entertainment, and since the movie theater became such a popular space to enjoy movies, there has always been controversy surrounding what movies they decide to screen for a mass audience. With the MPAA rating system in place, there are still a lot of movies that theaters refuse to show (for many different reasons).
We’re taking a look back at some of the most interesting—and sometimes surprising—movies that theaters would not show. In some cases, these films were banned by an entire country or just forbidden from showing in certain locations; but other times, it’s because people found particular scenes too disturbing or simply not something appropriate for viewing without consequence.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was highly censored and/or banned in numerous locations
It might not surprise you to know that this masterpiece was censored in many theaters. Even though it remains one of the most popular and critically acclaimed horror movies ever made, the original chainsaw massacre has been deemed too violent for theater viewing.
West Germany and Singapore had made the decision to ban this film because of its graphic violence, but elsewhere around the world, it was censored in order to make it less offensive.
Brokeback Mountain was banned in the south and various countries outside of the U.S.
This wonderful and controversial film created a lot of buzz; both good and bad. Released in 2005, the movie came out at an interesting time when there were fewer people who accepted homosexuality than before. Due to its depiction of two gay cowboys, some theaters would not show this film because they felt that it was offensive or inappropriate.
It especially disturbed Southern theater-goers who take their religion and cowboy history seriously – both of which they felt were being disrespected by the movie. The US is not the only country where this film has been banned due to its portrayal of homosexuality.
The original Scarface stereotyped Italians
When we talk about Scarface, most people think of the 1983 movie starring Al Pacino. Before this version, there was an original from the 1930s. The movie was surprisingly popular among those who watched it, being based on a hugely successful book that came before it. Surprisingly though, not many theater owners would play or even see Scarface for its depiction of ugly stereotypes.
Many Italian-Americans were reluctant to watch this movie about stereotypes of Italians because they were afraid it would reflect badly on them and stir up issues in their community. When many theaters came across this concern, they chose not to show the film which made some people happy while others thought that was wrong.
AMC refused to screen the latest installments of both Fast 9 and other Universal films.
In 2020, it became increasingly unusual for new movies to hit theaters due to an increase in people staying at home. Though there were still some displeased companies when the release of these films went through other mediums like video on demand or streaming services without being shown in theaters first. AMC was one of those firms that disagreed with this method.
After the success of Trolls World Tour on VOD, AMC decided they would no longer screen Universal Studio’s films. They even boycotted them! In fact, they didn’t show Fast 9 when it came out in 2021.
Beauty and the Beast was Banned from an Alabama theater
The banning of this movie in Alabama is one of the most surprising and shocking developments on the list. One drive-in theater thought that LeFou was portrayed as gay which they did not like at all.
This homophobic banning surprised many people, but the theater’s owner noted that it was banned to protect children from seeing sin. The very Christian culture of this particular movie theater and location made the gay portrayal too much to handle.
Another very tragic and shocking film – Slender Man – was banned from cinemas. It depicts a horrific story about an internet meme turned antagonist who prompts two young teens to commit murder.
Incredible, but the girl did survive. However, seeing as how this terrible event happened so close to home for a Wisconsin theater company, they chose not to perform it out of respect for the victim and also to avoid inciting any further violent acts.
Forced Vengeance is banned in Finland
Countries like Finland have a bit of an issue with the intense violence and blood. Kevin Thomas from The Los Angeles Times, broke down the film, allowing me to see where they were coming from when they banned it.
Thomas wrote that by the middle of the movie, bone-crunching, flesh-ripping violence so dominated the screen that it was difficult to see what was happening. After a while, it became impossible to tell who were the good guys and who were the bad people as they all began killing each other.
Party Girl was banned in Birmingham, Alabama
In 1930, the movie Party Girl tells the story of a businessman who becomes entangled in some illegal activities involving an escort service. Many people disliked how this movie suggested that socially elite men would be found with women of the night.
Because of this, many American cities decided to forbid the release of the film. Birmingham, Alabama is one of them. They couldn’t stand its presence anywhere near their city limits.
The Evil Dead was barely shown in theaters due to the MPAA’s censorship.
This shocking film was made for a small audience who can take the violence and graphic nature. Once released in 1981, hardly any theaters played it due to how risque the movie was but since then it has grown into an iconic cult classic; spawning many offshoots and remakes.
It was full of torture, violence, and other unpleasant things – so no one was surprised when it appeared on this list.
The Vanishing Prairie was a Disney film banned in New York
From the late 1940s to the early 1960s, Disney produced a number of documentary films, including the 1954 film The Vanishing Prairie. Though the film would win an Oscar for best documentary, one particular film sequence led to the movie’s banning in a number of theaters in Chicago and New York. The scene in question was that of a mother bison giving birth, which was deemed too graphic at the time to be shown on the big screen.
Later on, many of these censor boards would reverse their rulings, allowing audiences to view spectacular footage of Yellowstone National Park and other prairie areas across the United States.
The Last Temptation of Christ was considered offensive by Christians
Did you know Willem Dafoe once played Jesus?
If you’ve seen this film, then you would know how controversial it was among Christians. The movie depicts Jesus going through many human conflicts whilst also being God himself. He often struggles with the idea of living a happy normal life – while still being who he really is. At some points, he shuns his Godhood and doubts his faith in the very religion that made him who he is today.
Christians were not content with how Caesar portrayed Jesus Christ in his work. Described as entirely fictitious to Christians at the time, it was prohibited from being played across theaters worldwide including three within the United States and many others abroad. Theaters screening this film received threats of arson – one such threat actually succeeded when a theater went up in flames after only screening the film once.
I Am Curious (Yellow) was seized by US customs and banned for promiscuity
The Swedish film I Am Curious arrived in the United States at the end of March 1969. As its title suggests, the film is about a young woman who finds her sexuality, while also becoming immersed in various social conflicts.
Due to the film’s sexual content, the state of Massachusetts refused to release the film in regular theaters. Likewise, the film was even seized by US Customs for its promiscuity. Nevertheless, this film was revolutionary for its era, and created heated debate because of its explicit sexual nature.
Cannibal Holocaust was banned because of obvious reasons.
Finished in 1980, Cannibal Holocaust received little attention when it premiered due to its violence, explicitness, and vulgarity. It was banned from distribution in many countries including the United States.
The film has been banned from America for many years. In 1985, exploitation distributor Trans American Films released an unrated version of the film. Five years later, Grindhouse Releasing distributed the film on VHS, DVD, and Blu-Ray.
Raya And The Last Dragon’s Disney+ Release Was A Huge Mistake
Disney Fans were eagerly awaiting the release of Raya and the Last Dragon. Sadly, it was released during a tumultuous time when theaters refused to let anyone in due to their disagreement with how they are run. In response, Disney released the animated film onto their new streaming platform Disney+.
This infuriated Cinemark theaters so much that they outright refused to show the film in any of their 345 theaters during opening weekend!
Ecstasy was too much for a crowd of the 1930s to handle
Compared to the kind of films we are exposed to now, and with how easily accessible media has become in recent years, this film would not seem so shocking to us. In fact, back then when it came out intercourse and female nudity were taboo subjects that could not be discussed or seen publicly.
As a result, the movie, which showed a woman running around naked in a field was prohibited from being shown at movie theaters and was banned for viewing entirely in all of America until 1940.
Silent Night, Deadly Night was pulled from theaters
Silent Night, Deadly Night was one of the most controversial movies to come out of the 1980s. It revolved around a young boy who suffers from PTSD after seeing his parents murdered on Christmas Eve by some guy dressed as Santa. Well, parents across the country disapproved of the film’s subject matter-especially because it was released close to Christmas.
During theatrical screenings, protestors picketed outside for weeks. After six days after the initial release of the film, advertisements had been pulled from newspapers and theaters stopped screening it completely.
When Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny came out on Netflix, it prompted multiple theaters to refuse to show the film
In 2016, the sequel to the popular film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was released primarily on Netflix, in addition to select IMAX theaters. Unfortunately for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny the decision to do a primarily streaming service premiere (years before the COVID-19 pandemic popularized streaming releases) ended up hurting the film.
Cinema chains including AMC, Carmike Cinemas, and Regal Cinemas all refused to show the film, and since the heyday of streaming services had yet to reach its peak, the film received far less attention and monetary success compared to the original.
Back in 1917, activist Margaret Sanger directed and wrote a film that depicted the struggles of contraception for women. The film was shown only once before being banned from public exhibition – even though it had been created solely to educate and raise awareness about contraceptives.
The film would later become legal again in the 1950s.
The Profit was banned in Florida
In 2001, the movie The Profit became a controversial topic. Though the film creators claimed The Profit was purely a work of fiction about cults and con men, many viewers see it as a parody of the Church of Scientology.
With certain parallels between the film and the religion, Scientologists filled lawsuits that first had the film banned from distribution in Florida, and then later the United States and other countries including Spain.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi had a profit-share issue
A number of smaller movie theaters decided not to show this Star Wars movie because they didn’t agree with how money from the film would be distributed.
Sadly, for smaller theaters, their 65% ticket revenue costs were just too much, and the demands like insisting the movie had to be shown for at least four weeks in the largest auditorium made it difficult for these theaters to make a profit.
Fat Girl was banned over the age of its actresses
This indie movie was too violent and explicit to be shown in many theaters due to its disturbing depiction of female sexuality. The most intimate scenes in the movie were considered highly inappropriate for audiences, in part because the actresses who portrayed these young girls were in fact underage.
Many theater owners were wary of showing this controversial film for fear that it wouldn’t be well received by audiences and would be too distasteful. When some theaters did show it, the movie didn’t go down as a classic.
Titicut Follies violates privacy
In 1967, the documentary film Titicut Follies was released. It showcased the lives of the patients in the Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane. While this film received rave reviews and awards, it caused some controversy in one state.
In 1968, Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Harry Kalus ordered for the film to be stopped from being distributed across the state. His reasoning behind this was that he believed it violated the basic privacy rights of the inmates.
Borat was banned from Arab countries
Who can forget the lovable and hilarious Borat? His character was contentious yet very, very funny and brought something completely new to cinema. However, while it was a major hit in America, many Arabic countries banned it and refused to show it at all due to its association with Cohen’s regime.
In America, only a few theaters showed this film because they found it too controversial. However, for the most part, it was considered a hit!
Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story had a copyright lawsuit
Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story is a 1987 documentary about singer Karen Carpenter’s life, chronicling her rise to fame alongside her brother Richard, as well as her personal battle with anorexia nervosa.
Originally, the film was well-received, and has even become a cult classic in recent times. It’s especially popular for its artistic lens, as the film uses Barbie dolls as actors. However, it was pulled from circulation due to copyright infringement, as the filmmaker never obtained the proper licensing and permissions for using The Carpenters’ music in the film.
A Clockwork Orange was too violent for some countries to handle
Now considered to be one of the greatest movies in Hollywood history, this game-changing movie has always been seen as being shockingly violent. In addition, it has also been looked at as being a dangerous representation of sociopathic behavior – enough so that many theaters refused to show it when it first came out or even pulled those who had already seen it from continuing screenings.
It was also banned in many countries including Ireland and Singapore, due to its terrible depictions of violent crime. These days you can see it at the theater or on stage, with many theaters reintroducing A Clockwork Orange and hailing it as a cult classic.
Ernest & Bertram was banned due to copyright infringement.
In 2002, the movie Ernest & Bertram hit theaters, but not without some controversy. Viewers were given insight into what might have happened if Ernie and Bert were more than just puppets on Sesame Street. While initially applauded at the Sundance Film Festival, many critics felt differently about it when they found out it would only be shown in five theaters nationwide.
The film never came out in theaters due to the Sesame Workshop serving producer David Spears with a cease and desist order for copyright violation.
Even after 25 minutes of cuts, Freaks was still banned in Atlanta
Upon its initial test screening, the 1932 circus-themed film Freaks was thought to be too weird and grotesque to show to an audience. So, director Tod Browning went back and cut around 25 minutes of the 90-minute film. Still, there were some people who didn’t think the movie was suitable for a theater.
Across the nation, people were walking out of theaters with their heads hung low after viewing the film. It was so awful that one theater in Atlanta decided not to show it at all!
Beasts of No Nation had a simultaneous Netflix release
The 2015 release of Beasts of No Nation was a poorly executed marketing strategy. The film covered the heart-wrenching account of child soldiers in South Africa, but some major theaters did not show it.
Carmike, AMC, Regal, and Cinemark all refused to show the film because when Beasts of No Nation came out – it was also released onto Netflix.
Häxan was banned from 1922-1929
In 1922, the silent horror film Häxan was released. The film told the story of the origins of witchcraft – something that wasn’t an overly popular theme at the time. It remained banned throughout most of America for about 8 years until its release in 1929.
But witchcraft wasn’t the only reason for it being banned. Some people were wary of Satanic worship, grave robbing, possessed nuns, and nudity which are all present in this story.
Battle Royale may depict too much violence among children
If you’re looking for something frightening and haunting, but at the same time full of adrenaline-filled moments then Battle Royale is perfect for you. This movie has been criticized to no end because it contains a lot of violence that surpasses what most theaters in America can show.
That said, the film gained cult status in Japan and became renowned throughout the world. Today it is widely considered one of Japan’s most successful films.
Last Tango In Paris was thought inappropriate for the big screen
Once again, sexual content has made this movie difficult to show in theaters. With this explicit material, it was banned in many countries but received well as a cult classic in the US.
It follows the love affair between a French woman and an American man, but some movie theaters decided not to show it due to the eroticism that they felt was too inappropriate for the screen.
The Birth of a Nation was banned from many theaters
Considering The Birth of a Nation was released in 1915, there were bound to be some questionable aspects to the film. But even the production company probably couldn’t have expected it to be banned in just a few states and large cities across the nation due to its racist content.
Upon its release, the film was banned from screening in states such as Kansas, West Virginia, Ohio, Las Vegas, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. Even still, the film has been a tremendous financial success.
The Tin Drum was banned in Oklahoma
The 1979 movie The Tin Drum is intriguing. It follows a little boy who would only come into the world if he was given a tin drum. Upon his third birthday, he asked for one thing-to never grow up; and this wish was granted. As the story progresses through some sexual encounters, there were mixed feelings about what was being shown on screen from one state to another.
Oklahoma has been banning books from libraries, claiming it falls under their obscenity laws if it portrays any kind of sexual activity that is deemed inappropriate for minors. However, recently Oklahoma overturned its decision and began permitting The Tin Drum to be viewed again.
AMC and Regal had refused to screen Roma
The 2018 drama Roma was nominated for ten Academy Awards, including best director and best cinematography. It even became the first ever Mexican entry to win the best foreign language film. Despite being critically acclaimed, both AMC and Regal theaters refused to screen the movie.
The theater companies refuse Netflix’s offer because they are reluctant to take down the film from their catalog before showcasing it at the Oscar ceremony. Even though Roma was released in cinemas, apparently having it available for subscription on Netflix is enough of an incentive for these two theaters to reject this proposal – even if that’s where it premiered first.
The Thorn Exposed Bette Midler’s Fame
A number of events were triggered when the 1971 film The Thorn was released. Being banned multiple times for various reasons, it garnered controversy because of its original title The Divine Mr. J which capitalized on Bette Midler’s growth in fame as The Divine Miss M.
Ironically, this would be the second time it was banned. The first time had to do with the very fact that the movie’s story is set up as a critique of Christian evangelism. People who saw it didn’t appreciate its satirical tone.
Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye was banned for multiple reasons
Kissing Tomorrow Goodbye was a film noir released in 1950. It follows the story of a career criminal, Ralph Cotter, who escapes prison and murders his escape partner before wooing his partner’s sister – only to see her turn him down at the end.
The film was banned in Ohio for being “a sordid, sadistic presentation of brutality and an extreme presentation of crime with explicit steps in commission.” Despite this minor setback, the movie had an overwhelmingly positive reception in other states.
The Interview came under threat of violence from theaters
The threat of terrorism may be a good enough reason to cancel some movies, especially those with lots of hype. One such film was The Interview, which was canceled for fear it would start an international incident.
The reason why many of the big movie theater groups wouldn’t show it was for public safety – as they feared being attacked by hackers who threatened to attack any theater that screened the film.
Hail Mary undermined Christianity and was banned all over the world
This is another film that got in trouble for blasphemy because of its sexual portrayals. It explores the Virgin Mary and her depiction in a contemporary way to display this particular story. The movie is intelligent when it comes to how it was filmed, as well as praised for its artistic nature; however, at first, it was hard to find theaters that would show the film due to religious implications.
Theaters in the United States refused to showcase this film, and many other countries like Brazil and Argentina outright outlawed it on the grounds that it was disrespectful towards religion.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian was banned in Norway and Ireland
Another movie that created an uproar amongst the masses is Monty Python’s Life of Brian. This satirical comedy tells the story of an ordinary man who people think is Jesus. Although this film may have been somewhat controversial in its parody, some believed that it was disrespectful to religion and should not be shown to audiences watching.
Citing their reasons for not showing it as sacrilege, Norway and Ireland both banned the movie from theaters when it was first released.