Zoolander (2001) banned in Iran
In an effort to adhere to a very particular interpretation of Islamic code, Iran has a strict policy of banning any film that depicts homosexuality or promotes gay rights. Even though there isn’t anything explicitly “gay” about any of the characters in Zoolander, apparently Ben Stiler, Owen Wilson, and the fantastical fashion industry in the film were all just a little too fabulous for Iran’s liking. Then again, with the turmoil that’s been going on in the Middle East, maybe the government is just afraid that all the male models are going to get funny ideas about assassinating political leaders.
Sex and the City 2 (2010), banned in the United Arab Emirates
Even though the popular franchise’s second film was set in Abu Dhabi, the National Media Council for the United Arab Emirates banned the movie from being released there, citing a conflict of “cultural values.” Makes sense, seeing as the UAE didn’t even let the movie shoot in Abu Dhabi – it was actually filmed in Morocco, which leads us to wonder why Carrie and her gang didn’t just go there instead. We’re sure they could have found some women in hijab to “liberate” in Casablanca, too, or whatever it was they thought they were doing on their “exotic” vacation. The fact that they went ahead with the pretense of being in Abu Dhabi when they actually weren’t only contributed to the UAE’s decision to ban the film.
Avatar (2010), banned in China
The People’s Republic of China only permits 20 foreign films to be screened per year, meaning that the only movies to get released there are usually blockbusters and big-name deals. However, the 2D version James Cameron’s Avatar, the highest grossing film in the world, was deliberately pulled from theaters after two weeks because officials feared that the forced removal of the Na’vi would cause political unrest among the Chinese locals who face eviction from their own homes. In addition, they were concerned that Avatar was making too much money and “seized market share from domestic films.” Inexplicably, 3D, Imax, and DVD versions of the film were still allowed.
The Bohemian Girl (1936), banned in Germany
This Laurel and Hardy classic, based on a famous opera of the same name, featured depictions of the Roma people, more commonly referred to as gypsies (though some consider this to be an ethnic slur). Every cheap “gypsy” stereotype in the book is used in this film, including crystal balls, fortune-telling, and pick-pocketing. The shallow treatment of the Romani isn’t what got the film banned, however — it was the fact that it depicted Romani at all, which in Nazi Germany was considered a big no-no.
The Simpsons Movie (2007), banned in Burma
Why did the repressive government of Burma decide not to let the Simpsons into their country? Was it the nudity, the slapstick violence, the dangerous values of Western culture? Was it Spider-Pig?
Nope. Apparently at one time the country’s Motion Picture and Video Censor Board banned the colors red and yellow in movies. According to Burmese comedian Zarganar, the board will issue edicts like this without warning and then repeal them later the same afternoon. Poor Homer and his yellow family were never going to win against that kind of bizarre thinking.
Monkey Business (1931), banned in Ireland
We tend to think of banning films for reasons not related to graphic violence or sex as something that only extremely oppressive regimes do, but when cinema was still a new medium, films were banned at the drop of a hat for their potential corruptive influence on the general public. Monkey Business, for example, was forbidden because Irish policy makers feared the Marx Brothers’ antics would encourage anarchic tendencies. The ban wasn’t officially lifted until 2000 or so.
Les statues meurent aussi (1953), banned in France
This short 30-minutes essay film, the title of which translates in English to “Statues Also Die,” is about the history of African art and culture from a historically European perspective. It premiered at Cannes and won the 1954 Prix Jean Vigo, the annual cinema award in France.
Though technically this doesn’t count as a “foreign film” within France itself, the reason it was censored and subsequently banned from Cannes is pretty ridiculous — namely, the second half of the film puts forth the claim that the decline of African art is directly the fault of Western European colonizers who exerted their influence over the continent. The French government didn’t take too kindly to this accusation, and decided to cut out the entire second half of the film.
King Kong (1933), banned in Finland
It sounds pretty ridiculous now due to the evolution of visual effects and the rise of realistic violence on film, but the original King Kong was considered incredibly graphic for its time, so much so that Finland completely banned it when it was first released in 1933. Apparently some scenes of the Kong eating New Yorkers and island natives were even censored in the US, so Finland’s hesitation isn’t so strange in that respect. What is strange is that they decided to release the film six years later, in 1939 — maybe to distract Finns from the horror of World War II by presenting them with the escapist horror of a giant ape attacking a bunch of Americans.
Any movie featuring time travel, banned in China (2011)
We could probably fill up this whole list with weird things that China has forbidden in cinema, but what really takes the cake is their ban on “fantasy, time-travel, random compilations of mythical stories, bizarre plots, absurd techniques, even propagating feudal superstitions, fatalism and reincarnation, ambiguous moral lessons, and even a lack of positive thinking.” According to The Daily Mail , the Chinese government is concerned about the idea of film characters going back and rewriting history.
On the plus side, at least no one in China is forced to entertain the thought of what might happen if their future parents tried to seduce them. That tends to mess a person up.