Banned Movies That Upset Sensitive Audiences

By Sophia Maddox | December 1, 2023

Ben-Hur Was Banned in China for Being Too Western

Today, hardly a day goes by where there is no controversy or public debate about whether various films or other programs have crossed a line of what is acceptable to depict on film. Such debates consume an enormous amount of the public’s collective consciousness, and it sometimes seems that it’s all we ever do. It is easy to forget, however, that such debates are as old as film itself.

Many films over the decades have been controversial for their depictions of various things. Excessive violence, sexual themes, and the use of questionable language in films have been magnets for public debate around their suitability to be shown and whether they degrade society through their being shown. This list is a journey back in time and an examination of some films from yesterday that fit that description.

Warning, this article features a collection of 60 photographs from films that have been banned in some countries. Viewer discretion is advised as some of these films may still be banned in certain locations.

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(Loew's, Inc.)

Ben-Hur is a 1959 American epic historical drama film directed by William Wyler and starring Charlton Heston as the title character. The film was a commercial and critical success and won a record 11 Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Charlton Heston.

In spite of the film's stranglehold over the 32nd Academy Awards, Chairman Mao Zedong banned the film in China for containing "propaganda of superstitious beliefs, namely Christianity". It's unclear if the film ever received a wide release in China.

'Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom' Remains A Brutal Viewing Even In Countries Where It's Allowed To Screen

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(United Artists)

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom is a controversial and highly disturbing film that depicts sexual violence and degradation, torture, and murder. It has been banned in several countries, including Australia, due to its graphic content and themes of sadism, fascism, and violence against women. In Australia the film was banned upon its release in 1976 until the ban was lifted in 1993. Five years later, the film was banned again for "offensive cruelty with high impact" before it was approved for release on home video in 2010 thanks to bonus material that provides additional context for the rest of the film.

The movie is based on the book by the Marquis de Sade and follows the story of four wealthy Italian fascists who kidnap and hold captive a group of young people, subjecting them to a series of cruel and degrading acts over the course of 120 days.

The film is notorious for its graphic depiction of sexual violence and torture, and has been described as one of the most disturbing films ever made. It has been widely condemned for its depiction of sexual violence and has been the subject of numerous censorship and legal challenges. Despite this, the film has gained a cult following and has been widely analyzed by scholars and film critics as a commentary on power, sexuality, and the human condition.