Controversial Cinema: Top 10 Banned Films

If you brainstormed films that have caused controversy, you might think of horror films such as Cannibal Holocaust (banned in over fifty countries), erotic dramas such as Last Tango in Paris (banned in Singapore, South Korea and New Zealand) or comedies such as Borat (banned in Russia and Kazakhstan). But what about some lesser-known films that have made film censors go ballistic?

Birth of a Nation


Birth of a Nation (1915, D. W. Griffith)

One of the most groundbreaking films in history in terms of the birth of cinematic techniques, this film has also been widely condemned as racist in its depiction of African Americans and its valorisation of the Ku Klux Klan. After causing riots, this film was banned in eight US states.

Das Testament des Dr Mabuse

Das Testament des Dr Mabuse (1933, Fritz Lang)

The Nazis were notoriously strict about film censorship, and although Fritz Lang’s anti-fascist Metropolis was well loved by Hitler, his later Das Testament des Dr Mabuse never made the cut. This complex crime film was banned because it presents figures in charge as flaky and unreliable. Watch out for the almost-Hitlerian salutes of ‘Professor’ (gangster) Baum.



Ecstasy (1933, Gustav Mastachy)

One sexually unfulfilled young wife searches elsewhere. Allegedly the first-ever film to portray a female orgasm on-screen, causing outrage in both Hitler’s Germany and the United States.

Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975, Pier Paolo Pasolini)

Four moneyed fascists kidnap and torture a group of young men and women against the backdrop of Mussolini’s fall from power. Graphic and cruel, this film is based on a book by the infamous Marquis de Sade. Banned in Iran, Singapore and Sri Lanka, amongst others. Bans lifted in Australia and New Zealand after seventeen years.


Cyclo (1995, Tran Anh Hung)

Made and banned in Vietnam. Criticised as too ‘westernised’ in its gritty and unrelenting portrayal of urban poverty in the country. The film has nevertheless received international acclaim, winning the Golden Lion Award in Venice in 1995.

The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code (2006, Ron Howard)

Banned for proposing that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a baby daughter, and the Catholic Church has been covering this up for 2,000 years. Banned in many different countries, including China, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Peru, the Philippines, Pakistan, Samoa, Singapore and Sri Lanka.

Valley of the Wolves Palestine

Valley of the Wolves: Palestine (2011, Samas Züber )

Another film banned in Germany but for very different reasons. Based on the real life 2010 attack by Israeli commandos of a ship carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, this is one of the most expensive Turkish action films ever made. The film was initially banned in Germany over fears about the film’s anti-Semitic content, although it was eventually decided that the film could be made available to those over the age of eighteen.

Agent Vinod

Agent Vinod (2012, Sriram Raghavan)

An Indian thriller about one spy’s attempt to uncover why and how his colleague was murdered. Despite having a Pakistani girl as a heroine, this film was banned in Pakistan for suggesting the country’s intelligence service is in collaboration with extreme terrorist groups.

Papilio Buddha

Papilio Buddha (2013, Jayan K. Cherian)

This beautifully poetic film explores discrimination against Dalits and women in Indian society. Initially banned in India due to its criticism of Gandhi, it was only allowed release once speeches against the Mahatma were muted or blurred.


Noah (2014, Darren Aronofsky)

Like the last film, you might well have heard of this one. The most recent addition to the list of ‘top ten banned films’, this film has been widely banned in countries across the globe, such as Bahrain, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Taking (unsurprisingly) the story of Noah as its subject-matter, this film has inflamed not just Christians and Jews, but has been banned in various Muslim countries, due to its having a subject-matter that contradicts Islamic teaching. The film has also provoked concern and criticism over its Caucasian-only cast of actors.

Harriet Beaney
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