Weird reasons American movies are censored overseas

Cinema is a universal language but sometimes a movie’s content might being acceptable in some cultures but not others. American movies are imported around the world, but not without tweaks: here are the strangest reasons Hollywood films have fallen foul of the censors abroad…

‘Back To The Future’ (1985)

Country censored: China

Back To The Future – Credit: Universal

The Chinese censors didn’t have anything against Robert Zemeckis’ temporal thriller in particular – it just turns out they have a problem with time travel in general. Any movies which feature time travel are either censored heavily or banned because they are deemed to be detracting from a way more serious issue: history itself. “The producers and writers are treating the serious history in a frivolous way, which should by no means be encouraged anymore,” said China’s State Administration for Radio, Film & Television. Marty McFly, you troublemaker! Stop trying to erase history!

‘The Simpsons Movie’ (2007)

Country censored: Burma

Simpsons movie 2… could be on the way – Credit: Fox

The incredibly bizarre reason why you didn’t get to see ‘The Simpsons Movie’ in a Burmese cinema back in 2007? The colours were too vibrant. The country’s Motion Picture & Video Censor Board issues the extremely odd edict that banned any movies featuring prominent uses of red and yellow. Why? Who knows? Is it even possible to release a movie that doesn’t have red and yellow in it? Obviously the family Simpson didn’t qualify and as Matt Groening wasn’t willing to have Lisa and co lose their lemony glow, the movie never saw release in Burma.

‘Skyfall’ (2012)

Country censored: China

Skyfall – Credit: Sony Pictures

Bond might travel the world, but his antics aren’t always welcomed by the overseas authorities. ‘Skyfall’ was a huge hit everywhere, but in order for the movie to get a wide release in China, producers had to remove a number of scenes to comply with Chinese censors. The scene where Ola Rapace’s hitman shoots a Chinese guard in the hotel lobby was removed, as were any mentions of Silva being tortured by Chinese authorities. When Bond questions Severine about her tattoo and how it means she was sold into child slavery, the Chinese subtitles tell a completely different story about how she was sold into the mob. Bond complied and got to go East.

‘Die Hard’ (1988)

Country censored: Germany

Die Hard – Credit: 20th Century Fox

Perhaps unsurprisingly, German audiences didn’t much like being painted as calculating villains, so when John McTiernan’s ageless action thriller was released there in 1988, a few tweaks were necessary. As it transpires, the ‘German’ language spoken by Hans Gruber and goons bears very little resemblance to actual German. That sort of thing wouldn’t fly with real-life Germans, so for their domestic release, Hans’ terrorists hailed from the ultra-vague nation of ‘Europe’.

‘Titanic 3D’ (2012)

Country censored: China

Kate Winslet in Titanic – Credit: 20th Century Fox

That’s right, China were at it again, even forcing the uncomprimising James Cameron to bow to the censors. Chinese audiences were devastated when they discovered that the movie’s infamous nude scene, featuring Kate Winslet draped across a chaise lounge, had been cropped at the neck. The reason is priceless: “Considering the vivid 3D effects, we fear that viewers may reach out their hands for a touch and thus interrupt other people’s viewing,” said an official. They were right to be cautious: covering up Kate’s chest may have contributed to what would become the bigest ever movie opening in Chinese box-office history.

‘Talladega Nights: the Ballad Of Ricky Bobby’ (2006)

Country censored: Iran


Iran’s relationship with cinema has been tumultuous to say the least, after cinemas were burned down under the Khomeini regime in the 1970s. Filmmakers like Abbas Kiarostami would go on to flourish and eventually, even Western movies would make their way to Iranian cinemas – but not without heavy censoring. No costly retouching work for the Iranians: when men and women are deemed to be too close, they’re separated clumsily with special effects or objects super-imposed onto the scene. The scene in ‘Talladega Nights’, where Ricky Bobby runs from the track in just his pants, was altered significantly in Iran – they just covered him up with an elongated wall. Seamless!

‘Mission: Impossible III’ (2006)

Country censored: China

Mission Impossible III – Credit: Paramount

Another strange request from China, who granted JJ Abrams and crew permission to shoot in their fair land but had a few requests once the movie passed through their censor board. One scene, where a group of men are seen playing mahjong, was removed due to the implications that all Chinese villagers were gamblers, while another scene was edited because the laundry hanging from washing lines draped above the Shanghai streets was deemed to be too dirty. Until the edits were made, the film didn’t pass muster with the Chinese Communist Party guidelines.

‘Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World’s End’ (2007)

Country censored: China

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End – Credit: Disney

You might think that the casting of Hong Kong superstar Chow Yun-Fat might have been to appease the Eastern market, but you’d be wrong – in fact, his casting caused Jerry Bruckheimer all sorts of issues. The character of Chinese pirate Sao Feng was considered extremely offensive to Chinese audiences, so to ensure the movie saw release in the region, director Gore Verbinski – or, more likely, whatever poor sod was manning the edit bay that day – had to cut out the character entirely. Never mind that the movie then made no sense – it made no sense in the uncut English version either.

‘Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom’ (1984)

Country censored: India

Temple of Doom – Credit: Paramount

Steven Spielberg and George Lucas blundered into colonial-era stereotypes with their Indy prequel, showing Indians to be savages who had not yet been introduced to the concept of table manners – it’s no wonder they were denied shooting permission in India. The villain, Mola Ram, is a caricature more than he is a character, plucking out mens’ hearts and putting children to work in the mines, but it’s the scenes where Indy eats with his Indian hosts that was most offensive. On the menu were snakes and spiders, but the final insult was the course of monkey brains – because monkeys are considered sacred in India. The movie was banned in India upon release and is still frowned upon decades later.

‘Zoolander’ (2001)

Country censored: Iran

Zoolander – Credit: Paramount

It wasn’t surprising that Ben Stiller’s cult comedy didn’t get a release in Malaysia, what with the plot about assassinating the Malaysian Prime Minister and all, but it was an eye-opener to learn the reasons that Iran banned ‘Zoolander’: for its “homosexual themes”. What homosexual themes, you might ask? Good question, because no characters are actually gay (although several are fabulous to hitherto uncharted levels) and there are no gay jokes, so it seems that the fashion industry was just too camp for the Iranian censors.