Ever since film censorship was conceived in the early 1900s, movies have fallen foul of various government-backed bodies who scrutinize cinematic content and subject matter. In 1922, the Motion Picture Association of America was founded to help set up a standard of censorship and to prohibit the screening of certain films that were deemed to cause offense.
Many film fans may associate movies such as I Spit on Your Grave, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Last House on the Left and Cannibal Holocaust — which were all labelled as "video nasties" and banned or heavily censored in the UK — as the prime suspects for such regulations. But in 1910, The Johnson-Jeffries Fight film was banned in South Africa and in the South because it showed an African-American boxer defeating a caucasian boxer. Screenings of this movie ultimately caused race riots in many US cities.
More recently, one of the most popular and financially successful genres to be brought to the big screen has been comic book adaptations. But due to censorship rules in various countries, not all these movies see the light of day across the world. What could possibly lead these films to be banned? Here are 15 movies, all based on comic books, that have been thrown in the the too taboo pile.
1. 300 (2007)
Where it was banned: Iran
American comic book writer Frank Miller wrote a five-issue, limited-edition series that was a fictionalized retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, when Persia invaded Greece in 480 BC. Zack Snyder adapted the comic book into an epic film starring Gerard Butler, Lena Headey and Michael Fassbender.
Iranian officials denounced the film for its apparently racist depiction of ancient Persians and went to great lengths to get the film banned. A formal complaint was lodged with UNESCO by the Iranian Academy of the Arts, voicing concerns that 300 condemned the countries identity. Screenings in various countries were all protested by Iranian embassies, with the film banned outright in Iran due to its "hurtful American propaganda."
2. Fritz The Cat (1972)
Where it was banned: Malaysia
Ralph Bakshi directed the independent animated feature Fritz the Cat, which was an adaptation of the comic strip created by cartoonist Robert Crumb. This teen comedy about an anthropomorphic cat marked the first animated feature film to receive an X rating in the US for its depiction of sex.
Naturally, given the X-rated content of the film, it was met with backlash from some segments of society, and was subsequently banned in Malaysia due to its explicit sexual content and violence. In 2006 Bakshi told The Guardian:
"A lot of people got freaked out. The people in charge of the power structure, the people in charge of magazines and the people going to work in the morning who loved Disney and Norman Rockwell, thought I was a pornographer, and they made things very difficult for me. The younger people, the people who could take new ideas, were the people I was addressing. I wasn't addressing the whole world. To those people who loved it, it was a huge hit, and everyone else wanted to kill me."
Despite the highly offensive nature of the film, its success was so great that it inevitably led to a sequel, The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat, which was also banned in Malaysia.
3. Constantine (2005)
Where it was banned: Brunei
#DC Comics antihero John Constantine made his debut in 1984's Swamp Thing, before heading over to Hellblazer for 300 issues. Warner Bros. released supernatural horror Constantine in 2005, starring Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz and Shia LaBeouf.
John Constantine appears in the film as a demon hunter who helps a woman to prove that her sister's death was not a suicide. Having visited hell, Constantine focuses on helping the woman, which he hopes will gain him a place in heaven. Featuring a treacherous angel, depictions of hell and demonic possession, the Islamic sultanate of Brunei banned the film, deeming it offensive to Islam.
4. Persepolis (2007)
Where it was banned: Lebanon
Based on an autobiographical graphic novel of the same name by illustrator Marjane Satrapi, the animated feature film Persepolis tells of Satrapi's childhood during the Iranian Revolution.
Nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar in 2008, Persepolis was condemned in Iran for being Islamophobic and "anti-Iranian," but was still shown in that country, albeit heavily censored. However, the film was banned outright in Lebanon, before the ban was later revoked due to outcry from secular communities within that country.
5. Daredevil (2003)
Where it was banned: Malaysia
Making its Marvel debut in 1964, #Daredevil tells the tale of Hell's Kitchen local Matt Murdock, who is blinded by a radioactive substance that falls from a truck yet also heightens his other senses to superhuman levels.
While Ben Affleck bagged the Golden Raspberry for Worst Actor thanks to his portrayal of Daredevil in the movie adaptation, this was not the reason the film was banned in Malaysia.
Malaysia's then-Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah said that movies were only banned from the country if they showed material that contained unwarranted levels of violence and sexual material. He explained at the time:
"Most of the time, censorship is adequate if only some portions of the film require censorship, but if too much censorship is required, making the film meaningless, it is best banned."
6. Deadpool (2016)
Where it was banned: China and Uzbekistan
#Deadpool, real name Wade Winston Wilson, made his comic book debut in 1991. Originally portrayed as a supervillain, Deadpool was a former US Special Forces operative who morphed into a mercenary with mental health issues, superhuman healing and impressive physicality following a rogue scientific experiment.
Marvel Comics published the series Cable & Deadpool in 2004, in which the character describes himself as "Ryan Reynolds crossed with a shar-pei." Slightly prophetic, considering Reynolds went on to play the title character in the 2016 film.
China's national media regulator deemed the film's content to be too violent, with graphic language and too much nudity, to allow it a national release. Uzbekistan followed suit because the film did not "line with ethical norms" in that country.
7. The Punisher (1989)
Where it was banned: South Africa and Sweden
Of the many cinematic renderings of the #MarvelComics character, this was the first. The character first popped up in comics in the 1970s, before reaching the height of his antihero popularity in the 1980s.
Dolph Lundgren played Frank Castle/Punisher in this late-'80s feature-length film. While initially banned in South Africa and Sweden, The Punisher was released on video in both countries two years after its cinematic release.
8. Superman (1978)
Where it was banned: Peking, a.k.a Beijing
Forty years after DC Comics debuted #Superman, Christopher Reeve donned the familiar red cape for the big-screen movie adaptation. The film wasn't released in China until 1986, during a time when the country's political climate was further intensified by a wave of student demonstrations due to the high cost of living. At the time, the government feared that the release of Superman would inflame the unrest, given the film's ideology of truth, justice, and the American way.
Although Superman was shown in Shanghai, China's capital city Peking decided to yank the movie from cinema screens, with one reviewer on the Peking Evening News criticizing the movie, describing it as American propaganda:
The director has Superman and Lois Lane soar freely around the Statue of Liberty in New York. This blatantly exposes the director's intentions. The director attempts to tell the audience that America represents truth and justice, and that there's only a pinch of (villain) Lex Luthor's evil doings to disturb the government's normal abilities.
9. V For Vendetta (2005)
Where it was banned: China
The black-and-white version of V for Vendetta first appeared from 1982–1985, published by Quality Communications. It followed the story of a lone masked anarchist trying to persuade British citizens to rise up against a dictatorship. Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving and John Hurt starred in the dystopian thriller based on the comics. The movie follows the freedom fighter "V," who is aided by a young woman in carrying out terrorist acts in an attempt to spark a revolution.
While V for Vendetta was never played in theaters in China, many believed it was because of a ban due to the film's anti-government subject matter. However, in 2012 it was broadcast on China Central Television in its entirety, which some took as a welcome indication that the country was beginning to relax its policies on movie imports from the West.
10. Re-Animator (1985)
Where it was banned: Iceland
Horror writer H. P. Lovecraft's short story Herbert West–Reanimator was serialized in 1922, before being adapted in 1950 for EC Comics' Weird Science. The original story was one of the first to depict zombies as a result of scientific experimentation.
Herbert West–Reanimator was the basis for Stuart Gordon's horror film Re-Animator, which focuses on a medical student who performs experiments on corpses to bring them back to life, but with horrific results.
The film was banned in Iceland due to its high-impact violence. The country also banned the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Cannibal Holocaust, To All a Good Night and Amazonia, all for the same reasons.
11. Death Note (2006)
Where it was banned: China
Death Note is a Japanese manga series that was published in the 2000s. It follows a high school student who discovers a notebook that kills anyone whose name is written on its pages, but only if the writer has seen that person's face. The #manga series proved so popular that it was turned into novels, anime TV series, a Nintendo DS game and anime TV films. An English-language remake is due to hit cinemas on August 25.
In 2006, director Shusuke Kaneko released the live-action Japanese thriller Death Note, based on the manga series. Probably one of the weirdest reasons as to why a film — and subsequently all property to do with the franchise — was banned in a country was due to students defacing their school books to make their own death notes. With kids writing people's names down to imitate what was depicted in the film, authorities deemed the practice harmful and that it could incite anarchy and insubordination.
12. Sin City (2005)
Where it was banned: Myanmar and Malaysia
Sin City is Frank Miller's multi-award-winning series of neo-noir comics, which made its debut with 1991's "Dark Horse Presents Fifth Anniversary Special." Miller and Robert Rodriguez co-directed the cinematic adaptation, an anthology film featuring an all-star cast including Brittany Murphy, Mickey Rourke and Benicio Del Toro.
The film was rated R due to sustained strong violence, nudity and sexual content including dialogue, and was subsequently banned in Myanmar and Malaysia due to high-level violence and sexual content.
13. The Dark Knight (2008)
Where it was banned: China
Though #Batman first appeared in a DC Comics publication in 1939, he wasn't referred to as "The Dark Knight" until the following year. In 1986, Frank Miller created the series The Dark Knight Returns, which gave the character his first published outing under this nickname.
One of the most successful movies of all time, the 2008 big-screen adaptation starred Christian Bale, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, and took more than $1 billion at the worldwide box office. #HeathLedger won a posthumous Oscar for Actor in a Supporting Role, as well as a bazillion other awards for this one role alone.
Warner Bros. had to pull its release from Chinese cinemas, citing "cultural sensitivities." At the time the studio released the following statement:
Based on a number of pre-release conditions that are being attached to 'The Dark Knight,' as well as cultural sensitivities to some elements of the film, we have opted to forego a theatrical release of the film in China.
Check out Ledger in action below:
14. Avengers: Age Of Ultron (2015)
Where it was banned: Germany
Marvel first published the 10-issue crossover story Age of Ultron in 2013. Featuring the sentient robot Ultron, the plot sees this despot heading to Earth to enslaving mankind. Captain America, Luke Cage, Iron Man, Emma Frost and Hawkeye all feature, as they band together to try to put a stop to the supervillain.
#Marvel Studios' Avengers: Age of Ultron featured an all-star cast including Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth and Scarlett Johansson. However, distributor Disney had conflict with independent cinemas in Germany, due to the House of Mouse raising rental fees. As a result, almost 200 theaters across Germany boycotted the film. Raising the fees from 47.7 percent to 53 percent of ticket sales, plus #Disney cutting its contribution to advertising expenses, meant that the profits made by cinema owners would have been reduced considerably.
The dispute was so great, the cinemas also threatened a blanket ban on any of the company's releases at the time, including Inside Out and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
15. Blade (1998)
Where it was banned: Malaysia
Making his first appearance in the 1973's The Tomb of Dracula, Eric Brooks, a.k.a Blade, was born into a world of vampirism. After his mother was bitten by one while in the throes of labor, #Blade was born immune to the bites of bloodsuckers.
In 1998, Wesley Snipes starred in the live-action Blade, which follows the Marvel character as he attempts to rid the world of #vampires. But given the film's vast amount of gore and violence, the Film Censorship Board of Malaysia deemed it too graphic for release.
Which comic adaptation do you think had the least reason to be slapped with censorship? Sound off in the comments section.