Good Movies Banned in the United States
Previous articles have examined films banned in countries such as Canada and Malaysia, but now it’s time to look at some good movies banned in the United States. Keep in mind, however, that most examples of this are on the state and local level, as there’s thankfully no government agency permitted to ban motion pictures in America. And Hollywood wants to keep it that way, establishing the Motion Picture Production Code in the 1920s to ward off government oversight. This eventually morphed into the MPAA rating system in 1968.
Most of the films listed below can either be purchased from Amazon or rented from Netflix. We do get a small commission if you spend any money at these sites, but it doesn’t affect your price and it all goes back into our site.
The Tin Drum (1979) – Winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, The Tin Drum tells the story of Oskar, a young man unhappy at ever having been born. He vows to never grow any older, and, after throwing himself down a set of stairs, gets his wish. He also bangs a tin drum whenever he’s upset, and there’s plenty of reason to do so as his beloved Germany moves towards Nazism. A black comedy from director Volker Schlondorff, the film was banned in 1997 in Oklahoma County, Oklahoma for a scene in which 16-year-old Oskar appears to have oral sex and later intercourse with a girl of the same age. The verdict was later overturned, and the whole mess is covered in a documentary as part of the Criterion Collection release of the film.
Reenactment of the Massacre at Wounded Knee by Buffalo Bill – When you read about examples like this, you realize that we’ve come a long way as a society. This early film was banned in 1906 for portraying Native Americans in a sympathetic light during the events which led to the deaths of 146 Sioux and 25 American soldiers. Even though you won’t be able to find the film on Amazon or Netflix, I wanted to include it as an interesting historical footnote.
Scarface (1932) – Produced by Howard Hughes and loosely based on the life of Al Capone, this early gangster film starring Paul Muni was completed in 1931. It wouldn’t see the light of day until 1932, however, as censors were concerned with the high level of violence (banned in five states and five additional cities) and the glorification of crime. After numerous attempts to appease the censors–including modifying the ending–Hughes threw up his hands and released the original version in parts of the country where censorship wasn’t as strict.
I Am Curious (Yellow) (1967) – As a young girl seeks to understand the world and obtain social justice, she has an imaginary talk with Martin Luther King Jr. and binds all 23 of her previous lovers to a massive tree. But what really upset the Commonwealth of Massachusetts about this Swedish film was when the main character kissed the flaccid penis of her lover. That caused it to be banned in 1969 on grounds that it was pornography, and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court before the ruling was overturned. I’m sure the lawyers were smiling as they drove to the bank to make their deposits.
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) – Martin Scorsese’s film about the life of Jesus drew massive waves of controversy, including Christian fundamentalists in France throwing Molotov cocktails inside a theatre and severely burning a number of people (doesn‘t sound very Christian to me). While nobody got set on fire in the U.S., the city of Savannah, Georgia did ban the film for six weeks before finally relenting. If you watch Scorsese’s powerful depiction of Christ and his struggles to overcome his humanity, you’ll quickly realize that all the protests have been overblown. In fact, the film has been increasingly embraced by Christian groups over the years.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979) – A satirical look at Biblical events from those rascals in Monty Python, mainly revolving around a Jewish man named Brian Cohen (Graham Chapman) who’s born on the same day as Christ and frequently mistaken for him. Some people, however, just don’t appreciate satire (especially when it involves a chorus line of crucified men), and so the film was banned for a time in several U.S. towns. Still banned in a few countries.
The Vanishing Prairie (1954) – Apparently someone in 1950’s New York found a buffalo giving birth to be offensive, so this Disney nature documentary was banned for a time. Fortunately, the ACLU stepped in, and the ban was quickly overturned. Thank goodness for the ACLU, otherwise I would’ve never been able to start my birthing buffalo smut collection.
Pinky (1949) – A young woman of mixed ethnicity (played by the all-white Jeanne Crain) struggles to decide between life with her African-American grandmother (Ethel Waters) or a handsome white doctor who knows nothing about her heritage. The film was banned in Marshall, Texas for three reasons: a white man remained in love with Pinky after learning of her bloodlines, the film depicted a white man kissing a black woman, and two white men are shown assaulting Pinky after she reveals that she’s half African American. The local theatre manager showed the film anyway, and he was charged with a misdemeanor and fined $200. He appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, eventually resulting in the landmark ruling that extends First Amendment protection to motion pictures. Pinky would go on to receive three Oscar nominations.
Viva Maria! (1965) – Two young women (Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau) become friends while performing at the circus, and soon they’re leading a revolution against El Dictador (but not before Bardot accidentally invents the art of striptease). While the whole thing is played for laughs, certain residents of Dallas, Texas weren’t laughing in 1966. The film was banned for anti-Catholic and sexual content, and the U.S. Supreme Court had to eventually strike down the multi-year ban and limit the ability of municipalities to do so. It’s hard to imagine that anyone wouldn’t want to see Bardot on the big screen.
If you enjoyed this list of good movies banned in the United States, be sure to check out some of our other posts involving banned films around the globe: