When it comes to Hollywood, almost every movie has to be submitted to the Motion Picture Association of America, which gives a rating based on who the board feels should see it. It’s often difficult for movies to get through the rating process intact, especially movies that are aimed at a younger audience. The difference between a PG, PG-13 and R-rating could mean the difference between millions of dollars in revenue, so it’s a nerve-wracking process. Superhero movies have a unique experience trying to get through the US rating board because they often have a lot of violence that the MPAA frowns upon.
Unfortunately, the process doesn’t always stop there with the American board. When it goes to theaters outside the United States, movies often have to face a whole new set of challenges. Differences in culture, legality and moral codes mean a movie will sometimes have to be edited all over again just to be allowed to be seen at all in different countries. A flash of skin or splash of blood that’s allowed in the US will be cut out completely for other places. To give you an idea, let’s go over 16 movies that were censored overseas.
16. BATMAN RETURNS
In 1992’s sequel to Batman, Batman Returns brought back the Caped Crusader to fight the villains Catwoman and the Penguin. While fighting an army of circus freaks and remote-controlled penguins, Batman had a rough time.
The movie was controversial in the United States for crossing the line in terms of violence for a children’s flick.
The British Board of Film Classification doesn’t just make decisions about movies based on violence, sex and profanity. It will also judge a movie based on “imitable behavior.” In Batman Returns, the UK ordered several cuts, including the scene where Catwoman put aerosol cans in the microwave because that was “imitable behavior.” The BBFC also had the studio cut out the thug with nunchucks because that weapon is illegal for minors in the UK.
15. IRON MAN 2
In 2010, Iron Man 2 brought back the armor-clad hero in his sequel to the hit movie. As Stark dealt with the government trying to get his technology, he also struggled with the health effects of his arc reactor. He also has to face the consequences of his father’s actions as a Russian genius Ivan Vanko becomes Whiplash and his business rival Justin Hammer tried to launch his own army of military drones.
While you might expect that countries overseas would object to the violence or military themes of the movie, it’s actually the Russian angle that caused problems. When the movie was released in China, all references to Russia, Iran and North Korea were removed or scrambled. Oddly enough, the Chinese version ended up accidentally airing on American cable services, causing some confusion.
14. MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS
In 2012, Marvel unleashed The Avengers, a movie that brought together the characters of Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and the Hulk onto the screen. The four paired up with S.H.I.E.L.D. to fight an alien invasion led by Thor’s brother Loki, and it was definitely aimed at kids with toys and action figures released along with it.
The problems with the movie overseas started with the title.
There was a very popular TV show and movie spin-off called The Avengers in the UK. Marvel had to rename the movie Avengers Assemble for the United Kingdom. The other problem came at the moment when Loki impaled Agent Coulson. In Germany, Austria and Switzerland, Marvel had to cut out the bloody staff sticking out of Coulson’s chest.
13. SPIDER-MAN 2
The most popular of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy and one of the most popular superhero movies of all time is Spider-Man 2. Released in 2004, the movie pitted the hero against a deranged scientist accidentally fused with four mechanical arms, Doctor Octopus. The movie also did very well overseas but had to make a few changes along the way.
In one scene, Doc Ock and Spidey end up on a tower where they get into a brutal fistfight. They fall off and tumble through the air, trading blows along the way. At one point, Spider-Man headbutts his enemy and in the United Kingdom, censors called that unacceptable because it was “imitable behavior.” The studio actually replaced the headbutt with a punch in the UK version.
12. BATMAN FOREVER
In 1992’s Batman Forever, Val Kilmer took over the role of Batman, adopted Chris O’Donnell as sidekick Robin, and took on two villains: Two-Face and the Riddler. Played by Tommy Lee Jones with crazed menace, Two-Face was a district attorney whose face was scarred with acid and shattered his personality.
While the US had no problem with his gruesome face, many of the close-up shots of Two-Face were edited out of the UK version.
That includes the first scene where he threatened the security guard and some of the shots where the camera focused on him. That was supposed to make the movie less scary for younger viewers. The BBFC also deleted some of Batman’s fight moves like kneeing someone in the stomach, kicking another in the crotch and headbutting another thug.
11. ROBOCOP 2
In 1987, Robocop started a long-lasting franchise about a cop killed in the line of duty brought back to life as a powerful cyborg. The original Robocop was an extremely violent movie that went through a lot of cuts in the United States just to get an R-rating, so 1990’s Robocop 2 had a tough road ahead of it. Robocop 2 made it as an R in the US, but faced even more cuts to screen in the UK.
The BBFC ordered many edits, including a scene of a thief being kicked in the crotch by a prostitute, Cain killing a woman holding a baby, a cop getting his head smashed into a slot machine, an extended scene of the same cop Duffy being vivisected, and some of the shots of Robocop killing bad guys.
One of the most successful R-rated superhero movies (and one of the most successful R-rated movies, period) was 2016’s Deadpool. The action-comedy about a mercenary who undergoes an experiment that turns him into a disfigured but immortal hero was a raunchy and violent film but managed to get through to US screens unscathed. Other countries, not so much.
China banned the movie altogether.
Meanwhile, India’s censors demanded some scenes and lines cut. In general, the many references to male and female genitals were taken out. The scene where Deadpool and his lover celebrate the holidays in explicit ways was shortened, and some violent scenes of a head and hand being cut off were cut out, and the strip club had all the nudity removed.
9. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES 2
Of all the superhero movies released over the years, one of the most family-friendly franchises has been the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In 1991, the first sequel Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze brought back the shell-shocked heroes to fight Shredder and find out the truth behind their origin.
The first movie was criticized by parents for its excessive violence, so this movie had the turtles fighting mainly hand-to-hand. In the UK, the fact that the weapons weren’t used much didn’t save the movie from cuts. There, nunchucks are illegal for minors, so all shots of Michelangelo’s nunchucks were completely removed. In fact, they even cut a shot of some sausages because the BBFC thought they could be mistaken for nunchucks.
8. WONDER WOMAN
With 2017’s Wonder Woman, superhero movies became more inclusive as the heroine hit the silver screen for the first time. The story of a young woman from an island of Amazon warriors was groundbreaking, as well as controversial. It wasn’t just because some guys didn’t want to see a feminist hero. Some countries like Lebanon and Qatar banned the movie altogether because of its Israeli lead actress.
In India, the movie was allowed with at least one change.
In one scene, Steve Trevor arrived at the island of Thymescira and Wonder Woman walked in on him as he was bathing. Even though actor Chris Pine covered up his “above average” crotch, he still looked naked everywhere else and Indian censors still demanded the scene be removed.
7. BATMAN V SUPERMAN
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a controversial movie in 2016 where the two heroes were manipulated by Lex Luthor into fighting each other. While the fight itself was pretty awesome, a few moments raised a lot more eyebrows than the battle.
In one moment that was criticized for its exploitation by some viewers, Clark Kent walked in on Lois Lane while she’s nude in the bath but mostly covered up by water. There was also a moment in the extended edition where Bruce Wayne gets equal time and we briefly saw him nude. In India, censors ordered all the nudity cut from the final release before it could be seen in the country. Oddly enough, the scenes of the two men beating each other and Batman killing criminals stayed in.
6. THE TOXIC AVENGER
Released in 1984, The Toxic Avenger was a twisted satire on the superhero genre about a nerdy janitor who falls into a barrel of toxic waste and turns into a monstrous warrior. Throughout the movie, the Toxic Avenger and his enemies carry out some of the most violent acts seen on the big screen, so it probably isn’t a surprise that it had a long road even getting an R in the United States.
In the United Kingdom, the movie had an even harder job getting released there on VHS.
One of the crucial plot points is that some of the school bullies have made a game out of running people over, and are shown running over and killing a child. That whole subplot was cut from the UK version, along with some scenes of Toxie killing and mutilating criminals.
5. SUICIDE SQUAD
Suicide Squad was an unconventional comic book movie about a secret government agency that used supervillains serving time to save the world for reduced sentences. The team found itself up against one of its own, the Enchantress who planned to unleash a nightmare on the world with the help of her reincarnated brother. When one of your biggest heroes is Harley Quinn (the sadistic and maniacal sidekick of the Joker), you know you’re in for a different experience and the movie delivered with mixed results.
The movie had some violent scenes, but none of those needed to be cut for the release overseas. What India did demand were widespread cuts to audio for profanity. Otherwise, the movie stayed intact and did fairly well in the country for a non-Indian movie.
4. JUDGE DREDD
Judge Dredd has had a difficult time getting adapted to the movie screen. The first attempt was in 1995 with Sylvester Stallone as the title character, a police officer who also serves as judge, jury and executioner on the streets of an overpopulated future city. While the movie received mixed reviews, some of the biggest complaints were about the relatively tame action, compared to the gory comic book it was based on.
Ironically, other reviewers thought the movie went too far.
Yet even the mild violence didn’t get past censors in the UK, who had the studio cut some moments, including one where Dredd gets multiple headbutts from one of his enemies. All those moments were cut out because headbutts are considered imitable behavior that the BBFC didn’t allow to be seen in movies.
Before he launched the successful Spider-Man trilogy, director Sam Raimi created his own superhero with Darkman. When a scientist working on experimental artificial skin was burned and left for dead by criminals, he created a collection of realistic masks to exact his revenge. It was a violent and often funny film that pushed the boundaries of the genre and the film board.
Yet when it came time to be released in the United Kingdom, it wasn’t the scene where a villain chopped off fingers or where Darkman pushes an enemy’s head out of a manhole to get run over the BBFC had a problem with. No, it was the brief shot of a thug with a pair of nunchucks that got the ax, because depictions of nunchucks in movies were illegal at the time.
2. CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER
Sometimes, censorship in movies isn’t about cutting out violence or sex or profanity. Sometimes, it’s just about making sense to a different culture. A good example of that is Captain America: Winter Soldier. Released in 2014, the sequel dealt with Captain America discovering his old partner Bucky had been taken by the Soviet Union and turned into a cyborg assassin codenamed the Winter Soldier.
In other countries, the brief shot of the list was changed.
Having been frozen for decades, at one point we saw Steve Rogers looking over a list of things he needed to catch up on. In the United States, the list included things like I Love Lucy and the Berlin Wall. In other countries, the brief shot of the list was changed. For instance, in the United Kingdom, I Love Lucy and the Berlin Wall were replaced with Sherlock and the 1966 World Cup Final. South Korea’s list included Ji-Sung Park, Oldboy and Dance Dance Revolution.
Hugh Jackman thrilled audiences for years as the tough and violent anti-hero Wolverine in the X-Men film series, and his final performance in the iconic role came in 2017 with Logan. Set in a near future where Professor Xavier is suffering from brain damage and mutants are hunted by cyborgs, Logan was forced to escort his cloned daughter X-23 to safety.
The movie was already pushing boundaries in the US as the first R-rated depiction of Wolverine in live-action, but Chinese censors decided the United States hadn’t gone far enough. Seventeen minutes of footage was cut, including shots of Wolverine impaling heads with his claws and a shot of a woman’s bare breasts. Still, Chinese audiences were thrilled to get to see it at all, and it did very well.
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