Why These Sci-Fi Movies Are Banned Around The World

Science fiction is, in and of itself, a forward-thinking genre. Whether they're tackling the existence of aliens, experimenting with human genetics, or traversing the multiverse, sci-fi stories ask us to question the foundations of our own world, as well as those beyond. However, while these tales transport us to places beyond our imaginations, they ultimately serve to reflect our own lives. Science fiction often exposes us to new viewpoints and challenges societal norms — but some places don't like having their norms challenged. And so, censorship ensues.

Since the dissolution of the Motion Picture Production Code, also known as the Hays Code, in the late 1960s, film censorship has been relatively uncommon in the United States. However, several other countries still actively ban films. Though science fiction is less of a target than other genres, there are still many notable examples of sci-fi films that ran afoul of censors, and behind each case lies a deeper story. Ironically, these bans end up revealing more about the perpetrators and their politics than any sci-fi film ever could. Aliens may be wacky, but they aren't as real as the skeletons in your closet.

The Matrix: Reloaded

"The Matrix" sparked backlash when it was first released in Egypt. As the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports, several Islamic publications interpreted the film as supporting Zionism. Naturally, Egypt promptly banned its follow-up, "The Matrix: Reloaded," as well, but the reasoning behind that decision is somewhat murkier.

According to Variety, the country's Department of Monitoring Artistic Products partially attributed the ban to "scenes of excessive violence," which is a common red flag in Middle Eastern countries. However, the larger reason requires more digging. The committee also noted that the film "deals explicitly with issues of creation and existence," including "the Creator and the created, the origins of creation, [and] free will and predestination."

This is all in reference to the central theme of "Reloaded," which comes to a head near the end of film, when the Architect informs Neo that he is a product of the Matrix. Despite Morpheus' belief that Neo is the One who will dismantle the virtual world, this is actually an illusion designed by the Architect to maintain control of the simulation. When essentially given the choice to either submit to "the Creator" or act of his own free will, Neo chooses the latter, defying his symbolic role in creation.

It's not hard to see why a country devoted to staunch monotheism would not be on board with this, but the Architect was still willing to give Neo a choice, even knowing that he might make the wrong decision. Why couldn't Egypt give movie-goers the same option?

District 9

"District 9" held nothing back in its allegory for South African apartheid, but it was actually Nigeria that gave Neill Blomkamp's modern masterwork a heaping of backlash.

Dora Akunyili, Information Minister of Nigeria, believed that the film portrayed Nigerians as "cannibals, criminals, and prostitutes," and that this "denigrated Nigeria's image" (via Vanguard). Akunyili specifically mentioned that the corrupt Nigerian gang leader is named Obesandjo, which is nearly identical to the last name of the former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo.

To Nigeria, this felt like a direct takedown of the country, associating the nation with the gang's heinous actions: illegal weapons trading, prostitution, killing aliens as part of voodoo rituals, and even cutting off Wikus Van de Merwe's arm, which Obesandjo wants to eat to gain alien abilities.

Akunyili ordered all copies of the film to be confiscated from local theaters, insisted on an apology from Sony Pictures, and asked the studio to cut out any derogatory content featuring Nigeria. Of course, that didn't happen, but the film continued to be criticized for its portrayal of Nigerians. In an editorial, Nigerian writer Teju Cole wondered why Blomkamp chose "to depict his Nigerian characters as caricatures." However, actor Eugene Khumbanyiwa, who portrayed Obesandjo, did not have an issue with the way Nigerians were portrayed, as reported by BBC News. "It's not like Nigerians do eat aliens. Aliens don't even exist in the first place." Can't argue with that one, Eugene.

2012

Ah, remember 2012? When many of us were convinced that the end was nigh? Well, okay, not that many of us, but enough for Roland Emmerich to make boatloads of cash off of it? North Korea sure does. "2012" was a massive hit at the box office, but it didn't make its way to North Korea — not legally, anyway.

In further proof that North Korea seems to be living in its own alternate universe, the nation's government declared that 2012 would be a very prosperous year for the country. According to The Guardian, not only was 2012 the 100th birthday of the nation's founder, Kim Il-sung, but it was the first year in the reign of its new Supreme Commander, Kim Jong-un. As such, the government promised the advent of a more powerful military, an end to the country's hunger crisis, and the evolution of North Korea as an "economic giant." It wasn't about to let a silly global apocalypse jinx everything!

Now, technically, all foreign media is banned in North Korea. However, according to a study done by InterMedia in 2017, media piracy is rampant in the country, and Kim Jong-un's rise to power came with a crackdown on international productions.

"2012" arrived at just the wrong time, directly challenging the country's success by portraying the mythology around the year 2012 as real, and implying that the government was killing whistleblowers. Perhaps that last part hit a bit too close to home. As reported by Japanese newspaper Asahi (by way of The Telegraph), "numerous" citizens found watching bootleg copies of the film were arrested, and faced up to five years in prison.

E.T. the Extra Terrestrial

"E.T. the Extra Terrestrial" is well-known for inspiring a generation of children with an equal mix of terror and wonder, so it only makes sense that a censorship board would come along and ruin it.

As reported in The Lewiston Journal, "E.T." was banned across Scandinavia for children at various age levels. Sweden banned it for children 11 or younger, Finland for kids 8 or younger, and Norway for those 12 or younger. The Swedish Board of Film Censorship believed a "threatening and frightening atmosphere" pervaded the film, while also portraying "adults as the enemies of children." Well, if censors were trying to combat that latter notion, they failed: Some local children hit the streets in protest of the ban, while others worked smarter and not harder, lying about their ages so they could get into the theater.

Years later, when chief censor Gunnel Arrback looked back on "E.T.," she clarified that the matter was actually about subtitles, which she noted that young children couldn't read. According to a Den of Geek article, Arrback said that "we never dub films in Sweden" and "much of the dialogue would be lost to seven-year-olds and younger." This is obviously bizarre given that Arrback never mentioned this publicly when the ban was first enacted.

Clearly, Scandinavia wanted people to think of the children. However, if it had been, it wouldn't have banned them from seeing the film. Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet argued that censors should consult with children before banning films targeted at them, while Arrback admitted in 2007 that movies probably don't have "a negative effect" on young viewers.

Bad Taste

Before cult hits "Meet the Feebles" and "Dead Alive" propelled him into the annals of horror movie superstardom, and more than a full decade before he changed cinema forever with the "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, Peter Jackson burst onto the scene with his feature debut, "Bad Taste."

In Jim Barrett's book about the film, the author recounts the story of young Jackson, a humble photolithographer with far greater aspirations; self-taught in visual effects and film editing, every dollar of his wages was spent financing on his first film, a horror parody about aliens who attempt to harvest human beings for their fast-food franchise.

With support from the New Zealand Film Commission, "Bad Taste" premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1988 and put Jackson on the map. The film is now considered a seminal entry in the splatter-horror subgenre, but while many viewers enjoy the film's extreme violence and gore, a certain Australian state did not.

According to Ian Pryor's tell-all biography "Peter Jackson: From Prince of Splatter to Lord of the Rings," Australia's national censorship board approved a censored version of "Bad Taste." However, after playing the movie for three weeks, Queensland's Film Board of Review pulled the film from theaters. This became the final nail in the coffin for the board, which had banned "more than 100 films" that were previously approved by national censors. The country subsequently abolished the board and the censored version of the film returned to theaters. It wasn't until 2004 that "Bad Taste" would finally be released uncut in Australia on a collector's edition DVD.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation

Remember "G.I. Joe: Retaliation? Yeah, neither do we. But it's technically a science fiction movie, and I guess it was banned in Pakistan, so it makes this list.

As reported by Fox News, Central Board of Film Censors official Zareef Abbasi went so far as to call "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" "anti-Pakistan." Many of the board's objections to the film seem to come from its inciting incident, in which the president of Pakistan has been assassinated, and the president of the United States orders the G.I. Joe team to extract a nuclear warhead from the country, fearing that it will be stolen in the ensuing chaos. After an extended shoot-out between the Joes and some Pakistani guards, many of whom are quickly shot down, the soldiers take the weapon and disarm it.

Abbasi claimed that the film portrays a "negative image of the country," and The Express Tribune reported that Pakistani theater Atrium Cinema said that the film portrays the country "as a failed state." Yeah, that tracks. The film depicts Pakistan as having ineffective security and poor leadership, and treats Pakistani lives as disposable. It's no wonder that officials were angered by the film, and swiftly restricted it from being screened in the country.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Years before the Dark Universe attempted to bring Universal's lineup of classic movie monsters together, one of comedy's greatest duos perfected the formula. "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein"— a frankly misleading title, considering that the comedians also meet Dracula, the Wolfman, and the Invisible Man — was one of Universal's biggest hits in 1948, and inspired an entire series of crossovers. It was an unlikely pairing, and it led to an even more unlikely ban in Finland.

On paper, this horror-comedy sounds a bit hokey. However, it turned out to be far scarier than anyone had anticipated. Combining punchlines with jump scares, the film fully resembles a Universal creature feature: It has spooky lighting design, a dramatic score, and a body count. According to the Library of Congress, theaters showing the movie were plagued by "crying kids, screaming women, and walkouts." Two of those kids? Roger Ebert and Quentin Tarantino, who both cite this movie as one of their all-time favorites.

Jonathon Green's "Encyclopedia of Censorship" notes that Finland was notorious for censoring horror comedies. Not only did these films put bloodshed front and center, a major reason for most censorship cases in Finland, but they epitomized "violence as entertainment." As such, "Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein" was slapped with Finland's highest rating, KK, and banned for many years.

The Hunger Games

Vietnam's National Film Review Board wasn't the only group to recognize how messed up "The Hunger Games" is, but it was the only one to ban the movie adaptation outright.

As reported by the Vietnamese outlets VNExpress and Tuổi Trẻ, the board banned the film days before it was slated to release in theaters. In a public statement, board member Thi Hong Ngat called the games "too violent and ruthless." She also noted that the games being televised made them even worse, as it allowed viewers to "see directly the deadly fight."

Suzanne Collins' original "Hunger Games" novel was a major success in Vietnam, especially with young people, and many fans were eager to see the film adaptation. By banning the film, Vietnam ironically set the stage for the kind of uproar it was hoping to suppress.

This Hunger Games franchise would see further censorship with its third installment, "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1." In Thailand, five young protestors raised the series' three-fingered hand signal in defiance of dictator General Prayuth Chan-ocha.  As Vanity Fair notes, the dissidents were arrested, and the Thai distribution company Apex Group subsequently pulled the film from certain theaters.

A Clockwork Orange

Easily the most controversial film on this list, Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" is no stranger to censorship. After 50 years, it's still churning stomachs.

The most memorable ban on the film, however, came at the behest of Kubrick himself. In England, the film was approved by censors without a problem and became a huge box office hit, yet immediately garnered controversy for glorifying violent crime. It was even tied to several high-profile incidents that resembled Alex's misdeeds. After the courts insisted that the movie had inspired the crimes, Kubrick received countless death threats and endless harassment (via The Guardian). In response, he asked Warner Bros. to pull the film and disallow any future screenings in the U.K. In 2000, a year after Kubrick's death, the film was unbanned and re-released in British cinemas.

"A Clockwork Orange" and its ultraviolence were also banned in South Africa, Singapore, Malaysia, Spain, Brazil, and Canada (via IOL and Cinema Canada), among other countries. However, all of these nations eventually allowed the film to debut, though with some censorship and strict adult ratings. In Brazil, for example, the film was released with black dots hiding any nudity. In South Africa, a moment from the end of the film in which Alex fantasizes about having sex in the snow was cut.

Every Phase 4 Marvel movie

Film censorship rarely generates headlines these days, but when you're a part of the Mouse House, you make the news. Appropriately, every single installment in Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been banned somewhere!

The most common reason for these bans has been queer representation. Both "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" and "Eternals" were banned in the Middle East for featuring gay characters (via The Hollywood Reporter and Deadline); "Multiverse of Madness" has a flashback featuring America Chavez's two mothers, and "Eternals" character Phastos is married to another man. Marvel made headlines for refusing to cut a kiss between the latter couple, something Disney had previously done to get blockbusters past international censors. Online, many fans criticized Disney for this practice, and "Eternals" marked a big step forward. Marvel upheld this standard by refusing to cut America's mothers out of "Multiverse of Madness."

When it comes to censoring Marvel, however, China is the worst perpetrator; not a single film in Phase 4 has opened in that country. "Black Widow" passed the censors, but was withheld from theaters in order to put a greater focus on domestic films during the 100th anniversary of the establishment of China's Communist Party (via Variety). "Eternals" and "Shang-Chi" weren't released because of anti-China comments by cast and crew members. "Spider-Man: No Way Home" failed to secure a Chinese release after Sony refused to remove the Statue of Liberty from the film's climax. As Deadline observes, during the fight with Gargantos, "Multiverse of Madness" features the Epoch Times in the background of a few quick shots. This is a publication that is quite critical of the Chinese government; even though its screen time is brief, its inclusion still seems to be a bit too much for the censors.

China has been banning sci-fi movies from the very beginning...

We shouldn't be surprised that China is so trigger-happy when it comes to censoring American films –– the country has been doing it for decades, especially when it comes to science fiction. In his book "Cinema and Urban Culture in Shanghai, 1922-1943," author Yingjin Zhang explains that China began making more modern films in the early 1920s, and that authorities grew concerned when Chinese filmmakers returned to more classic material, seeing it as a step backwards. So, in order to combat these "rebellious" genres, China's Censorship Board placed a ban on films that "'encourage superstition.'"

What exactly does this vague sentiment mean? Well, many things, but critic Raymond Zhou Liming said it best: "Whatever isn't possible in the real world belongs to superstition." Many classic American science fiction films fall under this wide umbrella, and were thus banned. "Back to the Future" was flagged for its use of time travel. The original "Frankenstein" was banned, according to Zhang, for its "strangeness."

Even "Star Wars" — yes, "Star Wars" — was banned in China. When China's Communist Party was formed in 1949, it only allowed films produced domestically to be shown. That changed in the '90s, but the number of foriegn movies allowed in the country was still very, very small.  As such, plenty of beloved sci-fi films were left in the dust.

...and continues to ban sci-fi films today

Even in the modern era, China is still incredibly strict when it comes to foreign films. In 2011, James Cameron's "Avatar" was a success in China ... for about two weeks. Believing the film would inspire a revolt similar to the one seen in the movie, the government removed the film from approximately 1,600 theaters and replaced it with a patriotic biopic about Confucious (via The Guardian). But don't worry. Ironically, a re-release in China helped "Avatar" help the film reclaim its all-time box office crown from "Avengers: Endgame."

Other releases banned in China include "World War Z," in part because it depicted the undead, but also because, as The Wrap reports, Brad Pitt's involvement in "Seven Years in Tibet" made him a persona non grata on Chinese soil. "Deadpool" was banned for "graphic violence" (via The Hollywood Reporter), and the 2016 "Ghostbusters" remake was banned in part due to its focus on the supernatural (it's also not a franchise with much appeal to Chinese audiences). Even our beloved Keanu Reeves was the subject of a widespread ban on Chinese streaming services, leaving the "Matrix" trilogy unavailable years after their debut (via IndieWire). And thus, we come full circle.