China is the second largest movie market outside of the United States, so if a studio wants a movie to be a box office hit around the globe, it’s important to secure a release date in China. However, the country’s government only allows 34 foreign films to be released there each year (that number will reportedly increase in 2017), and there are very strict guidelines about what they will and will not allow in theaters. If a film doesn’t get approval, it’s officially banned throughout Mainland China. Here are 10 films that have suffered that fate.
1. GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)
Although Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot will be released in U.S. theaters this evening, the movie will not get a release in China due to the ghosts and other supernatural beings that appear in the film. The Chinese government and its censorship guidelines oppose any movies that "promote cults or superstition." Sony even attempted to skirt this issue by changing the title from Ghostbusters to what roughly translates to "Super Power Dare Die Team" for Chinese audiences. Clearly, it didn’t work.
2. BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)
The Chinese government banned Back to the Future because of its use of time travel and “disrespectful portrayal of history.” China’s censorship board banned any entertainment that deals with time travel back in 2011, when the theme was becoming very popular in TV shows and films throughout the country.
was denied a theatrical release in China because of its bloody violence, nudity, and graphic language. 20th Century Fox actually tried to work with Chinese censorship authorities to clean up the film, but it was nearly impossible to cut around the film's graphic content without causing plot and story problems.
4. STAR WARS (1977)
Though The Force Awakens, the latest entry in the Star Wars franchise, proved to be a major hit at the Chinese box office, the original 1977 film wasn’t so lucky—mostly due to bad timing. Star Wars came out just a few months after the death of Chairman Mao Zedong, who had refused to let any part of western culture make its way to China. A galaxy far, far away included.
5. AVATAR (2009)
was a huge hit in China—but only in 3D. The country's censors banned the 2D version of the James Cameron film due to its political undertones and themes of revolt. According to Hong Kong’s Apple Daily, authorities banned the film for two reasons: “First, it has taken in too much money and has seized market share from domestic films. And second, it may lead audiences to think about forced removal, and may possibly incite violence." Oddly, China did allow for a very limited run of the film’s 3D version (which, one would assume, did not cut into the box office of the other 2D films in release).
THE DARK KNIGHT
Rather than face an official rejection by Chinese authorities, Warner Bros. opted to cancel its screening of The Dark Knight for Chinese authorities, citing “cultural sensitivities in some elements of the film.” While that was all the studio said on the matter, The New York Times posited that they “may have been concerned that censors would be offended by scenes shot in Hong Kong, including those in which Batman nabs a gangster.”
7. THE DEPARTED (2006)
In 2006, Chinese censors banned the release of Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, in which Boston gangsters attempt to sell computer and weapons technology to Chinese villains. In addition, authorities took offense to the suggestion that the Chinese government might use nuclear-powered weapons against Taiwan.
8. THE DA VINCI CODE (2006)
Although The Da Vinci Code passed Chinese censors and was released in theaters, the movie was abruptly removed and later banned from cinemas based on its controversial and blasphemous content surrounding the alleged daughter of Jesus of Nazareth. Chinese Catholic groups protested the release of the Ron Howard film, which led to its ban throughout the country.
Government censors banned Darren Aronofsky’s Noah in theaters throughout Mainland China, as authorities were uneasy with the film’s religious themes and outlawed its release in the “defiantly secular” country.
10. TO LIVE (1994)
Lest you think China only has a thing against Hollywood movies: While To Live is a Chinese film that was made for Chinese audiences, the movie was banned in its homeland for its critical portrayal of the Chinese Communist government and their policies in the mid-1990s. Its director, Zhang Yimou, was also prohibited from making movies in China for two years. Despite its ban, To Live went on to be a critical darling around the world, and even received a Golden Globe nomination.
All images courtesy of YouTube.