“In the ’50s, audiences accepted a level of artifice that the audiences in 1966 would chuckle at. And the audiences of 1978 would chuckle at what the audience of 1966 said was okay, too. The trick is to try to be way ahead of that curve, so they’re not chuckling at your movies 20 years down the line.” — Quentin Tarantino
Censorship is an antithetical element in cinematic tradition. Countless works of cinematic art have been suppressed and censored in the name of perceived societal decency.
By stripping away scenes, shots, subplots or characters that make films powerful, institutional authority is imposed on something as free as art. The battle for free expression is one that we all are a part of. However, films often disturb public sensibilities by showing what is considered “unacceptable” content according to societal norms. They end up being censored by the audience as well. It is up to us to decide whether we want the freedom of expression to be absolute or satisfied with a culture of censorship.
Here is a look at a few examples of scenes that were considered to be too inappropriate for the big screen and were removed from the final cuts.
10 offensive scenes removed from major films:
The Twin Towers Ending – Men in Black II (2002)
Men in Black II failed to live up to the expectations generated by the hilarious first film. The sequel is a brisk 85-minute update on the events of the original. One of the reasons why the film feels short is that the picture’s original ending had to be scrapped. The initial script would have had the ending take place at the World Trade Centre. The towers were meant to open up, to reveal spaceships underneath.
Though the filming had taken place before 9/11, this VFX-heavy depiction of the Twin Towers was scrapped before editing was finished. The scene was rewritten by the bigwigs to incorporate the Statue of Liberty instead to avoid any needless pain.
This was done, of course, out of respect for the survivors and the victims of the 9/11 tragedy.
Taming Parties – Zootopia (2016)
This 2016 Disney film was an undoubted major critical and commercial success. The allegorical masterpiece was a beautiful portrayal of societal practices like racial profiling and xenophobia.
The original script, however, contained events called “taming parties” in which predatory animals were fitted with shock collars and were shocked whenever they had the urge to eat another animal. This is reminiscent of the ‘Orwellian Thought Police’ in his seminal novel, 1984.
“It stuck around a very, very long time because we found it emotionally compelling,” co-director Byron Howard said while speaking about the controversial scene. However, in the end, they decided against it because of the allusions to the horrors of WWII.
Murphy’s Death – Robocop (1987)
Paul Verhoeven’s classic 1987 film, Robocop, had to undergo edits and revisions for the film to be considered rated R. In the film, Kevin Page plays a young executive who gets brutally murdered during a failed demonstration of a police robot.
Page later told the Hollywood Reporter, “He finally got the R in the last round of submitting to the ratings board by cutting four seconds: two seconds of me being shot on the table and two seconds of the back of Peter Weller’s head coming off.”
Alex Murphy (played by Peter Weller) had an even more gruesome scene which showed his hand and arm being blown off by shotgun blasts. Murphy finally succumbed to a headshot. Even though Weller’s elaborate model was made for the scene, this shot lasted less than a second in the theatrical cut.
Extended Crew Log Sequence – Event Horizon (1997)
The 1997 sci-fi film Event Horizon was a financial failure when it was released but, in the subsequent years, it has managed to create a niche for itself in science fiction history. The film follows a space crew that is sent out to investigate the disappearance of a lost spaceship.
Even though the film has many gory scenes, the uncensored version is allegedly much more disturbing. Paul W. S. Anderson, the film’s director, admitted that the extended scenes of graphic violence were too much.
The initial cut showed the crew members’ descent into insanity as they attacked, tortured and raped each other to death. The footage is now lost, presumably forever.
Spilling Guts – Scream (1996)
Wes Craven’s 1996 film also had to battle with the MPAA to get an R rating. The MPAA asked him to remove the opening shot of Casey (played by Drew Barrymore) being stalked by the killer, but Craven refused to comply. He did, however, remove the shot of her boyfriend being mutilated with his intestines spilling out.
One of the final scenes which showed two boys stabbing each other also had to be altered. “Almost the entire third act had to be drastically altered,” Craven told Bloody Disgusting. “You know, the whole scene in the kitchen with the boys stabbing each other to establish the alibi, all of that.”
Michael’s Original Escape – Halloween (2007)
Rob Zombie’s 2007 Halloween remake had a mixed reaction with many people criticising the reboot for not being nearly as good as the original and, conversely, some people defending the remake.
Throughout the course of production, Zombie engaged in public disputes with the producers about the film’s tone.
In the end, the producers forced Zombie to remove a cruel rape scene in the middle of the film where asylum guards bring a female patient to the cell that Michael Myers is in and assault her in front of him. Michael does not react to this until the guards start touching his mask which prompts him to kill them and escape.
Test audiences found that this scene was needlessly grim and it was removed from the film afterwards.
Infamous Sewer Orgy –It (2017)
Andy Muschietti’s adaptation of Stephen King’s horror novel It is an unsettling watch, to begin with. However, if True Detective creator Cary Fukunaga, the head of the project from 2012 to 2015, had continued to work on the film, it would have been a lot more disturbing. The Telegraph reported that Fukunaga had proposed a screenplay that horrified the parents of the child actors.
The producers were called out for their attempts to “hire underage actresses to make out with creepy old men”. It was also supposed to feature a forced incest scene. “The sexual act connected childhood and adulthood,” King explained.
“Times have changed since I wrote that scene and there is now more sensitivity to those issues.”
Cinema Gunfight – Gangster Squad (2013)
Ruben Fleischer’s 2013 crime thriller Gangster Squad was created to depict the workings of a real-life LAPD unit which was formed to counter the operations of notorious mobster Mickey Cohen and his gang in the 1940s and ’50s.
The first trailer of the film, which included clips from a scene where a film audience is gunned down in a Chinese film theatre with machine guns, coincided with the infamous 2012 Aurora, Colorado shooting where mass murderer James Holmes opened fire at the audience who had come to watch a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. He killed 12 people and injured 70.
“The Aurora shooting was an unspeakable tragedy, and out of respect for the families of the victims, we felt it necessary to re-shoot that sequence, and I’m proud of the fact that we did,” Fleischer commented at a Gangster Squad press conference.
“I think that we didn’t compromise the film or our intent, and I think the [new] Chinatown sequence is really well done, and that we should all respect the tragedy and not draw associations to our film.”
Khan’s Infant Son – Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982)
The Wrath of Khan is considered to be the best entry in the series. With compelling story arcs, great character development and really clever science fiction elements like the Kobayashi Maru test and the Genesis Device, the 1982 film was a great addition to the Star Trek legacy.
However, a subplot was removed from the final film. In the first cut, Khan is seen with an infant son. The writers had initially decided that Khan was going to activate the Genesis Device and kill himself and his son but Paramount felt killing an infant was too offensive to be shown on screen.
The Rape of Christ – The Devils (1971)
Ken Russell’s 1971 film is still considered one of the most controversial pictures of all time, even though almost half a century has passed. Warner Bros. has rejected all appeals for a proper re-release. At the time of its release, The Devils incurred public wrath because it showed the corruption within the Catholic Church and had liberal depictions of violence and nudity.
The film faced mass protests for its attack on the Church. The studio forced Russell to edit the film several times. One scene showed “possessed” nuns sexually assaulting a statue of Jesus Christ.
The scene was not recovered for decades until it was aired in a 2002 documentary.