From the questionably quirky to the grotesquely eye-grabbing, here are 15 movie posters that have managed to shake up MPAA ratings boards, challenge public opinion and spit in the eye of authority throughout the years.
The movie poster is perhaps the most precarious attribute when it comes to marketing a film. A merger of art and commerce, movie posters must sell the “product” while simultaneously remain faithful in delivering the spirit of the film. More often than not, filmmakers are at the mercy of ever-powerful censorship boards, who act as the judge, jury and executioner when it comes to the rating and advertising of a motion picture.
Trawling through the many accounts of controversies aroused within the film industry throughout the years, we’ve compiled a list of 15 movie posters that have managed to run afoul in some form - whether in the court of public opinion or in the boardrooms of the MPAA, Advertising Standards Authority and the like.
For more audacious adverts, check out 8 of the Most Controversial Hip-Hop Album Covers (NSFW) as well as 10 of the Most Controversial Fashion Ads (NSFW).
Final Destination 5 (2011)
The horror genre, with its frequent displays of gratuitous gore, sex and terror, is certainly no stranger to treading on thin ice with censorship councils. According to the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK, the original image for this Final Destination installment proved quite distressing to a number of small children. After several complaints, the poster was removed from public display, with the ASA stating, “We considered the image was likely to catch the attention of children, especially because it was shown on a poster on the Underground, where it was an un-targeted medium. Because very young children might view this ad depicting violence, it was likely to cause fear and undue distress to children.”
Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For (2014)
This "film noir" encapsulating poster featuring a revolver-wielding Eva Green in nothing but a sheer robe managed to hit a nerve with the ever-watchful Motion Picture Association of America. The seemingly soft image was reprimanded by the prudish council on accounts of nudity, forcing the film’s distributor - The Weinstein Company - to release a green band poster for general audiences. The reissued poster boasted a (barely noticeable) revision where an increased opacity was placed over Green’s blouse, hence shielding the small hint of impropriety that the MPAA thought too risqué for public display.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Like with Sin City 2’s poster art, it just goes to show that micro changes in imagery can result in colossal shifts in reactions when it comes to censorship. The original artwork for David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo featured the film’s release date around Rooney Mara's naval area, leaving her nude torso fully exposed. To tide over conservative critics, a larger release date was printed across Mara’s chest region, thus covering the area in question. This change did not appease fans of the film, however, who believed that the image’s submissive nature didn’t properly reflect the characters or plot.
Saw II (2005)
A grisly display of two dirtied severed fingers used as promotion for a torture porn flick perturbed a council of squeamish ratings judges (aka the MPAA), who subsequently had the image banished from the United States. No real shocker there.
Steve McQueen’s sobering depiction of sex addiction is undoubtedly not for the faint of heart. Though the film’s distributor, Fox Searchlight Pictures, is well aware of what it can get away with in the United States (which is minimal at best), the company made the bold decision to exploit Shame’s NC-17 badge via a salaciously sticky foreign marketing campaign. Released in Hungary, the image managed to irk one civilian too many, resulting in a countrywide ban.
Though cleared by U.S. censorship authorities, the Brits were not so keen on Wanted’s implied glorification of gun use. Featuring a pistol-wielding Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy with the tagline "This is your destiny. Join us,” the campaign was banned in the country for fear of potentially inciting violence.
Zack & Miri Make a Porno (2008)
As if the title wasn’t enough to raise eyebrows, the suggestive poster for Kevin Smith’s raunchy rom-com was turned down flat by the MPAA, though it was given an “A-ok” by the States’ less-conservative northern neighbors, Canada.
Man Bites Dog (1992)
Nearly everything about this Belgian cult classic is unsettling - from its comedic, mockumentary-style approach in depicting nihilistic acts of carnage, to the blood-splattered pacifier slapped on its original poster art. Deemed too shocking for foreign release, the bloodied baby accessory was instead swapped for a pair of dentures - because apparently elderly welfare is slightly less significant.
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
If you ask us, this film unearths the genuine menace behind the whole Santa Claus fable (ie: an omnipresent paunchy old geyser who gleefully welcomes small children to sit on his lap while plotting a way to intrude their homes on Christmas Eve.) However, it was the sinister depiction of the popular Christmas character that made the cult slasher flick Silent Night, Deadly Night one of the most controversial films of the ’80s. Unleashed one month before Christmas, the film caused a flurry of outrage for families across America, who mobbed around theaters and malls to protest against the film’s release. The outcry prompted the film’s original distributor, TriStar Pictures, to pull all campaign ads six days after Silent Night, Deadly Night’s release - which was short-lived as the movie was soon withdrawn from theaters.
The Hills Have Eyes 2 (2007)
Presenting yet another arbitrary judgement call, the MPAA waved a big “no no” at the original poster for the 2007 sequel of this Wes Craven remake, claiming that the clenched hand trailing out of a makeshift body bag was just a tad too distressing for public display. However, flip the body around so that the feet and legs trail out instead, and you’ve got yourself a seal of approval. Go figure.
I Spit on Your Grave (2010)
The black cloud of controversy shrouding this nasty rape-revenge number precedes its unnecessary 2010 remake by nearly 32 years, with storied critic Roger Ebert dubbing the 1978 original as “a vile bag of garbage” that was “one of the most depressing experiences of my life.” The creators behind the remake decided best to continue the film’s already tainted legacy, mustering up a titillating poster that drew little emphasis on the film’s “revenge” plot line. Though approved by the MPAA (again, no rhyme or reason), the unrated movie’s sexualized depiction of its leading rape victim sparked its fair share of scathing criticism.
Ali G Indahouse (2002)
Call him a comic genius or a smutty shock jock, Sacha Baron Cohen is perhaps the ultimate don of politically-incorrect jive. Accustomed to being slapped on the wrist by authority, Cohen’s racy poster for his Da Ali G Show-inspired film was ruled offensive and pornographic by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority and rejected its seal of approval.
The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)
The People vs. Larry Flynt chronicles the rise of porn mag publisher Larry Flynt and his crusade with religious institutions and the law over the triviality of censorship. Well, in a twist a irony, the anti-censorship movie was, in fact, censored - in the United States, at least. Toying with three of the country’s biggest taboos - religious symbolism, sexual innuendo and dishonoring the nation’s beloved emblem - the loaded image of an American flag diaper-clad Woody Harrelson flexing crucifixion style across a woman’s pelvis was instantly shunned by the MPAA.
Bad Lieutenant (1992)
Guns in movie posters? Sure. Guns pointing at someone in movie posters? Nope. When submitted for approval, the MPAA waved a big red flag over this jarring poster on account of the “guns don’t kill people, people do” rule.
The image above is probably the “mildest” (used very loosely) out of the series of promotional posters created for Gaspar Noé’s forthcoming raunchfest, Love. Click here to get an idea as to why these images would be deemed controversial (note: probably as NSFW as it gets).
Watch the trailer here.