• 247 Centre Street, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10013 |
  • +1 212 629 9550|
  • Behance
  • Vimeo
  • YouTube
  • Pinterest
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn

The 50 Most Controversial Movie Posters in Film History

A movie poster is a visual trailer for a film; in one single image it has to tell a visual story that engages viewers and lead them to the movie theater. But, how far will film producers (or directors) go to get the public’s attention? What kind of imagery will offend the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and other censorship organizations around the world to veto the artwork? Sexy, shocking, offensive, clever, provocative, scandalous, gross, naughty, vulgar, dumb, shameless, and brilliant are some of the words used to describe the artwork associated with these contentious images.

Following our popular Top 50 series, this post presents film posters that, intentionally or not, have been censored, banned, reworked, rebuked, hated, collected, re-released, analyzed, and more. How many of these 50 would you ban from public viewing? Here they are in chronological order:

1. Sin City. Directed by Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino (2014)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

This image was banned because of the see-through nipple. What was the MPAA explanation? “Nudity — curve of under breast and dark nipple/areola circle visible through sheer gown.” Flavorwire wrote, “Got it: underboob is more dangerous than the gun she’s holding that actually kills people.

2. The Zero Theorem. Directed by Terry Gilliam (2014)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

Christoph Waltz’s bare backside in this Terry Gilliam film poster offended the MPAA.

3. Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman (2014)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

In July 2014 Paramount tweeted a new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” poster depicting the titular turtles jumping from an exploding building above the “September 11″ Australian release date, Paramount Australia has issued an apology and removed the tweet containing the poster. No word as to if this ever went to print!

4. Nymphomaniac. Directed by Lars von Trier (2013)

branding sports graphic design firm new york


Each of the fourteen posters features one of the characters engaged in the throws of passion, and collectively, they range from sexy to gross to hysterical to weird.

branding sports graphic design firm new york

The posters for Lars von Trier film ‘Nymphomaniac’ have been described from “visually fascinating and brilliant movie posters” to “pornographic and offensive.”
Turkey’s Islamic-rooted government banned the controversial film from theaters for its extensive nudity and no-holds-barred sex scenes.

5. The Heat. Directed by Paul Feig (2013)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

The Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy UK film poster was unofficially banned by some online communities do to the exaggerated photo retouching. Melissa was barely recognizable after her face was slimmed, smoothed, and altered in a photoshop intervention.

6. Les Infideles. Directed by Jean Dujardin, Gilles Lellouche, Michel Hazanavicius, Emmanuelle Bercot, Fred Cavayé, Eric Lartigau, Jan Kounen (2012)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

This movie poster was too provocative even for French standards. It was banned in Paris.

7. Bereavement. Directed by Stevan Mena (2011)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

Banned because of violence depicted in the child holding a large knife. In the updated version the knife was moved to the adult’s hand.

8. Final Destination 5. Directed by Steven Quale (2011)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

The image of a skull being skewered by iron rods, one of the many possible ways the characters of the ‘Final Destination’ franchise could die led to 13 complaints that it traumatized children. The ASA (The Advertising Standard Association) in the UK, banned its use on buses and trains.

9. Shame. Directed by Steve McQueen (2011)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

The film’s name is perhaps the best word to describe the way the title was executed: Shameful and tasteless.

10. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Directed by David Fincher (2011)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

Is there a nipple ring in the poster? There is no way this one would get away even with the semi-transparent, textured numbers imposed over the aforementioned image.

11. The Roommate. Directed by Christian E. Christiansen (2011)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

This film showcases a prominent photo of a university building. Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas was surprised to see its administration building appear in a movie poster and threatened a lawsuit. It later transpired the shot was legally licensed from iStockPhoto and Photoshopped into the poster.

12. Camp Hell. Directed by George VanBuskirk (2010)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

This is an interesting one: The poster focusing on the actor Jesse Eisenberg, was a re-titled re-release of the failed 2010 thriller ‘Camp Hope.’ This attempt to capitalize on Eisenberg’s new found fame failed after the actor filed a lawsuit for misrepresentation, on the grounds that his appearance is merely a cameo done as a favor to the filmmakers.

13. I Spit On Your Grave. Directed by Steven R. Monroe (2010)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

Sex and blood graphically presented will, for sure, get any poster banned. The MPAA said the poster was “very distasteful.”

14. Sex and the City 2. Directed by Michael Patrick King (2010)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

In the second film version of ‘Sex and the City,’ Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) is shown gliding through the deserts of Abu Dhabi. The poster was banned in Israel, not because of its Arabian content, but because the title boldly features the word ‘Sex.’

15. The Last Exorcism. Directed by Daniel Stamm (2010)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

The Advertising Standards Authority banned the poster, believing the image of a young girl wearing a blood-splattered dress suggested she had been violently sexually assaulted.

16. The Other Guys. Directed by Adam McKay (2010)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

San Francisco has a municipal law against pro-gun advertising, so the actors were instead shown holding pepper spray or raising their bare fists.

17. Wound. Directed by David Blyth (2010)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

This image is for a New Zealand horror flick about incest. The movie website proudly claims this poster was banned, either because of the crotch gun or because of the overall creepiness.

18. Yogi Bear. Directed by Eric Brevig (2010)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

The catch phrase of this banned poster “Great things come in bears” was thought to be a double entendre. The intent of this poster for this Yogi Bear children’s movie might have been trying to attract some of its original fans from the character’s 1958 debut.

19. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Directed by Werner Herzog (2009)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

This poster was banned because Nicolas Cage’s character is pointing a gun at another character. This image is more shocking than the one that was ultimately used for the film.

20. Coco Before Chanel. Directed by Anne Fontaine (2009)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

This poster was banned in France due to its depiction of fashion icon Coco Chanel having a smoke. This violates a French advertising law, which prohibits the “direct or indirect” promotion of cigarettes, a response to the huge numbers of smokers in France.

21. Couples Retreat. Directed by Peter Billingsley (2009)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

What would be so offensive about this boring, formulae poster? The controversy was in the U.K., for the British release, the studio had the not-so-brilliant idea to make a change to this poster: The African-American couple (played by Faizon Love and Keli Hawk) was taken out of the poster. Universal received enough complaints of racism from British viewers that the studio scrapped plans to use the poster elsewhere.

22. Five Senses of Eros. Directed by Hur Jin-ho, Min Kyu-dong, Hyuk Byun, Yong-Sik Yu, Ki-hwan Oh (2009)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

Apparently, the poster saw the first buttocks ever displayed in a Korean movie advertisement. Ironically, the owner of said buttocks doesn’t appear in the film but was a butt model.

23. Lesbian Vampire Killers. Directed by Philip Claydon (2009)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

CBS Outdoor, the firm handling adverts on UK transport, said: “The film title is linked to horror, sexuality and violence which as a combination are felt to be inappropriate… to be viewed by all ages on the transport system.”

24. Thirst. Directed by Park Chan-wook (2009)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

Apparently, The Media Rating Board said “No” to the sexually suggestive image since it featured a priest.

25. Wanted. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov (2010)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

This poster of glamorous assassins Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy displaying their dangerous sexiness by holding very big guns was banned after receiving 17 complaints. The ASA banned them in the UK because the ads “could be seen to condone violence by glorifying or glamorizing the use of guns.”

26. Zack And Miri Make A Porno. Directed by Kevin Smith (2008)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

I actually don’t quite get why this poster was banned…wait! On second look, I get why this poster was banned.

27. Hostel Part II. Directed by Eli Roth (2007)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

The film deals with a facility where people pay to torture people that are kidnapped. This poster was almost banned until Lionsgate presented the butchers receipt to prove it wasn’t human meat (it was actually boars meat). It should have been banned because its extreme-sickening grossness.

28. Taxi To The Dark Side. Directed by Alex Gibney (2007)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

Clearly, the image doesn’t depict blood, gore, or something sexual, but it depicts a man in a hood being led away by two soldiers. “Not permitting us to use an image of a hooded man that comes from a documentary photograph is censorship, pure and simple,” director Alex Gibney said. “Intentional or not, the MPAA’s disapproval of the poster is a political act, undermining legitimate criticism of the Bush administration. I agree that the image is offensive; it’s also real [a composite of two real photographs].”

29. Teeth. Directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein (2007)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

This poster is too bizarre; it only gets weird and confusing once you notice the position of those terrifying teeth.

30. The Hills Have Eyes 2. Directed by Alexandre Aja (2007)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

The change that was made from this poster and the official ones was that instead of a showing a hand reaching out of a bag, the official poster shows a pair of legs. The reasoning is that a live person in a bag implies torture while a dead person in a bag does not imply torture.

31. The Road to Guantanamo. Directed by Michael Winterbottom, Mat Whitecross (2006)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

The original poster for this part documentary, part dramatization 2006 documentary film, depicts torture. It didn’t matter the documentary is about torture. It was banned by the MPAA.

32. This Film Is Not Yet Rated. Directed by Kirby Dick (2006)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

Kirby Dick’s documentary about censorship in film took an appropriately taboo-busting approach to advertising by branding a naked woman’s ass. Although never officially banned (the ad wasn’t submitted to the MPAA, for obvious reasons) but vetoed by several major newspapers. The official outdoor version had to amend the ass to comply with regulations.

33. Saw II. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman (2005)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

Even though I’m not a big fan of gory film posters, I think the poster for this one is actually done well. I’m puzzled at how there are tons of gross-out horror posters out there that are not banned.

34. What a Girl Wants. Directed by Dennie Gordon (2003)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

This poster was not censored or banned by the MPAA. Warner Bros. thought that this poster showing Amanda Bynes giving a peace symbol could be interpreted as a war protest. The final poster was changed so that Bynes’ arm was down at her side. Really? Would anybody think that an Amanda Bynes film would have a political message?

35. Ali G Indahouse. Directed by Mark Mylod (2002)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

Where do I start? This type of imagery is just juvenile and tasteless. Indeed, it’s a well-deserved veto!

36. Spiderman I. Directed by Sam Raimi (2002)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

Columbia recalled this advance poster to be destroyed, because of the reflection of the Twin Towers in Spider-Man’s eye. Most theaters complied, but obviously not all the posters were sent back to Columbia Pictures, and there are some still in circulation.

37. The Rules of Attraction. Directed by Roger Avary (2002)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

Apparently, not only severed fingers, sacrilegious imagery, or nipples get to be banned. Evidently, cute stuffed animals behaving naughty don’t make the cut either.

38. The Last Castle. Directed by Rod Lurie (2001)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

The original poster of ‘The Last Castle’ movie, depicting an upside down flag, was pulled out of circulation due to the public’s sensitivity to the September 11 attacks.

39. Bamboozled. Directed by Spike Lee (2000)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

Spike Lee’s satire about Hollywood racial stereotyping took the provocative step of reclaiming historical images of racism, like minstrels in black face, for its ad campaign. Pundits not in on the joke accused poster designer Art Sims of racism, until they realized that Sims, Lee’s long-term colleague was himself African-American.

40. The People Vs. Larry Flynt. Directed by Miloš Forman (1996)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

Even though this concept has been seen before, for many, this poster has gone a little too far mixing patriotism, sex and religion.

41. Goldeneye. Directed by Martin Campbell (1995)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

The MPAA doesn’t have much tolerance for guns when they are pointed at people therefore this poster was banned. The subsequent poster featured James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) pointing his gun up in the air. The poster was not banned in most international markets.

42. The Usual Suspects. Directed by Bryan Singer (1995)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

The studio recalled this ‘Usual Suspects’ after realizing it shows Kevin Spacey wearing an item on his right wrist (see red circle), such object gives away the surprise ending. It was airbrushed out of future posters.

43. Man Bites Dog. Directed by Benoît Poelvoorde, Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel (1992)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

This image was banned in many countries because of the baby pacifier flying into the air, which implies a baby has just been shot. To make it acceptable, they replaced the pacifier with a set of dentures.

44. Dick Tracy. Directed by Warren Beatty (1990)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

This advanced release poster was pulled before it even hit theaters. The film was produced by Touchstone Pictures, which is owned by Disney, and they have a zero “Dick” referencing policy.

45. The Little Mermaid. Directed by John Musker, Ron Clements (1989)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

There is a spire in the castle that resembles a phallus, which unfortunately was discovered about a year after the film’s initial release and the rumor about its origin spread. The myth around this poster involves a disgruntled Disney employee who, when he found he was being laid off, drew the phallus to get back at the company.

46. Silent Night, Deadly Night. Directed by Charles Sellier (1984)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

“Enter 1984’s Silent Night, Deadly Night, which was one of the earliest ad campaign controversies in horror cinema. Unleashed one month before Christmas, the film’s posters and TV spots featured a maniacal axe-wielding Santa. The theatrical release was picketed, the posters were banned, and the film was eventually yanked from theaters.” Flavorwire writes.

47. The ‘Revenge’ of the Jedi. Directed by Richard Marquand (1983)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

Lucasfilm recalled this “Revenge of the Jedi” poster after determining that the Jedi do not take “revenge” and changed the title of the film to “Return of the Jedi.” It sold its inventory of 6,800 “Revenge” posters to Star Wars fan club members for $9.50 each. Now these posters sell for much, much more than that!

48. A Clockwork Orange. Directed by Stanley Kubrick (1971)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

The original poster shows a nude woman— the statue from the Korova Milk Bar—in the middle of the triangle. It was used in much of Europe. In the first American poster, the woman is wearing a bra and panties, but subsequently the Korova Milk Bar woman was taken out altogether.

49. Teenage Mother. Directed by Jerry Gross (1967)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

This exploitation film’s controversy was the tagline, “the film that dares to explain what most parents can’t!” while promising actual childbirth footage. Not exactly unexpected, but the sheer existence of the film outraged and offended. The more medically aware might also have baulked at seeing a doctor holding a newborn by his feet.

50. The Outlaw. Directed by Howard Hughes, Howard Hawks (1943)

branding sports graphic design firm new york

By today’s standards, this poster would barely be PG rated, but in the conservative 1940’s it was too risky.

0
July 7, 2015
POSTED BY
CATEGORY
Advertising
Film & TV
Posters
Social Impact

Leave a Comment