Controversy around movies is nothing new. The Birth of a Nation, the film viewed as the first feature motion picture of all time, depicts the KKK as heroes. Quentin Tarantino’s new movie changes recent history. While controversy happens, it’s quite often welcomed. It’s usually a time for discussion and reflection. It’s sort of the point of producing art in the first place.
However, sometimes controversy becomes too great. Sometimes a film’s subject matter or the circumstances surrounding a particular film are viewed as being so controversial that a film ends up not being released at all, or at the very least pushed back to a time in the future when the heat may have died down. Here are seven times that happened.
The Hunt was likely the sort of movie that probably wasn’t going to get a great deal of attention if it had been released normally. While the movie certainly had a controversial premise, with political conservatives being hunted for sport by those on the other side of the spectrum, it simply wasn’t a big movie with major names in front of the camera or behind it.
However, following a series of mass shooting incidents in California, Texas, and Ohio, tensions have flared up and even the President of the United States has taken aim at Hollywood. Universal recently made the decision to shelve the project. At this point, it’s unclear if the movie will ever see a release. It could be months or years before we see this one, and it may never make it to theaters.
I Love You, Daddy
Following on the success of his television show, Louis C.K.’s new movie, I Love You, Daddy, which he wrote, directed, and starred in, was a highly anticipated film. The movie was already somewhat controversial considering its subject matter. An aging filmmaker becomes romantically interested in a young girl. The parallels to the controversial life of Woody Allen were obvious to all, but that on its own didn’t derail the film.
However, when C.K. became the subject of a series of sexual misconduct allegations of his own, the studio decided not to release the movie. The word is that Louis C.K. has since bought back the rights to the film, so he now owns it, but thus far no deal has been made to release the film.
The Current War
The Current War is by no means a controversial film on its own. The plot deals only with the battle for America’s early electrical grid between such titans of industry as Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse. However, the film became controversial in 2017 because of who made it. It was set to be the awards season entry for the Weinstein Company that year, and following allegations of sexual misconduct against Harvey Weinstein, the film was shelved.
There was a general feeling that the movie would be punished for the sins of the man, and thus wouldn’t succeed at the box office or with awards, When The Weinstein Company went bankrupt, the movie’s future was in even greater question, but the film was picked up by a new studio, has seen an edit from its original version, and is now slated for release in October.
Movies usually get a bit more leeway with controversial topics if the tone is handled through a comedy. That was probably the idea behind The Interview, a movie starring Seth Rogen and James Franco as television personalities enlisted in a plot to assassinate North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un.
Nothing about the movie was meant to be taken seriously, but somebody did. Sony, the studio distributing the movie, was hacked and thousands of private emails were released. Many believe the hack was related to the release of the film. Terrorist threats were made against theaters that screened the film, and most theater owners took that seriously. A few still showed the movie, but the film’s wide release was canceled after most theaters refused to show it. The project was moved to a video-on-demand release, where it actually did pretty well.
Big Trouble/Collateral Damage
Big Trouble and Collateral Damage were two very different movies. The former was a Barry Sonnenfeld directed comedy, the latter was an Arnold Schwarzenegger action movie. However, both films did end up with one thing in common: they got delayed thanks to the September 11 attacks.
Big Trouble dealt with characters trying to smuggle a bomb onto an airplane, and Collateral Damage included a plane hijacking scene, though the scene got cut when the film was finally released a few months later. Big Trouble was also eventually released, though even then marketing was kept to a minimum and both movies came and went from theaters without much notice.
The Day The Clown Cried
Most of the films on this list were not released due to unfortunate circumstances regarding the film’s scheduled release, but The Day the Clown Cried, which was shot in the early 1970s, has never been seen in public because of the controversy surrounding the movie itself. The story deals with a professional clown in Germany during World War II. The character, played by Jerry Lewis, who ends up performing for Jewish children who have been incarcerated in the camps.
While Jerry Lewis said the film had been invited to screen at the Cannes Film Festival, that never happened, and it also never saw a planned U.S. release that was to follow. From what little we know, the movie just didn’t work. The idea of dealing with such a horrid piece of history in an even vaguely lighthearted way was seen as crass and it sounds like the whole project just didn’t work. Lewis died making sure the public never saw the film, and to this day, only a handful of people have ever claimed to have seen any of it.
Some of these controversial films were eventually released, others we have yet to see. Frequently movies lost to time for one reason or another have been dug up and eventually shown, so we’ll probably see these movies some day, but it could still be many years before we do.