Sony pulled The Interview from a major theatrical release after hackers threatened to bomb any theater that screened it. While it may very well be Hollywood’s most controversial film of all time, it’s definitely not the first.
The Great Dictator (1940)
Much like The Interview, this comedy starring Charlie Chaplin took aim at a tyrannical leader. Chaplin played the roles of both a dictator very clearly based on Adolf Hitler, and a Jewish barber. In the film’s third act, a case of mistaken identity leads to the dictator and the barber switching places, ending a potential global conflict in the process. When the film was in production, the U.K. government planned to block its British release as part of an appeasement policy with Germany. By the time it landed in U.S. cinemas, however, the U.K. was at war with the Nazis, and British citizens were eager to watch a comedy mocking a fictionalized version of Hitler. The government removed the ban and it was a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic. It earned five Academy Award nominations, including ones for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Actor.
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
This controversial film from director Martin Scorsese was based on the even more controversial book by author Nikos Kazantzakis. The film focuses on Jesus Christ and theorizes that the man at the center of one of the world’s biggest religions was riddled with fear and doubt, and contains a lengthy sequence supposing what it would have been like for Christ if, instead of dying on the cross, he married Mary Magdalene. Christian groups were outraged. Protestors at a screening in Paris hurled Molotov cocktails at the audience and injured 13 viewers. Many theater chains in the U.S. decided not to carry the film and it was banned in several countries for years afterward. Nevertheless, The Last Temptation of Christ earned Scorsese an Academy Award nomination for Best Director.
Director Kevin Smith’s raunchy comedy about two fallen angels trying to exploit a loophole in Catholic dogma in order to sneak back into heaven also received tons of flack from religious groups. The Catholic League denounced the film as “blasphemy” and Smith—a practicing Catholic—received death threats. Protests outside of cinemas failed to prevent Dogma from becoming a box office hit. At one point, Smith himself even cheekily showed up at a demonstration in his native state of New Jersey to chat with protesters.