15 Movie Scenes That Would NOT Be Legal Today

15 Movie Scenes That Would NOT Be Legal Today

In a news conference in Seoul during the release of Django Unchained, Leonardo DiCaprio noted the famous adage, “pain is temporary, film is forever.” While it is nice to think that all of the heartbreak, pain, and struggle that go into making a movie simply vanish when the movie is completed, and all that history remembers is the final product, that simply isn’t true.

Some films are remembered eternally, and some are forgotten, but the stories about controversial behind-the-scenes elements have a long afterlife. They often haunt the world years after memories of the films themselves have paled in comparison. Sometimes, those controversial elements are so memorable because they would be at least questionable and possibly illegal by today’s filmmaking standards.

Some legal changes were for safety reasons; stunt actors are now generally better protected than Buster Keaton, who broke his neck doing a stunt. However, many of the changes were for stranger and far more controversial reasons.

Here are the 15 Movie Scenes That Would NOT Be Legal Today.


In 1922, film producer Albin Grau hired director F.W. Murnau– a brilliant director who’d already adapted Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for the screen– to make NosferatuNosferatu was to be Grau’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. However, Stoker’s widow wouldn’t grant him the rights, so he did what no one should do: he made the film anyway.

The film is inarguably a masterpiece, but modern audiences are lucky that they can even see it now. Grau and Murnau made cosmetic changes to the film in order to try and avoid copyright issues, things like changing character names. They weren’t enough to stop a lawsuit, however, and the judge found in favor of Stoker’s widow.

Grau went bankrupt and closed the production company, and the judge decided every copy of the film should be destroyed. Luckily, a single copy was in American hands, which was the only surviving print and the one from which all other versions of the film in the modern age have derived.


In The Exorcist, the violence is on-screen and in your face, and it’s one of the things that makes the movie experience so powerful. However, the real pain endured in making it was just off-screen, though there are clues for sharp-eyed viewers.

The first injuries were sustained by Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn, both of whom suffered spinal injuries. Blair’s came from the harness used to fling her around, and Burstyn’s from being pulled to the floor too hard by a cable, both of which were approved by director William Friedkin. Though there was no hard evidence that he intentionally inflicted harm on the two actors, the same is not true for William O’Malley.

As a real-life priest playing a priest in the film, O’Malley was having trouble getting the emotion right during a last rites scene. Friedkin took him aside and slapped him hard across the face, then sent back in to do the scene.

That is the take that ended up in the final film, and it’s not the only time Friedkin slapped actors in his films.


Between 1948 and 1960, Walt Disney Productions created a series of nature documentaries known as True Life Adventures. Each installment explored some aspect of natural life, from Seal Island to Bear Country to The Living DesertWhite Wilderness was one entry that received a great deal of attention, and not just for winning the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

The 1958 documentary film was eventually exposed for creating false material that it passed off as real, shooting some of the footage at a river and a sound stage in Calgary, Canada.

The greater offense, however, was that a sequence showing lemmings leaping off a cliff into the water to their deaths was manufactured and that the lemmings were forced off the edge by the filmmakers themselves.

Controversies don’t tend to stick totThe Walt Disney Company for very long, and in recent years, Disney has taken to making more accurate and less cruel documentaries like Oceans and The Crimson Wing.

However, the incident has not been forgotten by animal lovers and rights groups.


In 1978, French director Louis Malle made Pretty Baby, the story of prostitution in New Orleans in the early 1900s. The film was controversial for its subject matter, but the performances and direction made it a critical hit, and the film won the Technical Grand Prize at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival. Essentially a love story between an older photographer and an underage prostitute, the film had the makings of an American Lolita.

That there was nudity in the film is no great surprise, given that it was about a brothel. What was a surprise was the nude scene that Brooke Shields appeared in, given she was only twelve years old. This led to great controversy for the film, including being banned in certain provinces of Canada and being labelled, by columnist Rona Barrett, as “child pornography.”

The Canadian ban was eventually repealed in 1995, and the trimmed version of the film was eventually released in places where it had been censored. Ironically, though the controversy raged, it had little effect on the careers of Malle and Shields.


It’s one of the great car chase sequences of all time: Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle pursues an elevated subway car by dangerously navigating the busy streets of New York City in his police car. Viewers can genuinely feel the danger in The French Connection scene, and not all of it comes just from excellent filmmaking.

Though many blocks of the city were reserved for shooting the scene, director William Friedkin and stunt driver Bill Hickman went outside the designated area while they shot, putting pedestrians and other drivers in serious danger of injury during the high-speed chase.

Hickman was a skilled driver and was, thankfully, able to avoid major problems, but one of the accidents shown in the final film was a real and unintended one. Producers kept the crash in the film and paid the unsuspecting driver’s repair bills. Rest easy, though: the sequence with the woman pushing the stroller was planned and executed safely.

Thankfully, Friedkin has mellowed his dangerous filmmaking tendencies in recent years.


The Adventures f Milo and Otis seems like an adorable children’s animal film, one starring a pug and a kitten who are best friends getting into misadventures. The problem is that those misadventures were often real, and very dangerous, for the animals in the movie.

The film was originally a Japanese film, re-edited and given voice-over narration by Dudley Moore for its English language release. In the midst of the footage, kittens are bitten by snakes, hurled off cliffs, and attacked by birds. Even if the only things that happened to the animals were on-screen, it’s cruel.

However, the accusations say that several cats died during the filming. The American Humane Society signed off on the film, though the wording of their approval is strange. Were a film like this to be shot today, the level of scrutiny would be much higher and this kind of abuse would be observed and stopped immediately.

Much lesser issues happened on the set of A Dog’s Purpose, and the controversy negatively affected the film’s box office.


Though the film is considered an arthouse film made by a controversial director and its content is a symbolic indictment of the politics of its creators home country, there is no doubt that some of the acts and images portrayed in Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom are the most disturbing images put to film. That many of them are enacted by young people who quite possibly may be underage is all the more disturbing.

Rape and graphic nudity are depicted in this film to such a degree that the film was banned in many countries, particularly in Australia, where it was refused classification. Director Pier Paolo Pasolini was already considered a controversial figure, but when he teamed with the Marquis de Sade (who wrote the source material upon which the film is based), he outdid any previous controversy.

Before the film was released, Pasolini was murdered. To this day, it is unknown whether his death was directly connected to the uproar that the rumors of the film were causing.


The Tin Drum was a well-respected German film which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1979. The plot centers on a young man who willfully stops aging physically in protest of the craziness of the world around him. However, he continues aging mentally, and eventually has a sexual relationship.

This is where the movie gets in some trouble. The film was banned in Oklahoma in 1997, eighteen years after it was released, when a judge found a certain sequence to be child pornography.

The actor, who looked to be four or five years old, was actually twelve, and there was no actual sexual contact, but the film was still banned, and one man was arrested for renting child pornography from a Blockbuster Video.

The case went to trial, and the following year, a judge ruled that the movie did not contain child pornography. The movie was vindicated, but the bad reputation has been hanging over it ever since.


Cannibal Holocaust is a notorious movie from the 1970s that was shot partly in documentary style, and the filmmaker was taken to court to prove that the actors in the movie weren’t actually murdered for the film (they weren’t, of course). However, there were murders filmed for the movie, and they made the final cut.

Seven animals were killed for the making of the movie, although only six of them actually ended up on-screen. Though many of them were disturbing and graphic, the most horrifying ones were the turtle which was decapitated and vivisected and the pig which was shot in the head with a shotgun.

Director Ruggiero Deodato has gone on record saying he probably wouldn’t do it again if he had the chance. The film wasn’t even submitted to the British Board of Film Classification until 2001 because the UK had a strict “video nasties” law in place and no one believed that the film could get past it. They were right.


The movie Kids was groundbreaking American filmmaking that made a name for director Larry Clark and introduced viewers to actors like Leo Fitzpatrick, Chloe Sevigny, and Rosario Dawson.

It also introduced distributors to claims of child pornography, and in one case, required the studio releasing it to spend more money on special effects to hide the nudity than was spent on anything else on the film.

According to producer Cary Woods, the film was under serious threat of legal issue because it was against the law to show the nipples actresses under the age of eighteen. The film did that, and because of all the other controversy surrounding the film– due to its subject matter of drug use and casual sex between teenagers– the distributor didn’t want to take the risk.

They ended up hiring an effects house to digitally smooth over anything that remotely resembled a nipple, thereby protecting themselves from legal trouble. Director Clark continued to flirt with controversy throughout his later career, though.


There were a number of shocking moments in the fake documentary comedy Borat, from an offensive version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” to the rampant anti-Semitism to the naked hotel wrestling. However, the element that got the film into legal trouble was a simple conversation.

The issue came about when two fraternity members shown in the film making sexist and racist remarks tried to stop the film from being shown because they felt they were misled.

Producers had told them that they were to be interviewed by a foreign journalist who didn’t understand the societal norms of American society, even though it was actually actor Sacha Baron Cohen pretending to be a bigot. That, combined with a healthy dose of alcohol, resulted in a very offensive interview that the fraternity members wished they had never done.

They were only the tip of the iceberg, however, with others alleging loss of jobs due to appearing in the film, and a Romanian village they shot as Kazakhstan was horrified to discover what they actually made of the footage.


There were a number of bad decisions made regarding the 1956 John Wayne film The Conqueror. The fact that all-American cowboy John Wayne was inaccurately cast as Mongol Empire leader Genghis Khan was surprisingly not the most troubling one.

The biggest mistake the film made was deciding to shoot on location, and deciding that location should be a stretch of desert less than one hundred miles from a nuclear testing site in Nevada. While on set, John Wayne and his sons tested the area with a Geiger counter, and the needle shot up. However, no one seemed worried about it.

After the location shooting was completed, sand from the location was shipped to the soundstage where the rest of the film was shot. Cast and crew were exposed to it for the entire shoot.

John Wayne, co-star Susan Hayward, director Dick Powell, and 88 of the 220 members of the cast and crew ended up developing some form of cancer sometime after filming. Forty-six of them died of the disease.


Easy Rider was the film that heralded a shift from the classic Hollywood epics and musicals to the gritty realism and existential concern of the 1960s. It redefined what movies were and how they were made, but some of the restrictive rules they cast off from the old studio system might have gone a little too far.

During the filming of Easy Rider, it has long been rumored that the cast and crew indulged in recreational drug use. It was confirmed by Jack Nicholson, who described a single scene in which over 150 joints were smoked during the shooting.

Given the loose structure and nature of the set, the fact that lead actor Peter Fonda also admitted to drug use (although only ever copped to marijuana), as well as director Dennis Hopper’s predilection at the time for both drugs and alcohol, it is almost certain that more than just 150 joints were present on that set.

Though drug use may not have vanished from film sets now, it is more well-hidden and more tightly controlled in order to avoid legal trouble.


Though people have accused The Godfather of glorifying the gangster lifestyle, there are devastatingly violent moments that should discourage anyone from seeking it out.

One of the most memorable is the brutal killing of Sonny Corleone, but inarguably the most disturbing image in the film is when Jack Poltz wakes up in bloody sheets and throws them aside to find a decapitated horse head in bed with him.

The reason the sequence was so disturbing, aside from the skill of director Francis Ford Coppola, is that the head in the bed looked so real… and that’s because it was. Coppola was unhappy with the artificial horse’s head that was created by the effects team, so he sent scouts to figure out how to get him a real one.

They found a dog food plant in New Jersey with horses that were ready to be slaughtered to make the food. The art director chose which of the horses looked the most like the living horse they used in the movie, and told the plant workers to send them the head on ice after the job was done.


Everyone knows what a troubled shoot Apocalypse Now was, from the loss of their initial star Harvey Keitel to the heart attack of their second star Martin Sheen to the helicopters on loan from the Filipino military that kept getting called away for war engagements. However, the most disturbing things that happened actually ended up on screen.

First off, an indigenous tribe hacked a buffalo to death, and director Francis Ford Coppola photographed it in all its disturbing violence to be included in the film. While it was a potent metaphor for the fall of the villainous Brando, it did not sit well with animal rights groups.

More disturbing than that was the strange smell on the set that sent producer Gray Frederickson on a hunt that ended with dead rats and human corpses. As if that weren’t bad enough, it was discovered that the bodies were purchased by a man who turned out to be a grave robber.

Police came to the set, seized the crew’s passports, and investigated the foul play. The crew wasn’t charged, but the grave robber was arrested.


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