15 Most Controversial and Banned Films in the Philippines That You Have to Watch

It’s all politics, really.

Sex, politics, and violence are the unholy trinity in the criteria of banned films in the Philippines—and they’re exactly why we want to get our hands on these controversial films anyway.

Most controversial films in the Philippines are censored or banned for upsetting the standards set by the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB), which is tasked with monitoring film and television for content that might upend “contemporary community values.” But the rules set by the MTRCB aren’t enough to stop filmmakers from pursuing their controversial projects or discourage the audiences from viewing them. After all, everyone wants what they can’t have.

Here are 15 extremely controversial and banned films in the Philippines.


1| Chapayev (1934)

The Russian propaganda film was banned for its themes that glorified the communist ideology and the Bolshevik revolution. At the time, the Philippines was still under American rule, and suffice to say, the then Board of Censorship for Moving Pictures BCMP) was not amused. 

2| Ang Batang Tulisan (1938)

The black and white film was withdrawn from exhibition by the BCMP for depicting a holy man in an evil role and the apparent use of a hypodermic needle as a weapon for murder. Apparently, vilifying the church wasn’t all the rage back in the day.


3| Iginuhit ng Tadhana (1965)

Then President Diosdado Macapagal banned the political film for glorifying the exploits of then senator Ferdinand Marcos, who was his primary political opponent. This was before Martial Law began, and Marcos would follow in his predecessor’s footsteps in banning films that were aligned against him.

4| Hubad na Bayani (1977)

UP students will recognize the title as the film that triggered the start of UP Diliman’s Oblation Run. Hubad na Bayani was a film released at the height of Martial Law that depicted the human rights violations during the Marcos Regime. President Ferdinand Marcos banned the film from being screened, thus sparking the beginning of a naked heroes protest, which is now known as the Oblation Run.


5| The Last Temptation of Christ (1987)

This Martin Scorcese masterpiece didn’t impress the board like it did audiences. Apparently, it was deemed “anti-religious” and “blasphemous” for portraying Jesus Christ weakened by various sinful temptations. Long story short, it depicted Jesus having sex, or dreaming of it at least.

6| Dear Uncle Sam (1989)

Dear Uncle Sam didn’t go over too well with the censorship board as it took a firm stance in opposition of the American presence at the Clark and Subic military bases.

Photo by IMDB.

7| Orapronobis (1989)

Directed by the legendary Lino Brocka and written by poet and journalist Jose Lacaba, Ora pro nobis or Fight for Us is an ‘80s political thriller that criticized the oppressive new government following the 1986 EDSA Revolution. Due to its progressive and subversive message, President Corazon Aquino banned the film. Some say that her actions only justified the film’s themes. 

8| Schindler’s List (1993)

This international film was banned for being considered “pornographic” due to scenes that showed humping and nudity. The Academy Award-winning film is a hard one to watch given its sensitive themes and fearless portrayals, but to the MTRCB, it was a movie that had a few seconds of bare breasts. When they demanded the nudity be cut, it was Steven Spielberg himself who pulled the film out of the Philippines. Only intervention from President Fidel Ramos brought the issue to a compromise by letting the film be shown without cuts to anyone over 16.


9| The Piano (1993)

For a split second, the critically acclaimed period drama was banned in the Philippines, possibly due to the sex scene between the protagonists in the film (spoiler). But the ban was eventually overturned in 1994 so viewers could enjoy the Oscar-winning film.


10| Bridges of Madison County (1994)

Meryl Streep’s nudity in the film was the reason MTRCB gave it an “X” rating. It was considered “offensive” to Filipino sensibilities, but it was eventually screened for only 10 days during an international film festival that took place in the city. It was one of the most publicized banned films in the Philippines at the time.

11| Every Claire Danes film ever (1994 to present)

Every film that Claire Danes has worked on is banned from the city of Manila after she called the city “ghastly and weird.” She went on to say that Manila “smelled of cockroaches, with rats all over, and that there is no sewerage system, and the people do not have anything—no arms, no legs, no eyes." To say that President Joseph Estrada was pissed is an understatement. Claire Danes is now “persona non grata” in the city of Manila and all her films, from Romeo + Juliet to Stardust, are banned.

12| Toro / Live Show (2000)

Banned by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Toro or Live Show was blocked for its explicit content, including a scene where the impoverished main characters have exhibitionist sex for money. Arroyo called it “a well-made soft-porn film,” and even Manila Archbishop Cardinal Jaime Sin chimed in and called for it to be banned.


13| Imelda (2003)

The documentary follows the life of former first lady Imelda Marcos from her childhood to her controversial reign alongside late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. However, Imelda was not pleased with the documentary and filed for it to be banned in the Philippines. When the injunction was canceled and the documentary was shown in theaters, it was a smash hit that earned more than Spider-Man 2.


14| The Da Vinci Code (2006)

It’s a no-brainer that the controversial Da Vinci Code would get serious backlash in the Philippines, the Catholic stronghold of Asia. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) wasted no time in calling out the film for being “the most pornographic and blasphemous film in history.” While the pushed for the film to be banned throughout the Philippines, they only managed to get it banned in the city of Manila and in all SM Malls.

Photo by IMDB.

15| Ang Mabuhay Para sa Masa (2006)

Produced, directed, and starring former President Joseph Estrada, the documentary is all about, you guessed it, Joseph Estrada. It’s a PR piece made about Estrada by Estrada while he was detained for one of his many plunder cases. It was banned for challenging the rule of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who succeeded him after he was ousted in the second EDSA Revolution. Like many of banned films in the Philippines, it was all politics in the end.

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Anri Ichimura
Section Editor, Esquire Philippines
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