The Ban List

  1. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial [1] Directed by Steven Spielberg. 1982. PG
  2. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom [2] Directed by Steven Spielberg. 1984. PG
  3. The Goonies [3] Directed by Richard Donner. 1985. PG
  4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles [4] Directed by Steve Barron. 1990. PG
  5. Beetlejuice [5] Directed by Tim Burton. 1988. PG
  6. Terminator II: Judgment Day [6] Directed by James Cameron. 1991. R
  7. Escape to Witch Mountain [7] Directed by John Hough. 1975. G
  8. The Dark Crystal [8] Directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz. 1982. PG

[1] Penis breath. These are the two words responsible for the ban. My mother heard it in the theater and walked out. She didn’t even stay to see the moral lessons of the film (tolerance, friendship, the problems with ignorance, love, etc). She heard “penis breath” and couldn’t see any value in the film. In 6th grade she heard we were going to watch it in class and right before the opening credits, the door swung open and in her hand was a cartoon version of Gulliver’s Travels. That afternoon, my brother, my friend Evan, and I were the only ones left in the classroom to watch that cartoon. We were singled out as the kids who weren’t allowed certain things. (The year before we weren’t allowed to participate in Sex-Ed.) I went 27 years without seeing the film, but last year my wife rented it and insisted I see it. She was appalled I hadn’t seen it. For her, the film was a huge part of her and her brother’s childhood. Not only was it a staple in her life, a landmark of sorts, she loved the message of the film. The film spoke volumes about the pitfalls of ignorance, the importance of tolerance, and value of friendship and family. When I finally saw the film, I couldn’t believe what I missed, how good the film was, how sweet it was. I was touched. I practically cried when E.T. said, “I’ll… be… right… here,” and touched his heart. I would’ve learned a lot from that film when it came out. Most of it would be more beneficial than many of the Christian-friendly films I saw, and would’ve been worth the phrase “penis breath” floating around in my head.

[2] We were allowed to watch the others, but for some reason The Temple of Doom could bring evil into a household. The other films were rated the same and equally as graphic. I’m guessing the human sacrifice and “pagan stuff” didn’t help the film make its way into our living room. First chance I got, I watched it. A friend had the VHS and we watched that thing till it wore out.

[3] My theory: Josh Brolin scared my mother, or maybe it wasn’t Brolin, maybe it was Joe Pantoliano or Sean Astin. Or maybe it was the pirates and thieves, even though we watched Disney’s Swiss Family Robinson all the time and it had the same amount of pirates and bad-guys (only it was a pro-colonialist document of ignorance—watch it. It’s ridiculous). The film filled itself with Christian ideas and the children obeyed their parents, while The Goonies had a bunch of rebel-wannabe-kids running around unsupervised, causing a ruckus. I wonder if my mother didn’t want us to see this and think it was OK to run around and look for treasure. Actually, now that I think about it, it must’ve been the presence of Corey Feldman. That has to be it.

[4] Violence? Pro-junk food? The talking animals? Whatever it was, we were not allowed to watch it. Our friend down the street had the VHS and we watched it a good ten times before we were caught. The scene had a fire and hundreds of ninja foot soldiers piling in the room, flipping, jumping, and waving weapons, when I heard her voice. I ran to the end of the room and tried to distract her, block her view, anything. But it was too late, she saw what we were watching and we were grounded. Six months later we were allowed to see the sequel (The Secret of the Ooze) in the theater, thanks to my father. What a flick!

[5] Even the cartoon was banned. Still haven’t seen any Beetlejuice, but I really have no interest. (Once you’ve seen a Burton film you’ve seen ‘em all…) Plus Michael Keaton is just awful. I have nightmares about Multiplicity; nothing would be worse than having multiple Michael Keaton’s running around. The horror.

[6] This is the most reasonable out of all of these. It’s rated R. One afternoon, my father sent my mother out for groceries and errands, and had us watch it. Right when the credits came and we were peeling our bodies off the couch, my mother pulled into the driveway. My father jumped up from his recliner, ejected the VHS, put it in the case, and tossed it over the couch to where I was standing. I caught it and he nodded at me. I slid it under the couch right as the door opened. A week later we watched the first one.

[7] The title alone sent my mother into a frenzy. “What are you watching,” she asked unloading groceries. “Escape to Witch Mountain,” my twin said. She didn’t even say anything, but her eyes narrowed, her face tightened, and she jumped over the couch and switched the TV off. A day later, at the dinner table, she mentioned it. “Can’t believe you two were watching that filth.” My father said, “Was it bad?” She said, “It was called Witch Mountain. How could it be good?” Sometimes, when reading or thinking about The Crucible, I picture my mother walking around town, sniffing out all the possible witches and dragging them to the gallows.

[8] Apparently, puppets are occultish and evil. I have a sneaking suspicion my childhood would have been better with this film under my belt.


Joshua holds an MA in English from Western Washington University, and begins an MFA in poetry at Columbia College Chicago in 2011. He currently lives in Washington State with his wife, son, and dog. Information about his writing, films, and other projects can be found at

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