The Exorcist (1973) is a film that garnered significant controversy during its journey, from rejection by religious groups who deemed it immoral to audience members fainting and vomiting while watching it in theaters.
This series of events brought the film into the spotlight and made it a topic of discussion worldwide. The commotion led several countries, including the United States, to consider banning it, although they ultimately failed to do so.
After successfully being released in the United States, the film made its way to the UK. However, the ominous reputation and sensationalism surrounding the movie had already arrived, piquing the curiosity and concern of many. This prompted the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) to grant it an X rating, making it unsuitable for children.
Boycotted with Child Protection Laws
However, the film faced a boycott using the Child Protection Laws, alleging unfair treatment toward its star, Linda Blair, who was 14 years old at the time. These efforts failed to curb the public’s interest in the film.
After its theatrical release, “The Exorcist” became one of the most sought-after films, prompting Warner Bros to air it on television. In 1984, the Video Recording Act was introduced, requiring different content ratings and classifications for videos compared to theatrical releases.
If the BBFC assigned an X rating (known as rated-R) for theatrical exhibition, it was challenging to determine a suitable category for television broadcast. The fear of children watching the film at home, along with concerns about its content, led to it being banned from television for 11 years, starting in 1987.
In 1998, “The Exorcist” was re-released worldwide as part of a celebration of its 25th anniversary with an enticing box set. Warner Bros made another attempt to have the film shown in British households.
The BBFC Revisited the Regulations
The BBFC revisited the regulations, deciding that parents should supervise their children to prevent them from viewing mature content. This decision finally allowed “The Exorcist” to be viewed at home again.
BBFC’s Admission of Uncertainty
Interestingly, in later years, the BBFC admitted that they didn’t know the exact reason for banning the film from television or unrestricted sale. They even confessed to lacking strong evidence to support their decision.
“It is difficult to find strong evidence from the BBFC that ‘The Exorcist’ in its video form could be harmful to viewers,” said former BBFC President Andreas Whittam Smith.
This case is quite intriguing, as it highlights how a film initially banned due to fears of its impact on viewers, particularly children, was eventually permitted with parental supervision. It also underscores the challenges faced by film classification boards in evaluating content, especially when it comes to complex and controversial works like “The Exorcist.”