Film Censorship: The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)





The Last Temptation of Christ

Directed by Martin Scorsese / 1988 / USA / IMDb

This film has never had problems with the Australian censors. It is included because it was a controversial title


The classification troubles of THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST are good example of how censorship worked prior to the introduction of the National Classification code.

United International Pictures originally received an R-rating for a 162m 35mm print.

In October 1988, an appeal to the Review Board in resulted in the rating being dropped to an M.


Applicant: United International Pictures Pty Ltd

Decision Reviewed: Classify 'R' by the Film Censorship Board

Decision: "The Last Temptation of Christ was classified 'R' by the Film Censorship Board on the grounds that "some depictions could probably be offensive to some members of the Christian faith, especially if there were to be no legal restriction on young people being able to view the film". An appeal against the 'R' classification was lodged by United International Pictures and considered by five members of the Films Board of Review on 10 October. A sixth member of the Board, Mrs. M. Finn, viewed the film on 7 October and furnished a written report to the other members of the Board.

A majority of the Board of Review considered the film to be a reverent, sincere and frequently moving account of aspects of the life and crucifixion of Jesus, providing original and. meaningful insights into the Christian faith. In no sense was the film blasphemous or flagrantly and deliberately offensive to Christian audiences. The film contains realistic and graphic depictions of Jesus' crucifixion and his scourging and suffering at the hands of his tormentors. It was considered by the majority, however, that these depictions were acceptable in their historical context and were a vivid reminder of what Jesus must have experienced in a cruel and somewhat primitive society. It was argued that many people would gain a richer and deeper appreciation of the reality of Christ's death and suffering from seeing the film. It was also considered that the sexual activity in the film was comparatively mild and justified in its context. In short, nothing in the film was considered unsuitable for mature audiences, even those of strong and committed Christian views.

A minority of the Board felt that, while the film as a whole was: reverent and sincere in its treatment of its subject matter, its depiction of violence was sufficiently graphic and protracted to warrant an 'R' classification, especially when considered in association with the person of Jesus. The view was also expressed that many members of the community might be concerned if the film was freely available to children.

Accordingly, by majority, the Board of Review determined that an 'M' rating was appropriate for The Last Temptation of Christ and directs that the Film Censorship Board so classify the film. 10th October 1988.

Image courtesy of


The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) - Daybill



Banned in Queensland

Christian groups went into overdrive in their attempts to prevent the film from screening. They had some success with it being released with the original R-rating in Western Australia and the Northern Territory following their refusal to accept the M-rating.

Queensland, who still retained their own Board of Review, simply banned it. In all other States and Territories, it was released with the M-rating.



Blasphemy can get you banned

In their 1988 to 1989 Annual Report, the OFLC went into more detail regarding THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST controversy.


Considerable controversy attended the submission to the Film Censorship Board of the film The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988. Overseas reports suggesting the film was blasphemous preceded its submission. The Customs (Cinematograph Films) Regulations oblige the Film Censorship Board to refuse to' register films which in its opinion are blasphemous.

Before examining the film the Board invited the Australian Council of Churches to nominate three representatives, and Cardinal Clancy, Archbishop of Sydney, to nominate one representative to view it and offer comments. The, representatives comprised the Right Rev. Dr. M M Thomas, Warden of St Pauls College, University of Sydney; The Rev. Dr. Ferguson, Principal, United Theological College, North' Parramatta, NSW; The Rev. Fr. B Lucas, St Marys Cathedral, Sydney; and Mrs Anne Hewetson, Chairman of the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion (NSW Committee). Legal advice was also obtained regarding the parameters of the Board's responsibilities under Commonwealth and State laws in relation to blasphemy.


The full seven-member Board viewed the film on 14 September 1988 and reported as under:

This film, based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, while not claiming to be an accurate representation of the latter part of Jesus' life, is nevertheless a thoughtful, serious and reverent exploration of Christ's humanity. This exploration, by means of an episodic depiction of events leading to the Crucifixion, was in the Board's opinion of sincere intent and contains positive messages affirming the story of Jesus.

After careful consideration of the provisions of Regulation 13(1) of the Customs (Cinematograph Films) Regulations, with particular reference to the question of blasphemy, the Board was unanimous in its opinion that the film is not blasphemous, indecent or obscene, that it does no contravene any of the criteria for refusal to register attaching to Regulation 13(1), and could thus be Registered under Regulation 18.

While acknowledging that even the most reverent questioning of accepted tenets of Christianity might well prove offensive to some Christians, the Board was of the opinion that this did not in in itself constitute blasphemy, particularly in a pluralistic society which upholds freedom of expression, and which encompasses widely differing forms of Christian belief.

The Board, in arriving at this decision, took cognizance of legal advice concerning the question of blasphemy, and made reference to the written submissions of church representatives who had been invited to attend a screening of the film, and to the many letters and petitions sent in by concerned members of the public.

In considering the appropriate classification for the film, the majority of the Board was of the opinion that, whilst individual visuals of implied sexual activity and violence did not exceed the bounds of a Mature classification, their cumulative impact, when associated with the person of Jesus, could cause offence to some sections of the adult community.

It was also noted that, while the film upheld the basic tenets of the Church, some depictions could probably be offensive to some members of the Christian faith - especially if there were to be no legal restriction on young children being able to view the film. It was accordingly decided by the majority to classify the film 'R', for Restricted exhibition to audiences of 18 years, and over.

The minority of the Board agreed that sexual activity was sufficiently obscured or discreetly simulated, and violence, while impactful, mostly obscured and sufficiently justified to be accommodated within a Mature classification. It further considered that none of these elements, nor the conceptual ones referred to by the majority, were likely to be harmful or offensive to reasonable and mature audiences over the age of 15 years. The minority of the Board thus considered a Mature classification appropriate.

Following promulgation of this decision, the Rev. Fr John O'Neill applied to the Federal Court of Australia for an Order of Review under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act to have the decision set aside on the grounds, among other things, that the film was blasphemous and that the Board had therefore acted improperly, having regard to the Customs

When the matter came before Mr Justice Wilcox on 23 September 1988, counsel for Fr O'Neill announced to the Court that following a viewing of the film, the action was being withdrawn. Dismissing the application, His Honour said that the action was unsoundly based and should not have been brought. The Board declined the Courts invitation to apply for costs.

The film's distributors, United International Pictures, meantime applied to the Films Board of Review for review of the decision of the Film Censorship Board to classify the film 'For Restricted Exhibition'. The Review Board considered the application on 10 October 1988 and, by majority, decided to direct the Film Censorship Board to classify the film 'For Mature Audiences'.


Western Australia and the Northern Territory declined to accept the 'M' classification awarded the film by the Films Board of Review and, consequently, the film would retain its original 'R' classification in those jurisdictions. Independently of these developments, the Queensland Films Board of Review declared the film to be "objectionable" on the ground of blasphemy and prohibited its distribution in Queensland.

The Last Temptation of Christ was accordingly classified 'M' in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory; 'R' in Western Australia and the Northern Territory; and prohibited in Queensland.

This situation highlights the fragility of the complex network of Commonwealth - State/Territory censorship agreements which generally operates to ensure that decisions of the Film Censorship Board and/or the Films Board of Review apply uniformly throughout Australia.

Before promulgating its decision on the film, the Film Censorship Board received 820 petitions urging that it not be passed. Most seemed to be products of an organized campaign. The decision to pass it attracted 2286 letters of complaint, many of which were identically worded.



Fred Nile and blasphemous films

Anti-Discrimination (Homosexual Vilification) Amendment Bill
NSW Legislative Council
Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile
17 November 1993

In recent years blasphemous films have caused great outrage overseas and in Australia. Two films, "Hail Mary" and "The Last Temptation of Christ" aroused enormous public controversy in 1986 and 1988 respectively.

In 1987 in a court challenge to the censorship board's classification of the film "Hail Mary" the Full Court of the Federal Court recognised in Ogle v. Strickland that a Catholic priest and an Anglican priest had sufficient standing to challenge the classification. I query whether, if this legislation is enacted, they would be free from punishment or damages under the Anti-Discrimination Act if the films also represented Christ as a homosexual or the Virgin Mary as a lesbian.

It hurts me to even suggest this, but my rose coloured glasses were shattered years ago and regrettably I cease to be shocked at the depths of degradation to which certain elements of society have sunk.



2001: M-rated DVD

In January 2001, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment had a DVD of THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST rated M (Medium level sex scenes; Medium level violence). This was despite the MA15+ rating (introduced in 1993) now being available.



Fred Nile recommends: Produced by the devil in the studios of hell

In his 2004 review of THE PASSION OF CHRIST, Fred Nile had this to say about the film.

"I have condemned many anti-Christian, blasphemous, pornographic films during the years, such as Hail Mary and The Last Temptation of Christ, which I said were produced by the devil in the studios of hell."


 For more Christian hysteria, see our separate entry for HAIL MARY (1985).



2013: M-rated Blu-Ray

In April 2013, Universal Sony Pictures Home Entertainment had a 169m Blu-Ray passed with an M (Violence and sex scenes) rating.

The extended classification information describes,
Moderate impact: violence, sex


The last Temptation of Christ - Universal Pictures [au] DVD



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