The Interview: Films like Zoolander that got away with what Seth Rogen and James Franco couldn't

From Zoolander to Death Of A President - the film industry has been assassinating world leaders for decades

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The unprecedented controversy surrounding Seth Rogen and James Franco’s The Interview, which was today withdrawn from release amid terrorist threats, has led to questions over Hollywood’s accountability to cultural sensitivity and politics.

The film, which features an imagined plot to assassinate the rogue nation of North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un, has led to questions about why Sony would finance such a film in the first place; as well as criticisms from industry experts and Hollywood bigwigs from Ben Stiller to Michael Moore as to why the film studio caved in and scrapped it.

While this debate rages commentators have been pointing out that puerile American comedies from Zoolander to Team America: World Police have been treading the same dangerous international path as The Interview – and got away without engendering threats of violence.

A still from Kim Jong Un's death scene in The Interview

In fact, you could argue that Hollywood is notoriously insensitive about cultural tropes with racial stereotypes, misogyny and ignorance pervading some of the industry’s biggest films every year - and nobody gets so upset that they get cancelled; or you might accuse the wider world of having a sense of humour failure.

Whatever the truth of the matter – or the box office takings –what is clear is that filmmakers have been imagining the assassinations of world leaders for decades.

Here are some examples of films that got away with what The Interview couldn’t.

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Despite the film being released two weeks after September 11, Ben Stiller’s pouting male model arrived into a world which was possibly a little more lax about imagined assassinations than we are today. In the film, fashion mogul Jacobim Mugatu (Will Ferrell) and Derek's model agent Maury Ballstein (Jerry Stiller) are charged by the fashion industry to find a model who can be brainwashed into assassinating the new progressive-leaning Prime Minister of Malaysia, allowing them to retain cheap child labour in the country. The film was never shown in Malaysia having been deemed ‘definitely unsuitable’ by the Malaysian Home Affairs Ministry Film Censorship Board. But it gleaned over $60m at the box office regardless and went on to become a cult comedy classic.

A scene from 'Team America: World Police' featuring a puppet depicting Kim Jong-Il


Team America: World Police

Some cinemas have been thumbing their noses at the recent controversy by replacing The Interview with this film which quite literally flies the flag for American patriotism. The marionette-filled satirical action film, written by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, is about Kim Jong-un’s father Kim Jong Il and the R-rated movie’s promotional tagline from 2004 read: ‘Putting the F back in Freedom.’ The plot imagines that the North Korean supreme leader is supplying international terrorists with weapons of mass destruction and that he is planning to bomb every land in the world until they are reduced to a Third World Country. Jong-il never commented on the film, which grossed $50m, but his government ask the Czech Republic to ban the film, which it refused to do.

Leslie Nielsen in The Naked Gun

The Naked Gun

Leslie Nielsen’s Detective Frank Dreblin was charged with uncovering a plot to assassinate the Queen while she was on a state visit to the USA in the first of a trio of Naked Gun comedies. There was no reported objection from the UK or comment from our Royal Family at the time.


Death of A President

This 2006 film made in Britain imagined the assassination of controversial American president George W. Bush. It was presented as a future history mockumentary and used a mixture of actors and archive footage as well as CGI effects. Bush Jr, who along with Tony Blair led the ‘war on terror’, is fatally shot by a sniper while speaking at a hotel in Chicago, before which there had been an anti-war rally. A Syrian named Jamal Abu Zikri (Malik Bader) becomes the prime suspect. The film caused a storm in the American press and was widely criticised for its insensitivity. Hillary Clinton said at the time: "I find this shocking, I find it disturbing. I don't know if there are many people in America who would want to watch something like that."

The Manchurian Candidate

The Manchurian Candidate

This brilliant Cold War suspense thriller treads more carefully than its comedic counterparts but it still involves a brainwashing plot by a North Korean agent acting as a cook and houseboy. In this 1962 Academy Award nominated film the son of a prominent right-wing political family is duped into helping to secure the next US presidency under Communist influence. In the years immediately following McCarthyism and at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the film was very well received in America and regularly makes it onto lists of the 100 best films of all time.

The Day of the Jackal

The Day of the Jackal

This Anglo-French film based on the 1971 novel by Frederick Forsyth centres upon a plot to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle by a militant French organisation OAS which is angry that Algeria has been granted independence. It features a scene where de Gaulle’s vehicle comes under machine gun fire – but the entourage escapes unscathed. The remaining OAS leaders decide to make another attempt on the premier’s life and hire British assassin, Charles Calthrop (Edward Fox), known as ‘The Jackal’ to carry it out. He manages to get close enough to shoot de Gaulle but ultimately misses and is killed himself.