“Zero Dark Thirty” And 9 Other Films That The Military Has Censored

New details have emerged indicating that Oscar-winning screenwriter Mark Boal tweaked the critically acclaimed movie at the CIA’s behest. But ZDT is hardly the first: Many big films, including Top Gun, have done the same thing.

Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., Jonathan Olley, File / AP

A newly released memo has revealed that Mark Boal, the screenwriter-producer of the Kathryn Bigelow-directed film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, agreed to take out a number of elements of his original screenplay that the CIA said were inaccurate. It’s well-known that Boal worked closely with the intelligence agency while researching his script, but the degree of the collaboration was not clear. Now, it’s been revealed that, in an unofficial quid pro quo for access to top military officials (including a very lengthy chat with Under Secretary of Defense Mike Vickers and a Navy SEAL) and other substantive assists, Boal removed a couple of scenes that the CIA found objectionable when he ran briefed them the screenplay — including one that showed military members drinking and firing AK-47s on a rooftop in Islamabad, as well as any indication that the intrepid lead character, played by Jessica Chastain, engaged in “enhanced interrogation” (aka torture). Using dogs in torture was axed, too.

Though the movie was released after the November presidential election, it was accused as being a vehicle to promote President Obama’s efforts in the War on Terror, and so the CIA’s involvement came under scrutiny by many in Congress and the media. The truth, however, is that the American military has exercised influence on film since the first Oscars in 1927.

The Department of Defense makes available material and strategic support for movie productions — think tanks, planes, ships and consultation — at low rates. But there is another kind of price: creative freedom. The deal is that if you want the help, you’ve got to submit your script to the DoD, which subjects it to review and asks for changes to anything it finds objectionable.

If a filmmaker declines to make the changes, they’re free to go make the movie on their own, but they won’t get the help from the military that they had requested. Here are some of the biggest hits that have worked within the system — and some that haven’t.

1. Top Gun

The Navy went all in on this one, going so far as setting up recruitment tables outside movie theaters screening this Tony Scott-directed, Jerry Bruckheimer-produced flick, along with supplying planes and other material goods.

They worked closely on the script, and one of the changes they requested was having Kelly McGillis’ character be a civilian, not an enlisted woman; relationships between soldiers were not allowed.

2. Battleship

The one thing the Navy wanted changed about the 2012 board game-turned-alien invasion film was director Peter Berg’s casting of a fat sailor.

“I cast without meeting him,” Berg said in an interview. “I saw him just on video. He was 35 pounds overweight. The Navy consultants had a ‘body-fat’ rule. They said ‘he’s too fat, don’t use him.’ I had to get rid of him. That was the only issue I had with the Navy.”

3. Blackhawk Down

The Army supplied helicopters, training and filming locations for this Jerry Bruckheimer-produced film. Though the movie was “based” on a true story, the character that Ewan McGregor plays was a fictional creation; the real guy he should have been playing had been convicted of raping his daughter, and the military was not keen on that complication getting in the way of a hero story.

4. Transformers

The military has poured tons of resources into this series, thanks in part to its close relationship with Michael Bay.

“We might say, ‘Hey, you’ve never shown an X, Y or a Z.’ We’ll send them information, talk about its role,” Philip Strub, the man that runs the Hollywood liason office, explained to The Guardian. Or they’ll come back to us and say, ‘We’d like to have a C-17. Or what about an aircraft carrier and some F-18s?’”

5. The Hunt for Red October

With the success of Top Gun and the enlistment boon it created for the jet fighters, the Navy wanted its own recruitment vehicle for submarines. Tom Clancy’s novel about submarines at battle with Communist Russia served as the perfect opportunity.

Among many things, the Navy allowed the filmmakers behind the Sean Connery-starring adaptation to check out their submarines, and access designs behind their construction. Because the ships were messy and unglamorous inside, the production crew souped them up with the latest technology in the movie, making them quite a bit more sexy for those potential young recruits watching the movie.

The film’s premiere was hosted at a Virginia naval base.

6. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

At one point in this tale about the Starship Enterprise having to transport humpback whales (yes, this is pre-J.J. Abrams), Chekov and Uhura break into a nuclear aircraft carrier with little difficulty, overpowering and outwitting guards in the process.

Or so, that was the plan. The Navy objected, and they ended up just beaming in. Convenient.

7. Behind Enemy Lines

The Navy was very excited about this movie, and thought it might be another Top Gun. They wanted to use it as a recruitment tool, but made sure that Owen Wilson and his buddies toned down on the drinking and foul language.

8. Taps

When this film about military school students taking over their campus was first submitted for review, the National Guard was portrayed as a brutal force willing to take lives to restore order (the Kent State hangover still loomed large). By the time the script was cleared, the characters had become upstanding young men who handled crisis efficiently and effectively, and it was unclear whether they had even killed anyone at all.

9. The Presidio

Originally in this Sean Connery-starring film, illegal diamonds are smuggled aboard an Army plane, and when things go awry and murder is required, a coverup is concocted. The Pentagon objected to a tense scene where one officer says “This is the United States Army, son, we take care of our own,” which they said cast the service as a corrupt, old boys club.

They also objected to the use of alcohol by officers, and the central premise that they smuggled diamonds in vodka bottles, which had to be rewritten.

And, spoiler alert: the finale went from suicide to dying with honor saving a friend.

The Pentagon Refused to Help These Films Because They Didn’t Like The Scripts:

Apocalypse Now

Director Francis Ford Coppola and then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld engaged in a correspondence in which it was requested that Coppola make several changes/cuts. One of them was the military’s order to “terminate without prejudice” Colonel Kurtz, instead making Martin Sheen’s mission to track him down and take him in for a court marshall.

Coppola responded that he’d make the orders come from a civilian, not a member of the Army, and show that killing the rogue colonel was the only option. He also agreed to soften the Kurtz character, toning down his drug use.

No dice. The military just didn’t like the story at all.

Avengers

The military is down with aliens, but were unclear of the role of S.H.I.E.L.D., the organization headed up by Samuel L. Jackson. Was it an international crime fighting group, or under American jurisdiction? Since it’s not a branch of the US government, soldiers couldn’t take orders from it, and so the Pentagon passed.

Forrest Gump

Tom Hanks’ iconic character was a military hero, but the Pentagon didn’t like the way most of the rest of the Army members were portrayed in this Oscar-winning film. Also, they weren’t too keen on when Forrest mooned LBJ.

Update: A representative for Boal says that Boal asked the CIA about the accuracy of the film. This item has been updated to reflect that.

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