Among the most debated aspects of film culture are issues of censorship and control. Many controversial films have been cut or banned by censorship bodies or local or state authorities. Yet it would be wrong to see film censorship as largely the removal and prohibition of whole movies or specific images. Film censors tend to see themselves as classifiers, administering certificates that aim to control the type of audience that sees a particular movie. If they lack such a certificate, some films' reception is restricted; studios or distributors can also act to prohibit a film by withdrawing it from circulation for contractual, legal, or political reasons. The controlling of the film image is most noticeable after production, but a significant amount of the regulation occurs during production moreover in the preproduction stages. In the classical period of film production (between the 1930s and the 1960s), films were often censored during the script stage, with studios removing content that could potentially run afoul of the censors. Studios were keen to comply with censors to avoid the expense of making cuts as well as delays in the film's release.

It is not just the content of film that is regulated, with all areas of film culture coming under scrutiny. This ranges from the granting of an exhibition license to permitted modes of promotion, publicity, and merchandising (the content and nature of posters and trailers and the suitability of associated toys). The pervasiveness of film culture also means that movies are more than just cinema screenings; the censorship and regulation of film is present in other areas of exhibition, where a particular production can experience an alternative reception. For instance, a film may be cut for language or scenes of an unsuitable nature when it is shown as in-flight entertainment, made available for DVD home rental, or broadcast later on television. In the United Kingdom, editing swear words for television is known as "funstering," allegedly after British television's first screening of Lethal Weapon (1987), when "Let's get the fuckers!" was replaced with "Let's get the funsters!" In terms of film content, though, the more common concerns are screen violence, sex, and sex crime.

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