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American Sniper

R16: violence, offensive language and content that may disturb

Spoiler alert

This page outlines how the classification criteria were applied. We do our best to discuss the content while avoiding spoilers, but please avoid reading this information if you do not want to learn anything about the content of this movie.

American Sniper poster

Date registered: 19/12/2014

About the film

The film is a war drama about an American sniper deployed to Iraq four times in the years following 9/11, who struggles to adjust to civilian life.

The film is based on the real-life experiences of marine Chris Kyle, who was known for his high kill-rate as a sniper. In between harrowing tours of duty, Chris gets married and fathers two children. His relationship with his wife Taya is at times strained as Chris suffers fairly acute post-traumatic stress disorder.

A still image from the film - Chris takes aim with his sniper rifle

Classification criteria: Cruelty and violence

There are a number of realistically-depicted gun battles in the film, as well as wide and close-up shots of soldiers being killed by sniper fire. Some of the violence in the film is graphic and/or involves strong elements of cruelty.

The strongest scene in the film is when an Iraqi terrorist, the Butcher, tortures a young boy in front of his family. The boy's family had previously identified the Butcher to the American military in the hope of obtaining a reward for his capture or death. As punishment, the Butcher hauls the family's son (aged around 10 or 11) outside onto the street, holds him down and puts an electric drill through his leg. The boy's parents, who are forced to watch, are distraught.

In another scene, torture is alluded to when Chris and some soldiers enact a raid on a terrorist hideout. Inside they see a dead man chained to the ceiling. The man's feet have been severed. There are also shots of severed heads and various limbs and body parts inside a cold store.

A still image from the film - a young Iraqi boy picks up a rocket launcher - as seen through the sights of a sniper's rifle

Classification criteria: Highly offensive language

The film contains extensive use of highly offensive language. The language would be highly offensive to the public in general and likely to cause serious harms, such as intimidation or alienation from peers, if emulated by impressionable young viewers.

A still image from the film - Chris, distraught, radios back to base

Decision summary

The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act states that everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form. With this film that right needs to be restricted mostly due to the depictions of violence and cruelty. Children and young teens are likely to be shocked and disturbed by this material, in particular the Butcher's use of a drill on a small child and other allusions to torture. The widespread use of highly offensive language also supports a restriction to older audiences.

The film is therefore classified as objectionable except if its availability is restricted to persons who have attained the age of 16 years.

Contact the Information Unit if you require further information on a classification decision.

R16 label
R16: violence, offensive language and content that may disturb