The Will Ferrell Movie That Actually Got Banned And Censored

Will Ferrell starred in Zoolander alongside Ben Stiller, and the hilarious comedy was banned in parts of Asia for its depiction of the Malaysian Prime Minister.

By Matthew Creith | Published

Actor Will Ferrell is known for frequently collaborating with friends in the entertainment industry, often comedians like Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Owen Wilson. His movies have transcended the comedy genre in ways that many actors could only dream of for their large-scale projects. In fact, Zoolander was actually banned in parts of Asia when it was released in 2001 and remains banned to this day in some areas.

According to a report at the time of the film’s release by The Guardian, Zoolander was banned in Malaysia and also neighboring Singapore. A critical plot point of the film concerns Will Ferrell’s character of Jacobim Mugatu brainwashing Ben Stiller’s Derek Zoolander into assassinating the Prime Minister of Malaysia. This was deemed offensive and unsuitable by the Film Censorship Board of Malaysia, with Singapore jumping on board to censor the film to continue promising Malaysia–Singapore relations.

Zoolander depicts the story of Derek Zoolander, a fashion model who has seen better days. He finds himself in a career decline, as rising fashion star Hansel McDonald (Owen Wilson) becomes the more popular choice for designers and runway shows. Will Ferrell’s Mugatu is the leading voice in the industry and recruits Zoolander to kill the Malaysian Prime Minister due to the country’s more progressive policies under his leadership.

The movie is a comical satire on the fashion industry, often poking fun at people and moving parts of an industry begging to be made fun of. Will Ferrell takes the energy to new heights in Zoolander alongside actor Jerry Stiller, who had been popular as a comedian and frequent guest star on Seinfeld in the 1990s. Even with censorship issues in Asian countries and a scatterbrained plot by writers Ben Stiller, Drake Sather, and John Hamburg, Zoolander has since become a cult classic amongst its loyal fans.

will ferrell mugatu

When it debuted in theaters in September 2001, Zoolander became a modest hit for Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, and Owen Wilson. The movie went on to gross over $60 million at the box office against a budget of $28 million. It helped solidify all three men’s careers as comic actors in film, which some of them took to other projects that saw them in similar starring roles like Old School, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Starsky & Hutch, Wedding Crashers, and Night at the Museum.

By this point in his career, Will Ferrell seemed to join what was deemed as the Frat Pack, alongside fellow actors Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Jack Black, Vince Vaughn, and Paul Rudd. Throughout the early aughts, this group of actors tended to make cameos in each other’s movies, often peaking in memorable scenes to satisfy a loyal fanbase. Zoolander was a pet project from Ben Stiller and showcased the talents of Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell in roles that would help define their place in comedy.

However, Zoolander was not necessarily a hit with critics and audiences in 2001, despite its impressive box office draw for a smaller scaled commercial project. Over the past twenty years, reviews for the film have improved, with Rotten Tomatoes currently ranking the movie with a 64% on its Tomatometer based on 140 critics reviews, as well as an 80% Audience Score from over 250,000 ratings by users of the site. Will Ferrell’s over-the-top performance as Jacobim Mugatu may have played into the film’s censorship in Asia, but the concepts of the movie became farcical and often quotable for audiences in the United States.

The cult favorite label that Zoolander acquired since its release helped establish Ben Stiller as a leading voice in comedy, and fans soon begged for a sequel to the zany movie. Zoolander 2 was released in February 2016, almost 15 years after the original. Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, and Christine Taylor all reprised their roles for the sequel, which also saw additional actors like Academy Award-winner Penelope Cruz, Saturday Night Live alums Kristen Wiig and Fred Armisen, and cameos by Billy Zane and rocker Sting.

The success of the Zoolander franchise spawned an animated film called Zoolander: Super Model as well, but Will Ferrell did not come back to play Mugatu. It also served as the final voice acting performance for Ben’s dad Jerry Stiller, who passed away in 2020. At this point, it doesn’t appear that more Zoolander projects are on the horizon, but time will tell.