Flash Gordon Re-Release Hit With Offensive Content Warning For Ming The Merciless

Image via Universal

Mike Hodges’ Flash Gordon is one of the campest and cheesiest movies ever made, so it isn’t surprising that it quickly caught on as a cult classic, and the 1980 romp retains a dedicated and loyal following to this day. Nobody watches the space opera for three-dimensional characters, an intriguing plot or any sort of substance, but fans continue to lap up the extravagant adventures and thumping soundtrack from Queen and Howard Blake.

There’ve been several attempts at remaking or rebooting Flash Gordon over the years, with Taika Waititi recently signing on to develop an animated version before eventually dropping out, but any fresh spin on the material faces an uphill battle to win over audiences. If a new project takes itself too seriously, then it could end up becoming a figure of fun for veering too far away from the template people know and love, while leaning into the nostalgia factor could see it come off as an inferior retread of what came before. presenting a difficult balancing act for the next person to try and steer the property out of development hell.

Flash Gordon was recently re-released in the United Kingdom, and the British Board of Film Classification slapped it with a disclaimer warning viewers about offensive content. Unsurprisingly, it relates to the depiction of Ming the Merciless, which saw Swedish actor Max Von Sydow donning heavy makeup to play the title hero’s archenemy.

ming the merciless

Here’s how the BBFC’s Senior Policy Officer Matt Tindall explained the decision:

“Ming the Merciless is coded as an East Asian character due to his hair and make-up, but he’s played by a Swedish actor in the film, he’s played by Max Von Sydow, which I don’t think is something that would happen if this were a modern production, and is something that we’re also aware that viewers may find dubious if not outright offensive. The character of Ming of course comes from the Flash Gordon comic strips from the 1930s and the serials, and let’s just say attitudes towards the acceptability of discriminatory racial stereotypes have moved on considerably since then, and rightly so of course.”

The BBFC also increased the movie’s rating, bumping Flash Gordon up to the restricted 12A from the previous all-ages A, making it just the latest in a long line of older projects to find themselves being reclassified for modern audiences.