Kathryn Bigelow's cult actioner Point Break was released into theaters in the summer of 1991, opening behind James Cameron's Terminator 2 at the US box office. Cameron was married to Bigelow at the time and had served as executive
producer on Point Break .
BBFC cinema rating
In the UK, the film came in for a theatrical classification at the BBFC. The distributing company, 20th Century Fox, wanted a 15 rating; keen to appeal to the natural teenage audience for such a film. However, the BBFC felt the film was too
strong at 15, and issued a list of cuts to the distributor that were to be implemented before a 15 rating would be awarded.
Unlike today, the BBFC of the early 1990s did not have a set of established rules or guidelines for classifying motion pictures, and this lack of rules was something that former Chief Censor John Trevelyan stood firmly by, as he once stated in a
We have no rules; which I think is important, I think it's the only way to do it. You see, if you have your rules, you've either got to stick to them or you've got to interpret them and I think either's foolish. So therefore, we try to assess
what we believe are public attitudes at any one time, and work on those.
Although Trevelyan had departed the BBFC in 1971, this general practice of censorship seemed to be still very much the norm in 1991 when Point Break was classified, with the BBFC examiners having to reach a conclusion about what to remove from
the film in order to tone it down generally for older teenagers. The main problem the Board had with Point Break was the aggressive use of strong and 'coarse' language, along with one or two violent moments. A small amount of footage featuring
full-frontal (but non-sexual) nudity was also removed.
Language-wise, nine uses of the word fuck were deleted from Point Break, along with two uses of motherfucker. In the early- to mid- 1990s, the allowance of the word fuck and its derivatives was not as lax in 15 films as it is
today, with strong language usually being allowed to remain if it was both contextually justified and used in a non-sexual manner. The Harrison Ford film, Presumed Innocent that was released in 1990, for example, had a line containing the
words fuck her to death cut for a 15, whilst Die Hard 2 -- also 1990 -- also suffered cuts to strong language to obtain a 15 rating. It would be five or six years before the BBFC eased up on the use of strong language in 15 films,
with films like Ron Howard's Ransom and Michael Bay's The Rock passed at 15 with frequent, and often aggressive, uses of so-called 'coarse' language left untouched.
Cut Scenes: Reel 1 bank raid
The first cut in the UK cinema version of Point Break occurred in reel 1, with the BBFC demanding:
During bank raid, remove sight of man in Nixon mask jumping onto counter with gun shouting, Get your fuckin' hands up.
Cut Scenes: Beach threats
The next cut occurred in reel 2, where Utah is threatened by the surfers:
In beach scene, during lead-up to attack on hero by gang, remove pan left to close-up of man threatening, We're just gonna fuck you up.
Cut Scenes: House raid
The film's third reel suffered the heaviest cuts in the film during the scene where the FBI agents raid the house. The cuts list sent to the filmmakers includes the following instructions:
Just before FBI raid on drug dealers' house, when hero speaks in close-up into walkie-talkie, remove his expletive Fuck!
As two men in bedroom load guns, remove remark by one to the other, Will you shut the fuck up!
Remove man by window shouting We're fucked!
During raid on house, as foreground man starts shooting at FBI man talking to woman in underwear at door, cut away so that gunshots do not seem to be aimed at her.
The BBFC went on to list further changes during the raid itself:
Remove the following:
sight of naked, screaming woman shot at and falling in shower
end of shot of FBI man putting handcuffs on villain to remove latter's shout, You motherfucker, motherfucker!
bullet impact in forehead of villain holding gun to woman's head, resuming to see him fall
sight of neck-chopped hero falling past naked woman's body to floor where she kicks him in ribs
bloody bullet impact in man's shoe as he shoots himself in foot, resuming on reaction as injured foot moves back into shadow
sight of FBI man pushing naked, screaming girl onto floor.
Head shot: bullet impact was removed
Shot in the foot: bullet impact was removed
Cut Scenes: Reel 5 bank raid
Reel 5 was also subject to some cuts, with the BBFC demanding:
During bank raid, remove the following:
sight of robber in Nixon mask shouting, Take the fuckin' keys! as he pushes girl towards manager
sight of robbers taking money from shelf in vault to put into sacks as Nixon figure says, ...fuckin' going to the fuckin' vault
close-up of bullet impact into off-duty cop's chest
close-up of robber in Carter mask shouting, Are you out of your fucking mind?
Missing: 'Nixon' shouting, Take the fuckin' keys!
Missing: close up of bullet impact into off-duty cop's chest
Cut Scenes: Airfield
Towards the end of the film, the scene at the airfield also received cuts, this time to violence alone, with the BBFC stating:
Remove second bullet impact into chest of man in T-shirt holding gun and close-up of bullet impact into back of FBI man.
With these changes made, the total amount of footage removed amounted to 25 seconds on film, and Point Break was passed 15 for theatrical release on August 7th 1991.
BBFC video ratings
The following year, Fox submitted the film for a UK video rating and the version submitted to the BBFC was the full uncut version, which restored all of the BBFC cuts made to the theatrical version. Fox elected not to implement the cinema cuts
for a 15 on video, and the film was passed uncut with an upgrade to an 18 rating on March 24th 1992. It was later passed by the BBFC again on February 8th 1993, also with an uncut 18 rating. The uncut version was later released on DVD in 2003,
which also carried an 18 rating for:
Frequent strong language and some strong violence.
Point Break came in to the BBFC for classification again around eight years later for a Blu-ray release. With new guidelines in place, the uncut version of the film was passed intact with a downgrade to a more sensible 15 rating on September 12th
2011, with the BBFC's consumer advice stating:
Contains strong violence and language, and some nudity.
At the time of writing, the uncut version of the film has thus been available to UK buyers for the past 22 years, with the original UK theatrical version never having received a home video release.
Cutting Edge Video: Episode 13: Point Break
All articles are original works compiled by Gavin Salkeld, with occasional help from a small team of researchers. Particular thanks are due to the BBFC for their diligent and helpful explanations of their interventions.