The warning labels found on some new microwave ovens may have comedic value (where but in America would users be warned not to put their pet in the device?) but we rarely notice the disclaimers preceding films. In fact, they are even more absurd: one very common one is “This is a work of fiction.” But producers, distributors and cinema owners protect themselves from accusations of offense caused by all sorts of other potential issues, like people of the same sex kissing, special effects, drug use, violence, unsafe behavior, and even cinematic experimentation.
The fear of having to pay the price for being misunderstood can be traced back to the very beginnings of film—as proven by these disclaimers from the 1874–2022 period. While the tone of this litany of warnings may be deeply ironic, the feeling gradually creeps up on you that this legal straitjacket could fatally constrict the unique ability of film to imagine the unknown, and to suspend disbelief.