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The Real Reason The Cow Scene In Starship Troopers Was Censored

Paul Verhoeven's adaptation of Starship Troopers is easily considered a cult classic, but it had a rough start. The movie was initially considered a flop due to failing to recoup its $105 million budget, only able to earn about $54 million domestically (via Box Office Mojo). This may have had something to do with the fact that Starship Troopers debuted in the same year (1997) as other more successful features like The Fifth Element, the Jurassic Park sequel, and the special-edition release of the original Star Wars Trilogy. Critics at the time of the film's release weren't in love with Starship Troopers either, with most labeling it as nothing more than a gory, brainless piece of science fiction that lacked the social satire found in Verhoeven's RoboCop, the much-beloved sci-fi film released a decade earlier.

Yet, as time went on, Starship Troopers found new life through DVD sales and syndication, and appreciation for the film grew. Audiences started noticing and praising Verhoeven's satire of right-wing militarism, and the film often found itself placing on critics' lists of the best '90s movies. While Verhoeven wasn't afraid to pull any punches with his attempt at social commentary, the director was also fearless when it came to presenting violence. Starship Troopers featured some gruesome scenes as Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) and his compatriots faced off against the savage Bugs. Through it all, the movie is mostly uncensored — save, of course, for one particular cow.

Here's why the cow scene in Starship Troopers was censored.

Don't have a cow, PETA

One of Starship Troopers' most infamous scenes involves a mock recruitment video that attempts to make the Bugs look more like a dangerous enemy for humankind by placing a cow in the room with one of the insectoid creatures. Suffice to say, it doesn't take long for the Bug to attack the cow, but a giant censor bar is placed in front of the gruesome event. 

On the director's commentary track of the Blu-ray DVD release of Starship Troopers, Verhoeven revealed why this moment was censored. According to the director, the censor bar was shown to keep PETA from complaining about any animal cruelty (via Screen Rant).

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has had a variety of issues and conflicts with Hollywood, whether the organization was calling out depictions of animal cruelty or on-set abuse of animal actors. PETA's last high-profile uproar against a film occurred when members protested against A Dog's Purpose. In 2017, a video showing one of the film's trainers forcing a dog into turbulent waters surfaced online (via TMZ). It was unclear if the video in question was captured as part of a scene for the movie, but the clip did feature one of the German Shepherds, Hercules, used for A Dog's Purpose. The film's production companies, Amberlin Partners and Universal Pictures, stated that they took ethical treatment of their animals in movies seriously and would investigate the matter. As reported by People, PETA immediately called on all dog owners to boycott the film.

Considering the gruesome deaths and mutilations that occur on screen in Starship Troopers, it's ironic that the film's team chose to censor the cow scene in particular. But considering PETA's long history of various protests and complaints in Hollywood, it's understandable why Verhoeven would choose the "better safe than sorry" route.