streaming habits

What’s Leaving HBO Max: (Some) Cigarettes

Left: McCabe & Mrs. Miller’s poster as it appears on HBO Max. Right: McCabe & Mrs. Miller’s poster as it appeared originally. Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos Courtesy of HBO Max and Warner Bros. Pictures

HBO Max is cutting back on the smokes — in the movie posters it displays on the service, that is. Twitter users first spotted the missing cigarettes on HBO Max’s feeds, seemingly edited and masked out of iconic movie posters for McCabe & Mrs. Miller and The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean. In the edited posters, stars Warren Beatty and Paul Newman no longer hold cigarettes between their fingers but instead appear to be gesturing at something — perhaps a vape shop? Cinephiles and film buffs are annoyed.

A dive into HBO Max’s A–Z directory reveals that McCabe and Bean indeed aren’t puffing anymore. Neither is Michelle Reis’s character in the promo still for Wong Kar-wai’s 1995 Fallen Angels. Nor Kirk Douglas’s character in the poster for There Was a Crooked Man … .

But what’s perhaps stranger than the edited images is that there are many others that remain untouched. Jack Nicholson is still holding a cigarette in the poster for The Two Jakes (the sequel to Chinatown), and he still poses with a cigar (but sans shirt) in the one for Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail. The cigarillo Glenn Ford holds up on the poster of the 1960 western Cimarron is there but obscured by the title text, while cigarettes and pipes dangle from the lips of characters in posters for The Nitwits, A Story of Floating Weeds, and The Man Who Knew Too Much. On a more recent, HBO-produced film, Alessandro Nivola is seen lighting up a cigarette in the image for The Many Saints of Newark.

There doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason for the edits apart from maybe the relative size or placement of the cigarette on the poster. And it’s hard to tell whether the censorship began recently or as far back as when HBO Max first launched in 2020. Western titles — known for cigar-chomping macho protagonists — appear to be overrepresented in the Photoshopped set, but that doesn’t explain the others. As far as we can tell, censorship is limited to the posters and imagery; no one has cut out Newman’s cig from his scenes in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean.

HBO Max’s people have kept mum on this (Streamliner has reached out for comment), and we can’t blame them. The streaming service, owned by the newly merged Warner Bros. Discovery, had a wild summer that saw it cut dozens of titles, cancel Batgirl for a tax break, axe 200 episodes from its Sesame Street library, and launch the widely watched Game of Thrones prequel (House of the Dragon) amid a raft of post-merger layoffs. HBO probably wants to kick the controversy habit.

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What’s Leaving HBO Max: (Some) Cigarettes