The Classification & Ratings Administration is part of the Motion Picture Association of America’s (MPAA) film-rating system, which is responsible for administering certain rating levels to help families understand which films are appropriate for different age groups. Prior to the 1990s, the rating system only really dealt with G, PG, PG-13, and R rating for submitted films. Everything beyond R-rating generally fell into an X category, which some found a little confusing to gauge what the content was and which age group it was specifically geared towards.
Once the NC-17 rating replaced the X-rated system, it was basically a continuation of the R-rating. While R-rating allows for those under 18 to watch the film under certain guidelines, NC-17 completely restricts anyone 17 years of age and under. The problem with NC-17 rated films is that it’s not just the movies that fall under the rating system. Trailers, posters, and all advertising for the film can be rejected because of the NC-17 rating. Movie theaters can also refuse to play NC-17 films at their locations.
Because of the negative effects of an NC-17 rating, oftentimes the film is edited to lower the rating in hopes of receiving full distribution upon release. However, there are some filmmakers and studios that refuse to delete any of the scenes in the film, regardless of graphic violence or sexual content. Whether it’s to stay true to the art of the film or a disregard for commercial appeal, not everyone feels the same about the stigma surrounding an NC-17 rating. Check out our list of 10 films you didn’t know were rated NC-17, and see how many you can claim to have watched.
10 Fight Club
When Fight Club was being rated by the MPAA, there was a strong chance it wouldn’t make the rating system for nationwide distribution and advertising. So, the film was edited to create the R-rated version that has become what we now know as the infamous film involving A-list actors Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. With a name like “Fight Club,” it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the film would involve graphic violence. Yet it wasn’t just that one aspect of the film that caused alarm for a high rating. The sexuality, anti-social behavior, and violence actually seem tame by today’s standards, but were a huge factor that led to the attempt to get the rating down to at least an R.
The concept behind Showgirls can either be construed as a modern day telling of All About Eve or just a sad tale of a stripper trying to upgrade to a Vegas showgirl. Either way, it will go down in infamy as the film that tried too hard and failed. Starring former Saved by the Bell TV star, Elizabeth Berklev, audiences got to see what she looked like all-grown up (and without any clothes). Although it was rated NC-17, it didn’t have all the distribution issues like other films of the same rating. Yet, even though it was distributed nationwide in theaters, it didn’t help to cultivate gains in ticket sales. Instead, it was a major flop and a huge source of embarrassment for Berkley.
Clive Owen is known for taking controversial roles in both film and television, but not all of his fans are aware of the NC-17 rated film he starred in entitled Bent. Released in 1997, the high rating was given due to strong graphic sexuality. Owen played the role of a promiscuous gay man during the 1930’s in Nazi Germany, so the film was filled with violence and the homosexual issues of the time. In order to gain a larger audience, some of the more graphic scenes in the film were cut in 1998 to give it a new rating of R for theatrical release. While both versions have received high acclaim by critics, it is still considered an obscure movie role for the well-known Clive Owen.
Oftentimes, what is considered overly graphic in violence on screen, changes from one generation to the next. This is definitely the case for the 1995 film, Braveheart. At the time, the violent battle scenes caused the rating to be NC-17, and required editing to get it down to an R-rating. Nowadays, violent depictions seem like a poor excuse to give an NC-17 rating, since audiences see worse than that on every episode of The Walking Dead on TV. While Braveheart is now considered a film classic, it was once thought of as almost too violent to be shown at movie theaters nationwide.
6 Boogie Nights
In 1988, Paul Thomas Anderson released a mockumentary short film, The Dirk Diggler Story, which led to the creation of a feature film. Boogie Nights went through the glamorous life of those in the adult industry in the '70s, and their horrible fall in the '80s. Since the storyline revolves around the adult industry, it should come as no surprise that there would be some graphic scenes of nudity. Yet, what is surprising is that the film was originally rated NC-17 before certain scenes were cut out to give it an R-rating. For those that have seen the film (and the infamous Mark Wahlberg fake penis), it is hard to imagine how much more graphic the film was before being edited.
5 Last Tango in Paris
Bernardo Bertolucci is the Italian-born director that first made waves early in his career for the 1972 film, Last Tango in Paris. Released the same year as Deep Throat, it’s no wonder there was a huge spark in censorship guidelines for films that year. The most graphic scene in the film was actually cut out in the U.S., and the film was classified as NC-17 in 1997. Further cuts were made to reintroduce it to audiences in 1981 as R-rated, but the storyline didn’t achieve the same impact as the original version. Showing raw sexual violence and starring a young Marlon Brando, this was a film that was meant to provoke thought and continues to do so for new fans introduced to Bertolucci’s work.
4 The Evil Dead
In 1981, The Evil Dead was revolutionary in its concept and horror depiction. So when it was announced the character, Ash Williams, would be returning for the remake, there were high hopes for its gore content. In 2013, Bruce Campbell returned to the Ash Williams character and introduced himself to a whole new fanbase. While the film industry seems to get more and more graphic in pushing the boundaries, Evil Dead was rated NC-17 due to being overly violent and gory. This seems a bit strange for a horror movie to be punished for being gory, especially since that is what audiences expect. However, the film was edited to remove the clips that seemed to be too much for the MPAA and it was changed to R-rating.
Unlike R-rated films that allow those under 17 years of age to watch as long as they’re accompanied by a parent or adult guardian, an NC-17 rating completely forbids those under 17 years old. The ironic part of Bully being rated NC-17 is that it features actors that were still in their teens during filming. When it was released in 2001, it surrendered an NC-17 rating, which means they chose to release it unrated. The video release was edited to allow for an R-rating, but it was more than the graphic nude scenes that made it shocking. Depicting murder, strong violence, and drug use, this was a film that became iconic for its portrayal of dysfunctional adolescence.
2 Blue Valentine
While there are plenty of films on the list that seem deserving of an NC-17 rating, Blue Valentine seemed a little undeserving. Starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, it was strange that a love story with two of the top actors in Hollywood would receive such a high rating that excluded it from being shown at most movie theaters. Yes, there was a semi-violent beating scene and there were a few shots of intimate cunnilingus moments, but there have been many other films that have gone way beyond that and still got an R- rating. In 2010, the rating was appealed, and it was re-rated R. However, the initial rating still made it difficult for widespread distribution, and many have still yet to see the film.
1 The Dreamers
Bernardo Bertolucci is known for stirring up controversy with sex scenes in his films, so The Dreamers wasn’t exactly a huge shock for fans of this writer and director. However, it was the breakout role for Eva Green in the film that created the most buzz about the film. Green played Isabelle, a film enthusiast in Paris that has a dysfunctional relationship with her brother. From forced masturbation to losing her virginity through a bet, the movie was filled with controversial relationship dynamics with graphic nude scenes throughout. Spawning the careers of both Eva Green and Michael Pitt, The Dreamers may have been rated NC-17 but it didn’t stop the world from seeing it.