Since its inception on September 27, 1990, in replacement of the X rating, NC-17 movies, which impose the exclusion of any minor, have been both a point of controversy and a selling point. In order to avoid cutting out a fair share of the under-18 market, most producers and directors reedit and trim moments of sex and violence from their provocative films to appeal the rating. Others, unwilling to compromise their vision, surrender or keep it. Most, however, edit their films for wide release and use the NC-17 reputation to boost sales in the home video market, where renters and buyers can take advantage of the privacy of their own homes and get to see new versions of controversial pictures.
Rarely do films garner an NC-17 rating in the current climate of the movie industry; when they do, however, they make the news. The designation for the Ana De Armas-starring Marilyn Monroe biopic Blonderepresents a bit of a conundrum in the streaming age: If a film is rated NC-17, can’t anyone with a Netflix account access it regardless of their age? Regardless, just the label of NC-17 in our increasingly desensitized society can push people to test their tolerance for the exploitative and the shocking.
American Pie (1999)
American Pie took the teen sex comedy, pioneered by films like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Porky’s, and updated it for modern audiences of the more transparent and internet-obsessed Y2K era. It was only natural the film would also up the ante of shock value for big laughs, packed theaters, and the home video market.
The film’s producers knew the film had to be accessible for its intended teen audience, even with an adult present which an NC-17 would effectively kibosh. The MPAA received four modified cuts of the film screened all of which focused on the iconic scene of Jim (Jason Biggs) having sex with the titular apple pie, a scenario with no cinematic precedent for the board to base their decision on. Biggs would later reveal that only by lessening the number of thrusts did the MPAA decide to adjust its rating to an R.
Stream it on Starz.
Martin Scorsese’s mission to explore the consequences of American violence has given his films near NC-17 and X ratings numerous times. Goodfellas almost received the distinction when the rating was new and received a reedit for its language, violence, and drug use. The final scene of Taxi Driver famously toned down the color of its blood to distance itself from an X.
The master had learned his lesson for Casinoperhaps his goriest film and featuring the legendary “head in the vice” scene in which an Irish gangster under torture interrogation from Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) has his head tightened within a vise until his eye pops out. Scorsese had included the scene as a decoy, ready to sacrifice a removal to distract from the other segments of the film such as bat beatings and a record number of spoken expletives which would seem less gratuitous in comparison to the scene. The MPAA shockingly gave the film an R rating on appeal with no objections and the scene was left in the film.
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Basic Instinct (1992)
Exploding heads, melting faces, and strip club set pieces; Paul Verhoeven’s films are known for their debts to the exploitation genre as much as they are for their biting satire. After a lucrative ’80s working in science fiction and steering the genre into R-rated territory after a family-driven’ 70s with blockbuster hits from Steven Spielberg and George LucasVerhoeven diverted his attention to making sexualized dramas.
The cult classic Showgirls accepted its NC-17 rating, though the intended populist appeal of his Hitchcockian thriller Basic Instinct adjusted its racy content to achieve an R. The iconic interrogation room exposure scene amazingly was not even the point of contention for the MPAA, which instead considered 40 seconds of love scenes that Verhoeven had to replace with different angles in a more subtle presentation.
Stream it on Showtime
American Psycho (2000)
From Bret Easton Ellis’ shrink-wrapped novel to Mary Harron’s career-launching psychological thriller, American Psycho seemed almost designed to provoke controversy. Considering the film is over 20 years old, and the novel is over 30 it may be difficult to consider the power and shock value the film had at its time or that the character of Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), an executive by day and serial killer by moonlight, intended to satirize 80s yuppy culture.
After making waves at Sundance, the MPAA slapped the NC-17 on the film, forcing the creative team to tone down both dialogue and trim scenes in which Bateman brutally murders his victims. One, in particular, featuring a threesome with two sex workers had to be cut by 18 seconds, while another featuring Bateman admiring himself naked in the mirror to Phil Collins was also toned down.
Stream it on HBO MAX.
Saw Franchise (2004—)
The history of ratings for the Saw The franchise reads like its own kind of saga. All of the hugely successful Saw movies until Saw 3D received an NC-17 rating upon submission for their visceral depictions of torture and what the MPAA referred to as grisly violence.
Saw 3D received six revisions. The newest addition Spiral received 11 revisions. The first Saw film is just 8 seconds shorter than the unrated version. Somehow Saw II was the only film that did not require a re-edit and was approved on appeal. The original uncut NC-17 versions which are all available on the home video market and listed as unrated, feature more frames and just a few seconds more than their edited versions, but with no full scenes removed.
Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)
Quentin Tarantino has had a longstanding reputation for helming violent films from the ear-cutting in Reservoir Dogs that resulted in walkouts to the high body count of Django Unchained. In this respect, Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Kill Bill Vol. 2known as the whole bloody affair, represents a tour de force.
The scene which almost earned Kill Bill Vol. 1 an NC-17, concerns the hall of fame massacre action sequence set at The House of Blue Leaves in which The Bride takes on The Crazy 88s, putting her Hattori Hanzō sword to use with a whole lot of blood splatter. To appease the board, Tarantino simply converted the scene to black and white adding to its highly stylized nature. The Japanese edition of the DVD is the only available version to feature the full-color version of the scene.
Stream it on HBO MAX
Lust, Caution (2007)
Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution, while a critical smash for the director, was a whole different kind of beast in regard to censorship in Mainland China. The erotic spy film set in Golden Age Hong Kong and Shanghai featured unsimulated sex scenes rendering attempts to appeal an NC-17 rating futile in America. The film did not so much avoid the rating as it did the usual ramifications, grossing $ 67 million and holding the record for the highest-grossing NC-17 film of all time.
Instead, its star actress Tang Wei was blacklisted from the Chinese movie industry who disapproved of her performance of sexual acts in the film and did not work for three years. Sex scenes were removed for release in China and India along with other sequences considered too violent and in Singapore, an uncut version prompted the rare R-21 rating.
Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Requiem for a Dream is a masterclass in cinematography, editing, and performance presenting four parallel stories about the inescapable consequences of addiction and the failure of the American Dream. The film is an execution of Darren Aronofsky’s vision that was so uncompromising he surrendered to the MPAA’s NC-17 rating and denied re-editing the film to their standard.
Understanding the film’s thesis as a negative depiction and not a glorification of drug use, the film’s NC-17 rating may seem excessive… until one rewatches the film which still holds up as disturbing and terrifying to this day. Refusing to sacrifice the film’s graphic sex scene set in the depths of a sex party at the climax of the film which Aronofsky considered central to the film’s story, the film was released unrated. This meant distributor Artisan asked theaters (that were able) to enforce an adults-only policy, while eventually, an edited version became available on the home video market.
Stream it on ROKU.
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