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Here Are Some of the Best Movies Originally Rated NC 17

Some Made Cuts to Earn R Ratings and an Obstinate Few Stayed NC 17

Netflix is close to releasing its first produced NC 17-rated movie, Blonde. This NC 17 movie on Netflix is a Marilyn Monroe biopic starring Ana de Armas as the titular female. Usually, this would mean box office poison, but in the streaming era, this is not as big of a deal, but still worthy of headlines. Makes you wonder if this was a case of positive/negative publicity for Netflix.

What is an NC 17 rating? NC 17 is the most restrictive rating the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) can put forth. Originating in 1990 with Henry and June (more on that later), NC 17 means that no one 17 or under is allowed entrance to the film.

The MPAA rating did rankle some ankles for Netflix management, and some fans were miffed that director Andrew Dominik deigned to defend the film.

Same energy as "If you don't like my movie then it's because you don't understand it"

— Jamie (@JamJamGaGa) February 11, 2022

Based on Joyce Carol Oates’ highly fictionalized novel of the same name, Blonde likely will show sexual content, though it’s hard to imagine the movie is anywhere near as gratuitous and blood-soaked as shows like Game of Thrones. Consider also that Netflix hasn’t asked the director to remove any content to appeal for a lower rating, like many studio predecessors asked moviemakers to do.

For fans of edgy films, the rating may be encouraging. Some of the best movies of the past 50 years, including Casino and South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut originally earned the NC 17 designation. Though critically acclaimed, some movies rated NC 17 remain for adults only. A few of these films only make a few cuts that allowed the films to be screened in theaters as R-rated. Of course, an NC 17 label in no way guarantees quality, but the following eight films earned critical reputations for their raw and (almost) unrestricted content despite their original restrictive ratings.

Female Trouble (1974)

Female Trouble
7.1/10
98m
Genre Comedy, Crime
Stars Divine, David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce
Directed by John Waters

Female Trouble is considered by many critics to be director John Waters’ magnum opus. The film is also a throwback to X-rated films. The X rating, which originated in 1968, was first assigned to censor any content deemed too adult by the MPAA. Soon after, the pornography industry usurped its intention with XXX movies in the 1970s. Female Trouble certainly falls somewhere on that scale. 

The film follows the life and times of Dawn Davenport (played by drag queen Divine in a followup to the notorious Pink Flamingo), chronicling her growth from bratty schoolgirl to death row, all because her parents wouldn’t buy her cha-cha heels for Christmas.

Like most Waters films, Female Trouble is a low-budget flick as an ode to Baltimore. Shot for only $25,000, the narrative is indicative of the typical over-the-top Waters drama featuring the witty, profane, and shocking scenes that are expected from the auteur of filth. The film also allows Divine to fully express her comic and dramatic chops. Watch it for a shock to personal and societal systems.

Henry & June (1990)

Henry & June
62 %
6.3/10
136m
Genre Romance
Stars Fred Ward, Uma Thurman, Maria de Medeiros
Directed by Philip Kaufman

Readers may be surprised to learn that the NC 17 rating is a product of the 1990s, invented for the steamy Henry & June.

Fred Ward plays author Henry Miller, Uma Thurman plays wife June, and a game Maria de Medeiros plays French writer Anaïs Nin in the trio’s infamous romantic triangle post-publication of the oft-banned novel, Tropic of Cancer

Though the intimate portrayals are tame by today’s standards, the film remains a fun, fascinating romp through the literary past. Speaking of the past, Henry & June is unavailable to stream, likely because of its onerous rating.

Bad Lieutenant (1992)

Bad Lieutenant
70 %
7/10
96m
Genre Crime, Drama
Stars Harvey Keitel, Brian McElroy, Frankie Acciarito
Directed by Abel Ferrara

One of Harvey Keitel’s most memorable performances was almost quashed before it came out. Though the film might feel a little mellower now, in 1992, the MPAA was so shocked by the bad lieutenant’s excessive portrayal of drug usage and violence. The movie, in fact, became the first film to earn an NC 17 rating based on drug use alone.

The neo-noir crime story is a deep dive into the dark world of police corruption reflected by Keitel’s existential crisis upon seeing Jesus, which may or may not be because of his excesses.

The New York cop is hopelessly in the clutches of sin in this psychedelic roller coaster. A veteran to the beat, Keitel, known only as LT in the film, phones in his job in favor of stronger attractions like drugs, sex, and taking bets from fellow cops on the National League playoffs. That is until the brutal rape of a nun leads him to a spiritual breakdown at the crime scene, a blinding vision that leads to his salvation through redemption.

Casino (1995)

Casino
73 %
8.2/10
r 179m
Genre Crime, Drama
Stars Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci
Directed by Martin Scorsese

Casino director Martin Scorsese’s take on the Chicago mob’s Vegas takeover is one of his best. And the MPAA almost didn’t allow it to screen in theaters. 

The film uses real names and events described in writer Nicholas Pileggi’s historical account. Because these were not yet run through the legal ringer, Scorsese uses fake names, locations, and even title cards that say “Back Home” instead of referencing Chicago.

Lawyers and censors wanted at least 40 things changed from the film for fear of legal and NC 17 reprisals. Scorsese was able to negotiate his way out of most of them, keeping in several moments of brutal indemnity and just sneaking in under the rated R bar.

Boys Don't Cry (1999)

Boys Don't Cry
86 %
7.5/10
r 118m
Genre Crime, Drama
Stars Hilary Swank, Chloë Sevigny, Peter Sarsgaard
Directed by Kimberly Peirce

Released in 1999, Boys Don’t Cry is a film that director Kimberly Peirce made based on the true tragedy of Teena Brandon, a young Midwestern woman who reinvented herself as Brandon Teena in order to become the boy they’d always felt like. She lived as Brandon until two men raped and killed her after discovering her biological gender.

It wasn’t this rape scene that earned Boys Don’t Cry its rating, though. It was a depiction of lesbian sex. Turns out Chloë Sevigny’s orgasm as Brandon’s girlfriend Lana Tisdel, was just too long. 

”Who’s ever hurt by female pleasure? I argued,” Peirce said to the Daily Beast

Reluctant, she still made the cut, paving the way for Hilary Swank to win her first Oscar in her depiction of Brandon.

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
73 %
7.7/10
r 81m
Genre Animation, Comedy
Stars Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Mary Kay Bergman
Directed by Trey Parker

What earned the South Park film an NC 17 rating? Pretty much everything, from its off-color, hilarious soundtrack to love scenes between Saddam Hussein (hey guy!) and the devil. Maybe the better question is how it even earned an R rating in the first place, especially considering part of the plot — a war waged on Canada — hinges upon children seeing an adult film.

The film’s subtitle, in fact, is an ironic wink at the MPAA by creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. The duo had to make a number of cuts to satisfy the regulatory body’s whims. In a stroke of luck, the movie’s distributor, Paramount, happened to also sit on the ratings organization board.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)

Kill Bill: Vol. 1
69 %
8.2/10
r 111m
Genre Action, Crime
Stars Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox
Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino has a long-standing reputation for helming violent yet poignant films, from the body maiming in Reservoir Dogs that caused theater walkouts to the glorious, gory Nazi executions in Inglourious Basterds.  

The Kill Bill Vol. 1 narrative follows the Bride (Uma Thurman) on a trail of bloody revenge after being gunned down on her wedding day by her former colleagues. Like most Tarantino flicks, Kill Bill Vol. 1 mixes elements of samurai, spaghetti Westerns, anime, and cop shows with over-the-top action, visual flair, and impactful dialogue — with lots of blood to go around.

The famous House of Blue Leaves massacre of The Crazy 88s at the hands of The Bride’s Hattori Hanzō sword was the scene that made the MPAA decide on an NC 17 rating. To appease the board, all the director did was convert the scene to black and white, and voila, now Kill Bill screens stylized violence instead of insipid gore. 

The Cooler (2003)

The Cooler
69 %
6.9/10
r 101m
Genre Romance, Drama
Stars William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin, Maria Bello
Directed by Wayne Kramer

Many missed William H. Macy’s melodic ode to the loser, but it’s a worthy entry to any suggested film list.

Macy plays Bernie, a cooler who freezes hot tables at an aging Las Vegas casino. Casino boss Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin) pays Bernie to use his inborn misfortune to jinx other gamblers. Problem is, Bernie loses his bad luck when he finds unexpected happiness at the hands of attractive waitress Maria Bello (Natalie Belisario). This doesn’t make Kaplow happy.

The MPAA tacked on an NC 17 rating when the film dared to depict two seconds of pubic hair in a love scene between Bernie and Maria. Director Wayne Kramer pleaded that he was only trying to express a tender moment to the MPAA, but the board held out until he cut the whole scene.

Ever since the MPAA began giving ratings in 1968, there’s been little rhyme or reason to distinguishing between what constitutes the difference between R and NC 17. Though the arbitrary measure means less in the streaming era, major theaters will still not screen NC 17 movies, despite cultural standards becoming significantly more liberal in the last 50 years. It’s understandable to skip some movies because of content. Movie ratings, however, give few clues as to how gratuitous that content may be.

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