Last week Steve McQueen’s Shame received an NC-17 rating that the director and Fox Searchlight has decided not to appeal. That decision almost certainly ensures that the film’s already limited release will be even more limited. We take a look back at 17 films we’re glad successfully appealed or re-edited the film to be taken down to an R rating since the NC-17 rating was created in 1990.
The Weitz Brothers teen comedy brought raunchy sex-driven comedies back into the forefront in 1999 by breaking all of the rules. The film brought us the classic pie scene, revealed what really happens at band camp and detailed a hyper-realistic account of teenage parties. The MPAA saw all of this as too crude and slapped the film with NC-17, but the film saw the light of day when it re-edited the scenes that had “strong sexuality, crude sexual dialogue, language and drinking, all involving teens.”
Based on the amazing novel by Bret Easton Ellis, the film combined elements of a thriller, black comedy and satired yuppie life of the late 1980s. We follow the iconic Patrick Bateman spiral out of control and act on his demonic intuitions as he becomes nothing more than a psycho. The blend of horror and humor was a little much for the MPAA, especially a scene involving prostitutes. The scene in question required 18 seconds be cut from the film and dialogue be tamed down. More scenes were trimmed to hide the strong imagery of violence.
Let’s face it: the film’s actual prestige or lack there of is over shadowed by the interrogation scene. Keeping Sharon Stone’s iconic moment and the police reaction in mind makes it easy to see why Basic Instinct needed to be trimmed to receive an R rating. However, not that much of the original film was actually changed. Director Paul Verhoeven stated, “Actually, I didn’t have to cut many things, but I replaced things from different angles, made it a little more elliptical, a bit less direct.” Like most films, his original (with 40 more seconds) was subsequently released on DVD.
Derek Cianfrance’s film is a realistic depiction of a young couple’s initial attraction to the dissolution of their life together. Everything about the film was kept honest and uncensored, but that caused problems with the MPAA. The raw intensity of the couples’ love life caused Blue Valentine to receive an NC-17, but this caused an uproar from lead actor Ryan Gosling. He claimed the organization was sexist due to a specific scene. This is one of the few films that appealed the rating without trimming any scenes.
A true cult classic: it was panned by critics and bombed at the box office, but Saints has lived on and even spawned an unnecessary sequel a decade later. Not surprisingly, it was the overt violence that needed to be toned down in this story about brother vigilantes.
Without this black and white story about two store clerks, Kevin Smith’s film career wouldn’t exist. It was made for under $28,000 and grossed over $3 million. If Smith didn’t edit out the extensive use of extremely explicit dialogue the comedy would have received less than its already limited release and we wouldn’t have gotten to witness the View Askewniverse. Considering Smith’s knack for foul language, only two other films, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and _Zack and Miri, were originally rated NC-17.
Of course a biopic about Jim Morrison’s life and his band the Doors would contain nudity and coarse language. It was the time of free love after all. Unfortunately, the MPAA didn’t feel that the historical accuracy of the time period was okay to be seen and required cuts to be made.
Stanley Kubrick’s last film before his death was also one of his most controversial. Reportedly, Warner Bros. was under contract to give the film an R regardless of how risqué the material was. The studios solution was to digitally add figures to obscure certain graphic scenes unbeknownst to Kubrick. This has upset many die hard fans, but it was returned to its original format in subsequent DVD releases. Clockwork Orange, another Kubrick classic, was originally given an X-Rating, but we kept that off the list because it isn’t technically an NC-17 rating.
Sure, it was one of the most disappointing third films in a trilogy, but it did have to follow two of the greatest films in cinematic history. Francis Ford Coppola has often stated that the Godfafther story is two parts and this (originally intented to be called The Death of Michael Corleone) was an epilogue. Regardless of what the film was, the violence and language had grown to be too much for the MPAA and required a high level of edits to be made.
Yeah, a documentary received an NC-17. Not shocking considering its subject matter: the doc discusses how Deep Throat was actually distributed to theaters. The 2005 documentary showed original, un-cut scenes from the 1970 explicit film. It actually did not appeal the rating and was the first film released by Universal with the rating since 1990. It also was the first NC-17 film to be shown on HBO in the premium cable network’s history.
One version of Quentin Tarantino’s overly stylized violence and language resulted in an NC-17 rating. When Tarantino submitted the film it received an R, but then he went back and added one minute for the Japanese release which would have made the film deserve the no-children-under-17 rating. That one-minute of footage was clearly too much for American audiences, but can be tracked down on a unrated DVD.
This is probably the least-known film on the list. It was released in the USA as NC-17 and some of the film’s contents were banned in China, the country where the film takes place. Ang Lee felt that the intimate relationship between the two leads was too important to cut and asked Focus Features to leave 10 minutes of footage that was requested to be cut in the film.
The tagline of Oliver Stone’s film is: “A bold new film that takes a look at a country seduced by fame, obsessed by crime and consumed by the media.” That was basically telling studios and the MPAA that this film was going to boldly push boundaries. Roughly four minutes of scenes with extreme violence, graphic carnage, shocking images, strong language and sexuality were forced to be left on the cutting room floor.
Another Tarantino film makes the list. This time it wasn’t for highly stylized killings, but for graphic violence and drug use, pervasive strong language and some sexuality. This film is rawer than his later endeavors and relies heavily on realistic gangster language. The f-word and all derivatives are used 265 times—more than once per minute. This isn’t remotely close to the record held by a film on this list.
Darren Aronofsky’s film about addiction and the toll it takes on various peoples’ lives was slapped with an NC-17 rating, but the director appealed stating the explicit scene that was required to be cut was an integral part of the time. He said cutting it would dilute the message behind the film. Artisan Entertainment decided to release an unrated and the edited versions to appease the MPAA. However, only certain department stores carried the R-rated version while many backed the artists preferred version.
The MPAA originally denied the films original title All Hell Breaks Loose because of the word “hell” in a cartoon title. Of course it accepted Bigger, Longer & Uncut, preferring innuendo to h-e-double-toothpicks. Trey Parker and Matt Stone claimed the MPAA over-censored their work due to it being a cartoon and that there were more perverted films not even considered for an NC-17 rating. The duo’s next animated feature, Team America: World Police received similar treatment.
Spike Lee’s crime-drama based on the Son of Sam murders in 1977 was threatened to receive an NC-17 rating before editing was even completed. Realistic scenes needed to be trimmed due to the raw, explicit nature. Surprisingly, gratuitous language was not an issue. The f-word and its derivatives are used 436 times, which is the most for any fictional film (a documentary on the word has over 400 more uses).