As 'Blue is the Warmest Color' gets an NC-17, 10 notable films to have received the rating

Posted by · 5:45 pm · August 21st, 2013

This article first appeared in part at in 2010. In light of recent news, It seemed like a good time to re-purpose it for new readers here at HitFix, with a few updates.

It’s an announcement that we weren’t wondering about so much as waiting for: this year’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner, French-Tunisian auteur Abdellatif Kechiche’s epic-length romantic drama “Blue is the Warmest Color,” has been slapped with an NC-17 rating by the Motion Picture Association of America — meaning, of course, that no children under 17 will be permitted to see the sexually explicit film in theaters, with or without a guardian.

The explanation given by the MPAA for the rating is, obviously enough, “explicit sexual content.” No arguing with that: the film features multiple scenes of graphic sexual activity between its two female leads, one famously lasting 12 minutes. One may note the irony of a fact that a story of teenage sexual awakening is being denied to teenagers the same age as Adele Exarchopoulos’ protagonist is at the outset of the film, but so it goes with the MPAA: the ratings aren’t there for the chief benefit of the precocious.

US distributor Sundance Selects has done the right thing by accepting the certificate — even if it comes with certain marketing restrictions, and imposes a further obstacle in the film’s already steep path to Oscar recognition. Cutting the sex scenes to meet the requirements of an R rating would have been destructive.

“An NC-17 rating no longer holds the stigma it once did,” said IFC president Jonathan Sehring in response to the news, and that’s true. (Of course, coming from the UK, where films are routinely barred to under-15s and under-18s, the NC-17 certification has never seemed that radical to me.) 23 years after it was introduced as an artistically respectable alternative to the porn-associated X rating, more than enough significant and substantial films have been handed the rating for it to have lost any Scarlet Letter implications. Or so one would like to think. In over two decades, only one NC-17 title has ever hit the upper reaches of the box office charts — the mildly disreputable “Showgirls,” at that.

But with “Blue is the Warmest Color” becoming the first Palme d’Or winner to go NC-17 — adding an extra degree of dignity to the rating — I was reminded of a previous Top 10 I compiled in 2010 of notable NC-17 trailblazers. (The film that inspired the list that time was “Blue Valentine,” briefly and rather inexplicably handed an NC-17 rating before The Weinstein Company successfully appealed for an R.) It may not be the label any distributor dreams of receiving, but at least it puts you in some fine company. 

Check out the list below, and share your own thoughts in the comments — which NC-17 movies made an impression on you? (Please bear in mind that not all the images in the gallery are necessarily SFW.)

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