Warning: This editorial is rated NC-17 due to awesomeness and some brief mention of the word
_____ (Editor's Note: Apologies, but this word has been removed to withhold the sanctity of this sinking blog. You may replace it with "poop," "farty fart pants" or "trouser eel.")
This week, the infamous Motion Picture Association of America slapped Killer Joe (from William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, The French Connection, and To Live and Die in L.A.) with the supposed cinematic scarlet letter - the dreaded NC-17 rating. Described as "a totally twisted deep-fried Texas redneck trailer park murder story," the film tells the bloody tale of a killer (Matthew McConaughey) who befriends a young man (Emile Hirsch) who wants to murder his own mother.
To give you some context, it received the rating for "graphic disturbing content involving violence and sexuality, and a scene of brutality." Sounds like the feel-good movie of the year (not to mention my kind of movie!). However, LD Distribution decided to throw up a big middle finger at the MPAA by moving forward with the film's release on July 27th, displaying the rating as a badge of honor - a growing trend in Hollywood that goes against the traditional idea that studios must bow to the tyranny of the oppressive association (check out Kirby Dick's 2006 documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated, which coincidentally received an NC-17 rating, for more on this.)
But is NC-17 really the box office poison it's made out to be...or is does it work in the film's favor as a marketing tool for prurient curiosity? Here's five examples of the latter:
5. Showgirls - Rated NC-17 for nudity and erotic sexuality throughout, and for some graphic language and sexual violence
The highest-grossing NC-17 film ever released, with $20 million at the box office and more than $100 million from video rentals becoming one of MGM's top 20 all-time bestsellers. Not only that but it may be the only one to star a cast member of "Saved By The Bell" (that is unless Screech had a cameo in Inside Deep Throat that I don't remember). From director Paul Verhoeven, the film is also at the top of the list for paving the way for the rating. During pre-production, Verhoeven made a landmark deal with the studio in that he would get complete creative freedom to intentionally deliver an NC-17 rated movie from the beginning. At that time, an NC-17 had never been intentional sought after, and had always been given after a screening of the movie by the MPAA. Hey, like they always say, walk softly and carry a big pole.
4. Shame - Rated NC-17 for some explicit sexual content
The aforementioned 2011 film from Steve McQueen starred Michael Fassbender (and plenty of lingering shots of his penis) as a man struggling with sex addiction. Not only did it earn the film an NC-17 rating but it earned the actor the nickname "Fassboner." However, that didn't stop the stellar film from winning all kinds of awards and nominations, including a Golden Globe nod for The Fass. In an interview I did for the film with McQueen and Fassbender last year, the director had this to say about the rating:
"We're artists and what I mean by that is we're trying to make something that portrays reality. Sometimes we don't necessarily want to see what reality looks like. We want to turn away from ourselves. And often people put their heads in the sand like an ostrich. I think what the cinema screen is in some ways is a place that we can actually see ourselves and have an idea, or gauge ourselves in someways of where we are and how we've got to go."
3. Crash (1996) - Rated NC-17 for numerous explicit sex scenes
Starring a pre-Robert California (but just as sex crazed) James Spader and Holly Hunter, the film centers around a man who gets in a serious car accident and then "discovers an underground sub-culture of scarred, omnisexual car-crash victims who use car accidents, and the raw sexual energy they produce, to try to rejuvenate their sex life." Directed by David Cronenberg (Scanners, Videodrome, The Fly), the film is banned from sale or theatrical exhibition within the city of London. Those Brits sure do hate their "auto" eroticism...must be something about driving on the other side of the road.
2. Bad Lieutenant (1992) - Rated NC-17 for sexual violence, strong sexual situations & dialogue, graphic drug use
Not the batshit crazy 2009 remake from Werner Herzog starring Nic Cage, but the 1992 Abel Ferrara film starring Harvey Keitel as The Detective, a drug and gambling-addicted NYC police detective investigating the rape of a young nun. You can understand where the film earned its name and an NC-17 rating along with ranking on Premiere Magazine's "The 25 Most Dangerous Movies" list.
1. Orgazmo - Rated NC-17 for explicit sexual content and dialogue
So far this list features a hall of fame of notorious directors who have had famous and repeated run-ins with the ratings board. Verhoeven, Cronenberg, Ferrara. But, other than maybe Kevin Smith, no director(s) have had more publicized face-offs with the MPAA than "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. In true TP/MS style, Orgazmo centers around a Mormon dude who stars in a porno as the titular superhero (armed with the "Orgazmorator" alongside his trusty sidekick "Choda Boy") to earn enough money for his wedding. And in true MPAA style, they awarded the film filled with sex (but little to no violence) an NC-17.
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Notice a trend on this list? Sex, sex, sex, sex, and sex. But coincidentally there's a new torture porn or balls-to-the-wall-violent action flick at the theater every few months that gets released with an R-rating...puts things into perspective on where the MPAA draws their slippery slopey line, don't it?
Data according to Box Office Mojo's Top Grossing NC-17 Rated Movies
Check out the full list of films that initially earned an NC-17 rating but went back to the cutting room to earn the more acceptable, accessible R.