Total Recall: NC-17 Movies

With Shame hitting theaters, we take a look at some of the films that were slapped with the MPAA's most notorious rating.

Lust, Caution

72%

What do you get when you put together a spy thriller inspired by the real-life Second Sino-Japanese War with Ang Lee's eye for scenes of sumptuously filmed beauty? 2007's Lust, Caution, which earned an NC-17 for its explicit sex scenes, but had more on its mind than simply the naughty bits. At heart, it's really a piercing love story, albeit one whose stakes are raised against the backdrop of its life-or-death setting. Though some critics yawned at its sprawling 157-minute length, most scribes found Lust, Caution worth the investment -- including Kevin Harley of Film Threat, who wrote, "Lee's saucy, sumptuous slow-burner is a complex, elegant seduction, drawing on Hitchcock but putting a singular stamp on a rich spread of spies and sex, repression and sacrifice. Just don't try those moves at home..."

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Man Bites Dog

75%

As perversely, chaotically violent as its title, Man Bites Dog takes viewers on an unrelentingly grim descent into the mind of a homicidal maniac (Benoît Poelvoorde) who matter-of-factly gives a documentary crew a series of hands-on "lessons" in his sickening craft. A sort of neo-noir/mockumentary study of the seductive nature of violence -- as well as its lingering, unpredictable side effects -- Dog earned its NC-17 with frank depictions of violence and sexual situations, but it offered more than just cheap thrills for critics like James Berardinelli of ReelViews, who admitted that it's "Obviously not a movie for everyone" but insisted, "if you do venture to see Man Bites Dog, you would have to be made out of stone to miss the visceral, sardonic impact of a highly-unusual film."

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Orgazmo

47%

Unlike most NC-17 films, which tend to earn the distinction through serious (and frequently high-minded) efforts to push the boundaries of mainstream cinema, Orgazmo is nothing more than a comedic exercise in cheerful vulgarity -- albeit one that bears the distinctive creative stamp of its director, screenwriter and star, South Park co-creator Trey Parker. The tale of a Mormon missionary who stars in a porn flick in order to earn enough money to marry his sweetheart -- and ends up becoming a real-life superhero in the bargain -- it won't teach you anything about the human condition, and it probably gets about as close to the old-school X-rated spirit as any NC-17 theatrical release. But that doesn't mean Orgazmo is without merit; as Kevin N. Laforest argued for the Montreal Film Journal, "This movie confirms Trey Parker as the Orson Welles of absurd comedy."

A Serbian Film

44%

At what point does a film cross over from being disturbingly provocative to being irredeemably offensive? For a sizable portion of film critics, Srđan Spasojević's A Serbian Film crossed that line with depraved abandon, and it's easy to see their point -- there's little you can say about the movie on a family website, and just reading the plot synopsis is enough to make your stomach turn. (Long story short, it's about what happens when a semi-retired porn star, played by Srđan Todorović, decides to take one last job that is not what he signed up for.) For some scribes, however, Serbian had an important message to deliver underneath all of its horrific sex and violence. As Scott Weinberg wrote for FEARnet, "I admire and detest it at the same time. And I will never watch it again. Ever."

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Showgirls

17%

For better or worse, Showgirls is the most widely seen film on this week's list -- and depending on your point of view, it's either an unwatchable mess or a work of kitschy, misunderstood genius. Either way, it went down as one of the most notorious flops of the 1990s, with critics leading the charge against its gratuitous nudity, wooden acting, and unintentionally hilarious script (for which screenwriter Joe Eszterhas was paid an astonishing $2 million). A misbegotten attempt by Saved by the Bell star Elizabeth Berkley to prove she could handle more adult roles, it's since gone on to become something of a cult favorite among deeply ironic filmgoers, but it certainly didn't help further the NC-17 cause -- although it did entertain Filmcritic's Christopher Null, who said, "Showgirls is fun, pure and simple, as long as you don't take any of it seriously."

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Take a look through the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don't forget to check out the reviews for Shame.

Finally, here's the trailer for Kirby Dick's documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated, which, in the course of criticizing the NC-17 rating, was itself rated NC-17:

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Comments

Lenny Feder

creighton satterfield

I hope Shame will change the stigma on the rating. A few of these are classics, especially Man Bites Dog.

Nov 30 - 03:35 PM

Johan S.

Johan Sigg

Word to that

Dec 1 - 11:05 AM

Cold P.

Cold Pillow

How about American Beauty?

Dec 1 - 06:17 PM

dethburger

dethburger hates Flixster

Not NC-17

Dec 1 - 06:51 PM

KeepsItReal ..

KeepsItReal .

...and Orgasmo. That movie was the greatest.

Dec 5 - 02:05 PM

Valmordas

Val Mordas

In a Hollywood that is reluctant to even let a film be rated 'R' in some cases, I really doubt you'll see a plethora of NC-17 films released anytime soon.

Dec 6 - 04:06 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

"Bad Lieutenant" is a marvelous performance by Harvey Keitel. Most of us who saw it around the same time as "Reservoir Dogs" can laugh at it now. But it was disturbingly tragic at the time, a sad, pitiful tale of futile penance. "Henry and June" is underrated. Although Fred Ward's Henry Miller lack's depth and Uma Thurman has a notoriously awful Long Island accent, it is still quite a compelling film. Maria de Medeiros is a beautiful Anais Nin, her very best performance. "Bad Education" and "Crash" are par for the course for both those directors, not their best but hardly uninteresting. "Man Bites Dog" is "Bad Lieutenant" debauchery without Keitel's soul. "Dreamers" is just boring (besides Eva Green), "Showgirls" and "Serbian Film" are useless, "Orgazmo" is very funny - just short of "Team America". I have not been successful getting my hands on "Lust, Caution", although I have not made a mission of it. It's the one here I need to see, and I look forward to "Shame" as well.

Nov 30 - 03:40 PM

Gordon Franklin Terry Sr

Gordon Terry

Good Man, Janson; Bad Lieutenant is the only half-descent film in this list. "Pledging My Love" by Johnny Ace is one of my favorite songs, this film almost ruined it for me. I never got around to seeing Man Bites Dog. . . it would probably affect me the way Night of the Hunter did: Rotten people committing rotten acts against other rotten people. Bleak and Dismal.

Nov 30 - 06:16 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

I had a similar problem with your beloved "Blue Velvet", Gordon. As a Roy Orbison fan, I still have to TRY not to think of Frank when I hear the otherwise beautiful "In Dreams". A casualty of Art, I suppose.

Nov 30 - 06:30 PM

ap sirius

karl anderson

I think they should worry less about what gets rated NC17 and more about what gets PG ratings. Im not sure how it is in the states but it seems as long as it a studio film , it doesnt matter what the content is, it gets rated to take in the highest box office grosses , even if kids are watching content they shouldnt. And when did nudity and sex become a bad thing , yet killing people and extreme violence is okay for kids to watch. It seems we have it backwards....No wonder our kids are becoming more and more disconnected. They know nothing about love and intimacy and everything about revenge and killing.

Nov 30 - 06:25 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

There were no NC-17 difficulties with the full-frontal nudity in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" or "Walk Hard". Obviously, Judd Apatow comedies deserve more leeway than Anais Nin adaptations? The more juvenile the sex (ala 2 1/2 Men) the more acceptable - the more mature it is, the more subversive it becomes. Audiences are only supposed to have Pavlovian responses to sexuality, not (God Forbid!) start thinking about it.

Nov 30 - 06:35 PM

King Crunk

King Crunk

Good point about studio movies getting a pass. Just look at what Fincher's version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is rated-R for: "Strong brutal violent content including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, and language." THAT gets an R-rating, but Shame gets an NC-17?

Dec 1 - 08:52 AM

Jonny B.

Jonny Bakes

I still wish it was Tiffani Thiessen in Showgirls and not Elizabeth Berkly. All you saved by the bell fans know how hot Thiessen turned out later on. Why couldnt it have been her naked up there!?!?!?

Nov 30 - 03:45 PM

Roman Zolanski

Gaylord Focker

Sigh, I guess this list was always going to descend into a discussion about Saved by the Bell...But heck, while we're at it, you can have your TIffany Amber Thiessen, for my money I'd have had Lisa Turtle up there :D Screech I'm with u all the way on that one :p

Dec 1 - 01:30 AM

Premo Beat

John Noto

I'd also like to toss Six (from 'Blossom')'s name into the discussion.

Dec 1 - 03:49 PM

Noah James

Noah Kinsey

You are correct on all 3, fellers.

Dec 1 - 07:24 PM

Valmordas

Val Mordas

I agree, I'd have much rather seen Theisson, Berkeley was like second fiddle. I notice neither had much of an acting career post 'Saved'. Truth be told I'd be happy to boink either one, should the unlikely event present itself.

Dec 6 - 04:09 PM

Dave J

Dave J

To name a few- The Killer Inside Me, The Brown Bunny, The Cook The Thief His Wife and her Lover, Tie Me Up Tie Me Down....

Nov 30 - 05:00 PM

redrooster0

Charlie Voelker

Are you talking about The Killer Inside me with Casey Affleck? I'm pretty sure that's not NC-17, but I could be wrong.

Nov 30 - 05:22 PM

King Crunk

King Crunk

It's not, and The Brown Bunny was recut for an R-rating.

Dec 1 - 08:54 AM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

The Brown Bunny would have been better if during the famous BJ Scene Gallo would have looked right at the camera and mouthed "Can you believe she bought this?"

Dec 1 - 10:00 AM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

I wish he had looked in the camera and said, "Spanning time..."

Dec 1 - 11:05 AM

Dave J

Dave J

But for the first few screenings The Brown Bunny was originally an NC-17 until people complained about it's content!

Dec 1 - 03:19 PM

Dave J

Dave J

As I recall, there was an article about raw unecessary violence shown against women in "The Killer Inside Me" I could be wrong and that it may have been toned down as a result, but for a pre-sceening it's supposed to have more brutality than what was originally shown!

Dec 1 - 03:57 PM

Valmordas

Val Mordas

I'm probably one of the few people who saw 'The Cook,The Thief,His Wife and Her Lover", but man was that a twisted film.

Dec 6 - 04:10 PM

Dave J

Dave J

I thought that film was quite tame when I watched it a second time!

Dec 6 - 04:34 PM

Dominic S.

Dominic Simard-Jean

Man Bites Dog is one of the greatest film ever made!

Nov 30 - 05:00 PM

NathanielCabalona2011

The Dude

The NC-17 rating is so stupid. They will rate anything NC-17 if it has any sort of sexual content that isn't missionary between a man and a women. Blue Valentine was originally rated NC-17 for a non-explicit oral sex with no nudity. I guess the MPA thinks that's worse than what's shown in Hostel 2. I'm pretty sure just the subject matter of Shame granted it an NC-17. America's fear of sex is mind boggling.

Nov 30 - 05:03 PM

redrooster0

Charlie Voelker

I always loved how My Bloody Valentine could show people getting their heads chopped off and a chick running around completely nude for 9 minutes and it still got an R-rating, and Blue Valentine gets the NC-17. Go to hell MPAA.

Nov 30 - 05:33 PM

Clayton S.

Clayton Shank

Fear of sex. Translation: casualty of religion.

Nov 30 - 11:47 PM

Peter W.

Peter Winters

Agreed

Dec 1 - 09:57 AM

Justin D.

Justin D.

Yup

Dec 1 - 03:23 PM

Ken

Kenneth W.

"If you suck on a tit, the movie gets an R rating. If you hack the tit off with an axe, it gets a PG." Jack Nicholson

Dec 1 - 01:04 AM

Phogoodness

Andrew Nguyen

NC-17 is a silly and seemingly arbitrary rating. Folks have too much hangups about sex, when gratuitous violence is far worse in my opinion. Stick with 'R' and let parents be parents in moderating what their kids should see.

Dec 1 - 06:54 AM

Jaxx Raxor

Adam Jones

The sad fact is that the United States tends to glorify violence but is very squeamish when it comes to sex. Despite the fact that sex a lot of the time can be good for you, but that violence is almost always bad for you. Movies get NC-17 primarily for sexual content, no matter if simply titillation or there to actually enhance the plot or show bonds between characters. Yet someone can be tortured to death and its only rated R. This is one of the saddest things about my country.

Dec 1 - 07:36 AM

ap sirius

karl anderson

I totally agree....read my earlier comment

Dec 1 - 01:38 PM

Noah James

Noah Kinsey

It is entirely based on the people who founded America - Puritans. Because of that, America is so much less tolerant of nudity/sex than violence. I mean, after all, Jesus told them it was their destiny (er, Manifest Destiny) to wipe out all of the indiginous people all the way to the Pacific Ocean. So of COURSE it's ok to blow a head off of someone - but boobs are gross.

Dec 1 - 07:28 PM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

It's a nice theory, but doesn't really hold up since at certain times in our history (The exploration of the west, the roaring 20's) we were much more free with our sexuality than most of the world and still are as far as that goes when you think about the large portions of the world who are still truly sexually repressed. When you think about ladies being covered head to toe in thick cloth and not being able to hug in public our lack of acceptance of realistic sex in film kinda pales in comparison. Especially after a couple hours watching HBO, Showtime, Cinemax or Starz.

Dec 2 - 05:18 AM

Noah James

Noah Kinsey

The exploration of the West was a lawless land, the Roaring 20s was also an underground thing (due to the parties having the recently illegal booze and weed), and the hippie movement are all examples of rebellion - movements that were anti-establishment (the key term). And yes, we aren't as oppressed as other Third World countries - but I fel that's a seperate argument entirely. Even bringing up HBO, Starz, etc. doesn't disprove my initial comment - as those shows are rated TV-MA (and you can't see them on free TV). Meanwhile, one of my favorite shows (24) can show a guy get shot point-blank, be tortured, etc. and it's rated TV-14.

Dec 2 - 10:20 AM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

It would be far more accurate to meet these arguments halfway and say that the true American tradition is sexual HYPOCRISY, so that we can have our cake and feel guilty about it too.

Dec 2 - 06:23 PM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

Not me!!! I let my freak flag fly.

Dec 5 - 09:55 AM

Cavguy

First Last

I was surprisingly able to find Lust, Caution at the Seattle Public Library. I guess they appreciate its artistic merits.

Nov 30 - 05:09 PM

redrooster0

Charlie Voelker

Are you talking about The Killer Inside me with Casey Affleck? I'm pretty sure that's not NC-17, but I could be wrong.

Nov 30 - 05:22 PM

King Crunk

King Crunk

It's not, and The Brown Bunny was recut for an R-rating.

Dec 1 - 08:54 AM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

The Brown Bunny would have been better if during the famous BJ Scene Gallo would have looked right at the camera and mouthed "Can you believe she bought this?"

Dec 1 - 10:00 AM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

I wish he had looked in the camera and said, "Spanning time..."

Dec 1 - 11:05 AM

Dave J

Dave J

But for the first few screenings The Brown Bunny was originally an NC-17 until people complained about it's content!

Dec 1 - 03:19 PM

Dave J

Dave J

As I recall, there was an article about raw unecessary violence shown against women in "The Killer Inside Me" I could be wrong and that it may have been toned down as a result, but for a pre-sceening it's supposed to have more brutality than what was originally shown!

Dec 1 - 03:57 PM

redrooster0

Charlie Voelker

I always loved how My Bloody Valentine could show people getting their heads chopped off and a chick running around completely nude for 9 minutes and it still got an R-rating, and Blue Valentine gets the NC-17. Go to hell MPAA.

Nov 30 - 05:33 PM

jimmiescoffee

Eddie Money

every one of these films, except 'showgirls' which is great for other reasons, is exceptional and important.

Nov 30 - 05:48 PM

Roman Zolanski

Gaylord Focker

Oh yeah..so true! Most of all, no doubt you'll agree, "Orgazmo". Definitely exceptional. And so important. Necessary, even.

Dec 1 - 01:33 AM

Robert C.

Robert Ciesialka

I've read the plot synopsis on Serbian Film, and there is nothing exceptional or important about it. What about Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer? Didn't that get the NC-17, or was it just released unrated?

Dec 2 - 10:25 PM

Gordon Franklin Terry Sr

Gordon Terry

Good Man, Janson; Bad Lieutenant is the only half-descent film in this list. "Pledging My Love" by Johnny Ace is one of my favorite songs, this film almost ruined it for me. I never got around to seeing Man Bites Dog. . . it would probably affect me the way Night of the Hunter did: Rotten people committing rotten acts against other rotten people. Bleak and Dismal.

Nov 30 - 06:16 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

I had a similar problem with your beloved "Blue Velvet", Gordon. As a Roy Orbison fan, I still have to TRY not to think of Frank when I hear the otherwise beautiful "In Dreams". A casualty of Art, I suppose.

Nov 30 - 06:30 PM

ap sirius

karl anderson

I think they should worry less about what gets rated NC17 and more about what gets PG ratings. Im not sure how it is in the states but it seems as long as it a studio film , it doesnt matter what the content is, it gets rated to take in the highest box office grosses , even if kids are watching content they shouldnt. And when did nudity and sex become a bad thing , yet killing people and extreme violence is okay for kids to watch. It seems we have it backwards....No wonder our kids are becoming more and more disconnected. They know nothing about love and intimacy and everything about revenge and killing.

Nov 30 - 06:25 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

There were no NC-17 difficulties with the full-frontal nudity in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" or "Walk Hard". Obviously, Judd Apatow comedies deserve more leeway than Anais Nin adaptations? The more juvenile the sex (ala 2 1/2 Men) the more acceptable - the more mature it is, the more subversive it becomes. Audiences are only supposed to have Pavlovian responses to sexuality, not (God Forbid!) start thinking about it.

Nov 30 - 06:35 PM

King Crunk

King Crunk

Good point about studio movies getting a pass. Just look at what Fincher's version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is rated-R for: "Strong brutal violent content including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, and language." THAT gets an R-rating, but Shame gets an NC-17?

Dec 1 - 08:52 AM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

I had a similar problem with your beloved "Blue Velvet", Gordon. As a Roy Orbison fan, I still have to TRY not to think of Frank when I hear the otherwise beautiful "In Dreams". A casualty of Art, I suppose.

Nov 30 - 06:30 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

There were no NC-17 difficulties with the full-frontal nudity in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" or "Walk Hard". Obviously, Judd Apatow comedies deserve more leeway than Anais Nin adaptations? The more juvenile the sex (ala 2 1/2 Men) the more acceptable - the more mature it is, the more subversive it becomes. Audiences are only supposed to have Pavlovian responses to sexuality, not (God Forbid!) start thinking about it.

Nov 30 - 06:35 PM

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