Interesting Note about the NC-17 Rating: The movie Clerks by Kevin Smith was initialy given an NC-17 rating. Why, you ask? For language. Apparently, saying a lot of dirty words is less acceptible than having someone graphicly disemboweled (an act i've seen in many an R-rated horror film). A perfect illustration of how American Morals are Skewed.

However Mr. Smith appealed the rating and had it reduced to an R rating, this was the first time in motion picture history (since the rating system had been introduced) that a motion pictures rating was lowered without having been edited.

When the NC-17 rating was introduced it was heralded as a major step forward. No longer would serious films be slapped with the X rating, a stigma usually associated with porn movies. Unfortunately this was not the way it worked out, very few NC-17 movies have been released, and several have chosen to go unrated rather than be given an NC-17. This leaves the R rating as the only refuge for a filmmaker who wants to make a film for adults. It also dilutes the R rating, how can one rating apply to Clerks, Natural Born Killers, and Basic Instinct?

This was not always the case. In the 1970s several movies were released with the X rating that achieved critical and commercial success, most notably Taxi Driver and Midnight Cowboy, which won Best Picture in 1970. It later turned out that the MPAA had not trademarked the letter X for rating movies, they thought anyone not submitting his or her film for rating could self-apply the X and then not have to worry about whether it was appropriate for children. This, combined with the explosion of pornography on videocassette, led to the demise of the X rating. Pornographers could just slap the sticker “Rated X”, or even “XXX” on their videos without having to show them to the MPAA. Because of this the X rating became synonymous with porn in the mind of the public. The NC-17 rating was introduced in the hopes that it would replace the X and only be applied to “serious” adult movies.

The real reason that NC-17 is so scorned is because it is almost impossible for a film with that rating to get a wide release. Many newspapers and television stations outright refuse to carry ads for NC-17 films. Many theatres refuse to even show NC-17 movies, especially ones located in shopping malls and residential areas. They strangely do not have this prohibition on unrated films. Most major video stores will not carry NC-17 movies, or if they do they will edit them

No advertising + No theatres + No video revenue = No movie

For once a problem with the American film industry is not the fault of the MPAA!

There are two ways of trying to remedy this issue. One solution, proposed by Roger Ebert is to start over and introduce a completely new rating, he calls it the “A” rating. This new rating should be introduced with a massive marketing campaign intending to show the public that “adult” does not necessarily mean “porn.” It certainly didn’t help NC-17 that the first major film released with that rating was Showgirls. Jack Valenti is a rabid defender of the current system and refuses to add a new rating. The other idea is that the NC-17 rating can still be salvaged. The studios would have to start releasing artistic movies that earn the NC-17 legitimately. And when the films get this rating the studio should not recut it to get an R or release it unrated. Preferably these films would be of high artistic merit and could garner some Oscar nominations. The studios had their chance with both Eyes Wide Shut and Requiem for a Dream, but chose not to take it.

Unfortunately both of these plans require changing long-standing public perceptions involving adult films. The fact that it also involves pornography, a notoriously touchy subject in the United States, makes it even harder.

I realize that Showgirls was not the first film to be released with an NC-17, but it was the first that made any splash in terms of the general public. Public perception of what the rating means is the key issue here

Thanks to tregoweth for pointing out why X was never trademarked.

Before I turned 18 years old, I couldn't get into NC-17 rated movies. This seemed incredibly important to me because I, like most teenaged boys, had a slightly warped idea of what all these rating systems were about.

It turns out that my idea was only slightly warped, because it was mostly accurate. I arrived at the notion that these ratings were intended only to keep me (and other kids like me) away from the really good stuff.

After all, the movie ratings G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17, and the almighty Unrated, were age-based. Two of them even have the target ages in their names. Other age-based restrictions included driving, drinking alcohol, voting, and paying for sex at a legal Nevada brothel. It was clear that all this fun stuff was being kept away from me just because I was "too young."

My idea about movie ratings was that they were a scale of coolness, not a scale of simple age. A movie rated "G" was likely to be incredibly boring, and aimed at kids. "PG" and "PG-13" movies could at least possibly be entertaining, but I knew there wouldn't be any decent nudity (maybe a breast flash, or a butt, but possibly only a man's butt). Certainly no simusex. Decent violence, though.

"R" was getting somewhere -- in an "R"-rated movie, you know you're going to get either a good dose of sex, nudity, violence, or swearing. All good things to a teenaged boy.

"NC-17" was that almighty panacea for every pubescent male craving -- the movie was too "dirty" even for the "R" rating, so there must be some good sex and violence in any movie with this wonderful rating. My parents hated going to see movies in theaters (with good reason -- movie theaters generally suck), but they were quite willing to let me rent any movie I wanted at a video store, and they permitted me to have my own cable box in my bedroom complete with all the wonderful premium channels like HBO and Skinimax.

This obviously immature view of how the ratings system works turned out to be incredibly accurate, and to this day I still employ a derivative of it in deciding what I might want to watch.

The original view failed to take into account one hypocritical facet of American morals -- we think sex is dirty and vile, and the more fundamental of us think violence is exactly the same. Because people like that are in the vocal minority who controls movie ratings, even the movie rating system incorporated this idea.

A movie could contain not a single bared breast or exposed genital, but be rated "NC-17" anyway because it graphically depicts intensely violent situations (like decapitation, gutting, skinning, etc.). Wouldn't want the kids to see any of that, now would we?

I finally learned, after being burned a couple times, that NC-17 wasn't a guarantee that I'd get to see nudity and sex in a movie. It meant I had to actually read the back of the box, and look for male/female pairings, hints at romance or sexual depravity, or for words like "seduction" and "irresistable" and "hot". The same applied for "unrated" movies, too. Except, with those, anytime the title included "Attraction" or "Passion" I knew I had a winner.

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