Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Top Ten: NC-17 Box Office Champs

Robert here. Did you know that yesterday was the twenty year anniversary of the NC-17 rating?  That tag, applied to the most controversial of films, has developed the most controversial reputation itself, with artists and advocates complaining that it's implemented unevenly and scares away theaters an rental providers.  We're going to leave all that be for now and instead celebrate the ten films that, despite or because of their NC-17 reputations, lead the pack.  Here are the top ten money-making NC-17 films.

10. Wide Sargasso Sea (1993) $1,614,784
Rated NC-17 for strong, explicit sexuality
Does this one not sound familiar to you?  Released early on in the rating's lifetime, speculation is that while there's plenty of sex, it was the full-frontal male nudity that pushed the MPAA rating's board over the edge, probably the sort of thing that would easily get an R today (but you never know).  NC-17 films were relatively rare early on (not that they're plentiful today) and the rating's promise of scandalous titillation added interest to this film that history has forgotten.

9. Bad Lieutenant (1992) $2,000,022
Rated NC-17 for sexual violence, strong sexual situations & dialogue, graphic drug use.
While most of the films on this list can attribute their rating almost entirely to violence or sexual content, Bad Lieutenant serves up a healthy helping of other material as well, specifically it's prolonged scenes of drug use.

Not that the rape of a nun and Harvey Keitel's almost legendary full nude scene are things to scoff at (and we may wonder if the drug use alone would have earned an NC-17).  The film's sacrilegiously controversial reputation undoubtedly has helped boost it's earnings (the quality product behind the hype doesn't hurt either) and continues to buoy the film's position as a cult classic.

8. Crash (1996) $2,038,450
Rated NC-17 for numerous explicit sex scenes.
Sex and car crashes.  Crash is a film which, fifteen years later, still divides audiences and still provokes shock.  It's a testament to Cronenberg's skill and bravery as a director that he can delve head-first into such unspoken fetishes and ending up with a film that many still consider a masterpiece.  As is always the case, the NC-17 film was both a boost and a hindrance, allowing producers to slap the tagline "The Most Controversial Film in Years" on the film while simultaneously cutting an R-rated version for more sensible tastes.

7. The Dreamers (2004) $2,532,228
Rated NC-17 for explicit sexual content
It's fitting that Bertolucci grabs a spot on this list, as his work has always advanced the cause of intelligent erotica.  The trick here, as it always has been, is giving you passionate sex and nubile bodies (in this case Louis Garrell, Eva Green and Michael Pitt) to gaze at packaged in a manner that makes you wish you hadn't been turned on.  In the case of The Dreamers, we're presented with an incestuous love triangle with enough full frontal that the eventual rating couldn't have shocked anyone.  Cinema lovers can enjoy the classic cinema homages.  Francophiles can drool over the setting of 1968 Paris.

6. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990) $4,087,361
Rated NC-17 for scene of strong adult sensuality with nudity.
With a title that promised Sado-masochistic treats and s director coming off his biggest hit to date Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! boosted Pedro Almodovar's reputation as a chronicler of obsession and sexuality to the point where now we expect content for Almodovar that borders on the NC-17 line.  The film itself is the most delightful dark romp present on this list.

5. Lust, Caution (2007) $4,604,982
Rated NC-17 for some explicit sexuality.
Ang Lee's follow up to his Oscar win is a great example of how a distinct confluence of events can temper the NC-17 boogey man.  Combine a high profile director, and independent release and a sex scene so essential to the film, that to cut it would be disrespectful to said high profile director, and you've got uncensored success.

A brief aside about the bizzare marketing that accompanies NC-17 films.  The censored Lust, Caution DVD made for rental chain shelves, promises "the R rated film, not seen in theaters" and if you didn't know that was a downgrade, you'd assume, as I imagine is the point, that you're getting added kinkiness.

4. Bad Education (2004) $5,211,842
Rated NC-17 for a scene of explicit sexual content.
Pedro Almodovar's second entry on this list is a film where the sexual content is most definitely not meant to  arouse.  The film is a neo-noir based around the victim of an abusive priest.  As with his last NC-17 film, Almodovar uses the springboard of his greatest success to release a film that can only work with the content that most distributors would quickly flinch at.

3. The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and Her Lover (1990) $7,724,701
Rated NC-17 for adult situations/language, nudity, sex
My great old film professor's story goes, he showed this film to a class and got into a bit of trouble.  Truth told, the violence, death by forced feeding, sex in meat lockers and cannibalism can overwhelm some of the films other creative visual constructs (for example, the colors of characters' outfits change as they walk from one room to another).  But director Peter Greenaway knew what he was doing and knew what he wanted.  This film is still that for which he's most known.  And it's hard not to ignore the bizarre courageousness of any film where Helen Mirren utters the phrase, "Try the cock... it's a delicacy."

2. Henry & June (1990)
Rated NC-17 for adult situations/language, nudity, sex
The first film ever slapped with the NC-17 distinction and it shows.  The story of Anais Nin's unconventional relationship with Henry Miller and his wife June and how it inspired Tropic of Cancer these days seems, if not tame, certainly unworthy of the rating.  But as the ratings board was still figuring out what would qualify (apparently three-way sex and brothel scenes made that list) they handed Henry & June a PR victory and the movie practically marketed itself.

1. Showgirls (1995) $20,350,754
Rated NC-17 for nudity and erotic sexuality throughout, and for some graphic language and sexual violence.
I give you, the grand champion.  Look at the difference between the moneys made by this monster and our number two film.  Showgirls is the only movie on this list that still has a place as a pop culture phenom.  That place may not come with the most respect in the world (although I'd argue it never was meant to) but the combination of good marketing, quality camp and copious nudity (hiring a previously "good girl" actress didn't hurt) propelled Showgirls easily to the top of this list.  Considering the small-release, art house atmosphere that most NC-17 films niche into today, I wouldn't expect a challenger to Showgirls' crown any time soon.

How many of these films have you seen?


Drake Sigar said...

I knew that would be number 1!


I am proud to say that I have seen 90% of this list and more than half of them IN THE MOVIE THEATER. Yay, me.

It surprises me to this day that you can show R level violence on TV now but the rating boards is still as prudish as ever when it comes to sexual content in movie theaters. More prudish perhaps.

Andreas said...

Damn, I've only seen 4! Time to catch up on my Cronenberg and Ang Lee. Also, graphic sexuality that's not meant to arouse seems to be a constant here. (Also see: In the Realm of the Senses.)

Mierzwiak said...

Only two: Bad Lieutenant (I'm sorry, but that's just AWFUL movie) and Showgirls, but I've seen it two times already and want more!

Volvagia said...

I also knew Showgirls would be number one. And you want to know why there haven't been many NC-17 rated films for violence? I call it...the brain tissue rule. No violent act in a major film has involved faking the removal of a brain. Until some director dares to make a film where the violent removal of brain tissue is intrinsic to the story, to the point where violence against any other body part just wouldn't make sense, you won't hear of a violent NC-17 being released. (Seriosuly, I think that may be one of their few consistent guidelines.)

Andrew R. said...

I've seen 6.

Bad Lieutenant-Crap.

Crash-People either love this or hate it and I hate it. It's just not good.

Lust Caution-Pretty good. Not as amazing as I hoped for.

Bad Education-Very good.

Cook Thief Wife Lover-Excellent. Watch it.

Showgirls-One of the worst movies ever. And not in a good way.

Volvagia said...

Well, the reasoning behind Henry and June was a tentacle sex painting and what I guess was pornographic ballet. Other than that: Um...if it's not meant to arouse, wouldn't that make it closer to child friendly, not less in regards to sexual attitude? Not to rain on the puritan parade, but Fatal Attraction, say, would be more inappropriate for a kid to watch than non-erotic sexuality. (So Bad Education, Salo or Irreversible even are things I'd maybe endorse a child or tween seeing with supervision, depending on their maturity, but anything meant to be erotic, whether or not it's mature in approach, should definitely be kept out of the hands of people under 15. At that point, well, their erotic tastes will start be established. At that point, I'd ban the Salo stuff until they're 22 and start to take them through the erotic stuff. So 15-22 is, for me, a definite non-erotic sexuality donut hole.)


andrew r -- not in a good way? HOW is anything more fitting for the "bad in a good way" description than Showgirls? (although i don't think it's even bad. but y'all know that already)

andreas -- the ang lee & cronenberg movies are really sticky (in the memory sense not in the bodily flui... oh never mind. just see them.

cal roth said...

Oh, boy, Bad Lieutenant is a masterpiece and Keitel's turn is one of the most brave and painful performances ever.

Do you see? It's still controversial. Not even Showgirls is more despised, since it has a strong cult.

Ferrara's movie is ahead of our time and it's almost 20 years old.

Daniel Armour said...

I saw most of Showgirls on T.V a few months ago and I saw Lust, Caution in theaters. That's about it, really.

Notas Sobre Creación Cultural e Imaginarios Sociales said...

Americans are so uptight about sex! I saw most of these movies without any "adult" supervision and I turned out alright.
When I was 12 my dad rented me Pasolini's entire trilogy of life and didn't fast forward through the nudity, sex or anything people elsewhere would be appalled about.
I think it's essential to have children learn about sex from as early as possible, otherwise we just end up with teen pregnancies, STDs and all sorts of misfortunes that come because people are so afraid about being open about natural stuff.
I know this is brought up all the time but I would have more problems with my children seeing simply stupid movies like Transformers than learning how children are made and that *gasp* sex can be lots of fun if you're responsible.
These rating systems are straight out of the ice age.

On another note, Pedro's movies are the best here, followed closely by Greenaway's and "Crash". And again, I would take car fetishes and sex any day of the week before watching cars that transform into racist robots.


truth: i wish peter greenaway would have a creative resurgence/comeback.

Glenn Dunks said...

Hate Bad Lieutenant. Love Bad Education. Worship Showgirls.

A few of the others are good too.

/3rtfu11 said...

I own Crash and Showgirls. I’ve seen Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down – real reason for the NC-17 is the swimming man penetrating crotch shot. Seen Henry and June in pieces and still don’t understand the controversy. The director’s earlier film The Unbearable Lightness of Being is more explicit and earned a solid for adult’s only R.

MD said...

Oh, man. The only thing on this list I've seen is Wide Sargasso Sea. I studied the book for uni last semester, so the lecturer found a copy of the video (yes, video) for us and we watched it in this cramped room. Nothing as is gloriously awkward as watching a movie like that when sitting in a tiny room full of people. It's not even that graphic. Not by today's standards, at least. And not that good.

I will have to get onto all of the others, I think.

Telugu Cinema said...

Excellent Movie Zone.

MRRIPLEY said...

I think i have seen just BADL,S/GIRLS AND LST CTN!

Mirko said...

I watched all of them! I proudly can say I'm a really kinky person :-D

Scott Willison said...

Bad Education is NC17? I'm struggling to think of what would push it over into that category. And Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! is positively PG compared with some of the others on the list.

Showgirls is, and always will be, a triumph. Not in a great way, perhaps, but in the realm of no-holds barred, watching between the fingers film making, it can't be beat. I'm surprised Verhoeven's Black Book isn't also on here.

Peggy Sue said...

I've seen all of them except for "Wide Sargasso Sea".
Pretty Good List by the way.
I can't stand the MPAA double standard when it comes to sex.


Merseytart -- i dunno. I remember TIE ME UP TIME ME DOWN's central sex scene as one of the most erotic things i've ever seen. I think they object more to scenes where people enjoy sex than to any other sexual scenario (which is why female orgasm bothers the rating boards so much... even closeups of women experiencing pleasure upset them -- as that documentary THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED exposes).

And Banderas and Abril are obviously having an all time great f*** in that scene.

Patrick said...

Seven: Bad Education, Lust/Caution and The Dreamers in the theater, Showgirls, Cook..., Lieutenant and Crash on a tv screen. (The year 1998 was the turning point for the cinema/tv ratio for me - currently about 4:1.)

Must say that I don't remember Lust/Caution, The Dreamers or Bad Education warranting NC-17. Local equivalent is the 16-rating. Bad Education and Showgirls actually had a 12-rating over here.

Violence triggers the 16-rating a lot more: The Dark Knight had one, for example.

Pomme said...

i saw 7 movies but in France the classification is different:we are more sensitive to the graphic violence than the graphic sexuality

For example, i saw "show girls" in the theater when i was 14/15 years old but a movie like "irreversible" was forbidden for the less 16 years old peoples

Dave in Alamitos Beach said...

I've seen all of them except Bad Lieutenant. I guess lotsa naked Harvey hasn't made me want to see it, though it sure didn't hurt The Piano.

I'd give Lust Caution four stars on Netflix, and Bad Education five stars. The rest are downhill from there but all of them are intriguing. Henry & June was too earnest, Crash and Tie Me Up... were too full of themselves. ;-)

Erich Kuersten said...

I seen seven - everything but Wide Sargasso (too Emmanuelle), and Bad Education (saving it for that Almodovar mood) and.. one of the others. By far the most unpleasant and I'm still nauseated by it after 20 years - Cook, Thief, Wife and Love

That quote about French sexuality is spot-on! I just wrote about that same subect, ad-aweseome, check out the Acidemic #6 - Sex and the French issue I just put out. Dig it..! (www.acidemic.com) Nathaniel rocks and keeps the faith!

Anonymous said...

How many have I seen? All of them, three of them I have seen in theaters. LOL Four I personally own on dvd and 2 on blueray. Personally, I don't have a problem with the rating, it's that most of them are on there for sexuality. There are plenty of severed heads and blood that would get that rating too.

The original cuts (no pun intended) of Saw, the remake of Hills Have Eyes, Frontieres, Haute Tension, Last House on the Left and many other slasher films of recent years got the NC-17 cert until the studio's pocketbook came into consideration.