What Is the Meaning of an NC-17 Rating?


Since 1990, the NC-17 rating has been the most restrictive rating for movies in the U.S. It indicates heavy adult content in the film, and no one age 17 and under will be admitted to the showing of that movie. Because some media outlets won't accept ads for NC-17 rated material and some film theaters won't show them, many filmmakers edit a film that gets an NC-17 rating in the hopes of getting an R rating instead.

What It Means

  • The Motion Picture Association of America defines NC-17 as "Clearly adult. No children admitted." However, the rating only refers to the theatrical release. When a movie is released on DVD, it receives the same rating as the original film, even if there are extra features and cut scenes added. None of these are taken into account for the rating, so buyers will want to watch preview extra features before sharing it with any teens. If the DVD release has a "director's edition" or has been altered in the main showing, the film gets an "unrated" status for DVD and home-video formats.

History of NC-17 Ratings

  • While the movie rating system has been around since 1968, the NC-17 rating is the newest rating. It replaced the X rating the pornography industry used to promote its films. When art films such as "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover" and Pedro Almodovar's "Time Me Up! Time Me Down!" got X ratings, controversy encouraged the Motion Picture Association to change ratings. "Henry & June" was the first movie to get an NC-17 rating, and it earned $11 million at the box office, according to The Boston Globe.

Rating Committee

  • Movie ratings are voluntary. Production houses can choose to release their films "unrated," but many movie houses won't show unrated films, and it is more difficult to market those shows. The Motion Picture Association president chooses the chairman of the rating board, and board members meet in Los Angeles to apply ratings to films. Board members have to have a "parenthood experience" and have "intelligent maturity." Eight to 13 members of the ratings board work for the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA), which the Motion Picture Association supervises. Film distributors and producers pay a fee to have their films rated, which is how the board covers its expenses.

Movies with an NC-17 Rating

  • As of 2015, "Showgirls" is the highest-grossing NC-17 film; it came out in 1995 with $20 million in U.S. receipts. The remaining top 10 are "Henry & June" (1990); "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" (1990); "Bad Education" (2004); "Lust, Caution Focus" (2007); "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!" (1990); "Shame" (2011); "The Dreamers" (2004); "Blue Is the Warmest Color" (2013); and "Crash" (1996).

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