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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Return of The NC-17

So Shame has pulled down the NC-17 rating that was expected to go with Mr Fassbender’s trunk show. Time for the United States and The Academy to grow up and smell the lube. Great.

But less specifically, let’s talk about the NC-17 again.

I believe the NC-17 was a cynical attempt by the studios, aka the MPAA, to stop the conversation about the lack of a legitimate “adult” rating and to bury the artistic impulse to make films with that kind of content in them once and for all, at least at a studio level.

The late, great Jack Valenti was Mr. Ratings from the beginning. The old excuse had been that the MPAA didn’t own the X rating, which had been created by pornographers who wanted there to be a clear distinction about what their customers would receive. It was a badge of porn honor. So they used that rating, but could not stop others from using it without MPAA approval.

With the creation of the NC-17, the MPAA owned the copyright to the tag, but immediately ghettoized it by pointing out that any porn movie could get this rating. They just had to pay the fees. Of course, it is expensive to get rated and why would any porn want to pay that fee? But that rational allowed for censorship by newspapers and mall-based theaters and even some standalone theaters.

The NC-17 is now, ironically, 21 years old. Shame will be the 11th movie released with the rating from a major studio or division of same. 3 from Fine Line/New Line. 2 each from Universal, Searchlight, and Sony Classics. One Focus. One MGM.

The only film to gross more than $12 million domestically with an NC-17 is Showgirls, at just over $20m. The biggest studio-based NC-17 grosser since 1995 was an Almodovar, earning $5.3 million.

Miramax, pre-Disney, released 2. Aries, Trimark, Zeitgeist, 7 Arts, and October released one each that grossed over $500k. There are 8 other releases under $500k.

That’s 26 total in 21 years. That’s not a functional adult rating. That’s playing the lottery.

Of course, many films that might have been NC-17 have gone out unrated, which is the prerogative of any non-MPAA distributor. But there have been censorship issues with unrated films as well.

I would love for Shame to be the highest grossing NC-17 film ever. That is the high bar for Fox Searchlight to achieve here. That would open the door for other NC-17 films. But it’s a very tough film. So it won’t be easy.

What’s most interesting to me about Searchlight’s choice to buy this film is that they went there once before, disappointingly. The film, The Dreamers, offered up a very often naked Eva Green. Magnificent to look at… but not much of a movie. This time, they have a real movie. This is awards-level material. And the nudity and sex, while sometimes sexy, is not prurient. I’m sure someone will show up to ogle the cast, but this is a movie about more than sex and the experience of it is not a fun, sexy romp. Maybe that will be the great lesson… if it succeeds commercially.

The argument that MPAA/CARA lets a ton of violence pass with PG-13s that require no parental consent while an erect penis has to be hidden from anyone under 17 is a legitimate beef. But I am more concerned about the opportunity to have an adult rating that succeeds rather than getting caught up in adjudicating the ratings system’s lax attitude towards extreme violence.

Thing is, if the was a working adult rating, than there would be less pressure to be overly generous to violent studio pictures. But right now, NC-17 is a hard cap on the studio system. And I think it’s 100% as intended. Anything that limits the bottom line is bad to studios. So you could make the greatest NC-17 film ever… they’d still want an R version and if you could, a PG-13, please. They don’t want filmmakers at studios to be able to argue that a movie should.could go out NC-17. It’s just bad for business. So pretty much every deal – especially the rare final cut deals – includes language in which the director agrees to deliver a rating of R or PG-13, depending on the film.

57 Responses to “Return of The NC-17”

  1. JKill says:

    “But I am more concerned about the opportunity to have an adult rating that succeeds…”

    Yeah, I’ve always thought the “NC-17″ rating was actually a really good idea in concept. I think the key is removing the ad/theater restrictions, which simply don’t make any sense, especially today when, as someone else here said I think, some of the very popular, heavily advertised and discussed HBO/STARZ/SHO programming would get the rating if they were feature films. The restriction is pretty inane too, considering that most of the films that end up with the rating are art films that under 17s would have little interest sneaking into anyway.

    I really hope Searchlight pulls this off, both for the film, which I can’t wait to see, and for other filmmakers who want to explore material outside the bounds of the “R”.

  2. Why is it the MPAA’s fault the NC-17 doesn’t work when it’s newspapers and theater chains that are the roadblock?

    Isn’t the real problem that we live in a society that is only comfortable with movies that have the perception of having been sanitized for 13-year-olds?

  3. palmtree says:

    Don’t underestimate kids. Many a kid snuck into an R or NC-17 rated film to ogle, but then ended up watching the art film and liking the artyness.

  4. berg says:

    what are the NC-17 films you mention?
    Artisan – Requiem For A Dream (unrated), The Center of the World
    Fox Searchlight – The Dreamers, Young Adam, Shame
    Universal – Henry and June, ?
    MGM – Showgirls
    Fine Line/ New Line – Crash, Damage, Wide Sargosso Sea, Delta of Venus
    pre disney Miramax – Tie Me Up Tie Me Down, The Cook The Thief His Wife and Her Lover
    Ares – Bad Lieutenant
    Focus – Lust Caution
    SPC – Law of Desire, Matador, Bad Education, Broken English
    Trimark – Happiness
    Zeigtgeist – ?
    7 Arts – Dice Rules
    October – Orgazmo, Kika

  5. JKill says:

    Palmtree, that’s true for sure. But I would consider that a positive development. My point was more supposed to be that NC-17 movies, because they tend to be independent or art films (I seriously doubt this would change much even if the restrictions for ads/theaters were lifted) have an audience (whether young or old) that kind of knows what they’re getting into and are cinematically literate and/or adventerous.

    On a vaguely related note looking at that list, ORGAZMO might be the tamest NC-17 imaginable. There are dirtier things on Comedy Central in prime time now.

  6. The Big Perm says:

    The problem with NC-17 was that the first movies released with that rating were for sex and nudity, driving home the idea that it was basically a rating for porn. I think had the first NC-17 been an Arnold Schwarzenegger action movie it would have still been viable. They needed the first NC-17 to be for violence.

  7. Triple Option says:

    I remember reading an interview w/either Kevin Williamson or Wes Craven talking about how an early cut for Scream came back NC-17 and they had to cut some stuff to get the R rating. Now, disemboweled guts may be cool to see, but as someone who thinks Scream was one of the most iconic movies of the 90’s, it really didn’t need any more blood. I’ve not seen Henry & June. I did see the French movie Rape Me that was NC-17. There was one really graphic rape scene. For a hot moment when it showed what happened to the victims and how they were mistreated after the crime, the graphic scenes I thought were justified. Then the film deteriorates into a hot ass mess to the point of wondering why did they even bother in the first place became the most prominent thought in my mind.

    I don’t know if films like Mulholland Dr or Bound had any issues but as much as I would’ve enjoyed longer and possibly more revealing sex scenes in each, really, they didn’t need anything more. Maybe a total crapfest like Showgirls or Color of Night needs all the sex it can show just to be tolerable to anyone watching but it doesn’t seem like filmmakers are really being handcuffed to bring in an R-rated movie. I don’t know, I don’t have first-hand experience. They don’t seem to have issues showing decapitations, which, who doesn’t love that, what is the gen public really missing now in their R-rated movie going experience??

    I’ll probably go see Shame because I like the actors but I bet little part of my brain will now be analyzing it in terms of wondering if they cropped a shot here or there if they could’ve brought it in as an R and still achieved the same level of execution. Of course, I don’t really know what the line of demarcation would be. But it could be like watching 3D movies now where I start to wonder could I have seen this thing in 2D and been just as satisfied.

    I realize kids can and do see plenty of graphic things on the interweb but I don’t think there’s anything wrong in restricting them from seeing some movies in theaters. So if they said, “I don’t care what your parent says when standing right next to you, no one under 17 gets into this movie, period” I would be perfectly fine with it. What I do think could be raised would be the question of what gets the R and what gets a pass as PG-13. When I saw Dark Knight the first time on IMAX, it didn’t seem like such a big deal and I wasn’t getting the complaints but then I saw it in a regular theater and I thought it seemed much darker in tone. I realize some of the complaints came from the same people who got offended by Janet’s wardrobe but if it had gotten an R-rating I wouldn’t have argued too much. I wouldn’t have suggested it was anywhere near the level of violence as say Robocop but it wouldn’t have stood out to some other relatively tame R-rated movies I’ve seen that, though I wasn’t complaining about their mildness, was surprised that they received the R. Again, I know 13-year-olds can find R-rated movies they can watch on their phone on the bus on their way to school, but I think the true regulating issue is between the PGs and Rs. Yes, anything artistic is going to be subjective, but if they’re really concerned about exposure and wellbeing, that’s the side of town that needs to be more closely monitored and distinctions made.

  8. The Big Perm says:

    The thing is, it’s kind of goofy for filmmakers to have to resubmit a movie to the MPAA a bunch of times to get an R, sometimes just trimming a few frames at a time until it’s magically an R. It’s just a game, a waste of time.

    Also, the MPAA is much more lenient now than the past. Look at the relatively tame bloodletting in an early Friday the 13th movie which would get chopped to shit, and compare it to, say, Dawn of the Dead.

  9. wester says:

    someone should fuck some sense into the MPAA

  10. Peter says:

    I still couldn’t believe Wild Sargasso Sea was rated NC-17. It’s pretty tame.

    Anyway, wasn’t surprised Shame is rated NC-17. A movie where the male lead shows full frontal and there is lots of sex in = NC-17 from MPAA.

    Can it make good money? I am not sure. It’s a great film, the critics seems to love it, so there should be strong word of mouth.

  11. jesse says:

    An R rating means that parents can take their kids.

    An NC-17 rating means that parents can’t (well, “can’t” — it’s not a law) take their kids even if the parents and kids agree on it.

    I kinda think any adults-only rating is kinda bullshit. I mean, in theory, it’s not, because of porn, I guess. But porn isn’t ever actually rated. And movies that cross that extremely fine line between hard R and NC-17 tend not to be much different than R rating.

    So what’s the point? Besides designating a pretty random group of movies as unsuitable-even-if-parents-personally-bring-their-teenagers by some pseudo-governing body?

    I could see an NC-13 rating, I guess. I know that’s not consistent with the R age barrier, but 13, I can see some independent body saying that no one under 13 should be seeing some movie, even if I don’t particularly agree with that idea.

    But 17? A sixteen-year-old can’t see some movie because of nudity, even if a parent is OK with it? That’s always struck me as absolutely ridiculous.

  12. David Poland says:

    The alternative is censorship, Jesse. Open censorship.

    It’s all arbitrary. Some people should never drink, some 16 year olds can handle a six pack well. Some 15 year olds would be better voting in elections than some 40 year olds.

    But when I was in my 20s and rolled out movies for seemingly sophisticated 14 year olds, I was shocked when they weren’t ready for it.

  13. film fanatic says:

    Jesse has a valid point — why not just enforce “R” as intended? If the theatres actually did that, there would not really be a need for NC-17, as children (and presumably more mature 15-16 year olds who are lumped by the MPAA into that blanket categorization) wouldn’t be exposed to anything potentially objectionable without their parents’ express consent and accompaniment. After all, the MPAA’s whole raison d’etre is that their system “empowers parents,” no? This would also have the fringe benefit of not making the ratings board have to move the goalposts in ratings skirmishes as “R” would have teeth and mean something. Alas, fat chance.

    While, by all accounts, “Shame” legitimately “deserves” its NC-17, many films designated with that Scarlet Letter certainly don’t and the cuts filmmakers sometimes have to make to slide just “this side” of the tag in ratings arbitrations are often ludicrously arbitrary.’

    Incidentally, DP, you left off the title that is the third-highest grossing NC-17 movie (right after HENRY AND JUNE with $10M+) and, also, the one most undeservedly slapped with the rating: namely, Martin Lawrence’s concert pic YOU SO CRAZY. Language quantifies as NC-17? Really? So a parent of a 16 year old couldn’t take his/her kid to see Martin Lawrence saying bad words? That, in a nutshell, shows how batshit crazy and out of touch the MPAA is.

  14. Joe Leydon says:

    Well, of course, there is something else to consider: There’s really no point – really hasn’t been any point since the dawn of the home video era — in giving any film an NC-17 rating. Because if a parent/guardian doesn’t mind his/her under-17 minor seeing a certain film — well, 3-6 months after the film opens theatrically, if not sooner, who can stop him/her?

  15. Joshua says:

    Although both “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover” and “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” were eventually rated NC-17, the rating wasn’t introduced until September 1990, and those films had been released unrated in April and May 1990 respectively. Most, if not all, of their box office grosses were earned before the NC-17 existed.

    That goes double for “Matador,” which was released two years before the NC-17 was invented.

  16. samguy says:

    Consdier this: in the remake of “Footloose” Ren makes up a story about a 3 way with 2 girls. This is a PG-13 movie. I was quite surprised that it was in there considering how many tweens were in the theatre – and have probably already seen the movie.

    Basically, I question Paramount’s judgement on this. If I was a parent, I don’t think I’d be too happy at having my kid exposed to this concept!

  17. jcar says:

    It’s more than a bit absurd in the post-HBO/STARZ/SHOWTIME episodic TV era to still give any meaning to the NC-17. When your average episodes of “Boardwalk Empire” or “Sparticus” or “Game of Thrones” have NC-17 level sex and nudity in them (And all of which are HUGELY popular shows), does the NC-17 really even mean anything anymore?

    I don’t think it does. But for some reason people are ignorant of what NC-17 means. So while they have no problem watching lesbian prostitutes fingerbang on Game of THrones, for some reason they see the NC-17 label on movies and get scared off.

    The MPAA realluy needs to get with the times and revise the rating. They could, of course, create a different rating to get rid of the stigma, but that wouldn’t matter as unless there is a hugely successful film that uses the rating, most theater chains won’t show it.

    Really, I think the only option is to just be more lenient with the R rating and reserve NC-17 for actual pornographic, penetrative, sex. If theaters enforce the R-rating it shouldn’t be a problem.

  18. jesse says:

    I just feel like it’s actually not much of a problem either way. What are the real consequences of showing an adult-content movie to a 14-year-old who’s “not ready”? The 14-year-old is scarred for life? Pretty unlikely. The 14-year-old doesn’t have much interest in watching something just because of a forbidden rating? Quite possibly.

    I see worse stuff that’s actually allowed all the time, like parents taking their 5-year-olds to Halloween II. That’s totally allowed under the current rules.

    If the ratings aren’t protecting actual children from that, and they aren’t, and maybe they can’t without the force of law they shouldn’t have, then… I don’t know. What are they doing? Making helpful suggestions, I guess.

    I actually feel like the alternative would be theaters enforcing the ratings LESS, making them more of an actual suggestion than this kind of weird it’s-a-rule-enforced-by-people-who-didn’t-make-it middle ground, so NC-17 takes on less of a BANNED MATERIAL kind of stigma. But of course theaters would never do that. I’ve heard some ticket-sellers mistakenly tell customers that the MPAA ratings are law.

  19. Paul MD (Stella's Boy) says:

    Having seen Paranormal Activity 3 last night, I can say that there are many more PG-13 movies I’d object to a 13 year-old watching. I can’t believe it has the same rating as the Saw movies and stuff like Rambo. A few f-bombs and one disturbing violent act. That’s about it. I’m kind of surprised they don’t go for a PG-13.

  20. jesse says:

    I saw that movie on Saturday and I totally thought it *was* PG-13.

  21. Edward says:

    Film Fanatic asks “why not just enforce “R” as intended?” and then states “If the theatres actually did that, there would not really be a need for NC-17, as children (and presumably more mature 15-16 year olds who are lumped by the MPAA into that blanket categorization) wouldn’t be exposed to anything potentially objectionable without their parents’ express consent and accompaniment.”

    To which this theatre manager of 26 years would like to respond: The vast majority of theatres DO enforce the MPAA ratings. The problem is, a good number of parents either do not understand what the R rating means or do not care. Whenever there is a big R rated movie, like Paranormal Activity 3 this week, we have to deal with a number of parents who think that just buying the ticket for their under 17 child and their friends is acceptable. I’ve posted a small sign at every station in my box office which clearly shows the MPAA R rating (“Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian”), yet even when my cashiers point out the sign and the rating to parents who just want to buy the tickets for their kids, they argue about it.

    “I’m buying the ticket for them. I’m giving my approval for them to see it.”
    “I’m sorry, but you or another adult is not going with them, they cannot see it on their own.”
    “But I’m buying the ticket for them.”
    “We understand. But anyone under the age of 17 must be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian.”
    “Can I walk them in to the theatre and then leave?”
    “No.”

    I’ve easily had a couple thousand conversations like that over my time in the theatre game. And now that we have self-serve kiosks and online ticket sales, kids and parents both think they can circumvent the R rating by buying the tickets these ways, and then asked shocked when they get carded at the podium.

    Film Fanatic seems to live in a perfect world where people aren’t selfish and don’t think they should be able to do whatever they want because “the customer is always right.” As perfectly exemplified by Jesse’s belief theatres should not enforce the MPAA ratings.

  22. I continue to be somewhat impressed that Paramount doesn’t slightly edit the Paranormal Activity movies to get that PG-13 rating. Without going into details, all it would take is the omission on an F-word or two, give or take how the MPAA views the intensity of what little violence the films. Obviously the films are monstrously profitable with the R. But considering how much they feel tailor-made for middle school or high school kids on a date night (as Ebert called them, ‘bruised forearm movies’), I’m still surprised that the studio didn’t try to squeeze into the more teen-friendly rating.

  23. chris says:

    I suspect “Paranormal” would lose nearly all of its dwindling cred if it were a PG-13 movie.

  24. Paul MD (Stella's Boy) says:

    Cred with horror fans? And wouldn’t any “cred” it loses be offset by more viewers under 17 buying tickets? No one is going to these movies for gore.

  25. Chris and Paul MD are both right, to an extent. Once the first film went out as an R, Paramount risked earning the ire of the hardcore horror fans if any of the sequels ended up with a PG-13, even if the film wasn’t diluted in any real way. That’s (to a certain extent) what happened with The Legend of Zorro. I saw the picture at a test screening and found it to be only slightly less violent than The Mask of Zorro (same double-digit body count via gunfire, explosions, and stabbing, less blood and heads in a jar). But once the film ended up with a PG, people went nuts and began acting like the film was some kind of ultra-watered-down sham. Good or bad, the film was not really any less violent than the PG-13 original, but the lower rating colored the perception.

    Same thing with the Matrix series. Due to its emphasis on human good guys fighting evil programs (as opposed to machine-gunning hapless humans in the original Matrix), Matrix Reloaded could have easily gone out with a PG-13 with just a trim here and there, but WB would have been crucified for it (Matrix Revolution, however, was the most graphically violent of the series). Again, it’s a question of whether the under-17 tickets sold would have offset the older genre fans sitting on their hands. It seems silly of course, but I genuinely think that Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell (which didn’t need to be an R, natch) was hurt by the presumption that its PG-13 meant it was watered-down.

  26. Paul MD (Stella's Boy) says:

    Scott I write for a horror site and am a regular visitor to a handful of horror sites. I feel like I know horror fans pretty well. I don’t think there would have been a major backlash from the horror crowd if Paranormal Activity sequels ended up with a PG-13 rating. There’s never been any gore in the series so no one is expecting them to be bloody. Plus, many horror writers on these sites (and fans who post on them) don’t even like the series to begin with.

    I remember not liking Legend of Zoro because it’s a crappy movie, especially compared to the fun Mask of Zorro. I don’t think average moviegoers cared about the ratings of those movies.

    You think Drag Me to Hell really makes that much more money if it’s R? I remember a whole lot of excitement for it because horror geeks love Raimi, and most of them liked the movie a lot. Any grousing about the rating was minimal and ended once people saw it.

  27. jesse says:

    Edward, I agree with you that I rarely see theaters NOT enforcing the ratings. My wife, 30, was carded just a few weeks ago. She’s lovely and youthful-looking but I wouldn’t say she could pass for a teenager.

    Where we disagree, I think, is the assumption that this matters in a big way. Would lax enforcement of the ratings let some dumb teenagers into more R-rated movies, creating annoyances for the rest of the crowd? Yes, but (a.) adults are just as bad, especially old people, and (b.) adults still bring five-year-olds to R movies and let them sit (or fuss) through it, so I’m not sure that 15-year-olds in an R movie would be any worse from an other-audience-members perspective.

    Again, you’re acting as if the MPAA ratings are law; you’re not really making any argument in favor of them, just saying that people are jerks for not “understanding” a rule that thousands of theaters have made policy for no real reason. You’re saying that this rule matters because, you imply, the customer is so entitled and selfish and thinks they should be able to do what they want. So this makes arbitrary rules make sense? That’s not an argument, buddy. That’s “that’s just how things are and why do you think you’re an exception!!!”

    I mean, look at TV program ratings, or parental advisory warnings on albums. They don’t really keep anyone from watching or listening. Just sort of a warning flag. Yet with movies there’s this weird belief that “the rules” say, you have to be eighteen to watch a semi-randomly selected group of movies (until, as someone else pointed out, they’re on DVD, or HBO, or streaming, or anything).

    I guess I can understand the R-rating idea more because it “helps” parents who might not want their kids seeing an R-rated movie (even though the distinction is often incredibly arbitrary), and it theoretically cuts down on teenagers running wild at movies for grown-ups (even though some grown-ups don’t seem to behave as such).

    But it’s the NC-17 that really makes no sense to me: a nigh-meaningless organization recommending the barring of an age group from seeing a movie theatrically under any circumstances, and a bunch of theater owners treating it as sacrosanct.

    I guess David’s point is that if theaters don’t treat it as an ironclad rule, the government will simply step in and MAKE it an actual law? But I don’t know… I guess I’m just not convinced that there isn’t a middle ground between making ratings law and treating them like law.

  28. jesse says:

    Yeah, Scott, I think it’s more a question of studios not feeling like they NEED to fight for different ratings, not an actual fear that people will not show up for Matrix 2 or Paranormal 3 because of the rating (and if they have that fear, it is not well-founded at all. I think Paul is correct: the vast majority of filmgoers don’t even pay attention to ratings unless tehy have kids. Even then a lot of them don’t). It’s more like, well, the R rating didn’t hurt The Matrix, so I guess it’s fine for the sequel to go out that way.

    (Similarly, that’s probably part of why Reloaded got an R to begin with.) If the second movie had been tagged with a PG-13 for the exact same cut, I doubt WB would’ve come back to the filmmakers and said “add in a little more violence, we need that R or the fans won’t go.” Were any fans of The Matrix seriously going to boycott if the sequel wasn’t R? They might grumble about it, but that’s a different matter.

    Maybe some niche horror distributors who want to market a movie a certain way might really aim for an R with some extra violence if they didn’t get it on first cut. Probably not most places dealing with movies expected to gross, say, 75 mil or more, though.

  29. For the record, my thoughts on how certain franchises are or are not affected by the ratings are not ironclad opinions, merely rhetorical and fun to discuss. Although I specifically remember a number of reviews (as well as whining comments prior to the film’s release) complaining that The Legend of Zorro had been ‘watered-down’ due to its PG rating. While I like the movie more than most (I like that it wasn’t a carbon-copy remake of the first film and its knotty questions about financial inequality and social status certainly hold up six years later), there is a clear difference between people who didn’t like the movie and those who were inexplicably turned off by the PG rating.

    I do agree that the problem as it exists is the treatment of a voluntary rating system as actual law. The FCC Lieberman-led crackdown on marketing R-rated movies back in 2001 further blurred the line and effectively killed the R-rating for mainstream genre fare outside of horror. At the end of the day, if the theater owners would carry NC-17 films and mass-media would accept advertising for them, then I’d like to think the whole MPAA debate would be moot. But in an age where Sony is ‘taking a financial risk’ merely by making a $90 million R-rated adult thriller (even one based on an internationally-beloved book), I don’t think that’s gonna happen anytime soon. I think the best chance we had for ‘saving’ the NC-17 came and went in July of 1999…

  30. Paul MD (Stella's Boy) says:

    It sure is fun to discuss. I’m sure some critics whined about the Zorro rating, but average moviegoers probably didn’t care. Ask people who saw both what each is rated, and I’m guessing most wouldn’t know. I can’t imagine too many stayed away because it’s rated PG rather than PG-13.

  31. David Poland says:

    The Paranormal R vs PG-13 thing… not about horror fans… these aren’t “horror fans only” box office events. And I agree 100% that the edge on the impression of what the series is would be damaged by a PG-13… the same way no movie except movies for under-10s want a G.

    Kids can – except at Edward’s theater – get into R rated movies. Managers often look the other way. These days, you can by the tickets at a machine… give the kid the ATM card and they’re pretty much in.

    But changing the rating on any franchise is not considered a good idea by any marketing dept.

  32. Paul MD (Stella's Boy) says:

    They sure aren’t horror fans only events. This middle-aged woman was in line directly in front of me last night. She asked the girl what Paranormal Activity is (the girl read her answer verbatim from some sheet of paper) and then asked if she needed to see the first two to get it. She ended up buying a ticket. Even if the “edge” would be damaged by a rating change, would it really hurt the box office? Would that many people really not see it because of that? I just don’t think that the vast majority of people would care because these aren’t gory movies or movies that would be all that different with a PG-13. AVP, for example, made a lot more money than AVP: Requiem despite the former being PG-13 and the latter being R. Both suck, but people didn’t stay away from AVP because it’s PG-13 and they didn’t flock to AVP:Requiem because it’s R.

  33. David Poland says:

    As for the enforcement/non-enforcement… the reason CARA exists and is important is that ratings were a state-by-state business in the past, with some wildly divergent calls by different states with different standards. While CARA is no friend to the indies, without CARA, the indie theatrical business may not have ever blossomed, as the cost of getting “approved” state-by-state was prohibitive.

    The reason for an NC-17 is that the studios MUST send out rated movies. MPAA set it up that way… so the studios set it up that way. As I wrote in the first place, I believe a big part of this is a commercial choice. They want the doors to be as wide open as possible.

    So if you could put a PG on a porn film and not get killed in the court of public opinion, studios would do it. If every film could be rated PG, no matter what the content, they would do it.

    The studios don’t want NC-17 to work. They don’t want to make any movies that might belong in the NC-17 category. They want big audiences and the potential for big audiences. Period. So NC-17 keeps the directors in line, in this regard.

    Mainstream audiences don’t really want to see Fassbender’s penis… just as no one came to theater to see Lindsey’s or Jessica Biel’s boobs bared for the first time on film. While Shame is not a film that really seeks to find an audience based on its sexual content, in general, movies with a fair amount of nudity or sex become defined by that distinction… and that’s not – with a few exceptions – good for business.

    The R works. The PG-13 works. The PG and G work. Putting the violence issue aside, people have a pretty good idea what these things mean when they go into a theater and don’t tend to get shocked, though the studio line between PG-13 and R can be pretty hairy.

    But I believe that the infringement of R material into PG-13 rated films is, in part, because there is no working NC-17/adult rating. So the hardest Rs can’t become NC-17s… so the hardest PG-13s can’t become Rs. NC-17 serves as a hard cap on content.

  34. David Poland says:

    Thing is, Paul… would all those people have been marketed into seeing Paranormal 1: The PG-13 movie?

    Wasn’t the whole sell, “This might be real… and it will scare the shit out of you like The Exorcist… but REAL!”?

    Yes, if you break it down to “Will they not go to the movies because of the rating,” you will be told that a G rating can kill you… a PG can hurt you… and if you want to make a horror film hit, make it an R.

  35. David Poland says:

    Wedding Crashers, for instance, could well have been cut to a PG-13. New Line wanted the raunch vibe, so they made sure to get the R.

    Most of the time, does it matter? Do we even remember whether it was R or PG-13? Does Alien seem like a “hard R” anymore? No, no, no.

  36. Paul MD (Stella's Boy) says:

    I’m not sure that people would have responded to “This might be real… and it will scare the shit out of you like The Exorcist… but REAL!” with a dismissive “it’s PG-13 so they’re full of shit.” Wouldn’t the great marketing have meant similar box office for a PG-13 PA? I think The Last Exorcism opened better than people expected and made decent $ because of the marketing, and I can’t imagine too many people stayed away because it’s PG-13. If it’s all about the marketing, a good campaign probably still results in great b.o. for a PG-13 PA.

  37. David Poland says:

    (corrected by DP)
    The difference is a movie like The Exorcism of Emily Rose (not The Last Exorcism) – one of those films in which the marketing was a scam – was targeting girls first.

    Yes, anything CAN be overcome. And every movie is its own story. But broad strokes… movies that want to have huge audiences tend to want hard PG-13s and movies that are horror or raunchy comedy want that R.

  38. jesse says:

    Yeah, I’m just not convinced that the R was a big part of the Paranormal Activity sell. This is just anecdotal, but if you had told me that all three of those movies were PG-13, I would’ve bought it (and I saw all three).

  39. JKill says:

    I was and am pretty baffled that anyone remotely thought that PARANORMAL ACTIVITY was real. I know these people exist. I just don’t get it.

    Horror fans do, at least on the internet, freak out about the lower rating. I know I read complaining about DRAG ME TO HELL and INSIDIOUS…which stopped once people actually saw the movies. But that hardcore horror faction that deeply cares about that, probably shows up anyway and represents a loyal but not terribly large demographic.

    It’s very odd that THE LAST EXORCISM is PG-13, while PA is R. I don’t care one way or the other, but the former seems and feels much more like an R than the latter.

  40. christian says:

    “Also, the MPAA is much more lenient now than the past. Look at the relatively tame bloodletting in an early Friday the 13th movie which would get chopped to shit, and compare it to, say, Dawn of the Dead.”

    DAWN OF THE DEAD was released WITHOUT an MPAA rating for that reason. HUGE HIT.

  41. JKill says:

    How was THE LAST EXORCISM marketing a scam? (I’d be cautious about using that term, for fear that a certain crusading attorney will pick up a new cause…)

  42. David Poland says:

    I don’t know how anyone thought Blair Witch was real, JKill… I think people suspend disbelief to get off. (See: beer goggles)

    And… you know what… I have the wrong scam…

    Thinking Exorcism of Emily Rose, which was smart and I am not upset by, is that it was primarily a courtroom drama and they hyped up the exorcism horror show.

  43. Joe Leydon says:

    “As for the enforcement/non-enforcement… the reason CARA exists and is important is that ratings were a state-by-state business in the past, with some wildly divergent calls by different states with different standards.”

    Actually, as late as 1979-1982, when I worked there, Dallas had its very own film review board that issued legally-binding ratings that could supersede MPAA ratings. Seriously: If this board gave a movie the equivalent of an R, or X, it didn’t matter whether the MPAA rating was PG. (Keep in mind: There was no PG-13 yet.) So for all the bad things we might want to say about MPAA, we can thank the late Jack J. Valenti for establishing a system that very likely staved off establishment of many other similar boards in countless other cities.

    Of course, I am amused to see how relatively prudish we’ve all become since the days when X-rated movies like Medium Cool or The Best House in London could be shown without incident in suburban multiplexes, other X-rated features like The Killing of Sister George, A Clockwork Orange and even Emmanuelle could unspool in downtown moviehouses, and Midnight Cowboy actually could get the Oscar for Best Picture.

  44. LexG says:

    The NC-17 debate pops up every few years, usually when some critics’ darling gets slapped with it, but honestly? I can never get worked up over it. I remember when Ebert was going INSANE with his “A” rating idea, I remember the stupid Kirby Dickhead documentary about the MPAA, and it always seems like much ado about nothing…

    It’s always the SAME arguments– sex vs violence, “newspapers won’t advertise the movie!”, etc etc etc… all ALWAYS over some fringey arty movie that WOULDN’T MAKE THAT MUCH MONEY if it was sand-blasted down to a PG-13, and conversely would be of NO INTEREST to any teenager in the world, ever…

    Maybe it’s just that I’m an a) adult film geek and b) I live in Los Angeles, so you can down to the Nuart or Sunset 5 and watch CRASH or ENTER THE VOID or THE DREAMERS like any other ol’ movie, there’s NEWSPAPER ADS APLENTY, and nobody gives a shit whatso-EVER, it’s not like there’ll be a MOB OF PROTESTERS standing outside the Landmark theater holding up Bibles and telling me I’m gonna burn in hell for watching Michael Fassbender pick up some subway cooze in a sterile arthouse movie.

    Why is this EVER a big deal?

  45. JS Partisan says:

    You support Rick Perry, and that’s your answer.

  46. Joe Leydon says:

    IO: That wasn’t directed at me, was it?

  47. JKill says:

    DP, yeah EMILY ROSE is a much more thoughtful movie than the ads implied, and was as much a legal drama as it was a posession flick. Although, actually, THE LAST EXORCISM pulled somewhat of a similar bait and switch, in that the movie was much more of an off-beat, dark, indie drama with horror trappings than the straight scare-fest Lionsgate made it look like.

  48. JKill says:

    Another thing that I forgot to bring up in the NC-17 discussion is that it also seems strange since post-DVD we’ve been living in the age of the UNRATED DVD release. Before the term was abused and exploited by the studios (adding superfluous, unfunny scenes that should’ve been left on the editing floor to comedy movies to unrate the films, for instance), stuff like BASIC INSTINCT, ROBOCOP, SPECIES 2, ect., was released in their pre-MPAA form with no backlash or public outcry.

    I’m curious to what is a bigger barrier to a wide(r) release: NC-17 or unrated? THE ARISTOCRATS came out last decade and did great for a documentary (6 million plus) on an unrated release, and I saw that at a Regal Cinemas, which is obviously a big chain. (And famously Blockbuster Video wouldn’t stock anything that was NC-17 but had no problem with unrated films…)

    What is the maximum amount of screens SHAME, theoretically, could play on? Could it get as wide as TREE OF LIFE or even, eventually, have an 800 plus release?

    And man, I forgot about Ebert and his “A” rating. He really lobbied hard for that.

  49. jesse says:

    Yeah, as far as fruitless Ebert crusades I can get behind, MaxiVision 48 all the way over the “A” rating. Isn’t that what NC-17 is? NC-17 does sound a bit more foreboding than “A” but it’s not like changing a rating is going to suddenly up the appeal of a really-adults-only movie to studios or exhibitors. I mean, even PG-13 movies aimed more at adults have kind of a stigma at this point.

    I agree, Lex, that it’s all pretty arbitrary. Most NC-17 movies wouldn’t be getting past 200 theaters anyway. Most people who want to see them will see them, either when they’re out or in a few months on DVD. And the few interested teenagers, you know, wait a few years and then who cares. It’s not a tragedy, no.

    But I do think it’s profoundly strange that there’s this big of a fuss over (and seeming respect for!) ratings at all, as almost every other arm of the media is far less insane about self-policing and protecting the poor sweet innocent children.

    Oh yeah, and that a five-year-old can sit on his parents’ lap for Halloween II, and that’s not considered as horrible as ANY sixteen-year-old seeing Shame in a theater.

  50. film fanatic says:

    The problem isn’t with the movies that get released unrated or with NC-17, most of which are indies or art films; it’s with the studio movies that get slapped with NC-17 during the appeals process and have to be whittled down to get an R in order to secure a release. Add to this the fact that the MPAA’s threshhold of what constitutes an R v. an NC-17 is maddeningly arbitrary and inconsistent and a situation is created in which some films that, in a reasonable world, should clearly quantify as R’s are unfairly forced to be butchered to pass muster.

    Case in point: I saw a preview cut of BOOGIE NIGHTS before its release. One of the greatest scenes in that movie is the New Years party sequence, where Little Bill looks for his wife, finds cheating on him, walks out to his car to get a gun, walks back into the party, opens the door to the room where she’s still having sex, shoots her and then walks back into the living room and shoots himself. As originally filmed, it was one long bravura uniterrupted tracking shot, easily the equal of the famous “kitchen” scene in GOODFELLAS. Unfortunately, the MPAA deemed that having a shooting and sex in the same frame constituted an NC-17. The problem wasn’t the fucking or the shooting, both of which are still in the movie, but having them together. So PTA had to arbitrarily break up his several-minute long tracking shot with a new insert, shot after-the-fact, that interrupted the action of Bill firing the gun and the whole flow of the scene and the tracking shot is altered.

    Something chickenshit like THIS is what makes the difference between an R and an NC-17? How is that not ridiculous hair-splitting? You can argue that it’s no big deal, but if you’re a film lover it’s a very big deal is and I’m sure it was a big deal to a filmmaker like Anderson. Why should adults only have the option to seeing watered-down versions of movies in a theatre? How does a capricious and Draconian MPAA decision like the example I provided “protect the children?” The criteria need to be made more reasonable and consistent.

  51. JKill says:

    I would rather have the ratings done in-house than by the government but… not only are the ratings arbitrary but they are also enforced that way. I’ve seen theaters imply that the R rating meant that you had to be OVER 17 instead of at it, or that the PG-13 was a restrictive rating for those under the age when, in reality, it is only a suggestion.

  52. The Big Perm says:

    christian, you’re age is showing…of course I was talking about the Dawn of the Dead remake!

  53. Ian says:

    It just seems strange to someone from the UK that the US does not have an adult movie rating and that generally anyone from the US can watch any movie they wish at the cinema. With the advent of the internet, perhaps age limits are pointless, but it is surely damaging to US cinema in general that most US films need to reach an R rating and therefore be potentially watchable by all rather than creating films for a more mature market.

  54. cadavra says:

    The problem is that there is currently no rating that distinguishes a 16-year-old from a 6-year-old. I argued for eons with Joan Graves about the need for an R-13 to no avail.

  55. immigration says:

    if court of public opinion, studios would do it then it is very easy enough to be rated. it is very nice article for posting it

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“Well, actually, of that whole group that I call the post-60s anti-authority auteurs, a lot of them came from television. Peckinpah’s the only one whose television work represents his feature work. I mean, like the only one. Mark Rydell can direct a really good episode of ‘Gunsmoke’ and Michael Ritchie can direct a really good episode of ‘The Big Valley,’ but they don’t necessarily look like The Candidate. But Peckinpah’s stuff, even the scripts he wrote that he didn’t even direct, have a Peckinpah feel – the way I think there’s a Corbucci West – suggest a Peckinpah West. That even in his random episodes that he wrote for ‘Gunsmoke’ – it’s right there.”
~ Quentin Tarantino

“The thought is interrupted by an odd interlude. We are speaking in the side room of Casita, a swish and fairly busy Italian bistro in Aoyama – a district of Tokyo usually so replete with celebrities that they spark minimal fuss. Kojima’s fame, however, exceeds normal limits and adoring staff have worked out who their guest is. He stops mid-sentence and points up towards the speakers, delighted. The soft jazz that had been playing discreetly across the restaurant’s dark, hardwood interior has suddenly been replaced with the theme music from some of Kojima’s hit games. Harry Gregson-Williams’ music is sublime in its context but ‘Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots’ is not, Kojima acknowledges, terribly restauranty. He pauses, adjusting a pair of large, blue-framed glasses of his own design, and returns to the way in which games have not only influenced films, but have also changed the way in which people watch them. “There are stories being told [in cinema] that my generation may find surprising but which the gamer generation doesn’t find weird at all,” he says.
~ Hideo Kojima