Imagine a kinder, gentler NC-17 rating

Last week, Motion Picture Association of America honcho Dan Glickman promised to work with the nation’s theater owners to tweak the movie ratings system that slaps films with those Gs, PGs, PG-13s, Rs, and (cue shrieking Psycho violins!) NC-17s. This week, at a Sundance panel, Glickman offered the eyebrow-raising proclamation that he hoped the NC-17 would no longer be considered synonymous with porn and would actually become a viable rating. More notable was what Glickman did not say, which was how, exactly, this rehabilitation of the NC-17 might come to pass. After all, the only tangible plans Glickman has announced involve more transparency in the decision-making and arbitration processes — in other words, improving the image of the ratings board, rather than actually changing the way the board evaluates movies. Wowee.

It’s all well and good for Glickman to recognize that the industry ought to embrace the dreaded NC-17 rating more than it does now. Which, last we checked, is not at all. Implicit in the former politician’s remarks is a nod toward the fact that, for a brief moment (circa 1969-71), X-rated movies like Midnight Cowboy and A Clockwork Orange had credibility at the box office and among critics. But since the MPAA invented the NC-17 in 1990 (in a feeble and instantly doomed attempt to differentiate porn from mainstream movies for grownups), such critical and commercial success has been hard to come by for films slapped with the "kiss of death" — Glickman’s words, not ours. After all, media outlets decline to run those movies’ advertisements; more importantly, many theaters refuse to show them, and major video retailers won’t stock them. So unless Glickman can convince his homies the theater owners to actually book films rated NC-17 (and so far there’s no indication that they will), his upbeat rhetoric carries no real weight.

Instead, Glickman is at Sundance, trying to sell his shinier, happier ratings board to indie filmmakers, who have no real power to effect industry-wide change, and whose complaints the board had long ignored. It’s nice to know that the MPAA cares (for what appears to be the first time in its history) what filmmakers think, but a real show of good faith would be to try to sell a stigma-free NC-17 to the major studios who pay Glickman’s salary — and who haven’t shown any interest in rehabilitating the NC-17 since 1995’s Showgirls. How many of you think this will happen, PopWatchers? Show of hands…

Comments (21 total) Add your comment
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  • Stephanie

    Most NC17 films seemed to deal with explict material with a plot but not suited for R. Showgirls was clearly a “Skinemax” soft core porn flim.

  • mikey

    Hasn’t proliferation of the “unrated” or “director’s cut” DVD removed a lot of the (profit) incentive for the major studios to enter this fray? For a mainstream release, they just let out a story that they had to cut some bits to satisfy those Victorian ghouls at the MPAA; but you can see those bits, just as the filmmaker intended, in the unrated DVD. The story gets the movie a little extra pub and helps create marketing buzz for the DVD. For whatever reason, a DVD of the “unrated version” of an R movie doesn’t carry the same stigma as the “theatrical version” of an NC-17 movie would, though both might be exactly the same cut.
    All of this, of course, does nothing to help the indie filmmaker who doesn’t have the money or inclination to play that particular game. But who really cares about them — they just make weird little movies that don’t make enough money to matter, right?
    How different would things be if a movie better than “Showgirls” had been the seminal NC-17 test case?

  • Fatima

    I was furious when I rented Bad Education from Blockbuster and I found out it was edited. The gay oral sex scene was pixilated! How disrespectful. Thank god Netflix exists!

  • starchild

    -x- for porno, nc-17 for non-porno. Is this really that difficult?

  • Christopher

    I had hoped “This Movie Has Not Been Rated” would create a change in the industry and more independents would forego rating systems for a content warning. But Independents can’t do that. With the MPAA so entrenched in the theater system, it’s a hardship just to get distribution, let alone if you refuse to work with the MPAA.

  • GT

    Unrated DVDs always seemed like such a scam to me. Unrated doesn’t always equal NC-17, unrated just means they didn’t submit the cut to the MPAA to be rated. Most of the times it is just movies like American Pie with an extra nude scene, that probably could have gotten an R if they tried. In all reality Disney could release the DVD of their latest talking animal cartoon, and as long as they didn’t submit it to the ratings board they can call it unrated.
    I totally support a revised NC-17 system since I am tired of pretty much everything in Hollywood these days being geared to kids and families.

  • Howard

    NC-17 doesn’t need to be sold to the studios. It needs to be sold to theatre chains and DVD rental outlets who still equate NC-17 with X. If they’d added NC-17 exist alongside X back in ’90, that might have worked better.

  • Matt

    I think that the MPAA should consider something similar to Canada’s rating scheme. We have G and PG like the US, but then we have 14A (which is the equivolent of PG-13 but you have to be 14 years old), 18A which means you have to be 18 years old, OR 14 and older with an adult (Similar to the US R rating, but no one under 14 regardless of parental accompaniment) and then finally we have the R rating, which is 18 and over only. Seems to work good up here.

  • Anonymous

    As a parent I need a better distinction of PG-13. Some films I let my 12-14 yr. old son see, had content I did not approve of. Others were o.k.
    I won’t rent DVD’s that are unrated, even if they were PG -13 to begin with.
    Do we really need a separate rating for something that’s “not quite porn”?
    Just my opinion.

  • aramis

    You know. That sad thing is, ONCE upon a brief time, the ratings system was meant simply to inform, NOT to govern the practices of niether the Hollywood marketing machine NOR theatrical distributors and their theater-owner ogres.
    What happened?
    Seriously. When did it become okay for the MPAA to have such power over creative decisions in Hollywood? I’m genuinely curious about this.
    As for the “unrated DVD” issue, I agree with PopWatcher GT. Unrated doesn’t usually mean “original cut”. It’s just a different version that wasn’t reviewed by the MPAA, and therefore a company like Disney could release a different unreviewed cut of – for example – “The Little Mermaid” and still call it “uncut”. That’s not to say that “unrated” DVDs couldn’t take advantage of that fact and sneak in some otherwise MPAA-deemed objectional material. But I stress with those fellow PopWatchers who decry that Independent filmmakers can’t play that game. What’s the to-do for them?

  • Brent

    I don’t think studios or Theaters are going to embrace NC-17 movies anytime soon. So adults who want adult movies get stuck with another Cedric movie aimed at Teens. The best chance for us to watch regular adult movies like Clockwork Orange is to have them release a rated R version and then release the NC-17 version on DVD. At least then we can watch it without being treated like we can’t handle some adult content.

  • GT

    In response to the poster below, I am not looking for a rating that is “almost porn” but I like the idea as an adult of being able to see movies with stories geared towards adults, not with stories written to sell action figures and happy meals all the time. I think an adults only rating would help with that.
    I know some cities have had success with theaters that don’t allow anyone in over 18 at all and serve alcohol. I wish they would open one where I live, not so much for the booze but for a place where I can see a movie and not have to worry about idiot kids and teenagers running around and/or making noise, or not being able to see good movies because there is too many of those CGI/talking animal movies out..
    Then again I am not sure how a new rating would work when most theaters don’t really enfore the R rating.

  • Stephanie

    I like Matts point but some Americans like it as a KISS rating system. Keep It Short and Simple. It is silly.

  • to GT

    Completely agree. I’d like to see movies where barely-teens do NOT scream in anticipation before the actual events of a movie. What’s so wrong with grown-up movie ideas for grown-ups being accepted on a broader scale?

  • Chuck_A

    Personally, I think the addition of more Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas (drink serving theaters) is the answer.
    No screaming kids and a tall draft Guinness to go along with ANY content we wish to watch.
    Now if we could only get that with THX Sound and stadium seating.

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