Seachlight wants to remove the brand of "shame" around the NC-17 by reminding folks that many films have found success despite the Scarlet Letter, from "Cook, Thief" to "Henry and June" ($11 million). (Director Steve McQueen talks about Michael Fassbender's Oscar snub and America's fear of sex; here's our video interview with the star.)
Back in the day, the MPAA started out with the X as its official rating for adult-oriented films, such as John Schlesinger's "Midnight Cowboy," which won the Oscar in 1969. But the X was swiftly adopted as a promo tool by the porn industry, which splashed XXX over the likes of "Inside Jennifer Wales" on 42nd Street and later, porn videos.
Thus in 1990, the MPAA introduced the NC-17 ("No Children Under 17 Admitted") and later, an amended rating (“No One 17 and Under Admitted). Some films with the rating have managed to find audiences, but many relied on NC-17 to deliver adults in search of sensational material, and were often slammed by critics, shunned by newspapers, and relegated to a limited number of theaters.
Here's a ranking of films eventually rated NC-17, from must-sees to must-avoids, with review links and trailers: