The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1990), Brit auteur Peter Greenaway's most popular release, was well-marketed by Harvey Weinstein, who launched the initially X-rated film unrated so that theaters would book it--and only later adopted the NC-17. (UPDATE: Edward Copeland reminds that Blockbluster at first carried the film, then refused to stock it when it became NC-17.) Helen Mirren stars as the luscious, restless wife of brutal crime boss Michael Gambon; between meals at her husband's restaurant, she conducts a secret affair with sweet bookseller Alan Howard. 90% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Lust, Caution (2007) marked Taiwanese director Ang Lee's return to Asia. The film is a gorgeous sexually explicit espionage tale set in 1938 Hong Kong and 1942 Shanghai, when the city was occupied by the Imperial Japanese Army. Chinese university students from Lingnan University plot to assassinate a high-ranking special agent and recruiter of the puppet government (Tony Leung) by using an attractive young woman (Wei Tang) to lure him into a trap. In Asia the director had to trim the film by seven minutes. 72% on the Tomatometer.
Bad Education (2004), Pedro Almodovar's dark exploration of murder, sexual abuse, religion, transexuality and drugs, starring Mexican Gael García Bernal in one of his best Spanish-language performances, played at film fests and in New York, but was limited by its rating. 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. (See also Almodovar's NC-17-rated "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!"(1990) and "Matador" (1986), which both star Antonio Banderas.)
Bad Lieutenant (1992), directed by Abel Ferrara, stars a deliciously out-of-control Harvey Keitel in the title role; later on Werner Herzog remade the film with Nic Cage. 77% on the Tomatometer.