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Ranking Best and Worst NC-17-Rated Films, as 'Blue is the Warmest Color' Opens (Video)

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood October 24, 2013 at 5:36PM

It was no surprise when Cannes Palme d'Or winner "Blue is the Warmest Color" earned an NC-17 rating for “explicit sexual content.” Sundance Selects/IFC Films figured that would be the case when they submitted it. They were stirring up some ratings controversy to lure people to see the lesbian romance starring two lovingly photographed nubile French actresses. They could go unrated stateside if they wanted to. They want audiences to know that the film is not trimmed or softened in any way.
Carey Mulligan in 'Shame'
Carey Mulligan in 'Shame'


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.

Shame (2011), directed by Steve McQueen, demands to be seen more for Fassbender's no-holds-barred performance (which should have scored an Oscar nomination), than for its laborious long shots including miscast Carey Mulligan's renditon of "New York, New York." 80% on the Tomatometer.

Your call:

Crash (1996), David Cronenberg's Cannes special-prize-winner (for "audacity"), stars Holly Hunter as a car-crash victim who becomes part of a sub-culture of scarred, sexually voracious accident survivors who are turned on by automobile wrecks. 75% on the Tomatometer.

Henry and June (1990) was the first film labeled “No one under 17.” Set in 1931 Paris, the Phil Kaufman drama follows writers Henry Miller (Fred Ward) and Anaïs Nin (Maria de Madeiros, of "Pulp Fiction" fame) at work and erotic play. Nin also gets sexy with Miller's wife, June (Uma Thurman). 73% on the Tomatometer.

The Dreamers (2003), set in 1968 Paris, stars Michael Pitt ("Boardwalk Empire") as an American abroad who falls into a sexual triangle with brother and sister film enthusiasts. For its Italian release, the film was rated viewable by age 14 and up. 60% on the Tomatometer.

Must to Avoid:

Showgirls (1995), directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring “Saved by the Bell” alumna Elizabeth Berkeley as a pole dancer, was notoriously slammed by critics and released wider than any NC-17, but the $40-million film took a while to make a profit in homevideo release. It set an all-time RAZZIE Award record with 13 nominations, winning seven, tied with "Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000." 12% on the Tomatometer. 

Trailers below.

This article is related to: DVD and VOD, DVDs, Michael Fassbender, Steve McQueen, Box Office, Box Office, Box Office, Video, Video

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.