Best R-Rated Movies That Were Almost Rated NC-17

Source: Neilson Barnard / Staff / Getty Images Entertainment

In 1990, the Motion Picture Association of America (now just the Motion Picture Association) – whose film rating system aims to give parents the information they need to determine if a movie is suitable for their children – abolished their X rating, which had been co-opted by the pornography industry. To replace it, the organization instituted a rating that classified certain films as suitable for adults only, called NC-17. 

Whereas theaters will allow children under 17 to attend R-rated movies with parental accompaniment, the idea behind the NC-17 rating was that nobody under 17 would be admitted, period. As a result, most chain theaters decided not to carry any film with an NC-17 rating. These films also faced rigid marketing restrictions and were generally not advertised on television or offered for rent at video stores like Blockbuster. 

Thus, the NC-17 rating became somewhat of a death sentence for a film’s financial backers, and studios began aiming to avoid the rating altogether. Directors of films slapped with an NC-17 rating on first submission are often obliged to cut out the most offensive scenes – those depicting too much nudity, sex, violence, gore, explicit language, or drug use – in order to secure an R rating and ensure that the movie makes it into theaters. (Here are some of those that were particularly successful – R-rated movies that broke the box office.)

To determine the best R-rated movies that were almost rated NC-17, 24/7 Tempo first consulted IMDb Trivia on IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon, and various other sources to compile a list of films threatened with the more restricted rating that were recut to achieve an R. Then we rated the films by developing an index of average ratings IMDb ratings and a combination of audience scores and Tomatometer scores on Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator, as of May 2023, weighting all ratings equally. We considered only movies with at least 10,000 audience votes on IMDb, and ruled out documentaries. Cast and directorial credits are from IMDb.

The movies on our list run the gamut from gangster films to slasher flicks to romantic dramas. Such respected directors as Francis Ford Coppola, David Fincher, Martin Scorsese, and Darren Aronofsky are featured. Genre directors who specialize in horror like Sam Raimi and Wes Craven also have films on the list, as do modern auteurs like Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Kevin Smith. (Here’s a list of the most popular movie directors in America.)

Many of the films listed here, which received R ratings for their theatrical release, are now available on video or on streaming sites as director’s cuts or unrated versions, displaying the original work rather than the edited version that was shown in theaters.

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