The Best R-Rated Movies of All Time

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The modern voluntary (but almost always observed) movie rating system was created by the Motion Picture Association, representing the major film studios, in 1968. Films were initially tagged G, M, R, or X. G identified a film suitable for general audiences; M, for “mature,” meant that parental guidance was advised for younger viewers; R, “restricted,” indicated that those under 17 would be admitted only with an accompanying adult; X, for “extreme” (generally meaning violence or sexual situations), meant those under 17 were barred from the theater, period.

The M rating later became PG (“parental guidance”) and X became NC-17 (“no children under 17”). A PG-13 rating, for films that may be inappropriate for pre-teens, was added in 1984. The R rating kept its original meaning – and many of the movies that have received an R rating, beginning in 1968, are among the most honored in film history.

To determine the best R-rated movies of all time, 24/7 Tempo developed an index using average ratings on IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon, and a combination of audience scores and Tomatometer scores on Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator, as of April 2023, weighting all ratings equally. Only movies with at least 100,000 user votes on IMDb were considered. Cast and director credits are from IMDb.

All but two movies on our list have Rotten Tomatoes critics’ ratings of 90% or above, and two, “Before Sunrise” and “The Terminator,” have a perfect 100% score. Five motion pictures on the list were directed by Martin Scorsese, and Francis Ford Coppola helmed three. Other famed directors represented include Sidney Lumet, Roman Polanski, Miloš Forman, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, and James Cameron.  

Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller masterpiece “Psycho,” which was released in 1960, is the oldest movie on the list, even though it came out eight years before the ratings system began and was only retroactively rated.

Robert De Niro appeared in seven films, the most of any actor, and directed one of them, and Al Pacino shows up in three times. (De Niro is one of the world’s most bankable actors right now.)

History-themed films on the list include “The King’s Speech,” “12 Years a Slave,” and “Schindler’s List.” Movies about gritty city life are represented by “Boyz n the Hood,” “A Bronx Tale,” and “Taxi Driver.” War movies, graphically depicting combat, include “The Deer Hunter,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Apocalypse Now,” and “Full Metal Jacket.” 

Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather films were joined by “Fargo,” “The Departed,” and “Reservoir Dogs” in the crime genre. “L.A. Confidential” and “Chinatown” represent the film noir genre. (Here’s a list of all Francis Ford Coppola movies, ranked worst to best.)

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