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From ‘Showgirls’ to ‘Orgazmo,’ Here Are The Top Grossing NC-17 Rated Films of All Time

From 'Showgirls' to 'Orgazmo,' Here Are The Top Grossing NC-17 Rated Films of All Time

In honor of NC-17 rated “Blue Is The Warmest Color” — which is continuing to find strong numbers as it expands across the U.S. ($379,278 and counting) —  Indiewire is taking a look back at the history of the controversial rating, which has been in effect for over 23 years now.

The rating was inaugurated by the Motion Picture Association of America
(MPAA) in September 1990 with the release of Philip Kaufman’s “Henry
& June” (which, to this day, is the second highest grossing film
released with the rating). Initially standing for “No Children Under 17
Admitted,” the MPAA changed its meaning to “No One 17 and Under
Admitted” in the late 1990s despite the acronym now no longer making

READ MORE: IFC Center Will Admit High Schoolers to NC-17 Rated ‘Blue is the Warmest Color’

Thirty films have been released with an NC-17 since, the vast
majority of them receiving the rating due to sexual content. Of them,
only 14 have grossed over $1 million, and only two – “Henry & June”
and “Showgirls,” the latter of which is far and away the highest
grossing NC-17 film – taking in over $10 million.

Beyond, most obviously, “Showgirls,” most of the films rated
NC-17 are actually exceptional examples of challenging independent and
world cinema. From Pedro Almodovar’s “Bad Education” and “Tie Me Up! Tie
Me Down!” to Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution,” Todd Haynes’ “Poison,” Steve McQueen’s “Shame” and David
Cronenberg’s “Crash,” “Blue is the Warmest Color” should proudly stand alongside its NC-17
predecessors. And hopefully, it manages to continue to find some respectable box
office in the process, helping relieve distributors’ fears of releasing
films with the rating (which, as many of us learned through “Blue,” is merely a “recommendation”).

In the meantime, take a look at the 20 top grossing NC-17 films
of all-time (a list “Blue” should easily be on by next weekend):

1. Showgirls (MGM, 1995) – $20,350,754
2. Henry & June (Universal, 1990) – $11,567,449
3. The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (Miramax, 1990) – $7,724,701
4. Bad Education (Sony Pictures Classics, 2004) – $5,211,842
5. Lust, Caution (Focus, 2007) – $4,604,982   
6. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (Miramax, 1990) –   $4,087,361  
7. Shame (Fox Searchlight, 2011) –  $3,909,002
8. The Dreamers  (Fox Searchlight, 2004) –   $2,532,228    2004
9.  Crash  (Fine Line, 1996) –  $2,038,450 
10. Bad Lieutenant  (Aries, 1992) –    $2,000,022  
11. Killer Joe  (LD, 2012) –   $1,987,762 
12. Wide Sargasso Sea (New Line, 1993) –  $1,614,784 
13. A Dirty Shame (Fine Line, 2004) –   $1,339,668   
14. Whore  (Trimark, 1991) –  $1,008,404 
15. Poison   (Zeitgeist, 1991) –   $787,280    1991
16. Young Adam  (Sony Pictures Classics, 2004) –  $767,373
17. Mysterious Skin  (Tartan, 2005)  –  $713,240  
18. Inside Deep Throat  (Universal, 2005) –  $691,880  
19. Dice Rules  (7Art, 1991)  –  $637,327   
20. Orgazmo  (October, 1998)   $602,302

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bob hawk

It's never ceased to amaze me that NC-17 immediately took on an onerous connotation. Some theaters wouldn't book these films, some newspapers wouldn't carry their ads. All it meant was that it was for adults, grown-ups, whatever . . . Before that we had an X-rated film, MIDNIGHT COWBOY, winning an Oscar for Best Picture (its rating has since been changed to an R). Hardcore porn was designated by at least XXX, if not XXXXX. It's so ridiculous, with sex (not sometimes appalling violence) bearing the brunt, and studio films rated PG-13 getting away with stuff that would receive an automatic R for an indie. The internet and cable TV offers exposure to content that has rendered very sophisticated young people (including my barely pubescent great nieces and nephew. I applaud any exhibitor that ignores this rating, based on community standards (why should IFC Center turn away a 17-year-old NYU freshman from 'Blue'?). And I applaud any production that does not submit their film for rating. To me, it's a badge of honor when "This Film is Unrated" appears in an ad.


Number 3 makes me happy. Great film.

David Andrés

What's a shame is that more distributors and companies don't take chances in making more edgy films, all of those I've seen, Showgirls included have some merit to them, and most more than some. Bigger chances, bigger payoff.


I'll tell u what's a Shame those numbers


1990/1991 – Big years for NC-17 films.

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