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by Peter Knegt
November 4, 2013 11:05 AM
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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 sense.

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):

Michael Fassbender in "Shame"
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 | November 6, 2013 3:35 AMReply

    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.

  • Alex | November 5, 2013 5:14 AMReply

    Number 3 makes me happy. Great film.

  • David Andrés | November 4, 2013 9:07 PMReply

    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.

  • Philippe | November 4, 2013 2:15 PMReply

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

  • Joe | November 4, 2013 12:08 PMReply

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