In honor of today’s release of Steve McQueen’s “Shame” – which Fox Searchlight is releasing uncut with a NC-17 rating – Indiewire is taking a look back at the history of the controversial rating, which has been in effect for over 20 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.
Twenty-five films have been released with an NC-17 since, the vast majority of them receiving the rating due to sexual content. Of them, only 12 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 – grossing over $10 million.
Despite “Showgirls”‘s critical reputation, 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” and David Cronenberg’s “Crash,” “Shame” should proudly stand alongside its NC-17 predecessors. And hopefully it manages to find some respectable box office in the process, helping relieve distributors’ fears of releasing films with the rating (see “Blue Valentine” last year).
We’ll find out Sunday how “Shame” fares in its first weekend of limited release. In the meantime, take a look at the top grossing NC-17 films of all-time.