Why Hollywood Should Encourage the Return of the NC-17 Rating

A chart of the MPAA rating system.

The MPAA Rating System, from G to NC-17.

By Patrick James Quinn.

How often have you seen parents buying movie tickets for teens to a film that is clearly too adult for them? Or a little kid cowering in a theater during a disturbing horror film?

The MPAA’s R rating is generally respected for its mature content. It is also tremendously broad in its scope. “The King’s Speech” is rated R for some language, while “Crank: High Voltage” bears the same rating for frenetic strong bloody violence throughout, crude and graphic sexual content, nudity and pervasive language.

Parents often don’t have the time or concern to properly research what it is their teens are wanting to see. And even if parents refuse, teens tend to find a way to get tickets, perhaps through older siblings or friends’ parents. As a rule, the R-rating requires an accompanying parent or legal guardian for anyone under 17, but many theaters don’t enforce this.

The NC-17 rating expressly states that no one 17 and under will be admitted, which would serve to separate a lighter R rating, such as the previous example of “The King’s Speech” from a far more graphic and arguably adult film such as “Crank: High Voltage” or innumerable other titles that push the envelope in terms of acceptable content for younger viewers.

The reason Hollywood avoids using the NC-17 rating is that it is often misconstrued as pornographic, heavily affecting a film’s box office performance. This misconception is because the rating was originally a simple X, which the porn industry began using because the MPAA could not trademark the single letter. In 1990 they changed the rating’s name, but the correlation had already been made. “In the minds of Hollywood studios, theater owners and parents groups, if a movie was NC-17, then it was pornography,” says Frank Paiva of MSN.

However, in the last few years Hollywood has become bolder in its ratings, releasing films such as “Shame” (2011) or “Killer Joe” (2011), both of which boast A-list stars like Matthew McConaughey or Michael Fassbender. “What we currently have is a system that’s slightly flawed in the reluctance of filmmakers and distributors to use the NC-17. What they’ll do is cut and trim and try to cram a movie into the R rating category so that it escapes the NC-17, and that’s not a legitimate use of the system. We end up with a very broad R category.” says John Filthian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners.

Examples of such trimmed-down films are “South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” and “Boys Don’t Cry.” “Blue Valentine” was originally branded as NC-17, but this rating was overturned after an appeal.

As films continue to push the boundaries of graphic, adult content, the encouraged return of the NC-17 rating would not only aid in protecting young and impressionable minds, but also inform adults, guardians, and general film-goers of a movie’s subject matter via a more specific rating system.

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