8 Mainstream Movies Originally Slapped With an NC-17 Rating

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) developed the modern film rating system in 1968, the X label was intended to signal to audiences that a movie dealt heavily in adult themes, overt sexuality, or graphic violence. Films like Midnight Cowboy and A Clockwork Orange were given X ratings, but didn’t suffer any of the stigma associated with it. (Midnight Cowboy won an Oscar for Best Picture, the only X-rated film to ever do so.)

Before long, audiences began to associate X ratings with pornography, so in 1990 the MPAA moved to mark films inappropriate for children under 17 with an NC-17 tag instead. In either case, the Association insisted that filmmakers excise footage if they wanted to earn an R designation—a rating much better served for general audiences and box office revenue. Take a look at eight films that were originally rated for adults only before directors made the necessary changes to appease the whims of the often-cryptic ratings board.

1. AMERICAN PIE (1999)

Jason Biggs and Eugene Levy appear in a publicity shot for 'American Pie'
Randy Tepper, Universal Studios/Getty Images

Coming-of-age stories often involve sexual awakenings, though not often with pastries. For 1999’s American Pie, directors Paul and Chris Weitz had star Jason Biggs attempt an intimate encounter with a pie. The scene was obviously engineered for its shock and word-of-mouth value, but the MPAA didn’t find it amusing. The film was submitted four times to trim shots of excessive pie thrusting before the NC-17 label was modified to an R.

2. ROBOCOP (1987)

Director Paul Verhoeven has long been a thorn in the side of the MPAA: His Showgirls, Basic Instinct, and Total Recall were all cited for gratuitous content. Verhoeven’s first brush with the board came after he submitted 1987’s RoboCop for evaluation. The film, which depicts the struggle of cop Alex J. Murphy (Peter Weller) to retain some semblance of humanity after being gunned down and transformed into a law enforcement machine, is among Verhoeven’s bloodiest. In one scene, Omni Consumer Products executive Mr. Kinney (Kevin Page) is annihilated by a malfunctioning ED-209. Verhoeven was so intent on a gruesome demise as a result of ED-209’s firepower that he reshot the scene with over 200 squibs attached to Page, then called him back a third time so special effects artists could use spaghetti squash to emulate his intestines coming out.

Not surprisingly, the MPAA reacted to this grandiose display with an X rating. Verhoeven was able to secure an R by omitting just two seconds of Kinney’s death along with two seconds of Weller being shot.

3. SCREAM (1996)

Neve Campbell appears in a publicity shot for 'Scream'
Joseph Viles, Dimension Films/Getty Images

Scream—Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson’s deconstruction of the slasher-film genre—wouldn’t have been complete without adopting some of the gore pervasive in those movies, though the MPAA had other things to address when they decided to hand down an NC-17 rating. According to Craven’s director commentary on the DVD release, the board was concerned that the villains of the film who engage in self-harm with a kitchen knife in order to stage a convincing crime scene could be “imitable.” Additionally, they preferred not to see the intestines of one victim and complained about the intensity of the opening scene, in which Drew Barrymore’s character is methodically taunted and stalked by the killer. Craven obliged most of their requests and the film went on to gross $170 million—plus spawn three sequels and an MTV television series.

4. CLERKS (1994)

Kevin Smith’s debut film, chronicling the woes of convenience store employee Dante Hicks (Bryan O’Halloran), is entirely absent of any violence, nudity, or depictions of sexual activity—the usual suspects when it comes to the NC-17 label. What the low-budget feature does have is an abundance of very explicit talk about sexual relationships, copious amounts of profanity, and one character (slacker clerk Randal Graves, played by Jeff Anderson) reciting a list of pornographic movie titles. The language was enough for the MPAA to bypass an R and assign an adults-only NC-17 rating. The board revised it to an R after an appeal, cautioning viewers about “explicit, sex-related dialogue.”

5. TWO GIRLS AND A GUY (1998)

Robert Downey Junior is photographed at a public appearance
Francois Durand, Getty Images

Robert Downey Jr. was roughly 10 years away from an all-audiences tenure as Tony Stark in the Marvel universe when he appeared in this indie film about an actor who despairs when his girlfriend (Heather Graham) finds out about his other girlfriend (Natasha Gregson Wagner). The film went through 13 edits of a scene in which Downey and Graham appear to be engaged in a sexual act that the Los Angeles Times described as “being outlawed in some states.” The film finally received an R, though it remains one of Downey’s lesser-known efforts.

6. TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE (2004)

Movies that use techniques typically associated with children’s entertainment aren’t exempt from controversy. Director Ralph Bakshi’s Fritz the Cat, released in 1972, earned an X rating for salacious animated content, and 1999’s South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut was in danger of an NC-17 before cuts were made. For 2004’s Team America: World Police, South Park co-creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker engaged in extended negotiations with the MPAA, who perceived the film—about peacekeeping marionette-style puppets—to be in poor taste.

One scene of particular concern involved puppets having sexual relations. “Our characters are made of wood and have no genitalia,” producer Scott Rudin told the Los Angeles Times. The board eventually agreed to an R, but only after the scene was submitted multiple times for editing. Parker would later point out the MPAA had no problem with puppets resembling Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, and Janeane Garofalo all meeting spectacularly violent ends; it was the puppet sex that tripped them up.

7. SUMMER OF SAM (1999)

John Leguizamo appears in a publicity shot for 'Summer of Sam'
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

It’s not often that the Disney corporation finds itself in the position of potentially sitting on an NC-17 film. But when the company’s Touchstone banner released Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam in 1999, they were confronted with the MPAA’s insistence that Lee had made an adults-only film. Detailing the 1977 summer in New York where real-life serial killer David Berkowitz terrorized the city, Lee’s film was singled out for an orgy scene that the board found objectionable. A bemused Lee observed that they did not appear to take issue with scenes depicting Berkowitz murdering his victims. Lee eventually brought the film in with an R rating, trimming four shots involving sexuality, but told the New York Daily News he was puzzled that “we did not hear one thing about the violence in the movie.”

8. EYES WIDE SHUT (2000)

Possibly the most mainstream movie star of all time, it seems unlikely Tom Cruise would ever be caught in a ratings board controversy. But for Eyes Wide Shut, he and then-wife Nicole Kidman agreed to submit to the whims of Stanley Kubrick, a notoriously exacting director who wanted to create an explicit depiction of a married couple’s descent into infidelity. Kubrick edited the film, which received an NC-17 designation from the MPAA, then had it digitally altered so previously nude actors would appear clothed during an orgy sequence. After the director died in March 1999, Warner Bros., which was distributing the movie and wanted to make sure it had the best possible chance of seeing a profit, had it reedited further to conform to an R rating. This rankled movie critic Roger Ebert, who chastised the studio for not taking the opportunity to help legitimize the NC-17 rating by having it associated with a star like Cruise.

Instead, studios have remained wary of the label, and few films are released bearing the rating. Blue is the Warmest Color, released in 2013, was a rare exception. The film, about a love affair between a French teenager and her older female partner, won the Palme d'Or in Cannes and was shown in one New York theater that ignored the rating and allowed teenagers to purchase tickets.

5 Clues Daenerys Targaryen Will Die in the Final Season of Game of Thrones

HBO
HBO

by Mason Segall

The final season of HBO's epic Game of Thrones is hovering on the horizon like a lazy sun and, at the end of the day, fans have only one real question about how it will end: Who will sit the Iron Throne? One of the major contenders is Daenerys of the thousand-and-one names, who not only has one of the most legitimate claims to the throne, but probably deserves it the most.

However, Game of Thrones has a habit of killing off main characters, particularly honorable ones, often in brutal and graphic ways. And unfortunately, there's already been some foreshadowing that writers will paint a target on Daenerys's back.

5. THE PROPHECIES

Carice van Houten in 'Game of Thrones'
Helen Sloan, HBO

What's a good fantasy story without a few prophecies hanging over people's heads? While the books the show is based on have a few more than usual, the main prophecy of Game of Thrones is Melisandre's rants about "the prince that was promised," basically her faith's version of a messiah.

Melisandre currently believes both Daenerys and Jon Snow somehow fulfill the prophecy, but her previous pick for the position died a grisly death, so maybe her endorsement isn't a good sign.

4. TYRION'S DEMANDS FOR A SUCCESSOR

Peter Dinklage and Emilia Clarke in a scene from 'Game of Thrones'
HBO

A particular scene in season seven saw Tyrion advising Daenerys to name a successor before she travels north to help Jon. She challenges him, "You want to know who sits on the Iron Throne after I'm dead. Is that it?" But that's exactly it. Tyrion is more than aware how mortal people are and wants to take precautions. He's seen enough monarchs die that he probably knows what warning signs to look for.

3. A FAMILY LEGACY

David Rintoul as the Mad King in 'Game of Thrones'
HBO

Daenerys is the daughter of the Mad King Aerys II, a paranoid pyromaniac of a monarch. More than once, Daenerys has been compared to her father, particularly in her more ruthless moments. Aerys was killed because of his insanity and arrogance. If Daenerys starts displaying more of his mental illness, she might follow in his footsteps to the grave.

2. HER DRAGONS AREN'T INVINCIBLE

Emilia Clarke in 'Game of Thrones'
HBO

The fall and subsequent resurrection of the dragon Viserion was one of the biggest surprises of season seven. Not only did it destroy one of Daenerys's trump cards, but it proved that her other two dragons were vulnerable as well. Since the three-headed dragon is the sigil of her house, this might be an omen that Daenerys is next on the chopping block.

1. THAT VISION

Emilia Clarke in 'Game of Thrones'
HBO

All the way back in season two, Daenerys received a vision in the House of the Undying of the great hall in King's Landing ransacked and covered in snow. Before she could even touch the iron throne, she was called away by her dragons and was confronted by her deceased husband and son. This is a clear indication that she might never sit the throne, something that would only happen if she were dead.

10 Surprising Facts About Peter Dinklage

Larry Busacca, Getty Images for Sundance Film Festival
Larry Busacca, Getty Images for Sundance Film Festival

The modern man of Game of Thrones’s ancient world, the solitary railroad enthusiast of The Station Agent, the non-elf of Elf. Peter Dinklage is one of a kind. A leading man with strength, vulnerability, and a cartoonishly thick head of hair, he’s delivered a slew of memorable roles marked by a sardonic sense of humor.

He has also survived a seven-year bloodbath in Westeros. So far. We have to wait almost a year to learn his ultimate fate on Game of Thrones, but we can get to some facts about the Emmy and Golden Globe winner right now.

1. HIS FIRST TASTE OF ACTING CAME IN FIFTH GRADE.

Like more than a few of his colleagues, Peter Dinklage caught the acting bug as an adolescent, appearing in a lead role in a performance of The Velveteen Rabbit in fifth grade. “When you get your first solo bow, that feels pretty good,” Dinklage told People. Despite its lack of rabbits, he also credited watching Sam Shepard’s True West in 1984 as a major inspiration to pursue acting as a profession.

2. HE REFUSED TO PLAY STEREOTYPICAL ROLES—EVEN WHEN MONEY WAS TIGHT.

When Dinklage was surviving the salad days in a New York City apartment filled with rats, he had offers to play elves and leprechauns, but he turned down those paychecks out of principle. It created a short-term setback (at least when it came to paying rent), but his tenacity eventually paid off with roles like the one in Elf that challenged clichés. He was even careful when Game of Thrones came calling, recognizing the way dwarves normally look in fantasy projects. “[Tyrion Lannister’s] somebody who turned that on its head,” he told The New York Times. “No beard, no pointy shoes, a romantic, real human being."

3. HE WAS IN A PUNK-FUNK-RAP BAND.

What does that genre blend sound like? Hard to say, but the band was called Whizzy, and they played CBGB, where Dinklage got the notable scar along the side of his face. "I was jumping around onstage and got accidentally kneed in the temple," he told Playboy. "I was like Sid Vicious, just bleeding all over the stage. Blood was going everywhere. I just grabbed a dirty bar napkin and dabbed my head and went on with the show. We didn’t care much about personal safety."

4. HIS MOM TOLD HIM HE WAS GOING TO LOSE THE GOLDEN GLOBE TO GUY PEARCE.

Peter Dinklage in 'Game of Thrones'
HBO

Before Dinklage won the Golden Globe for Game of Thrones in 2012, he spoke with his mom back in New Jersey, who told him, “Have fun, but have you seen Mildred Pierce? Guy Pearce is so good. He’s gonna win.” He wryly noted how moms keep us all humble.

5. HE’S AN OUTSPOKEN VEGETARIAN.

Dinklage has been a vegetarian since childhood, and he has used his fame as a platform to speak out on animal rights issues. That includes telling Game of Thrones fans to stop adopting Huskies after the breed’s popularity (and abandonment rate) shot through the roof thanks to the show’s dire wolves.

6. HE STARRED IN THE SAME MOVIE TWICE.

In Death at a Funeral, Dinklage played Peter, the American man who surprises a family by showing up at the patriarch’s funeral claiming to be the old man’s lover. Directed by Frank Oz with a stellar British ensemble, the movie was popular enough to warrant an American remake, and Dinklage returned to play the same role with a completely different cast and Neil LaBute as director.

7. HE SAW A STRANGER DIE.

One morning in Los Angeles, Dinklage was walking down Melrose Avenue when he met eyes with a man on a motorcycle who pulled out into traffic, got hit by a car, and died. “It was in the morning, so there was no one around, you know?” he told Esquire. “It was empty, so there was this quiet moment where it was like I was the only person in the world who knew this guy was dead."

8. THE SWORD FIGHTS ON GAME OF THRONES DON’T MAKE HIM FEEL COOL.

Smiting foes on the field of battle would be enough to make a lot of actors feel powerful, but not Dinklage. “The fight scenes are all a big lie,” he told Playboy. “The whole time you’re trying not to get hit in the eye with a sword, and you wish you had on a welding helmet.” To drive the point home, he explained one shot where he cuts a knight’s leg off involved him swinging a blunt sword at a 70-year-old amputee.

9. HE GREW UP NEXT TO BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN’S MANAGER.

Dinklage's family’s next-door neighbor in Brookside, New Jersey, was The Boss’s manager, which meant Springsteen regularly played guitar just one house down. Dinklage’s parents also heard Springsteen play at a wedding in a surfboard factory but complained that he was “too loud.”

10. HE READS THE GAME OF THRONES SCRIPTS IN A SPECIAL WAY.

Actors Emilia Clarke, Sean Bean, and Peter Dinklage speak during the 'Game of Thrones' panel at the HBO portion of the 2011 Winter TCA press tour held at the Langham Hotel on January 7, 2011 in Pasadena, California
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

Specifically, he reads them backwards. “The first thing I really do when I get the scripts is I go to the last page of the last episode and then look backward until I find my name to see if I survive,” he told Entertainment Weekly.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER