Steven Zeitchik in the Los Angeles Times contemplates the future of the MPAA’s NC-17 rating:
[MPAA head Jack] Valenti had high hopes that the NC-17 — he called it “unstigmatized” — would usher in an era of mainstream acceptance for films with serious adult themes. But after some initial acceptance by directors, distributors, exhibitors and audiences, the rating fell deeply out of favor with filmmakers and moviegoers alike.
Now, even as basic cable is constantly pushing into ever-more steamy and violent territory and a wide variety of pornography is easily available on the Web, movie theaters are practically devoid of formally adults-only films. The number of movies released with the NC-17 rating has plummeted; those that do go out with that stamp do little business at the box office.
The reasons are clear: Some theater chains, including Cinemark, the nation’s third-largest circuit, won’t play them. A number of media outlets, particularly newspapers and television stations in more conservative states, won’t accept advertising for them. Wal-Mart and other retailers won’t sell copies on DVD.
Now at 22 years old — the same age as the X was when it was retired — the NC-17 is seen inside Hollywood and beyond as ineffective and broken. But no one can agree on how to fix it.
It seems to me that there is no fix. The problem isn’t with what the adults-only rating is called — the problem is how American culture deals with adults-only movies… ie, it doesn’t want to deal with them at all. Changing X to NC-17 didn’t change conservative America’s attitude toward adults-only films, and it’s hard to see how yet another name change would make any difference.
Box Office Mojo lists only 28 films rated NC-17 ever, for the entire history of the rating: barely more than one per year. By comparison, the U.K. film rating organization, the BBFC, shows that so far in 2012, 32 films have received the 18 rating, which is the fuctional equivalent of NC-17 in that it means no one under 18 will be admitted; for all of 2011, there were 56 18-rated films, and 63 in 2010. The British film industry has not collapsed even restricting the audiences of many film to adults (nor has the existence of the 15 rating, which is even more prevalent than the 18 and forbids anyone under 15 from seeing a film in a cinema). More tellingly, British society has not collapsed merely because there are many films floating around that are inteded only for adults.
Is the NC-17 rating doomed? Wouldn’t a continued existence for the adults-only rating require a fundamental shift in American attitudes about adults-only entertainment?
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