15 Best Rated X/NC-17 Movies Ever Made (2024)


  • The best X-rated movies, now known as NC-17 rated movies, push boundaries and showcase masterpieces that have been branded with a scandalous reputation.
  • These movies earn their rating due to graphic violence, sex, or language, and include notable films like Blue Valentine and Bad Lieutenant.
  • While the X and NC-17 rating may be controversial, there is no denying the greatness of these movies, which offer unique and compelling storytelling.

The following article contains discussion of sexuality and violence.

While the rating itself carries a somewhat scandalous reputation, the best X rated movies, otherwise known as NC-17 rated movies, show that there are some great movies that have pushed these boundaries. When the MPAA film rating system was introduced in 1968, the X rating was used to restrict movies that were even too extreme for the R rating and meant no children could be admitted to the movie. This was changed to the NC-17 rating in 1990. Though there are plenty of controversies that comes with the rating, the best X-rated movies showcase the kind of masterpieces that has been branded in such a way.

The categories that cause a movie to earn such a rating includes graphic violence, sex, or language and there have been many notable movies that have fallen into these categories. These range from well-known realistic romance dramas like Blue Valentine to violence-laden films such as Bad Lieutenant. Whether or not the X and NC-17 rating were justified for all these movies can be up for debate, but there is no denying the greatness of these movies.

RELATED: 8 Facts You Never Knew About Blue Valentine

15 Crash (1996)

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Director David Cronenberg has always had a fascination with mixing sex and violence in a disturbing way. Perhaps the best example of this from his filmography is Crash. Not to be confused with the Best Picture-winning movie from 2005, Cronenberg's Crash stars James Spader as a man who survives a near-fatal car crash and finds himself mixing the violence of the moment with his sexual fantasies. He eventually finds an underground society with like-minded people. Sex and violence are two things the MPAA has strong feelings about and the movie nearly didn't get released after the MC-17 rating and controversy surrounding its subject matter.

14 Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer (1986)

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Michael Rooker got his first starring role as the titular character in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. The movie doesn't have much of a story to speak of as it simply follows Rooker's dark protagonist around as he murders various victims in brutal and merciless fashion. While there are plenty of serial killer movies that receive R ratings from the MPAA, there is a relentlessness to Henry's violence as there seems to be no other purpose to the movie beyond his acts of violence. Yet Rooker's chilling performance and the unsettlingly realistic feel of the horror movie have helped to make it a cult classic.

13 Shame (2011)

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Shame happens to be one of the highest-grossing NC-17 films to be released yet, following a man whose life is disrupted by his extreme sex addiction. Not surprisingly, it is the sexual content that earned the movie its MC-17 rating which includes full-frontal nudity of males and females, something that is generally a guarantee to get such a rating. Shame isn’t for those who are turned off by adult-oriented content since the movie displays it in all ways possible. But the toll on the character’s mentality over how he’s unable to have legitimate relationships makes it a fascinating watch that viewers with a capacity for mature themes will appreciate.

12 Killer Joe (2011)

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Matthew McConaughey is one of the actors who relaunched their careers successfully by taking on grittier roles, and KillerJoe marked this turn. Killer Joe is about a dysfunctional family that hires the titular hitman, only for the plan to backfire when Joe’s involvement destroys their schemes with one of his own. The movie’s violence and explicit sexuality contributed to the rating it received, although it may have already been necessary given the film’s premise. It remains one of the great movies from the late William Friedkin who showed he was still able to shock audiences later in his career.

11 Blue Valentine (2010)

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Blue Valentine is a romantic drama set over several years detailing the struggles of a dysfunctional couple to make their marriage work. With the couple’s initial courtship and attempts to stay together filled with amorous moments, the film was branded with an explicit rating. The film was seen as another example of how the MPAA's views on sex in movies is troubling. Of course, the emotional content of the movie is perhaps more devastating than anything else. Nevertheless, Blue Valentine will connect to viewers who aren’t shy of unfiltered depictions of love, as the film doesn’t hold back on the raw details.

10 Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

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As the name suggests, Cannibal Holocaust was met with extreme controversy upon release for its disturbing material. The found footage horror film is about a rescue mission in the Amazon rainforest where characters come across murderous people out for blood. With so much gruesome activity onscreen, Cannibal Holocaust isn’t for the faint of heart and mainly appeals to fans of the body horror genre who can stomach it. Cannibal Holocaust remains controversial to this day with some questions still lingering about what was real in the movie with the X-rating no doubt adding to those theories.

9 Man Bites Dog (1992)

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Man Bites Dog has a bizarre premise where a crew of filmmakers follows a heartless killer around recording his crimes, ultimately becoming his accomplices when they get drawn into the violence. The graphic violence on display led to the NC-17 rating, which is more than deserved given the cringe-worthy material at times when the violence goes over the top. Man Bites Dog might be gory, but it is somewhat steeped in realism for the no-holds-barred portrayal of the killer. Like Cannibal Holocaust, the MPAA seems to get especially squeamish about violence when it is presented as if it is happening in real life. Of course, Man Bites Dog never attempts to convince audiences it is real, but the NC-17 rating remains.

RELATED: 15 Best NC-17 And Unrated Movies

8 Irréversible (2002)

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Irréversible is another NC-17 film not for the weak-hearted, as the subject matter is traumatizing. Monica Belluci’s character is accosted by attackers, which leads to her love interests swearing revenge and going down a violent path. Irréversible’s heavy material has its artistic merits but also shows the ugly side of things in ways that aren’t for everybody to digest. The graphic scenes linger far longer than the audience is comfortable with, creating some unforgettable and shocking moments while also cementing Irréversibleas the type of disturbing horror movie fans can only watch once.

7 Bad Lieutenant (1992)

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Bad Lieutenant follows the unnamed protagonist as he investigates the harassment of a nun, which leads to him repenting for his own sins. The movie is incredibly raw in the explicit nature of the protagonist’s activities, never worried about making him too unlikeable. Bad Lieutenant juxtaposes the actions of the main character and the criminals he’s after, which leads to quite a few intense scenes that only sturdy viewers will be able to watch. Star Harvey Keitel still received positive reviews for laying bare the psyche of the protagonist in a truly fearless performance.

6 The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989)

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The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover is set in a restaurant where strange characters with violent tendencies all happen to encounter one another. The NC-17 rating comes from the abundance of nudity onscreen, coming in various ways ranging from a couple carrying on an affair and extreme levels of violence. With a soundtrack that suits every scene and a twist ending, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover does ultimately reward viewers for watching it all the way through.

5 Blue Is The Warmest Color (2013)

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In many ways, Blue Is the Warmest Colourchanged the landscape for LGBTQ+ cinema with the awards it received. The story follows a lesbian couple with contrasting personalities and how their explosive romance forms and ultimately collapses under pressure. Make no mistake, the explicit sexual content is befitting of the NC-17 rating, but the movie does place importance on the protagonist’s emotions conveyed through their expressions. Blue Is the Warmest Colour has a deep story layered with a lot of sexuality but that should not distract from the human and intimate relationship at its center which is compelling.

4 Midnight Cowboy (1969)

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Midnight Cowboy is a movie that captures the 1960s with a cultural change that is reflected in how the movie itself was received. Jon Voight stars as a young man who comes to New York City in hopes of making something of himself. He meets a seedy but charismatic conman (Dustin Hoffman) and the two form an unlikely friendship while attempting to earn money in the sex worker industry.

The movie came at a time of more boldness by young filmmakers in Hollywood. The movie's explicit sex scenes would have likely earned it an X rating at the time, but its rating was self-imposed by the filmmakers themselves who were uninterested in the back-and-forth with the MPAA and unwilling to make changes. However, the movie went on to become the first and only X-rated movie to win Best Picture.

3 Lust, Caution (2007)

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Lust, Caution is an erotic espionage thriller set during WWII, where a female secret agent seduces a high-ranking official to assassinate him. However, things get tricky when she genuinely falls in love with him. Since seduction is the core aspect of the story, Lust, Caution goes all in and depicts it in very detailed ways. While the intimate moments can be skipped to understand the story, they are part of the experience. Worldwide audiences might know Tony Leung for delivering one of the best supervillain performances in Shang-Chi, but he delivers a different turn in Lust, Caution that showcases his range.

2 The Evil Dead (1981)

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It may be surprising to viewers that there are not more X-rated horror movies out there, however, the genre does try to reach mainstream audiences and therefore wants to avoid such restrictive ratings. However, when The Evil Dead was released, the audience and the MPAA were taken aback by the sheer boldness of the violence and gore on screen. The movie follows a group of young people visiting a cabin in the woods and encountering an evil spirit. Director Sam Raimi infused comedy in the movie, making for an over-the-top experience that earned its harsh rating as well as being banned in several countries. Yet the influential movie still managed to launch the ongoing Evil Dead franchise.

1 A Clockwork Orange (1971)

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Stanley Kubrick delivered one of the most controversial movies of all time with A Clockwork Orange which has also gone down as a cinematic masterpiece from the legendary filmmaker. The movie stars Malcolm McDowell as a young leader of a gang in futuristic London who spends his nights prowling the streets with his goons and terrorizing people. Part of the reason for the movie's X-rating was due to the protagonist being the one committing such acts of brutal violence and the fact that it was a young man. Fears of copycat acts caused the movie to be banned in several countries. However, decades later, the movie is looked at as an engrossing albeit disturbing cinematic experience.

15 Best Rated X/NC-17 Movies Ever Made (2024)
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