20 Best NC-17 And Unrated Movies (2024)

Summary

  • NC-17 movies face stigma due to their mature content, but some have made an impact through artistic creativity and pushing boundaries.
  • High-profile movies like American Psycho and Goodfellas had to alter or cut scenes to change their NC-17 ratings to R, while others stood up against censorship.
  • Streaming platforms have made it easier for audiences to enjoy NC-17 movies, allowing them to appreciate the mature content and artistic value of these films.

NC-17 movies have long fascinated audiences looking to test the limits of their comfort zone. Back in 1990, the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) replaced the X rating with NC-17 because X had become synonymous with p*rnography. Unfortunately, even when changed to NC-17, the stigma of the rating still lingered and made it almost impossible to place these movies in theaters. However, the best-unrated movies have been able to make an impact through both mature content and artistic creativity.

Numerous high-profile movies like American Psycho, Saw, Boys Don't Cry, and Goodfellas all had to alter or cut scenes in order to get their NC-17 ratings changed to an R. Some films, however, threw caution to the wind, stood up against censorship, and refused to change. These films went on to be released with an NC-17 rating or were released as Unrated. While this made them difficult to show in theaters, home video and now streaming have made it easy for audiences to enjoy the best NC-17 movies.

20 Henry & June (1990)

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  • Not available or streaming

Henry & June was the first film that the MPAA ever gave an NC-17 movie rating to. The film stars Fred Ward and Uma Thurman as Henry and June Miller and is based on the book of the same name by Anaïs Nin about her relationship with Henry and June. Henry and June live a Bohemian lifestyle in Paris in 1931 when they meet Anaïs. She soon begins an affair with Henry and then also pursues June as a lover as well. Directed by Philip Kaufman, the movie received mixed reviews, with critics claiming it wasn't very sexy after all the controversy with the rating.

Kaufman called the movie a "daring, erotic masterpiece" and attempted to add artistic cinematography to the plentiful sex scenes in the movie. The movie ended up as a minor success, despite the controversy of the rating, and is one of only three movies to pick up an Oscar nomination despite the NC-17 rating (Best Cinematography).

19 Last Tango In Paris (1972)

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  • Stream now on MGM+

When Last Tango in Paris arrived in theaters in 1972, it was a hugely controversial movie release. While Marlon Brando took the starring role, this was a movie that the MPAA slapped with the dreaded X-rating thanks to several very risqué scenes. Directed by one of the best directors in cinema history, Bernardo Bertolucci, the movie tells the story of an older widowed American (Brando) who ends up in a sexual relationship with a young Parisian woman. Even with the X-rating, it was one of the highest-grossing movies in 1972, while also remaining one of cinema's most disturbing romance films.

However, it ended up gaining the scorn of governments, demanding censorship of the movie thanks in large part to a graphic sexual assault that takes place in the movie. Italy even brought criminal charges against the filmmakers and gave Bertolucci and Brando suspended sentences of two months imprisonment for making the movie.

18 Happiness (1998)

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  • Not available to stream

Todd Solondz released the black comedy indie movie Happiness in 1998, and the MPAA threatened him with an NC-17 movie rating when he submitted it to them. However, Solondz rejected the rating, refused to make any changes, and released it as an unrated movie that year. The movie starred Dylan Baker, Jane Adams, Elizabeth Ashley, and more top-name indie actors of the 90s in a story about three sisters, their families, and the people around them. It was not a film that wanted to avoid how messed up people's lives were.

The reason for the unrated release was its adult themes, which were much deeper than most movies of its era. Themes in the movie include pedophilia, masturbation, and alienation in the suburbs. Universal dropped it because of the mature content and the unrated release, but it was still a major hit, winning at Cannes, and receiving almost universal acclaim for its approach to the subject matter. The movie also picked up a Golden Globes nomination.

17 Natural Born Killers (1994)

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  • Rent now on Apple TV & Prine Video

In 1984, Oliver Stone directed a movie based on a script by Quentin Tarantino and what resulted was an indictment of how the media can turn serial killers into modern-day celebrities. Natural Born Killers stars Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis as Mickey and Mallory Knox, a pair of serial killers leaving a trail of bodies across the Midwest. Based loosely on Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate, the movie also starred Robert Downey Jr. as a news reporter who wanted to interview them, knowing the public was falling in love with these killers.

When Stone sent the movie to the MPAA, it came back with an NC-17 rating for its intense scenes of violence and dark humor. Stone re-edited it for theaters to get an R-rating, but then he released the NC-17 movie version as an unrated release on home video, adding everything back in for fans to judge for themselves.

16 Blonde (2022)

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  • Stream now on Netflix

Blonde holds the distinction of being the first NC-17 movie to stream on Netflix as an exclusive original. The movie, directed by Andrew Dominik, is about Marilyn Monroe and gave an unflinching look at her tragic life and career. The movie doesn't hold back, showing the abuse suffered as a child and the later sexual assaults and demeaning treatment she underwent as an adult.

It is these moments of horror that earned the movie the NC-17 rating, as it wasn't about nudity but about the unflinching sexual violence against the starlet. There is graphic violence and a sexual assault shown in the movie, but it was mostly done in a way to humanize her and show that things were not as glamorous as her status symbol indicated.

15 Blue Is The Warmest Color (2013)

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  • Available on AMC+

This French drama is actually based on a graphic novel with the same name and features knockout performances by Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos, who play two women who fall in love. The movie got its NC-17 rating due to its unapologetic depictions of sex, though that wasn't what caused most of the controversy.

According to reports by publications such as Vulture, working conditions with director Abdellatif Kechiche were extremely poor, which created massive tension on set. In the end, the film received positive critical reviews and awards, but it failed to win over much of the LGBTQ+ community due to concerns largely revolving around authenticity.

14 Kids (1995)

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  • Currently unavailable to stream

Larry Clark struck a nerve with critics, censors, and parental groups during the 90s, thanks to a string of highly controversial movies. Among the most notorious of these was Kids, a story about several New York teenagers engaged in everything from drugs to unprotected sex — one which also stars a young Chloe Sevigny and Rosario Dawson.

The content is extremely hard to stomach, leading to a tragic final act. Kids is a film that tries to sound the alarm regarding the dangers of aimless, misspent youth during an era when many young people felt morally rudderless.

13 Showgirls (1995)

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  • Stream now on Paramount+

Showgirls was supposed to make Saved by the Bell star Elizabeth Berkley a big-league name. It was her chance to show she had grown up and could star in a gritty drama. To date, Showgirls is the only NC-17 movie to get a wide release in theaters. The film centers on Nomi, a young woman who heads to Vegas, where she becomes a stripper, and then dreams of becoming a showgirl.

The film is filled with backstabbing, assault, blackmail, and even murder. Showgirls received tons of negative press before release due to its nudity and violence. Though it was a box-office bomb, the movie went on to be popular at video stores and became one of MGM's highest-grossing movies in the rental market. It has since been re-evaluated as part of director Paul Verhoeven's oeuvre and become a cult classic.

12 The Human Centipede (2009)

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  • Stream now on AMC+

2009's The Human Centipede was one of the most controversial films of all time. A terrifying German surgeon decides to create a human centipede by sewing three people together. The movie, naturally, was never going to hear anything good from the MPAA, so it was released by IFC as Unrated. The film played in select theaters across the globe at midnight, only admitting viewers who were over the age of 18.

As word of the "grossest movie ever" spread, audiences began lining up in droves. It has become of the only true "Midnight Movies" in modern times and became a cultural phenomenon, leading to numerous spoofs including a South Park episode. It also pushed the boundaries of free speech and what constitutes being considered a"film." It's a grotesque yet important piece of cinematic history.

11 Bent (1997)

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  • Available on Tubi

This little-known film about the Holocaust centers around two gay men who fall in love after being sent to a concentration camp. The movie's cast is superb, starring Clive Owen, Ian McKellen, Jude Law, Mick Jagger, and Rachel Weisz, just to name a few.

Despite the graphic Holocaust content, the MPAA cites "a strong scene of graphic sexuality" for its NC-17 rating. The MPAA has long been known for being more likely to give harsher ratings for sexual content than violence.

10 This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006)

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  • Currently unavailable to stream

This Film Is Not Yet Rated is a documentary about how absurd the MPAA's rating system is. The film's investigations found that the MPAA gives much harsher ratings to scenes of same-sex intimacy, is harsher on depictions of female climax, and even gives harsher ratings for films that show pubic hair.

The movie interviews numerous filmmakers who had to fight the MPAA such as Matt Stone, John Waters, and Kevin Smith. Ironically, since the movie shows clips from NC-17 movies to help prove its point, the MPAA slapped the documentary with an NC-17 rating as well.

9 The Aristocrats (2005)

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  • Available on Pluto TV

Aristocrats interviewed many top comedians of the era, all of whom tell their versions and experiences with "the world's dirtiest joke". The joke in question is an intentionally disgusting and disturbing tale of a family who auditions for a nightclub act. In the joke, comedians try to be as gross and taboo as possible when describing what the family does onstage in their act.

Comedians like Whoopi Goldberg, Lisa Lampanelli, Andy Dick, Lewis Black, Bob Sagat, and more all tell their versions of the joke — the worst of which include subject matter so taboo they make Game of Thrones look tame. Naturally, to avoid an NC-17 rating, the movie had to be released as Unrated.

8 Mysterious Skin (2004)

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  • Stream now on The Criterion Channel

Adapted from the 1995 novel of the same name, Mysterious Skin stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Neil, a teenage hustler in Kansas. Neil eventually moves to New York City, where he discovers a much darker world of prostitution that deals with drugs, HIV, and abuse. A simultaneous storyline follows Neil's friend, Brian. Brian is convinced he has a memory of being abducted by aliens.

As the film progresses, it's slowly revealed that Neil's issues and Brian's false memory of being abducted both stem from one summer when they were kids. The movie is heartbreaking, powerful, and chilling, and features one of the best performances of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's career.

7 The Dreamers (2003)

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  • Available on DirecTV

The Dreamers follows the story of an American college student in Paris during the 1968 student riots. At a protest, he meets a brother and sister and discovers they love films just as much as he does. Soon, a strange, erotic love triangle forms between the three.

Though in English, the movie is a modern example of European erotic arthouse, a genre that's been around for decades and includes films like The Beast, Emmanuelle, and Salò, just to name a few. The movie became a box-office success (by NC-17 movie standards) and was one of the first leading roles for actress Eva Green.

6 Shame (2011)

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  • Available for rent on Prime Video & Apple TV

In 2011, Shame helped reframe how audiences viewed NC-17 movies. The movie stars Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan as two play siblings, Brandon and Sissy Sullivan, both of whom have unhealthy sexual addictions.

The movie is raw and disturbing, but ultimately, melancholic and heartfelt. Both Fassbender and Mulligan managed to play their characters perfectly, creating a story that is both captivating, yet deeply flawed. Shame went on to win a plethora of awards and was placed on over 20 Top-10 lists of 2011.

5 Shortbus (2006)

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  • Available on Kanopy

After the success of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, filmmaker John Cameron Mitchell created Shortbus, a film about a sex club in Brooklyn that was inspired by New York's real underground sex parties. The movie blends comedy, drama, and eroticism. It follows an ensemble cast, exploring their reasoning for attending the club and the people they are outside of it.

The movie gained significant attention because it was filmed entirely with real intercourse. According to Refinery29, the film's star Sook-Yin Lee was even almost fired from her job at the CBC because of Shortbus until celebrities like Yoko Ono, Julianne Moore, and famed filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola came to her defense. The movie premiered at Cannes and was screened as Unrated in various cities around America, where only moviegoers 18+ were allowed admittance.

4 Bad Lieutenant (1992)

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  • Available on Tubi & Freevee

Bad Lieutenant is one of the few NC-17 movies to get its rating due to pervasive violence and drug use almost exclusively. The film has been banned twice in Ireland, first during its theatrical release, and later with the DVD release, and an R-rated cut was developed specifically for rental outlets.

It's seen as a story of Catholicism, both embracing and challenging the religion's themes of sin and redemption, and good and evil. Despite the NC-17 rating, the movie was screened at Cannes and was praised by critics. To this day, it's considered one of Harvey Keitel's greatest roles.

3 The Evil Dead (1981)

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  • Available on AMC+

The Evil Dead was originally given an X rating because of its intense amount of gore, although, these days, the cheesy effects make the movie come off as more of a campy comedy than a horror. In the 90s, when the MPAA changed the X rating to NC-17, The Evil Dead was slapped with the dreaded rating.

Luckily, being an NC-17 movie never hurt The Evil Dead (likely due to the fact that it had been released years beforehand). It's consistently hailed as one of the greatest horror movies ever made, as well as one of Sam Raimi's best movies, and filmmakers like Eli Roth cite The Evil Dead as being their inspiration for entering the horror genre.

2 A Dirty Shame (2004)

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  • Available for rent on Prime Video & Apple TV

A Dirty Shame was the NC-17 movie that launched a debate about what qualifies as "offensive" and helped inspire the creation of This Film is Not Yet Rated. The movie centers around Sylvia, who, after hitting her head, becomes a sex addict. She soon meets a group of people, all with their own unique sexual obsessions.

The movie is a slapstick comedy and doesn't actually contain a single explicit sex scene. Regardless, the MPAA gave it an NC-17 simply for its continual references to sex. In reality, the movie is a raunchy comedy, mocking our perceived norms of intimacy and fetishes. It's hilarious, witty, and like all things John Waters, outrageous.

1 Pink Flamingos (1972)

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  • Currently unavailable to stream

When Pink Flamingos was first released in 1972, according to The Washington Post, Variety called it "One of the most vile, stupid and repulsive films ever made." The movie is what launched John Waters' career and earned him the honorary title of "The Prince of Puke". Pink Flamingoes follows two warring groups who are both vying for the title of Filthiest Person Alive.

It stars the legendary drag queen, Divine, who even ate real dog feces onscreen in the film. The movie also includes kidnapping, rape, murder, necrophilia, infantilism, human trafficking, and more. For decades, and even well into the new millennium, Pink Flamingoes was deemed to be the raunchiest movie ever made — and is easily among the most notorious NC-17 movies. It also led to a whole series of offensive and hilarious movies that John Waters would become known for.

20 Best NC-17 And Unrated Movies (2024)
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