X-Rated Movies: 28 of the Most Controversial Films Ever Released (2024)

  • A Clockwork Orange – 1971

    X-Rated Movies: 28 of the Most Controversial Films Ever Released (1)

    New York City’s Quad Cinema is celebrating the history of the X-rated movie with a provocative retrospective highlighting the films that challenged both the MPAA and viewing norms alike. Starting December 14 and running through January 8, the Quad will screen 28 movies branded with the infamous X rating. Some films embraced the explicit rating, while others fought the MPAA, either with unrated releases or editing the film to earn an R rating.

    Visit the official Quad Cinema website for a full rundown of the Rated X Retrospective. Click through the gallery for 28 films that originally earned the rating (all synopses provided by Quad).

  • “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” (1970)

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    Filmmaker Russ Meyer and screenwriter Roger Ebert cheekily outdid “Valley of the Dolls” with kink, drugs, violence, and the X rating. Meyer regulars Haji, Edy Williams, and Charles Napier join the freak-out as rock band The Kelly Affair (played by model/Sunday School teacher Marcia McBroom andPlayboyplaymates Dolly Read and Cynthia Myers) tries to make it in El Lay.

  • “A Clockwork Orange” (1971)

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    Stanley Kubrick returned to scathing satire with his adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ novel, vividly realizing the over-stimulations of sociopathic rebel Malcolm McDowell and his gang of fair-weather fiends in a not-too-alternate Britain. The movie shocked in both form and content — Kubrick cut 30 seconds from the film after its initially X-rated release, and real-life copycat crimes led him to withdraw it from UK circulation for decades.

  • “De Sade” (1969)

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    The libertine lifestyle of the infamous 18th-century Marquis (Keir Dullea) got a Swinging ’60s treatment, with director Cy Endfield leaving the picture midstream and others completing it. Maverick indie studio AIP leaned into the X rating, advance-hyping the movie with aPlayboyfeature.

  • “Desperate Living” (1977)

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    Suburban Baltimore housewife Mink Stole and maid Jean Hill accidentally kill the former’s husband and hide out in Mortville with lesbian couple Susan Lowe and Liz Renay while Edith Massey plays demagogue to the shantytown. Championed by critics, writer-director John Waters served up what would be his final X-rated movie, popular at the Quad in initial release.

  • “Devil in the Flesh” (1986)

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    Director Marco Bellocchioupdates Raymond Radiguet’s 1923novel, transposing the action to modern Italy in the throes of the state’s battle with the Red Brigades as sultry live-wire Maruschka Detmers diverts herself from her terrorist fiancé’s trial for a torrid affair with smitten teen Federico Pitzalis. Late in the game for the X, attention could still be stirred up by a single scene; here, the depiction of a sexual act in a courtroom elicited the rating.

  • “The Evil Dead” (1981)

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    While in college, Sam Raimi bucked the so-called slasher-film trend to make a breakout indie horror movie that made he and Bruce Campbell genre heroes. College students on a weekend forest cabin retreat toy with an uncovered Book of the Dead, and experience possession and relentless attacks by demons; the body count may not be high, but the body-part count is.

  • “Female Trouble” (1974)

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    Hitting their strides, John Waters and leading lady Divine unreel a cautionary tale of a runaway schoolgirl impregnated by a creep (also played by Divine, but out of drag) and turned into a single mother/criminal lunatic. Waters troupers on hand include David Lochery (in his final film), Mary Vivian Pearce, Cookie Mueller, Mink Stole, Edith Massey, two Susans — Walsh and Lowe — and Pat Moran (later an Emmy-winning casting director).

  • “Fritz the Cat” (1972)

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    Ralph Bakshi’s film version of the Robert Crumb underground comic strip displeased the author but found a large audience — not least because it was the first animated feature to get an X, in part for depicting the sexual antics of its cartoon animals. Student feline Fritz, distracted by illegal substances and rebellion, is voiced by Skip Hinnant ofThe Electric Company.

  • “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” (1986)

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    The DIY Chicago indie was scripted by John McNaughton with actor/playwright Richard Fire and newcomer Michael Rooker frighteningly inhabiting the title role, based on real-life murderer Henry Lee Lucas. So discomfiting was their movie in its depictions of violence and pathology that it had to slowly wend its way through film festivals, accruing critical praise and stunned audiences’ word-of-mouth before finally getting a full release in 1990.

  • “The Hills Have Eyes” (1977)

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    The Carter family is headed to California, but when their car breaks down in the middle of the desert, they fall prey for another family — this one consisting of depraved cannibals. Writer/director/editor Wes Craven’s gory shocker secured his reputation as a top horror helmer; the clan’s lair was dressed by, appropriately, “Texas Chain Saw Massacre” art director Robert Burns.

  • “I Am Curious (Yellow)” (1967)

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    In this mixture of fiction and cinema verité, sociologist Lena Nyman conducts a series of interviews about Sweden’s class structure while embarking on a succession of sexual encounters with a friend of her father’s. In the U.S., the film was held up in customs and rated X, leading to a 1969 release earning cultural currency and box-office success in mainstream art theaters.

  • “I Drink Your Blood” (1970)

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    Violence begets violence, and begat an X rating, in writer-director David Durston’s upstate NY-lensed bloodbath which luridly exploited fears of dangerous drugs and hippie cults. Indian actor Bhaskar stars as a Satanist ringleader whose cadre terrorizes a small town; pre-teen Riley Mills avenges his family by serving up meat pies laced with rabies-infected dogs’ blood that drive the hippies into a cannibalistic frenzy.

  • “If…” (1968)

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    Commencing an enduring director-star collaboration, Malcolm McDowell made a breakthrough screen debut as a student malcontent whose rebellion against the repressive strictures of his private school finally achieves violent revolutionary expression. Already in U.S. release via Paramount — initially one of the most X-friendly studios — this bracing allegory from Lindsay Andersonwon the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

  • “In the Realm of the Senses” (1976)

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    No stranger to controversy, Nagisa Oshima faced court battles at home, a delay in the U.S. premiere, and years of censorship issues on his most talked-about film. In the fact-based 1930s drama, streetwalker-turned-maid Eiko Matsuda hooks up with innkeeper Tatsuya Fuji; he leaves his wife and family for her, yet this only further inflames her obsession with him. The intense depictions of copulation and the couple’s fate will disturb even those familiar with the story.

  • “Klute” (1971)

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    Titular private detective Donald Sutherland tracks friend Robert Milli’s killer to NYC, where potentially implicated call girl Jane Fonda (winning a Best Actress Oscar) takes stock of her life.Alan J. Pakula was originally rated X but was recut to avoid the rating for its theatrical release. The movie is regarded foradvancing the cinematic discourse on female sexuality and adult subject matter.

  • “Inga” (1968)

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    American adult-film auteurJoseph W. Sarno spotlights ex-ballerina Marie Liljedahl as an innocent nubile teen left in the care of thirtysomething aunt Monica Strömmerstedt, who plots to profit from the girl. Stateside, the film profited from being one of the first movies to get an X rating, generating heat with Liljedahl’s non-simulated self-pleasuring sequence; she and Sarno would quickly reteam for “The Seduction of Inga.”

  • “La Grande Bouffe” (1973)

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    Filmmaker Marco Ferreri’sbrew of middle-aged hedonism and gastronomic overindulgence in “La Grande Bouffe” instantly became a conversation piece after its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival — though not everyone could stomach it — and would remain his best-known achievement. The formidable foursome of Marcello Mastroianni, Philippe Noiret, Michel Piccoli, and Ugo Tognazzi convenes at a villa to eat themselves to death, with Andréa Ferréol as a sexual diversion.

  • “Last Tango in Paris” (1972)

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    Bernardo Bertolucci’smost infamous and most-discussed film, this erotic psychodrama stars Marlon Brando as an American widower whose Paris apartment-viewing encounter with Maria Schneider leads to a intense sexual relationship that spirals downward from idyllic to violent. Rated X yet still a box-office hit, the movie brought director and star Oscar nominations and got Bertolucci censured in his own country.

  • “Maîtresse” (1976)

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    Barbaret Schroeder’s longtime personal and professional partner Bulle Ogier stars as a dominatrix in this kinky, wickedly funny romance. Unexpectedly pairing up with burglar Gérard Depardieu after he breaks into her home, she enlists him to assist her with her successful business — which, full disclosure, extends to piercings and animal work with real-life BDSM practitioners.

  • “Myra Breckinridge” (1970)

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    Raquel Welch gives her all in the title role as a transgender woman who hits Hollywood, where rascally cowboy-star uncle John Huston puts her to work teaching acting. Author Gore Vidal vilified the gleefully vulgar screen version of his subversive pansexual novel, and audiences and critics followed suit.

  • “Salon Kitty’ (1976)

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    In WWII, a luxe German brothel caters to a Nazi clientele; officer Helmut Berger has the establishment bugged and staffed with sexbomb spies in order to gain leverage over Party members and perhaps even the Führer himself. High-class Italian erotic film auteur Tinto Brass (“Caligula”) secured as production designer the estimable Ken Adam, of “Dr. No”and“Dr. Strangelove”fame, who himself had fled the Nazis.

  • “Sebastiane” (1976)

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    Derek Jarman co-wrote and co-directed his first narrative feature with film editor Paul Humfress and put an exceedingly hom*oerotic spin on historical drama. Roman soldier Leonard Treviglio’s Christian beliefs get him reassigned to a detail overseen by centurion Barney James, who falls for the conscientious objector even though punishment must be meted out. The music score is by Brian Eno.

  • “Snuff” (1975)

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    As urban legends of extreme cinema spread, filmmakers — some credited, some pseudonymous — unabashedly exploited the “real or faked?” quandary/queasiness, daring viewers to watch a grisly exposé of a murderous cult in South America that purportedly killed unsuspecting actors live on camera. The movie was famously “banned in New York.”

  • “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” (1971)

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    Targeted by bigoted cops after witnessing police brutality, L.A. street hustler Melvin Van Peebles turns California desert. Van Peebles got his movie made just ahead of the blaxploitation curve — and (profitably) distributed by any means necessary; the film was “rated X by an all-white jury.”

  • “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” (1974)

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    Five students on a Texas roadtrip get stranded and seek help — and are soon at the mercy of a slaughtering, cannibal-inclusive family. The real-life crimes perpetrated by Ed Gein partially inspired Tobe Hooper’s tense and mordant slay ride. Originally rated X, Hooper had to cut several minutes in order for the MPAA to allow an R-rated release.

  • “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2” (1986)

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    Tobe Hooper and L.M. Kit Carson scripted a belated sequel to the director’s horror classic, taking a more darkly laughing/screaming approach in revisiting the demented Sawyer family, and meeting with a (still) polarized response from fans. Dennis Hopper, then embarking on a career resurgence, plays an ex-Texas Ranger out for revenge on the clan and using radio deejay Caroline Williams as bait. Buccaneering indie studio Cannon Films disdained the X and released the picture unrated.

  • “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” (1989)

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    PedroAlmodóvar regulars Antonio Banderas and Victoria Abril steam up the screen as, respectively, a newly sprung head case and the p*rn star he stalks and woos while keeping her tethered to a bed — although it’s the bath scene that’s the film’s truly titillating highlight.Practiced at trolling the MPAA to generate publicity and revenue, Miramax Films appealed the twisted romantic comedy’s X rating before finally releasing it unrated; the MPAA would introduce the NC-17 months later.

  • “Women in Revolt” (1971)

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    Paul Morrissey unites three top drag performers for a joyride into women’s lib: Jackie Curtis has her best movie showcase as the smart (and smart-ass) one, Candy Darling is an heiress-turned-actress, and Holly Woodlawn is a near-insatiable model. The savory beefcake distractions include futureKarate Kidantagonist Martin Kove and model Johnny Kemper (a.k.a. Johnny Hanson); performance artist Penny Arcade makes her screen debut.

  • X-Rated Movies: 28 of the Most Controversial Films Ever Released (2024)
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