It's not difficult to understand why a studio would be hesitant to ever release a film rated NC-17: Simply look at this chart, which features the box office grosses of every film ever to be rated NC-17. The highest grossing NC-17 movie of all time was "Showgirls," with a still-disappointing $20.3 million. (That's $35 million or so today.) The second highest (adjusted for inflation) NC-17-rated film was "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover," which also happens to be the first film ever rated NC-17, in 1990. Since the rating replaced the X rating, there have been 20 NC-17 movies released. That's less than one year. Studios avoid it, to say the least.
But that's not scaring Fox Searchlight, which is proudly wearing the NC-17 rating for Steve McQueen's "Shame," a film considered a major Oscar contender this winter. It starts Michael Fassbender as a sex-addicted New Yorker who re-evaluates his life when his sister (Carey Mulligan) comes to live with him. (Grierson raved about it at Toronto.) Fox Searchlight president Steve Gilula told The Hollywood Reporter:
"I think NC-17 is a badge of honor, not a scarlet letter. We believe it is time for the rating to become usable in a serious manner," says Gilula. "The sheer talent of the actors and the vision of the filmmaker are extraordinary. It's not a film that everyone will take easily, but it certainly breaks through the clutter and is distinctive and original. It's a game changer."
It's still gonna be a challenge. Many newspapers still won't run ads for NC-17 movies, though suffice it to say newspaper advertising isn't quite as vital as it was 20 years ago. Most television stations won't run ads for the film until late in the evening. And, despite the NC-17 being invented in the first place to avoid the stigma of the X rating ... the general public still believes NC-17 movies are somehow pornography. ("Showgirls" didn't help with that either.) Don't forget about the theater chains either: Scott Mendelson noted back when "Blue Valentine" got its NC-17 rating last year that they're the real problem. The studio is hoping an awards push will make the difference, and that does make sense; the type of people who go to movies because they have been well-reviewed and highly lauded -- which "Shame" certainly has -- are the ones who are least likely to be deterred by an NC-17 rating. And heck, the Average Joe might be more likely to go, having heard of all that nudity.
And that's one thing everyone agrees on. Unlike "Blue Valentine" -- which received the NC-17 rating last year for reasons we still don't quite understand -- "Shame" certainly earns its NC-17. One "industry consultant" tells THR: ""Shame is thought-provoking and incredibly well-acted. It's also littered with the rawest sex you've ever seen in a non-pornographic movie." Hey, we think that guy just wrote the movie's tagline.
Nudity, Three-Ways, Hints of Incest: A Studio's Plan to Sell 'Shame' to Oscar [The Hollywood Reporter]