22 Films Where the Sex Earned a NC-17 Rating

You and me, baby, ain't nothin' but mammals.

Sex. People have it! It feels good and is totally natural! Yet, for some reason, Hollywood still has a "protect our innocent eyeballs" attitude when it comes to graphic intimacy in film—hence the MPAA's rating system, which is designed to tell us who should be allowed to see which movies, based on the level of "objectionable" content they contain. We all know the deal: A G rating means a movie is good, clean fun for the whole family, while PG denotes some mildly objectionable content for the youngest and purest of viewers. By the time you reach PG-13, you're getting some curse words and maybe some light sexiness (like implied sex, or sex scenes sans nudity). For most movies, the harshest rating is R. But there is a rating beyond R and that rating is NC-17, which stands for, quite literally, "No Children Under 17." When it comes to NC-17 movies, not even a consenting parent can get a pair of under-17 eyes into the theater.

While an NC-17 label can be earned for things like extreme depictions of violence, it's usually a sign that the MPAA found the movie's sex just way too hot to handle and not even an R rating will suffice. Here are some notable movies in which the sex was so mind-boggling, the entire film was slapped with a NC-17 rating.

'Bad Education'

Also known as La mala educación, this 2004 movie kept its NC-17 rating, which it earned for a specific scene of "explicit sexual content" and for nudity, which features heavily throughout the movie. If you're ever yearning to watch a slightly less explicit version of the movie, though an edited "Special Edition" was released that toned things down to an R-rating.

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'Delta of Venus'

Inspired by a 1977 short story collection of the same name by Anaïs Nin, this movie did super steamy back in the '90s and did it so intensely it was slapped with an NC-17 rating for "explicit sexuality." The story takes place in Paris in 1940 and follows an American writer named Elena who is looking for inspiration for her novel, and finds it when she embarks on a sordid affair, takes up nude modeling, and generally starts exploring every facet of her sexuality. As you do.

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'Female Trouble'

This 1974 dark comedy comes from the brain of John Waters, so get ready for the weird. The movie, which was originally rated X and was re-rated NC-17 in 1999, follows a girl Dawn Davenport (played by iconic drag queen Divine), who begins the movie as a fairly innocent high school and ends a convicted murderer sentenced to execution.

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'Swearnet: The Movie'

As the title implies, this movie features a lot of swearing. It actually holds the Guinness World Record for most uses of the F-word in a movie (935 times). But, in addition to language, the movie was also rated NC-17 for explicit sexual content and graphic nudity.

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'Elles'

Elles was rated NC-17 for "explicit sexual content," which isn't super surprising, considering the film's premise. The movie follows a Parisian journalist named Anne (played by the gorgeous and talented French actress, artist, and dancer Juliette Binoche) who begins reporting on the lives of two student prostitutes for an article. The movie also famously includes a masturbation scene starring Binoche.

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'The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover'

If you need proof that appearing in an NC-17 film isn't a lowbrow career move, look no further than The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover, which stars Michael Gambon (aka Professor Albus Dumbledore) and Dame Helen Mirren. The movie, which was originally rated X before the advent of the NC-17 label, is about a mobster (Gambon) with horrible manners who owns a restaurant in London. His wife (Mirren) becomes disgusted with him and embarks on an affair with one of the restaurant guests. At one point, Mirren says the iconically cringeworthy line, "You have a beautiful prick, Mr. Gynecologist." Intrigued yet?

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'Bent'

In 1998, a year after the movie's initial opening, an edited, R-rated version was released, but the filmmakers accepted the NC-17 rating, handed down for a scene of "strong, graphic sexuality," originally. The movie, which stars Clive Owen, takes place in 1930s Berlin, and focuses on the persecution of homosexuals during in Nazi Germany.

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'Body of Evidence'

This 1993 movie stars Madonna as a woman who is accused of murdering her elderly lover with wild sex in order to kill him and collect the inheritance he was leaving her in his will. The movie features several sex scenes between Madonna and Willem Dafoe, who plays her defense attorney, including an anal sex scene. The movie was originally slapped with an NC-17 rating, but submitted an edited, R-rated version for theatrical release. Today, an uncut version is available if you want to see the film in its original NC-17 glory.

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'Bad Lieutenant'

This 1992 crime drama literally stars Harvey Keitel as—you guessed it—a bad lieutenant. Keitel spends his time having sex, doing drugs, masturbating, and being pretty awful. The movie obviously has quite a few provocative scenes (including a threesome), which—along with drug use and violence—earned it an NC-17 rating.

Fun fact: Bad Lieutenant was re-cut to earn an R rating just so Blockbuster could offer it up for rent.

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'The Canterbury Tales'

1972's The Canterbury Tales is pretty much iconic, thanks to its slapstick humor and plentiful sex scenes. And that's without mentioning all the nudity. Interestingly, the movie was originally rated X for its extreme sex. Who knew Chaucer could be so controversial?

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'The Dreamers'

Remember when The Dreamers came out and skulking off to see it in theaters with your friends was the thing to do? The 2003 romantic drama put Eva Green on the map, and featured lots of sex—some of it sexy sex, and some of it downright weird, considering the film is about a brother and sister's intimate relationship with their mutual friend. Either way, sex earned it an NC-17 rating, which is normally considered a death sentence at the office, but made this particular film all the more tempting.

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'Eyes Wide Shut'

This movie ended up being released with an R rating, but only after being edited down. Meaning that, yes, it was originally slapped with NC-17 thanks to plentiful and graphic sex. (FYI, the Blu-ray release of the film features the unedited original version, if you want to check it out.)

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'Blue Valentine'

Like Eyes Wide ShutBlue Valentine was originally rated NC-17, but it appealed and got its rating down to an R. The scene in question involves Ryan Gosling's character giving Michelle Williams' character oral sex.

Gosling was less than thrilled about the NC-17 rating: "There's plenty of oral sex scenes in a lot of movies, where it's a man receiving it from a woman—and they're R-rated. Ours is reversed and somehow it's perceived as pornographic," he said in an interview. "Black Swan has an oral scene between two women and that's an R rating, but ours is between a husband and his wife and that's NC-17?"

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'Showgirls'

If you've lived this long without seeing the infamous pool sex scene in Showgirls, you should probably stop everything and catch up on this monumentally iconic pop cultural moment. That particular scene is just one of the many reasons Showgirls was given an NC-17 rating, and it's...a lot. Let's just say you'll never look at Jessie Spano in Saved by the Bell the same way.

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'Lust, Caution'

Ang Lee's erotic thriller is one of the top-grossing NC-17 movies ever, and features explicit sex that Lee was hell-bent on keeping in the film. "[In] America I think they are too loose on violence. I think that, culturally, they make an NC-17 rating equivalent to a porno movie and bad taste. I think that needs to be worked on," Lee explained.

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'Henry & June'

Henry & June tells the famous story of Anaïs Nin's relationship with Henry Miller and his wife June—both of whom Nin explored sexual and romantic relationships with. To quote the film's LOL-worthy and very '90s trailer: "They lived an adventure more erotic than any fantasy."

Interestingly, the movie was almost slapped with a X rating, but was deemed NC-17 to subvert the association with pornography that X-rated films typically have.

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'Shame'

The reasoning behind Shame's NC-17 rating should be pretty obvious: It's about a man (played by Michael Fassbender) who has a sex/masturbation addiction. As you might expect, the movie features explicit scenes of intimacy, as well as Fassbender completely naked. (Yay for male full frontal nudity in film—the playing field most certainly needs to be evened.)

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'In the Realm of the Senses'

In the Realm of the Senses tells the story of Japanese geisha Sada Abe. She's said to have killed her lover and cut off his penis and testicles...and carried them around with her in her kimono. The film features unsimulated sex (meaning, the actors actually did it), and was initially banned in the United States.

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(Image credit: Design by Betsy Farrell)

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'Blue Is the Warmest Color'

This coming-of-age story chronicles a lesbian relationship, and features graphic sex scenes that earned it an NC-17 rating—despite the fact that the actresses used molds of genitalia instead of the real thing. "We had fake pussies on," actress Léa Seydoux said of filming the scenes. "You have something to protect and tape it under. I don't make love on screen. We can fake these things, you can't fake feelings, but you can fake body language."

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'Y Tu Mamá También'

Y Tu Mamá También helped make Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal Hollywood celebrities. It's best known for its extremely steamy love scenes, including a threesome with Luna, Bernal, and the woman they're traveling with. The movie was originally rated NC-17, but was released...without a rating at all.

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'Crash'

Not to be confused with the 2004 Oscar-winner of the same name, David Cronenberg's Crash follows a couple who engage in an extramarital affair with each other after surviving a car crash and go on to fetishize car crashes and sleep together only in cars. The graphic nature of the film, including its depictions of sex, earned it an NC-17 rating.

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'Marriage 2.0'

This adult romance film follows a young married couple who venture into the waters of a non-monogamous relationship. It's basically full-on porn (it had to be edited down to get an NC-17 rating from the MPAA).

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Mehera Bonner
Mehera Bonner

Mehera Bonner is a news writer who focuses on celebrities and royals.