The MPAA is looking to lose the stigma surrounding its NC-17 rating as it attempts to differentiate between films considered a “hard” or “soft” R. The term “Hard R” is the MPAA’s in-house description of films such as “Saw” or “The Hills Have Eyes,” that push the limits of graphic content and border on an NC-17 rating. With such horror flicks stretching the R-rating, the MPAA is looking to tell viewers that this material may not be suitable for anyone under 17, as opposed to the “Soft R” films like Chris Rock’s latest adult comedy, “I Think I Love My Wife.”
The problem with trying to sell NC-17 as a legitimate rating like its G, PG, PG-13, and R brethren is that it has a small track record of films like “Showgirls” and “Henry & June.” Additionally, commercial exhibitors are unwilling to show such films. Media publications sometimes will not run advertisements for NC-17 films and Blockbuster will not carry them. It seems the NC-17 rating gives people this idea that it is the next closest thing to pornography.
The MPAA might be fighting a winless battle in trying to rebuild the reputation of the NC-17 rating. The MPAA might need to invest in another rating and change its description of R. There may need to be an age restriction no longer at 17, but at both 16 and 18. For both of these ratings, anyone under the age must be accompanied by an adult. The 18 and older rating, though not as restrictive like NC-17, should have similar implications and warn parents that children and teens should be wary of viewing such content, but the parents should still have the deciding factor.
Part of the problem of the NC-17 rating is that such films will lose the cash cow of the strong teenage market. If such films are not outright restricted from teens, but given admittance as long as with a parent or guardian, this still leaves access to the teenage demographic, with its increasing appetite for sex and violence. Even with an alteration to the current ratings system, it is going to take cooperation and manpower on the exhibitors’ part to enforce the rules. In high school, the only time I had trouble sneaking into an R-rated movie was during the opening week. After that, no one was making sure that I was actually going to see “Finding Nemo,” because after a couple weeks there was a new R-rated film to enforce.
The discrepancy between films that receive R ratings is misleading to the public. If films continue to push content boundaries, there will likely be a necessary revision to the current ratings system in the near future. Is cleaning the reputation of NC-17 the best route for the MPAA? If history repeats itself, another rating will likely be created and NC-17 will find itself next to its outcast brother, X. As violent horror flicks continue to create the next big shock factor-and it takes a lot to shock audiences today-the R rating is becoming too tame. As film content evolves, the rating system must inevitably evolve as well. Hopefully, we do not have to go through a series of “copycats” that occurred in the “Natural Born Killers” aftermath before the MPAA decides to make a commanding decision.
Sam Rega is a junior majoring in motion pictures and philosophy and may be contacted at email@example.com.