23 of the Best Non-Pornographic Movies Rated NC-17

Director Luca Guadagnino's bisexual tennis movie " Challengers," starring Zendaya, may not have particularly explicit sex scenes, but it follows recent trends Following in the footsteps of other films such as Saltburn , Anyone But You and Poor Things , which put sex at the forefront and center. Adult movies are poised to carve out a niche at the box office once dominated by sexless superhero movies, regardless of your feelings about the merits of any particular movie. These films have also managed to avoid an NC-17 rating, opting instead for an R that's more suitable for theater viewing. Have our attitudes about sex become more relaxed? to be observed.

Indeed, an NC-17 rating can make it difficult for a movie to make money at the box office; major chains often won't even carry them, treating them as similar products to the X-rated ones it's replacing. While this may not seem like a problem in the streaming age, NC-17 still carries a stigma .

The thing is, the NC-17 (and the X rating before it) was never meant to indicate that the film was essentially pornographic, but rather that its content was entirely adult; classic examples include A Clockwork Orange , Midnight Cowboy ," Nicolas Roeg's "Show ," and Lindsay Anderson's "What If," all of which were initially X-rated but received critical acclaim ( "Midnight Cowboy" even won a Best Picture Oscar prize). Unfortunately, eventually someone in the porn industry decided that "X" was a good marketing hook, self-rating of porn became common practice (the meaningless "XXX: soon entered the lexicon"), and ratings began Associated with exclusive. Naughty movie.

Eventually, the MPAA introduced the NC-17 label as a way to reboot the system, and the 1990 Henry Miller/Annaïse Nin documentary Henry and Joan became the first to receive the new label. Since then, adult films have enjoyed a brief renaissance, with the NC-17 rating for a time removing some of the stigma associated with films that were decidedly unsuitable for children and even becoming a badge of honor for arthouse films. Of course, NC-17 is no guarantee of quality, but the following films deserve their praise and rigorous ratings. (Note: Some of these films had ratings that predated the NC-17 rating and were originally rated X, but their official ratings have since been updated.)

Blonde (2022)

This Marilyn Monroe biopic is directed by director Andrew Dominic and adapted from Joyce Carol Oates' highly fictionalized novel of the same name. The Netflix-produced film received an NC-17 rating, a fact that reportedly caused some consternation among Netflix executives , who were apparently expecting a straightforward biopic from the same arthouse director who instead turned Jesse into ·James' story becomes a slow, sad poem. (But with Brad Pitt!). While many people, myself included, weren't thrilled with the film's unique focus on Marilyn as a victim of her own sexuality, many people (including Oates) were, and there's no doubt that Anna De · Armas' performance was so outstanding that she even received multiple nominations for Best Actress, including an Academy Award nomination.

Where to stream: Netflix

Bend (1997)

While the film does receive high maturity ratings for some relatively tame sex scenes and moments of shocking violence (much of the film is set in the Dachau concentration camp), the NC-17 is hard to follow — unless we consider that censorship agencies and ratings boards have traditionally judged queer content much harsher than straight content. The film's pivotal love scene, involving two men unable to touch themselves or each other, became a prime example of the movie's runaway ratings.

Where to stream: Peacock, Tubi, Pluto TV

Matador (1986)

We'll go back to Pedro Almodovar, who considers Matador to be one of his worst films, but I'd rate the director's worst film better than the best of most other films - from To put things into perspective, the film still has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 93%. NC-17 (which replaced the original Scenes. It's also a pretty brilliant satire on the dangers of sexual repression.

Where to Stream: Digital Rental

Bad Lieutenant (1992)

The indelible image here is of Harvey Keitel dancing naked, crying, and wiggling his penis, so much so that the image features prominently in much of the film's advertising art - with extra shading layered in for modesty's sake, of course . Director Abel Ferrera's neo-noir style (and sexually explicit background) briefly made him one of the biggest names during the porn boom of the late 1980s and early 1990s, with films like China Girl and Movies like "Dangerous Game" . Exploitation done right, turning squalor into something like art. If it's not his masterpiece (that would be Dangerous Game ), it's certainly his most famous work. The original NC-17 rating was attributed to "sexual violence, strongly sexual situations and dialogue, graphic drug use"... What's unique about that last bit is that drug use itself is not typically the criterion for assigning an NC-17. Blockbuster hastily produced an R-rated version, so if you're looking for the uncut version of the movie (with the bonus of Harvey Keitel masturbating!), you'll want to seek out the 96-minute version.

Where to watch: Prime Video, The Criterion Channel, Tubi

Bad Education (2004)

As mentioned before, Pedro Almodovar's Bad Education was not his first film to receive an NC-17 rating, but it was his last. This probably says more about the standards of the certification board than it does about Almodóvar's films, which often deal with sex but rarely contain anything particularly erotic (although I suppose that depends on your point of view). Given that these movies tend to be unapologetically queer and sex-positive (at least when the sex is consensual and not abusive), the ratings have more to do with attitudes and orientations than actual content. This highly stylized murder mystery, which depicts drug abuse and sexual abuse by a Catholic priest, is one of the director's darker films, but also one of his best.

Where to stream: Max

Death of a Wicked Man (1981)

Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and company had absolutely no concern for ratings or censorship when they made The Evil Dead , and likely didn't expect the film to get the kind of impactful release it would get. Over the next few decades we saw remakes, direct sequels, reboots, a TV series, a musical, a few games, endless comic books, and of course a porn parody called Evil Head, so everything The All Very Lovecraftian series begins here. The film, which was rated A crusade against "pornographic videos" is rampant in the UK. The film was rebooted in 2013 and originally had a similar rating, before some judicious editing gave it an R-rating more suitable for theatrical viewing.

Where to Stream: Digital Rental

Female Trouble (1974)

Pink Flamingos is the one that everyone is talking about, but in my opinion, Female Trouble is John Waters at his finest. Divine stars middle-aged juvenile delinquent Dawn Davenport, whose innocent desire for a pair of Cha-Cha heels leads her down a path of crime and beauty (same thing). This is John Waters, so the X rating for this film is basically fair (anything less than that would probably be insulting), and the early junkyard sex scene leaves little room for doubt. It was officially re-rated NC-17 in 1999, but has since received a 4k restoration and Criterion release, proving that one era's cinematic trash is another's treasure.

Where to Stream: Digital Rental

Kingdom of the Senses (1976)

Nagisa Oshima's provocative psychological tale is a completely unique piece of filmmaking, based on the true story of a geisha, sex, and erotica blended into a tale of love and murder (and in this case, including a fair amount of non-simulated sex) and horror implications. The worker, the unlikely folk hero Abe Sadao (played to perfection by Eiko Matsuda). The film unfolds like a sound poem, a beautiful lullaby, aptly titled, that culminates in a truly shocking act of violence. The filmmakers got around Japan's ban during filming, listing it as a French production and shipping the footage to the country for processing and development. In 1991, the X rating was updated to NC-17.

Where to watch: Criterion Channel

Saint Sangre(1989)

"Saint Zangler" is the best film from cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky, a beloved filmmaker who is also (rightfully) popular dispute. It makes little sense to describe the plot of this surreal horror tour, although it involves Phoenix (played by Jodorowsky's son Axel) recalling his childhood in a seedy Mexican circus and the consequences that led him to Dad's death and his knife-throwing murder/suicide. The cult leader's armless mother. Phoenix now serves as his mother's support, helping with various tasks, even murders. There's a lot to take in here, but underneath it are interesting and thoughtful ideas about the joys of escaping the past. An edited alternate version was produced to ensure an R rating, but the film was never released stateside anyway.

Where to play: Shudder, Tubi, Free

Shame (2011)

Distributor Fox Searchlight described the film's NC-17 stamp as a "badge of honor" and didn't dispute the rating, though I'm not sure it's entirely deserved. The story follows the rather grim life of sex addict Brendan Sullivan (Michael Fassbender), and it naturally involves a fair amount of sex, but none of the scenes are designed to make it look particularly appealing (You can see the honest look in the movie about addictive behavior and a rather prudish attitude towards sex). Still, Fassbender and Carey Mulligan's performances are well worth experiencing.

Where to Stream: Digital Rental

Dirty Shame (2004)

John Waters' latest film is hardly one of his best, but it stars Tracy Ullman and stars Selma Blair, Johnny Knoxville, Chris Starring Reese Isaacs and, of course, Mink Stoll, the film is a ton of silly fun. The story, about a war between the Puritan residents of Hartford Road and the area's various gleeful sexual deviants, has a fair amount of nudity, but NC-17 probably has a lot to do with language, too, surprisingly. 's emotional moment revolves around the confession: "I'm a cunnilingus asshole." Considering how funny it all is, NC-17 feels a bit over the top, even a bit shocking, unless you're one of the prudes the movie is aimed at. Unnecessary ratings also contributed to the film's box office decline, making it difficult for Waters to make any more films after that.

Where to Stream: Digital Rental

Killer Joe (2011)

After a year or two of disappointment, the great William Friedkin ended strong with Killer Joe , his penultimate film before the equally great but posthumous Caine. Military Tribunal" . The film stars Matthew McConaughey as the titular killer who has a disturbing obsession with his drug dealer sister Dottie, played by Juno Temple. NC-17 targets violent content, specifically: "graphically disturbing content involving violence and sex, and scenes of brutality," a rare case where sex isn't primary in such a rating. The film did pretty poorly at the box office, and its NC-17 rating didn't help.

Where to play: Prime Video

The Vast Sargasso Sea (1993)

Wide Sargasso Sea is adapted from Jean Rhys's feminist, anti-colonial take on Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre , telling the story of the novel's "Madwoman in the Attic," She was a West Indian Creole heiress who ended up in an unhappy marriage to Mr. Rochester. In the process, she found herself isolated in England and even more adrift than when she was born in Jamaica. The film is so sexy that it earned the designation NC-17, although not everyone thinks it has lived up to its lofty ambitions (The Washington Post called it "coffee table porn with sound effects" . )

Where to Stream: Digital Rental

Arabian Nights (1974)

Several of Pier Paolo Pasolini's films received X-ratings upon their initial release in the United States, although his most infamous , The 120 Days of Sodom , skipped the rating process entirely, as if that wasn't enough The rating does justice to the film's graphics . Although it is perhaps the work for which he is best known, it is not the director's best work. His typically hungry but less joyful One Thousand and One Nights is more deserving of the top spot. The film's 16 vignettes draw on the potentially (and not-so-potentially) eroticism of the source material, while adding plenty of slapstick humor. Although the film's "obscenity" caused some very mild controversy in places, most viewers were willing to enjoy it. X was renamed NC-17 in 1990.

Where to stream: Prime Video, Tubi, MGM+

Last Tango in Paris (1972)

Last Tango in Paris has been extremely controversial since its release in 1973, and remains so to this day, albeit for different reasons. The legendary Marlon Brando starred in a movie just months after The Godfather's release. A veritable mob denounced the filmmaker as a pervert, while many (but not all) feminist critics watched Maria Schneider, who is 19 and 20 years old, and Brando, who is nearly 50 years old. In later years, Snyder described the humiliation and anger over the treatment she received on set (a dramatic TV series about the making of the film , Tango , was reportedly in the works ), which had already made the already sensational The troubling sex scenes become even more difficult to watch. Nonetheless, it became the highest-grossing imported film of its time, and it represented an extremely important moment in Americans' acceptance of foreign films and candid depictions of sexuality. Although it's a complicated legacy, both Snyder and Brando gave career-defining performances. In 1997, its X rating was officially changed to NC-17.

Live broadcast location: MGM+

Blue is the warmest color (2013)

Blue has lost a bit of its luster over the years since its release, as the elements that made it particularly unique and memorable (and earned an NC-17 rating) also made it controversial. Working conditions in director Abdellatif Kechiche's film have been the subject of debate, with explicit sex scenes viewed differently by different audiences. For some, its openness about its sexuality is one of its greatest strengths. An important element of taboo-breaking lesbian romance. Others saw a director looking at two women with a very masculine gaze, their sexuality taking on a terrifying quality. Still, the performances from Léa Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos are excellent, and if the film's sexuality is a bit over the top, I guess that's just in keeping with the film's long history of heteronormative films. History brings with it some banal necessities.

Where to stream: AMC+, Mubi

Deepthroat (2005)

Thanks in part to the release of Andy Warhol's Blue Movie in 1969 (which was perfectly timed), explicit sex really took hold in global cinema , and pornographic films were actually Take it seriously, at least in some circles. The sexual revolution and the feminist movement opened the way for a more liberal-minded approach to the genre, even if the films themselves weren't always particularly good porn, weren't always good movies, and were often exploitative. This documentary, narrated by Dennis Hopper, explores much of that, but focuses on the making of the 1972 film that entered the zeitgeist in surprising ways; Hopper Pugh himself was an icon of the counterculture before moving to the other end of that particular spectrum, and it was a wise choice to choose a film about the rise and fall of legal sex movies. Inside Deep Throat 's ratings were largely achieved by presenting historical footage, but a more restrained approach would have felt compromised.

Where to stream: AMC+, Roku Channel, Mubi

Showgirl (1995)

There are many ways to watch Paul Verhoeven's "Showgirls," and all of them work. For some, it's a very '90s nostalgia piece that puts Saved By the Bell 's Elizabeth Berkley in a period-appropriate erotica; for others, It's a bad but wonderful guilty pleasure; for still others, a sly (if problematic) All About Eve -esque satire . Whether out of genuine affection or pure notoriety, Showgirls remains one of the highest-grossing films in NC-17 history and a cult classic par excellence.

Where to watch: The Criterion Channel, Tubi, MGM+

Lust, Caution (2007)

The sex in Lust, Caution is anything but accidental. Set in Hong Kong and Shanghai during the Japanese occupation of China, the series tells the story of Wong Ka Chi (played by Tang Wei), who is recruited into the circle of Mr. Yi (Tony Leung), a Chinese corporate recruiter. puppet government; she would seduce him and lead to his eventual assassination. Lee worked hard to keep the film's sexual content intact, feeling it was crucial to the story. The show also became one of the highest-grossing NC-17 dramas in U.S. box office history.

Where to Stream: Digital Rental

Collapse (1994)

Not the 2004 Oscar winner Paul Haggis. David Cronenberg's 1996 film stars James Spader and Holly Hunter, two people whose lives become entangled after a car accident and who both develop a unique obsession with movies. . Blending sex with our cultural love of cars, "Crash" tackles the intersection of sex and violence seen in many other American films, but rarely in such an explicit, squirmy style. It has been controversial at every stage of its life. Cannes Film Festival audiences reportedly walked out and the film was banned from theaters in many parts of the world. It's not currently available anywhere, and even on DVD it was difficult to find until late 2020, when the venerable Criterion Collection released its final version. Given that I can't say the same about movies like The Human Centipede , I'd call this an injustice.

Where to Play: Currently nowhere to listen, sadly even decades later NC-17 is common in movies

Tie me up! Cooperate with me! (1989)

Pedro Almodóvar can play me one more song if you want. I guess it took moviegoers a while to warm up to the writer/director, and this comedy/horror movie divided audiences when it came out, coinciding with the switch from X to NC-17 and becoming the part of the debate. The story of a psychopath who kidnaps an actress for romance is as offbeat and weirdly funny as you might imagine. The rating is primarily for the lengthy sex scenes, but also because the film shows people peeing in toilets, which is clearly a shockingly abnormal behavior. The film was originally intended to be released unrated after an initial X rating, but when NC-17 became an option, it received NC-17.

Live broadcast location: Max, The Criterion Channel

Man bites dog (1992)

In an early example of what we would later call "found footage," the Belgian mockumentary Man Bites Dog follows a film crew following a serial killer, documenting his crimes and atrocities. Initially, the film crew tried to maintain a calm observation attitude, but they were inevitably immersed in the darkness around them. The violence remains shocking and effective, but the film also manages to make a broader point about our willingness to distance ourselves from the brutality that constantly surrounds us, both in movies and in our daily lives.

Live broadcast location: Max, The Criterion Channel

Paragraph (2023)

One of the most recent movies to receive an NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America is also a good example of the politics surrounding NC-17: distributor Mubi decided it would be better to release the film without a rating than to receive an NC-17 rating. 17, considered fatal in all but a few cases. The film tells the story of a love triangle between Thomas (Franz Rogowski), Martin (Ben Whishaw) and Agathe (Adele Exarchopoulos). The appearance of Te changed the couple's life drastically. Director Ira Sacks has strongly stated that the sex scenes in the film are in no way gratuitous, while reminding us that queer content almost always receives stricter ratings than similar scenes involving heterosexuality. He is not wrong!

Live broadcast location: Mubi