6 Crazy Film Ratings Decision Battles

The US ratings board – the Motion Picture Association of America – has jut handed down an “R” rating to new comedy Year One.

The filmmakers, including Judd Apatow and director Harold Ramis, had been campaigning for a PG-13 in order to grab a wider audience. But the MPAA decided that because of “some sexual content and language,” the R rating had to stay on the film in its current form.

Apatow and Ramis now face a choice – stick with the given certificate or edit the film. Here’s how some other filmmakers reacted to decisions handed down over the years.

The film:
Midnight Cowboy (1969)

The rating: X

The story: Cowboy, directed by John Schlesinger, was the first ever studio film to be slapped with an X rating (now known as an NC-17), which had mostly been reserved for porn movies. It meant most cinemas refused to carry the film and no one younger than 17 could get in at all.

To be fair to the MPAA, some of the board were prepared to go with an R rating (those under 17 can get in with an adult), but the boss of United Artists decided to apply the X himself.

Still, Schlesinger and co had the last laugh – not only did the movie go on to win both Best Director and Best Picture at the Oscars, but he was able to re-submit it a year after its first release – with no changes, mind – and grab an R.

Did it affect the box office?
Didn’t seem to. Despite the early X and limited screens at first, people were drawn to the controversy and the quality of the movie itself.

The verdict: Draw! Everybody won.


The film: Solaris (2002)

The rating: NC-17

The story: Steven Soderbergh’s updated take on Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 space psychodrama got into trouble with the ratings board

''We trimmed down most of the sex scenes, and we are not taking out George's butt, which is basically all that remains” Soderbergh said at the time. “You can show women's breasts and butts and still get a PG-13; why can't we?

''We've seen scenes like this on network television. Believe me, there is nothing here that is worse than what has been on NYPD Blue."

Soderbergh stood his ground and the board backed down, reducing the rating to PG-13.

Did it affect the box office? Unfortunately for Soderbergh and Clooney, the film probably could have been a U and featured George walking around starkers for the whole running – it was a great effort, but it was still a flop at the box office.

The verdict:
Win! At least on the rating front.


The film: Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)

The rating: R

The story: Despite its documentary nature, the MPAA decided that Michael Moore’s Bush-bashing film would have to have to take the higher rating for “some violent and disturbing images, and for language.”

Distributors Lionsgate – which wanted the film available to a wide audience for its educational value (plus the dosh it could earn) even sent a former New York governor to try and argue their case – but the MPAA refused to let him speak.

“I encourage all teenagers to come see my movie, by any means necessary. If you need me to sneak you in, let me know,” Moore said of the decision. Who didn’t see that one coming?

Did it affect the box office? Er, no. Fahrenheit is Moore’s highest-grossing doc, debuted at number one across the pond (the first time in history for a non-fiction film) and the top earner in its category to boot.

The verdict: Loss! Not sure Moore minds now, though.


The film:
Zack And Miri Make A Porno (2008)

The rating: NC-17

The story: Kevin Smith’s latest caused headaches when the MPAA decided that the nudity and sex scenes would have to be trimmed. But despite slicing as far as he could go, they stuck to their guns until he appealed, and got the rating reduced to an R.

 "They felt it was rather sexually graphic,” Smith argued. “My point is, it was comically graphic. All the sex in the movie with the exception of one scene is very cartoonish, very campy . It wasn't designed to titillate.

“We didn't set out to make an NC-17 film. That's just commercial suicide.”

It wasn’t Smith’s first go-around with the board – he previously had to argue Clerks down from an NC-17 and Jersey Girl down from an R to a PG-13.

Did it affect the box office?
Though it featured Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks, Kev’s pic didn’t exactly catch fire at the box office. It did much the same gross as some of his earlier films – a big disappointment given the budget and star power involved.

The verdict:
Win! But a bittersweet one, in hindsight.


The film:
Scarface (1974)

The rating: X

The story: The ratings bods gave Brian De Palma’s gangster epic an X for "cumulative violence.”

I cut the picture back some four times and they still gave me an X, so ultimately I had to appeal in front of the whole board,” De Palma recalls. “Now, that’s a really difficult fight, because nobody wants to be on your side. The studios just say, ‘Get an R and leave us alone…’

De Palma eventually swayed the jury 17-3 in favour of an R – and that was after bringing in police officers to testify in its defence.

Did it affect the box office?
The film didn’t do well despite the battle. But its cult status grew over time and now it’s considered one of the greats.

The verdict:


The film: A Dirty Shame (2004)

The rating: NC-17

The story: It’s John Waters at his envelope-shoving, filthy minded full power. Was anyone really shocked when the MPAA delivered the rating?

Producer Christine Vachon, apparently, was. “I think that just two years ago, the MPAA would have given A Dirty Shame an R,” she said. “I think the pressure has to do with the current administration, and [there is] this encroaching feeling constantly of the notion of family values.” Got to say we doubt it on that occasion.

Apparently the MPAA told Waters that if they’d edited everything they wanted out, the film would have been trimmed from 99 minutes to a scant 10. A version was eventually produced for “collectors” on DVD that nabbed an R.

Did it affect the box office? The controversy didn’t stoke anyone to rush out and see it. The movie scraped to just over a million dollars.

The verdict: Loss!


Join the Discussion
Add a comment (HTML tags are not allowed.)
Characters remaining: 5000