Many consider the NC-17 rating the kiss of economic death for a movie, and they would be right. Thanks to a mindset that equates the adult themes of an NC-17 film with straightforward pornography, a majority of newspapers refuse to carry advertising for them and many cinemas’ lease agreements prohibit them from screening NC-17 films. And if there is a theater chain that doesn’t have either an official or unofficial ban on screening them anyways, I haven’t heard of it.
But the recent Cannes Palm d’Or winner Blue Is The Warmest Color might be challenging that notion. It received an NC-17 for its frank depiction of a love affair between two young lesbians. When it opened in New York and LA this two weekends ago, Manhattan’s IFC Center announced that it was not going to going to enforce the rating for its “high school patrons.” The following week, Cinemark revealed that they were going to test waving their ban against NC-17 movies and screen the film at their Evansville, Indiana location.
Such publicity has drawn attention to the film, which opened to with a $100,316 weekend at the box office, Given that the film was only on four screens, that gives it a per screen average of $25,079, which was higher than any other film’s per screen average that weekend by a margin of several thousand dollars. As the film is now in its second weekend of release and getting ready to open even wider, it has already almost quadrupled its box office take.
Given this performance, I wanted to take a look back at the economic performance of some of the 30 films that have been released over the 23 years that the NC-17 rating has been in existence. Not surprisingly, Paul Veerhoven’s campy and trashy Showgirls was the top NC-17 film of all time, though I am sure that number has been boosted by numerous midnight screenings the film received when it had its burst of cult fame following its initial release. Interestingly, Henry And June, the drama for which the NC-17 rating was initially created, is at the number two spot. These two, though, are the only ones to have grossed over ten million dollars, still a paltry sum by Hollywood standards. And for all the attention they may have received at the time of their releases, all the films in the Top 15 barely made an impact at the box office. While I am sure that they went on to make additional revenues through home video and other ancillary streams, it is discouraging to see such low initial numbers.
With Blue Is The Warmest Color being in the earliest days of its theatrical release and already posting some impressive returns, I have no doubt that it will soon be muscling its way onto the chart below. Will that have any change in the manner with which NC-17 rated films are currently stigmatized? Hopefully.
1. Showgirls (1995) – $20,350,754
2. Henry & June (1990) – $11,567,449
3. The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1990) – $7,724,701
4. Bad Education (2004) – $5,211,842
5. Lust, Caution (2007) – $4,604,982
6. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990) – $4,087,361
7. Shame (2011) - $3,909,002
8. The Dreamers (2004) – $2,532,228 2004
9. Crash (1996) - $2,038,450
10. Bad Lieutenant (1992) – $2,000,022
11. Killer Joe (2012) – $1,987,762
12. Wide Sargasso Sea (1993) - $1,614,784
13. A Dirty Shame (2004) - $1,339,668
14. Whore (1991) - $1,008,404
15. Poison (1991) - $787,280 1991
16. Young Adam (2004) - $767,373
17. Mysterious Skin (2005) - $713,240
18. Inside Deep Throat (2005) - $691,880
19. Dice Rules (1991) - $637,327
20. Orgazmo (1998) $602,302