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The 25 Highest-Grossing NC-17 Movies Ever Released

Ellen Gutoskey
Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider in Last Tango in Paris (1972).
Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider in Last Tango in Paris (1972). / Keystone/Getty Images
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In 1968, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) instituted the first iteration of our modern-day movie ratings system: G, PG, R, and X. But because the organization didn’t copyright the X rating, it was soon co-opted by the pornography industry to promote its adult films in theaters. This continued until 1990, when the MPAA finally decided to replace the X with NC-17: not for children under 17. Basically, it was a way of saying “This isn’t an ‘adult film,’ but it’s definitely for adults.”

With a smaller demographic of people interested in seeing (or even allowed to see) NC-17 films in theaters, they can’t exactly compete with Avengers: Endgame (2019) at the box office. But some still manage to do pretty well. Below are Box Office Mojo’s top 25 highest-grossing NC-17 movies ever released, based on domestic earnings.

A few entries, like Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris (1972), premiered years before the NC-17 rating existed, and were retroactively rated upon re-release. That film, starring Marlon Brando as a grief-stricken widower involved in an intense new romance in Paris, took the top spot with just over $36 million in revenue. It also earned Oscar nominations for both Brando and Bertolucci.

The runner-up is much more of a guilty pleasure than a critics’ darling. Showgirls (1995) nabbed an impressive six Razzie Awards, including Worst Picture, Worst Director for Paul Verhoeven, and Worst Actress for Elizabeth Berkley. Verhoeven actually showed up to accept the awards in person.

Other movies run the gamut from irreverent comedies—1997’s Orgazmo, for example, from the team behind South Park—to psychological dramas like David Cronenberg’s Crash (1996). The list even features a documentary all about the MPAA’s ratings system: This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006).

Read on to find out what other movies made the top 25.

  1. Last Tango in Paris (1972) // $36,144,000
  2. Showgirls (1995) // $20,350,754
  3. Henry & June (1990) // $11,567,449
  4. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989) // $7,724,701
  5. Kids (1995) // $7,412,216
  6. Bad Education (2004) // $5,284,284
  7. Lust, Caution (2007) // $4,604,982
  8. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1989) // $4,087,361
  9. Shame (2011) // $3,909,002
  10. Crash (1996) // $2,664,812
  11. The Dreamers (2003) // $2,532,228
  12. The Evil Dead (1981) // $2,400,000
  13. Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013) // $2,199,787
  14. Bad Lieutenant (1992) // $2,000,022
  15. Wide Sargasso Sea (1993) // $1,614,784
  16. A Dirty Shame (2004) // $1,339,668
  17. Whore (1991) // $1,008,404
  18. Young Adam (2003) // $767,373
  19. Inside Deep Throat (2005) // $691,880
  20. Dice Rules (1991) // $637,327
  21. Orgazmo (1997) // $602,302
  22. Broken English (1997) // $541,377
  23. Bent (1997) // $496,059
  24. This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006) // $306,845
  25. Matador (1986) // $279,394
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