Analysis: Why Hollywood Won’t Make NC-17 Movies Anymore?

With the massive success that rated R movies have received in the last few years. I began to wonder if Hollywood would push the boundaries even further with NC-17 movies. Could these movies possibly be as profitable as their rated R cousin?  It’s doubtful.

These movies are notorious for low return on investment due to the barriers it takes to distribute these films. I decided to dig a bit deeper into the data in the last ten years. Based on the findings, it’s highly unlikely that we will see Hollywood embrace investment in these films.

In the last ten years, we have only seen a few NC-17 movies break a million dollars. Shame and Killer Joe being some of the more notable releases based on the star power attached to the release.  However, 1995 was a banner year with Showgirls grossing more than 20 million dollars at the box office.


The graph below shows the erratic nature of these successful releases over the last two decades. Success with these films is a mystery. I have defined success as anything with more than a million dollars at the box office. Please note the figures are from the US box office.

Click Image to Enlarge


There has not been a boom for these films since for ten years. In 2004, Young Adams, Bad Education, and Dreamers all garnered acclaim and attracted worldwide box office receipts.

Rated R  vs. NC-17 : What’s the difference?

These ratings are supplied by the MPAA. R Rated movies mean that they are restricted with no one admitted without a parent. NC-17 Movies mean that no one can be admitted under 18, even if, they are accompanied by adults. So, let’s look at the titles below.  Rated R or NC-17 is given for films that have strong and frequent use of language, violence, sex, or nudity  By far, these movies listed below fall into the latter category.

The Most Profitable NC-17 Movies in the last 20 years?


Looking at the data, it’s obvious that Showgirls was an anomaly. With Henry and June being released in 1990 coming in a close second in gross revenue.  This film wouldn’t have received such a harsh rating by today’s standards. The fear of homosexuality played a large part in the MPAA rating. Alice Gray has a good take on this.  The world has changed and become more tolerant. So more films that explore human physical needs, adult themes, and desires should receive better financing and distribution.

Often these films don’t fair well at the initial release. However, in the long run they pay off. Let’s look at the short term success of Showgirls.

Big Budget     –       Low B.O. (US Gross  +    Foreign Gross)  =   A LOSS

45  million      –       ( 20 million        +        17 million )     =   – 8 million 

The 20 million gross for Showgirls is not profit. The film cost 45 million dollars to create and market. With the addition of 17 million in overseas box office revenue, MGM faced a loss of 8 million. Nevertheless after twenty plus years, the film became a cult  classic and became MGM largest selling DVD with a 100 million in sales.

Big Budget     –       Low B.O. (US Gross  +    Foreign Gross) + DVD Gross  =   A WIN

45  million      –       ( 20 million        +        17 million )   + 100 million   =   + 92 million 


With DVD sales, MGM had a 2:1 R.O.I on Showgirls after 21 years. So, with the multiple channels to consume content. These films may have life after the box office.



Gaelim Holland

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