For years, it seemed like there was only one way to make sure that a film was seen and respected by absolutely no one: receive an NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America. Originally intended as a non-pornographic “adult” rating, it has since evolved into a form of commercial suicide. If a film is rated NC-17, most theaters won’t show it and video stores – back when they were still relevant – wouldn’t carry it.
There are normally two ways around an NC-17: a filmmaker can either cut out any undesirable parts in order to get an R, or they can bite the bullet and release their film to be seen by only critics and art house buffs. Most choose the former, but every once in a while a studio will appeal the rating and get the R without changing a thing. For a recent example of this, look no further than last year’s “Blue Valentine.”
However, the upcoming weeks will prove to be one of the most important points in the history of the NC-17 rating. “Shame,” the latest Steve McQueen film starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, has not only been rated NC-17, but distributor Fox Searchlight has decided to go ahead and release the film as is.
Not only are they choosing to tolerate the rating, they are embracing it. “Shame” has routinely been called an Oscar contender, with possible nominations coming for Fassbender and Mulligan, and thus the decision to move ahead with the NC-17 is an undeniable risk. Most would have either appealed the rating or cut it down to an R, but Fox Searchlight appears as if they’ve never even considered it.
Not so long ago, this meant a movie like “Shame” would never even have a chance. But it’s 2011, and things have changed. If Blockbuster threatens not to carry a movie, the studios no longer tremble in fear. There’s Netflix now, as well as about a million other ways to watch movies that aren’t Blockbuster. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who still goes there.
This new world of accessibility has left usually strict theater chains out to dry. There will always be an audience for movies like “Shame,” so why let someone else like Netflix take the money? Early indications are that several chains are going to be more open to carrying “Shame” than they would have been in years past, which means at last the NC-17 rating may be seen as a legitimate way to release a movie.
Not since the “Showgirls” fiasco of 1995 has an adult-rated film gotten this kind of release. The only question is whether people actually pay to go see a movie like “Shame.” Hopefully, because it doesn’t have to break any box office records to be a success. It just needs to make enough to prove that there is an audience for adult-themed films out there. Not everything needs to be intended for the broadest possible audience.