When it comes to graphic nudity, there are some films that seem to get away with much more than others. But if you’re looking for specific answers as to why, things start to get murky. That’s because the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has historically been very unclear and inconsistent when it comes to ratings. Violence and heterosexual sex? Totally fine. Homosexual acts or oral sex on a woman? Not so fine.
MPAA rants aside, there are still clearly some films that don’t hit the associations’s dreaded, automatic NC-17 stipulations, but seem to push the R-rating to the brink anyway. Here are seven R-rated films that push the R-rating to its breaking point when it comes to graphic nudity and sex.
1. Basic Instinct (1992)
We might as well get this one out of the way. For over two decades now, director Paul Verhoeven’s neo-noir erotic thriller Basic Instinct has been a lightning rod of controversy due in large part to the fact that it’s rated R and not NC-17 despite its strong sexual content. The film’s most infamous scene in which Sharon Stone uncrosses her legs while being interviewed by police has been pinpointed as one of the most-paused scenes in cinema history and is also notable for being something Stone was not aware would end up in the final cut.
But the film’s most sexually explicit scene actually occurs later when Stone and Michael Douglas’s character have sex for the first time — a scene that seems to go on and on, leading many viewers to wonder how it could have made it into an R-rated film. According to Verhoeven, the reason for this is because the sex scene lends itself to a dramatic purpose. “Because it was a thriller, the idea that Sharon Stone could kill him during sex was always an element of protection,” Verhoeven told Rolling Stone.
2. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
The second feature film from director Darren Aronofsky, Requiem for a Dream is a terrifying depiction of several characters who spiral into drug addiction. While the film is filled with disturbing content and displays many of the themes Aronofsky has continued to explore in later films, the film’s graphic sexual depictions toward the end of the film are particularly shocking. As Jennifer Connelly’s character begins to use sex to fund her drug habits, the film quickly escalates to an infamous sex party that is so sexually explicit and specific that by the time the credits roll you’ll be completely shell-shocked.
3. Boogie Nights (1997)
Considering that Boogie Nights is a two-decade epic about the rise and fall of a pornstar named Dirk Diggler, it’s safe to say the film is sexually explicit. The second feature film from director Paul Thomas Anderson, Boogie Nights includes a series of graphic sex scenes that establish Dirk’s prowess as a pornstar and the decline of the porn industry from the perspective of various characters effected by it. But the film’s truly graphic surprise comes in the closing moments when Dirk’s large penis is finally revealed in full detail after the entire film has hinted at his size.
4. Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
This one deserves an asterisk because there are actually two versions of this film that exist — an R-rated version and an NC-17 version. Either way, Alfonso Cuarón’s coming-of-age, road trip film Y Tu Mamá También firmly established the Mexican director on the international film scene while inciting a censorship controversy due to its sexually explicit content. The film follows two teenage friends traveling with a woman in her late twenties with whom they find themselves competing for. Yet, the MPAA’s reasoning for pushing the original cut to NC-17 probably has more to do with later scenes in which sex between the three transforms into a scene between the two friends — and homosexual sex scenes are a notorious red flag when it comes to the MPAA.
5. 9 1/2 Weeks (1986)
9 1/2 Weeks is an erotic romantic drama about a New York City art gallery worker named Elizabeth McGraw (Kim Basinger) who enters into an intense sexual relationship with Wall Street broker John Gray (Mickey Rourke). The film’s explicit content intensifies as the film goes on as John’s atypical sexual appetites lead to Elizabeth’s increased obsession in pushing boundaries and exploring sadomasochistic tendencies. If you think that plot sounds very similar to a recent book series and film called Fifty Shades of Grey, you’re definitely not alone. However, 9 1/2 Weeks explores the deviant and experimental side of sexuality much more than the surprisingly vanilla exploits of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey.
6. Sex and Lucia (2001)
Sex and Lucia is a Spanish drama that tells the story of a passionate sexual relationship between Lucía and Lorenzo, interweaving past and present as a potential tragedy brings several characters together. As the title suggests, Sex and Lucia chiefly revolves around the relationship of the two main characters, which involves lots of full frontal nudity and sex. However, the beautiful and lyrical film displays these moments not in gratuitous fashion, but in a realistic way that can feel totally true to the nature of sex.
7. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
The final film by Stanley Kubrick before his death, Eyes Wide Shut is a nightmarish erotic thriller based on Arthur Schnitzler’s novella Traumnovelle. The film is about a married doctor’s strange and often absurd sexual odyssey on the streets of New York City.
While graphic nudity abounds in the film, Eyes Wide Shut hits its explicit high-water mark when it comes to the famous secret society, masked orgy scene inside an extravagant mansion. The sequence is infamous for having been digitally censored to remove nudity in order to achieve an R-rating. Still, the nudity is clearly visible if you know to look for the backs of dark figures that consistently block sexual acts. But considering how much explicit content is still there, you almost have to wonder if the MPAA just gave up at a certain point and gave them the R out of annoyance.
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