Why Movie Theaters Can Ignore NC-17 Ratings

New York's IFC Center will allow teens to see 'Blue Is the Warmest Color' this weekend

When the Federal Trade Commission released in March a survey revealing that an all-time low 24% of teenagers succeeded in buying tickets to R-rated movies, the results painted a media-friendly picture of the Motion Picture Assn. of America’s movie ratings system and exhibitors’ willingness to enforce it.

But as illustrated by recent news of the IFC Center in New York allowing teens to see the NC-17-rated French pic “Blue Is the Warmest Color,”  enforcing movie ratings is much murkier. It’s a tricky game seeped in politics and money, aimed at nurturing the oft-strained studio-exhib relationships.

As the MPAA stipulates, NC-17-rated films are “patently adult. Children (meaning no one 17 and under) are not admitted.”

That said, the ratings system, which is governed by the MPAA’s Classification and Ratings Administration board, is not strictly enforced. The major U.S. exhibitors, all of whom are members of the National Assn. of Theater Owners, adhere to the system as a sort of “gentleman’s agreement” with NATO.

But why?

“Everybody is in the same boat,” said one exhibition exec. “It’s a collective agreement to police our own content. That may be the one thing that studios and exhibitors agree on.”

Addressing the issue, a NATO representative said: “The voluntary rating system protects people who make and exhibit movies from government intrusion … Exhibitors have an interest in keeping government censorship out of our industry, as well as keeping our bargain with parents to enforce the ratings.”

With “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” IFC Center, which is not a member of NATO, decided to permit high schoolers 17 and under, calling the film “appropriate for mature, inquiring teenagers who are looking ahead to the emotional challenges and opportunities that adulthood holds.”

In a statement, IFC said: “The MPAA has recommended that no American citizen under the age of 18 be allowed to see the film. While many people find the MPAA’s recommendations useful, others may look to alternative sources: reviews, recommendations of friends, etc., in making movie choices. The MPAA rating is a voluntary guideline that we as a theater are not obligated to enforce. In this case we feel it is unnecessarily restrictive, and we will indeed admit high school age patrons to screenings of this perceptive and moving film at the IFC Center.”

Both the IFC Center and IFC Films, the pic’s domestic distributor, are owned by New York-based Rainbow Media.

“Blue Is the Warmest Color,” which won this year’s Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, centers on two young lesbians as they embark on an explicit, tumultuous relationship. The film’s director, Abdellatif Kechiche, recently fired back at criticism from his leading ladies, Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux, who claimed he manipulated them during filming.

SEE ALSO: ‘Blue Is the Warmest Color’ Helmer Slams Star as Feud Escalates

This isn’t the first time a distrib or exhib has cried foul against the ratings board under the rationale that a film be seen for educational reasons, such as the Weinstein Co. did with “Bully” and “The King’s Speech.” In fact, the ratings system has been used countless times as a way to generate media coverage for a film — and almost all instances have involved specialized films with limited core audiences.

Regardless, “Blue Is the Warmest Color” has a challenging road ahead at the domestic box office, especially since the film didn’t qualify as France’s official submission for the Oscar foreign-language category. “Blue” launches Friday at four locations, two each in New York and L.A.

SEE ALSO: Top Grossing NC-17 Movies

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  1. Craig Riley says:

    Hostel, rated R: take your kids to watch the graphic scenes of murder and mutilation.
    Blue is the Warmest Color, rated NC-17: not suitable for any person under 18, features women having sex.

  2. Bill says:

    My parents taught me the difference between real and imaginary. I watched rated R movies all the time like aliens, predator, Terminator and all Arnolds and Stalones movies.

    people need to bitch about something else.

  3. Boomer says:

    The reason it isn’t enforced is because it can’t, legally, be enforced. The MPAA is not a designated law enforcement agency, and on top of that, it has no concrete standards.

  4. The FTC findings are a little misleading. Our poll of 400+ kids revealed 61% of them had seen a Rated R movie in the theater – and yes, exactly 24% of them said they were able to buy a ticket. But, the rest were able to sneak in or go w someone who bought them a ticket. http://kidspickflicks.com/taramcnamara/3295-kids-are-seeing-rated-r-movies

  5. Julienne says:

    “Soulmates,” Written/Produced & Directed by Jim Fitzpatrick, will need an ‘R’ rating. It’s very steamy but classy.

  6. TC Kirkham says:

    The ratings system used by the MPAA is archaic and needs to be retired – permanently. I have never understood why a nation that prides itself on freedom of thought and freedom of expression needed such blatant censorship in the first place. The MPAA is nothing more than a sham, made up of people who no longer have kids at home but profess to be watching out for them, a shadow group of studio heads and clergy who should be ashamed of themselves for not trusting their brethren to have enough intelligence to make their own decisions. It’s Hollywood’s version of the NSA, and just as scandal ridden as well. It’s time to permanently abolish the MPAA and let intelligent, thinking people decide for themselves.

    • David says:

      The MPAA ratings has and serves a good purpose. I remember in the 1960’s as more and more “mature” films entered the market, parents had a terrible time choosing what they could take their children to. Even adults couldn’t tell from the ads if a particular film contained images or themes that would be offensive to them. And this was before the days of the internet with all blogs and reviews.

      While it was suggested that the theaters enforce the viewing ages, it was designed for the consumer, not for government censorship.

      You can wade through what ever you want, good, bad or indifferent, but I appreciate the opportunity to make semi-informed decisions about my movie and TV watching.

      • Frank W says:

        David, you are correct, sir. My father was Catholic and we didn’t get to see Beneath the Planet of the Apes because of the corrupted Catholic themes. He begrudgingly allowed us to watch it on it’s network airing (40th anniversary was last week or so) but he kept saying it was sacrilegious when the mutant scenes came on.

        Barbarella had a half-page ad in the sunday comics back in 68. The ad was drawn like a comic using the movie poster art of Fonda with the laser rifle and we devoured the text with excitement. Then my dad came by and tore it out of the section. “This isn’t for kids!” I had to wait 15 years to “SEE THE DOLLS CHEW OFF BARBARELLA’S CLOTHES!” as promised by one of the many vignettes presented in the ad.

    • Frank W says:

      TC, you’re such a child. This has nothing to do with censorship. The ratings are a guide as to what to expect. Yes, sometimes to prevent getting an NC-17 rating, things get cut to get an “R”, but it’s a system that caused the abolishment and power of local censorship boards (Banned in Boston anyone?) and the Catholic church’s rating system which had a lot of power to kill distribution.

      And in 3 months, anyone not allowed to see it in the theater can get if off on Netflix.

      • Frank W says:

        Fairpoint, what do you think local censorship boards which I mention maybe too obtusely for you, were? They were local government entities. The problem was what was permissible in one town wasn’t somewhere else (like Boston as I mention) and the ratings were created to even the playing field across the country as more explicit fare was being produced. I wasn’t allowed to get into R rated High Plains Drifter when I was 12 though I was accompanied by an adult sister but at 14 I did get into Blazing Saddles with her.

        The article also says only the theaters that subscribe to the MPAA are required to follow the ratings and I do not think IFC is required.

      • fairportfan says:


        It’s in the article – the ratings are a ploy to avoid government regulation.

    • Rick says:

      Why should the so-called shadow group of studio heads and clergy trust their so-called brethren to make wise decisions? It has been shown that independent theaters play what they choose to without enforcement solely to appease a certain segment of its users based on political decisions alone. The lack of freedom of expression and censorship comes when they refuse to play films with political views they disagree with. So we shouldn’t buy into the whining of unfairness and censorship when the group who complains the loudest is the one that is the least fair and doing the most censoring.

  7. Bill says:

    Ratings need to be backed with fines just like alcohol purchases.

    • Boomer says:

      Bill, the MPAA is not a law enforcement agency. It cannot impose fines that can be enforced in a court of law. In addition to that problem, it has no standards that can be used to separate “permitted” from “prohibited” films. Every film is judged separately which is a big problem, legally speaking.

  8. Eudardo Citban says:

    Leanne Rimes should do the theme song… Bluuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuue is the waaaaaaaaaarmest color!

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