For five years movie studios have viewed the highly restricted NC-17 rating as commercial death.
The rating, which bars films to viewers younger than 17, is seen as especially damaging to a film’s prospects because many theaters in malls are reluctant to show films with that rating, newspapers and television networks are nervous about promoting them and video chains like Blockbuster have said they will not rent or sell these films.
But Thursday, after “Showgirls,” a film about Las Vegas strippers, was given an NC-17 by the Motion Picture Association of America ratings board, MGM/UA, the studio that made the film, said it welcomed the rating.
It is the first time that a big-budget studio film (“Showgirls” cost $40 million to $45 million) is being released with an NC-17 rating.
“From the very beginning we knew of the possibility that this film would get an NC-17,” MGM/UA chairman Frank Mancuso said in a telephone interview. “Having seen the film, I absolutely agree. We accept it. It’s a film for mature audiences. And frankly, I hope the stigma attached to the NC-17 rating can be removed.”
Mancuso’s reaction was in pointed contrast to the way other studios have dealt with the threat of NC-17 ratings. In such cases as “Basic Instinct” (which was written and directed by Joe Eszterhas and Paul Verhoeven, the same team that made “Showgirls”) and Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers,” studios made cuts to allow the movie to open with the less restrictive R rating, which allows those under 17 to see it in the company of an adult.
“Showgirls” is to be released Sept. 22 in 700 to 1,000 movie theaters, far fewer than other comparable large-scale studio films. “Apollo 13,” for example, is playing at more than 2,000 theaters. But “Showgirl’s” number is by far the largest for any NC-17 release.
The film, a pulpy, sexually charged drama with plenty of nudity, is produced by Chargeurs, the French film company, and Charles Evans in association with Carolco, and is distributed by MGM/UA.
It tells the story of an ambitious young woman, played by Elizabeth Berkley, whose rise from erotic dancer to star is marked by sex, violence and sleaze.
“It’s about the American dream and looking at it in a pretty dark mirror,” said Verhoeven, whose other films include “Robocop” and “Total Recall.”
It’s also about box office. By essentially retaining as much as sex and nudity as possible, Verhoeven and MGM are clearly testing the mainstream market for a provocative, erotic film.
Should audiences show up in large numbers, exhibitors who were reluctant to play “Showgirls” will probably relent and carry it, thus diminishing the impact of the NC-17 rating.
The last studio film to open with an NC-17 was Universal’s “Henry and June,” about the menage a trois of Henry Miller, his wife, June, and Anais Nin.
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