This story first appeared in the Feb. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The rating is box-office poison, so Universal never considered it for Fifty Shades — meaning the film will skip some of the novel’s salacious scenes, a sore point for author EL James. While the MPAA’s sex standards are murkier than its language rules, following these guidelines will keep a film in R territory.
Minimize the Thrusting
The difference between an R rating and an NC-17 often hinges on the amount of in-and-out action, according to those familiar with the ratings process. “Three or four seconds you can get away with,” says one source. “Linger on it for 30 or 40 seconds, and you’re in NC-17 territory.” And if a couple is completely naked, forget about it (think of all those half-clad lovers you’ve seen on the big screen).
Think Twice About Oral
As with copulation, it’s all about how long the scene lasts and how much is obscured. Harvey Weinstein successfully appealed the NC-17 given to Blue Valentine because of a scene in which Ryan Gosling’s character performs oral sex on Michelle Williams’. A very vocal Gosling accused the MPAA of misogyny, saying there are countless R-rated movies in which a male character receives oral sex.
Forgo Full Frontal (Male or Female)
Showing genitalia full-on (his or hers) almost guarantees an NC-17, unless it’s a fleeting glimpse — as with Sharon Stone’s crotch shot in Basic Instinct or Ben Affleck’s shower-entry scene in Gone Girl (both films are rated R). Female breasts are R-friendly, of course, one recent example being Oscar-nominated Reese Witherspoon in Wild.
Random sex acts are judged more harshly by the MPAA, according to insiders who have been through the process. In other words, the ratings board looks more kindly on a sex scene when the characters are in a marriage or serious relationship. (Same-sex interactions also get more scrutiny than heterosexual encounters.)