The MPAA ratings system tomorrow celebrates its 40th birthday — four full decades of tormenting filmmakers, distributors and, ultimately, audiences with an inconsistent moral code symbolized by those infamous G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17 ratings. In an interview published Thursday in Time, MPAA chief Dan Glickman and ratings board chair Joan Graves reflected warmly on the system's evolution over the years; and while we agree that Hollywood's self-governance is preferable to the zealotry of the Hays Code and other puritanical watchdogs who preceded it, Graves and Co. remain the city's worst censors by any other name. So join us after the jump to commemorate the MPAA's milestone with a look back at 40 decisions affirming its less-than-inspiring legacy. Unhappy 40th, everyone![In no particular order] · The Thomas Crown Affair: The 1968 original was rated R simply for its suggestive chess match between Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. · The Panic in Needle Park: An early, ugly example of the MPAA's screenplay-vetting process talked up by Graves last summer. The 1971 Al Pacino starrer had its script rated X before going into production; the filmmakers revised drug-addiction and sexuality plot points to earn an R for the finished film. Pure censorship, and a process that continues to this day.
· Lost In Translation: Scarlett Johansson's sheer-pantied ass notwithstanding, Sofia Coppola's Oscar-winner was rated R for one brief scene of nudity in a Tokyo strip joint. · Saints and Soldiers: This 2004 Mormon-produced WWII drama featuring no sex and minimal language and violence, but was threatened with an R-rating for one scene where a main character is shot and killed. The scene was cut; Saints received a PG-13. · Facing the Giants: The producers of the 2006 Christian-themed football film battled with the ratings board after it ruled Giants' evangelical content was too emphatic for a G rating. It was the first and only time the MPAA had looked at spiritual themes as a basis for a more restrictive rating. · Requiem For a Dream: Hit with an NC-17 for the climactic "ass-to-ass" orgy featuring Jennifer Connelly. Distributor Artisan released it without a rating, thus limiting its exposure in theater chains and advertising outlets. · The arbitrarily-enforced "Tobacco Rule": The MPAA announced in 2007 that it would weight scenes featuring smoking when considering its rating. Yet a study last spring reported that 38% of G- and PG-rated movies and 58% of PG-13 movies got away with featuring tobacco use. Moreover, in 2003, the Oscar-nominated New Zealand film Whale Rider earned a PG-13 just for a brief shot of pot paraphernalia its makers refused to cut.
· The Passion of the Christ: Two years before Giants, the MPAA had used the same religious themes as its rationale for allowing The Passion of the Christ through uncut with an R-rating. · Saving Private Ryan: Received an R-rating and a "history exemption" from the ratings board despite graphic war violence including dismembered bodies, disembowelments, exploded heads and close-ups of Nazi-on-Adam Goldberg homicide. · Boys Don't Cry: Threatened with an NC-17 for a lingering shot of a topless Chloe Sevigny experiencing an orgasm, but allowed to keep the climactic rape scene and gunshot to Brondon Teena's head. · Eyes Wide Shut: Received an NC-17 for explicit sexuality and nudity in a masked orgy sequence. Warner Bros. was forced to add digital obtrusions for an R, certainly just the way the late Stanley Kubrick would have wanted it. · Dawn of the Dead: George Romero's second film in the Dead series was all but banned upon its release in 1978, when he avoided an X by agreeing to a conspicuous advertising disclaimer noting the film's graphic gore and violence — at least in the theaters that would have him.
· Showgirls: United Artists decide to embrace the NC-17 rating handed down for graphic nudity, sexuality and language in 1993, despite the resulting banishment from mainstream theater chains and advertising outlets. The critical evisceration was even more graphic, relegating the film to purgatory until its cult-canon renaissance in recent years. · Basic Instinct: Another notorious Paul Verhoeven/Joe Esterhazs collaboration; cut huge chunks of graphic sex and violence for an R, but was allowed to keep Sharon Stone's infamous crotch shot. · Henry and June: The first film to be released with an NC-17 rating, was an instant pariah among theater owners, newspaper publishers and audiences. · The Dreamers: Nearly 30 years after his X-rated Last Tango in Paris featured Maroln Brando in an Oscar-nominated performance, Bernardo Bertolucci's '60s sex-cinema-politics fantasia died in the American arthouse ghetto with an NC-17. · The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover: Helen Mirren (and pretty much everyone else) bared all in Peter Greenaway's controversial 1990 sex-and-cannibalism drama, which was released unrated by Miramax. Harvey Weinstein made the most of the controversy, and actually made $7 million theatrically despite the MPAA making a permament enemy of Greenaway. · Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer: Another 1990 scandal that didn't pan out for its independent distributor; despite near-unanimous critical plaudits, its X rating and eventual unrated release died instantly in theaters, barely cracking $600,000 before finding eternal life (and an unlikely franchise) on video. · Lust, Caution: Though Graves cites Ang Lee's graphically sexual Chinese espionage drama as an example of an ideal application of the NC-17, the film earned less than 8% of its $66 million worldwide gross in the United States. Worse yet, latching on to moral objections made loudest by the MPAA, the Chinese governement later banned star Tang Wei from acting again in her native country. (Co-star and Hong Kong legend Tony Leung Chiu Wai, though, experienced no such problems.)
· Waiting For Guffman: A classic example of the "Fuck Rule"; a Christopher Guest mockumentary with no sex or violence but featuring the F-word used one too many times in an actor's audition using the scene from Raging Bull. Its R-rating was upheld on appeal. (You can use "fuck" in a non-sexual way up to four times in and retain a PG-13 — maybe.) · The Cooler: Threatened with an NC-17 for a brief glimpse of Maria Bello's pubic hair after receiving oral sex from William H. Macy. The shot was edited down for an R. · L.I.E.: The 2001 indie drama was smacked with an NC-17 for its focus on the relationship between a pedophile (Brian Cox) and a teenage boy (Paul Dano). Its distributors lost an appeal and released the film unrated; it disappeared from theaters and was eventually re-cut for video to obtain an R-rating. · Orgazmo: Trey Parker's Mormon-missionary porn comedy earned an NC-17 that — granted, along with its title — doomed it to a $602,000 box-office run in 1998. Sliver lining: Parker's MPAA battles became the basis for his and Matt Stone's instant classic South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, which faced more ratings hurdles but emerged with an R — and a $52 million gross — a year later.
· Captivity: The MPAA took the unprecedented step of suspending the ratings process for Roland Joffe's torture-porn opus after distributor After Dark Films ran advertisements the board deemed inappropriate. The film was eventually cut and released with an R-rating. · The Hammer: The "fuck rule" again; Adam Carrolla's sexless, mildly violent boxing comedy was hit with an R for a single F-bomb. · But I'm a Cheerleader: Jaime Babbit's drew an NC-17 for its depictions of lesbian sexuality and satirical treatment of gay-conversion therapy. · A Dirty Shame: Long-time ratings-board nemesis John Waters released his raunchy 2004 comedy with an NC-17 after the raters insisted only a heavy re-edit could earn an R. Unable to procure advertising space or key theatrical venues, the film bombed. · Where the Truth Lies: Atom Egoyan refused to cut a long, unedited take of a sex scene featuring Kevin Bacon and Rachel Blanchard, forcing him to release the film unrated. It made $872,000. · This Film Is Not Yet Rated: Kirby Dick submitted his MPAA expose for a rating in 2005; having featured every cut scene from dozens former ratings-board target (not to mention a searing indictment of the board's hypocrisy), it drew an irrevocable NC-17 and was released unrated.
· Scream: Was first rated NC-17 for graphic violence but eventually trimmed by director Wes Craven to obtain an R rating. · American Psycho: The combination of sex and violence in the satirical Bret Easton Ellis adaptation earned an NC-17 and was cut for an R. · Billy Elliott: The endearing tale of a working-class 11-year-old boy's coming of age in a ballet class was a worldwide sleeper hit for all ages depite earning a ridiculous R-rating in the US for incidental language. · Trainspotting: Required cutting of drug-induced depravity and violence to shake off its initial NC-17. · Zack and Miri Make a Porno: Another Harvey Weinstein controversy special; Kevin Smith's raunchy comedy earned an NC-17 that was reduced to an R on appeal. · Jersey Girl: Fours years earlier, Smith was required to tone down some of the frank sex talk between Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler to obtain the PG-13 he sought.
· The Dark Knight: Got away with a PG-13 despite featuring a character with half his face burned off, violent onscreen murders by the Joker and scads of other disturbing imagery. · Max Payne: Required significant cuts of scenes of violence and disturbing imagery for a PG-13; director John Moore famously cited more severe material that appeared in The Dark Knight, accusing the ratings board of "sucking Warner Bros.' cock." · There Will Be Blood: Also featured less blood and gore than The Dark Knight (and virtually no strong language) but received an R rating for "some violence." · Crash: David Cronenberg refused to cut his perverse paean to car-wreck sex, stump-fucking and other depravity, releasing the film with an NC-17. · Titanic: Received a PG-13 despite long, "artistic" topless shots of Kate Winslet and a (literally) steamy sex scene between Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio · Gunner Palace: The Oscar-nominated Iraq documentary was faced with an R-rating for strong language; its filmmakers fought for a PG-13 and finally earned it on the basis of its journalistic nature.