ByMark Newton, writer at
Movie Pilot Associate Editor. Email: [email protected]
Mark Newton

The Motion Picture Association of America has an unenviable task. On the one hand, it must attempt to protect the young and impressionable members of society from inappropriate content, while on the other it must avoid being accused of censorship at all costs.

Due to this, it has built a fairly robust standard which studios can work with and, to a certain extent, predict. You want to get that all important PG-13 rating? Well, don't say "fuck" too much, but more importantly, make sure everyone keeps (most of) their clothes on.

However, things are not necessarily the same across the pond. In France, for example, movies which would be seen as incredibly explicit in the US are allowed to be viewed by children as young as 12. Usually this has to do with nudity, with France having a famously lax attitude towards genitals, nipples and all manner of other nobly bits and pieces. For example, here are six movies which gained a high restrictive rating rating in America, but did not receive as much as a disinterested shrug from the French censorship board.

1. Showgirls

MPAA Rating: NC-17

French rating: 12

1995's Showgirls is an infamous movie in the eyes of the MPAA and audiences alike. In fact, it was the first NC-17 rated film to receive a widespread release. Previously, the rating had most been reserved for bloody horror movies, however, the amount of nudity and sex (including one violent rape scene) forced the MPAA to impose the rating for sexual content.

Over in the France, the theatrical release of Showgirls did not attract much controversy. As such, it was given a lenient 12 rating - the country's second lowest rating.

2. Shame

MPAA Rating: NC-17

French rating: 12

Steve McQueen's unflinching look at sex addiction was praised, but also heavily restricted upon its release in the US. In terms of earning a NC-17 rating for sexual content, Shame was second only to the above mentioned Showgirls.

As well as full frontal nudity from stars Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, the film features drug use and many sex scenes, one of which takes place in the back of a seedy New York bar.

Although earning the maximum rating for sexual content in the US, French censors once again decided anyone aged 12 or over could see it.

Watch the Shame trailer below:

3. Nymphomaniac Vol. 1

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

French rating: 12 (re-rated 16 on appeal)

Lars Von Trier's two-parter, Nymphomaniac, broke the mold of mainstream theatrical releases by including real sex with pornographic actors. Although the milder of the two volumes, Nymphomaniac Vol.1 includes scenes of oral sex (including a 'spitting' scene) and was described by some as "hardcore pornographic." It also includes over 30 uses of "fuck" and three instances of the dreaded C-word.

Despite this, Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 was originally rated as a 12 in France, although it was subsequently bumped up to a 16 on appeal - the same as Germany. Nymphomaniac Vol. 2 followed international convention by receiving an 18 in France. However, in the US no major distributor would handle the films, as they were officially not rated by the MPAA.

Watch the trailer for Nymphomaniac Vol 1. below:

4. Requiem for a Dream

MPAA Rating: R

French rating: 12

A harrowing look at drug addiction and associated mental illnesses, Requiem for a Dream is a movie which would likely disturb most adults. However, censors in France felt their youths would be able to handle the adult themes, which include drug taking, graphic sex, violence, profanity and intense hallucination scenes.

The movie was generally rated quite high across the world, but in some instances it was subsequently downgraded on appeal. The artistic merits of Darren Aronofsky's film, including its negative portrayal of drugs, was seen as beneficial to adolescents.

Watch the Requiem for a Dream trailer below:

5. Fifty Shades of Grey

MPAA Rating: R

French rating: 12

Although some were left disappointed by the lack of mature sexuality in Fifty Shades of Grey, the adaptation of E.L. James's fan-fiction turned international best seller still did enough to earn an R-rating in the US.

However, the lack of graphic sex scenes meant French children as young as 12 were allowed into be admitted into screenings - despite claims Fifty Shades of Grey showed 'bizarre' sexual practices.

Check out the Fifty Shades of Grey trailer below:

6. Blue Is the Warmest Color

MPAA Rating: NC-17

French rating: 12

Abdellatif Kechiche's Palme d'Or winner, Blue Is the Warmest Color, couldn't be further from Fifty Shades of Grey in terms of sexual maturity, although it still earned a higher rating. The French film, which tells of the emerging sexuality of a young woman, featured several graphic sex scenes, both heterosexual and lesbian. These often extended scenes of nudity and passionate love-making meant it earned the maximum rating in the US, while, it only garnered a 12 in its native France.

However, some independent cinemas in the US vowed to show the film with its French rating as opposed to its MPAA recommended one. They claimed the film, which shows a romantic relationship between two young women, was both artistically and tastefully made, while its themes of sexual discovery could only be positive to similar young people.

Watch the Blue Is the Warmest Color trailer below:

These are just a few example of movies rated much lower in France (and often elsewhere in Europe) than in the US. What is most interesting is that these movies were rated due to their sexual content, including scenes of nudity, something which is inherently natural and often positive. Despite this, these are clearly seen as taboo enough to earn the maximum rating allowed in mainstream theaters.

However, the MPAA has recently been increasingly criticized for its leniency when it comes to violence in PG-13 rated movies. Recent studies have shown that PG-13 movies often contain more gun violence than R and NC-17 rated films, although the results of this violence (blood, guts, graphic deaths) are rarely shown to the audience. So, if we follow this logic, it's apparently fine for young teens to see humans blow holes in each other, just as long as they don't blow anything else.