9 Best NC-17 Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors

Find the best movies rated NC-17, as per MPAA rating standards. These recommendations are at the same time acclaimed by critics and highly-rated by users.

More simply called La Vie d'Adèle in its native language, this French coming-of-age movie was hugely successful when it came out and was probably one of the most talked-about films of the time. On the one hand, the usual puritans came to the fore, criticizing the lengthy and graphic sex scenes. On the other hand, Julie Maroh, who wrote the source material that inspired the script, denounced Franco-Tunisian filmmaker Abdellatif Kechiche for directing with his d*ck, if you don't mind me saying so, while also being an on-set tyrant. Whatever you make of this in hindsight, the only way to know is to watch this powerfully acted drama about the titular Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), and her infatuation with Emma, a free-spirited girl with blue hair, played by Léa Seydoux. The film beautifully and realistically portrays Adele's evolution from a teenage high-school girl to a grown, confident woman. As their relationship matures, so does Adèle, and she slowly begins to outgrow her sexual and philosophical mentor. Whatever your final verdict on the controversial sex scene, Blue Is the Warmest Color is without doubt an outstanding film as are the performances from Exarchopoulos and Séydoux.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adèle Exarchopoulos, Alain Duclos, Alika Del Sol, Alma Jodorowsky, Anne Loiret, Aurélien Recoing, Aurelie Lemanceau, Aurélien Recoing, Baya Rehaz, Benjamin Siksou, Benoît Pilot, Benoît Pilot, Bouraouïa Marzouk, Camille Rutherford, Catherine Salée, Catherine Salée, Éric Paul, Fanny Maurin, Halima Slimani, Jérémie Laheurte, Jérémie Laheurte, Judith Hoersch, Justine Nissart, Karim Saidi, Klaim Nivaux, Léa Seydoux, Maelys Cabezon, Maud Wyler, Mona Walravens, Quentin Médrinal, Salim Kechiouche, Samir Bella, Sandor Funtek

Director: Abdellatif Kechiche

Rating: NC-17

When Brian was eight years old he lost five hours of his life to a black out. Now ten years later he is searching for the truth. His search leads him to Neil, a boy who was on his little league team the summer of the blackout. Brian has always believed he was abducted by aliens from the dreams he had with Neil in them. Neil however knows the truth. Neil had just left the small town life and moved to New York. When he comes home for Christmas and meets Brian will he finally tell him the answers he has been looking for? This is the story of one boy who can't remember and a boy who can't forget.

Genre: Drama, Mystery

Actor: Bill Sage, Billy Drago, Brady Corbet, Bruno Alexander, Chase Ellison, Chris Mulkey, David Alan Graf, David Lee Smith, Elisabeth Shue, Gwenne Hudson, Jeffrey Licon, Joan Blair, John Ganun, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Kelly Kruger, Larry Marko, Lisa Long, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Michelle Trachtenberg, Reedy Gibbs, Richard Riehle, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Zane Huett

Director: Gregg Araki

Rating: NC-17

There’s a cyclical tragedy at the heart of Bad Education, that starts with love, then continues in separation, and ends with hoping to redeem one’s self, and it would have felt repetitive if it wasn’t for the metafictional framing of Pedro Almodóvar. It boldly tackles the sexual abuse occurring in Catholic boarding schools, from which Almodóvar was educated under. It also explores it through a series of brilliant twists, as each reveal essentially repeats again and again, with each remix increasing the stakes, weaving a new layer to the love triangle, and exacerbating the consequences. Bad Education blends Enrique’s, and perhaps Almodóvar’s, life with fiction, with the brilliance and style Almodóvar is best known for.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Agustín Almodóvar, Alberto Ferreiro, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Fele Martínez, Francisco Boira, Francisco Maestre, Gael García Bernal, Javier Cámara, José María Yázpik, Juan Fernandez, Leonor Watling, Lluís Homar, Nacho Perez, Pau Poch, Petra Martínez, Pol Monen, Raul Garcia Forneiro, Sara Montiel

Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Rating: NC-17

When falling in love with another, or when another person falls in love with you, the relationship is formed by the ideas in your and their heads, specifically about your dynamic, your respective personalities, and the potential outcome of this love. Law of Desire is centered on this idea, unfolding through a chaotic gay love triangle that demonstrates the ways the ideas and fantasies can differ. And as the characters inevitably go through fairly melodramatic reactions when they realize the desires of another person, in the most colorful fashion (literally and figuratively), Pedro Almodóvar creates an amusing and daring examination of the genre it’s inspired by.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Agustín Almodóvar, Alfonso Vallejo, Antonio Banderas, Bibiana Fernandez, Carmen Maura, Eusebio Poncela, Fernando Guillén, Fernando Guillen, Fernando Guillén Cuervo, Germán Cobos, Germán Cobos, Helga Line, Lupe Barrado, Manuela Velasco, Marta Fernandez Muro, Miguel Molina, Nacho Martinez, Pedro Almodóvar, Rossy de Palma, Victoria Abril

Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Rating: NC-17

, 2011

A devastating depiction of sexual addiction, featuring Michael Fassbender in one of the most remarkable acting displays of the entire year. His performance is nearly matched by Carey Mulligan as his wayward sister, whose intrusion into his lifestyle sets the central conflict of the story in motion. To sex what Requiem for a Dream was to drugs, this is NOT a film to be viewed in any sort of mixed company (note the NC-17 rating). Director and renowned British artist Steve McQueen continues his ascension toward filmmaking royalty, in follow-up to his extraordinary 2008 feature Hunger (also starring Fassbender).

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alex Manette, Amy Hargreaves, Anna Rose Hopkins, Calamity Chang, Carey Mulligan, Carl Low, Charisse Bellante, Chazz Menendez, Deedee Luxe, Elizabeth Masucci, Hannah Ware, Jake Siciliano, James Badge Dale, Loren Omer, Lucy Walters, Mari-Ange Ramirez, Marta Milans, Michael Fassbender, Nicole Beharie, Rachel Farrar, Robert Montano

Director: Steve McQueen

Rating: NC-17

With an acrobat in a sanitarium, elephant trunks spouting blood, and a religious cult whose patron saint is a rape victim, Santa Sangre isn’t going to be an easy watch, especially with the avant-garde direction of the iconic Alejandro Jodorowsky. It’s tough to watch the explicit scenes, both of Fenix’s childhood circus reality and his adult hallucinations, with the hallucinations visually recalling his childhood trauma. But through these terrifying, freaky images, Jodorowsky takes his own memories and crafts it into a twisted, but deeply personal psychosexual nightmare, confronting the exploitative nature of faith and family through various circus acts. Santa Sangre is one of its kind.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller

Actor: Adan Jodorowsky, Axel Jodorowsky, Blanca Guerra, Brontis Jodorowsky, Faviola Elenka Tapia, Gustavo Aguilar Tejada, Guy Stockwell, Héctor Ortega, Hilario 'Popitekus' Vargas, Jacobo Lieberman, Jesús Juárez, Joaquín García Vargas, Sabrina Dennison, Sergio Bustamante, Teo Jodorowsky, Teo Tapia, Thelma Tixou, Valérie Crouzet, Zonia Rangel Mora

Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky

Rating: NC-17

During wartime, war supersedes everything, including love. Wartime would have people ending relationships, forgoing potential dates, and seducing enemies to lead them to downfall, all in order to win, but sometimes, this rarely goes as planned. Lust, Caution is one such story, with the novella’s emotional repression making it a great match for director Ang Lee, main actor Tony Leung Chiu-wai as Japanese informant, and main actress Tang Wei, who made her breakthrough here. It’s not an easy watch. There are moments that falter and the film is a tad too long. But the smoldering stares shared by the two leads, with the lush production design and the beautiful direction, makes Lust, Caution a difficult contemplation of love and sexuality as Wang’s, and the nation’s, double-edged sword.

Genre: Action, Drama, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Akiko Takeshita, Anupam Kher, Cheng Yu-Lai, Chih-ying Chu, Chin Ka-lok, Chung Hua Tou, Hayato Fujiki, He Saifei, Jacqueline Zhu Zhi-Ying, Joan Chen, Johnson Yuen, Johnson Yuen Tak-Cheung, Kar Lok Chin, Ko Yu-Luen, Lawrence Ko, Lawrence Ko Yu-Luen, Lee Hom Wang, Leehom Wang, Lisa Lu, Liu Jie, Saifei He, Song Ruhui, Tang Wei, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Tou Chung-Hua, Tou Tsung-Hua, Ven Kao, Vince Kao, Wang Lin, Wei Tang, Yan Su, Ying-hsien Kao

Director: Ang Lee

Rating: NC-17

, 2023

Being made for free, fanfiction is free to play with controversial, less print-friendly concepts like gender-bending your favorite character. This freedom might go into strange territory, but most often than not, writers use fanfiction for escapism or for catharsis of their day-to-day lives. While the film doesn’t delve into fanfiction’s creative process, Polish drama Fanfic does recognize how the genre’s experimentation allows its writers to safely and freely explore different styles of expression, the same way teenage years hopefully do for its viewers. And as Tosiek goes through the trappings of coming-of-age self-discovery, it’s lovely and comforting and cathartic like the stories he writes.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adam Cywka, Agnieszka Rajda, Alin Szewczyk, Anna Krotoska, Dobromir Dymecki, Ewelina Starejki, Helena Sujecka, Ignacy Liss, Jakub Wróblewski, Jan Cięciara, Kaya Kołodziejczyk, Krzysztof Oleksyn, Maja Szopa, Marcin Perchuć, Mateusz Górski, Natalia Łągiewczyk, Radosław Krzyżowski, Stanisław Cywka, Sylwia Achu, Wiktoria Kruszczyńska

Director: Marta Karwowska

Rating: NC-17

Happiness is a difficult, disturbing watch. Unlike films that claim to be brave, Happiness actually goes there and shows us just how deep, dark, and perverse our urges can get. But far from being controversial for the sake of it, this fearless film has important things to say about the facade of happiness, the urgency of loneliness, and the futility of feigning ignorance about both. And it does so with an impressively wry humor delivered by a talented cast that includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lara Flynn Boyle, and Dylan Baker. They play their complicated characters so well, they'll have you thinking about the strange ways you can, in fact, relate to them on some level, long after the credits roll. 

This isn't a film you'll want to revisit often, but you will have to see it at least once in a lifetime—if anything, for the kind of painful honesty you’ll rarely find anywhere else.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Ann Harada, Anne Bobby, Arthur J. Nascarella, Ben Gazzara, Bina Sharif, Camryn Manheim, Cynthia Stevenson, Dan Moran, Diane Tyler, Douglas McGrath, Dylan Baker, Elizabeth Ashley, Gerry Becker, Jane Adams, Jared Harris, Joe Lisi, Johann Carlo, Jon Lovitz, José Rabelo, Justin Elvin, Lara Flynn Boyle, Lisa Louise Langford, Louise Lasser, Marina Gayzidorskaya, Marla Maples, Matt Malloy, Molly Shannon, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rufus Read, Socorro Santiago, Todd Solondz, Wai Ching Ho

Director: Todd Solondz

Rating: NC-17