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A classification devised by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) in 1968 to designate certain films containing excessive violence or explicit sexuality. It was replaced in 1990 by the NC-17 rating (no one 17 and under admitted).
Since the 1920s the U.S. movie industry has practiced self-regulation to forestall government Censorship. In 1968 MPAA and NATO adopted a Movie Rating system that is based on age classification. Any film produced or distributed by members of MPAA must receive a rating from a Ratings Board, which is part of its Classification and Rating Administration. There are five rating classifications: G (suitable for all ages), PG (parental guidance suggested), PG-13 (may not be suitable for children under age 13), R (restricted, children younger than age 17 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian), and, until 1990, X (no one under age 17 admitted.) In 1990 the X rating was changed to NC-17.
The distinction between the R and the X rating was based on the overall sexual or violent content of a movie. A movie was given an R rating if it contained adult themes, nudity, sex, and profanity. A movie given an X rating contained an accumulation of brutal or sexually connotative language or explicit sex, or excessive and sadistic violence.
Over time very few MPAA-produced movies were given an X rating. If an X rating was awarded, a producer would usually reedit the film to qualify for an R rating. This reediting was done because theater owners generally refused to book X-rated movies, thereby reducing the size of the potential audience. In the 1970s the X rating concept was used by the producers and exhibitors of pornographic movies as a promotional device. Though these films were not MPAA productions and the producers could not submit their films for review, the X rating was not trademarked by MPAA. This meant that pornographic films could be advertised as X-rated or XXX-rated, which suggested that MPAA's X rating was a code for hardcore Pornography.
Because of this problem, the X rating was changed in 1990 to NC-17. MPAA sought to reaffirm the Original Intent of the 1968 ratings design, in which the "adults-only" category explicitly describes a movie that most parents would not want their children to see. Despite the attempt to remove the taint of pornography from the adults-only category, the NC-17 rating, like the X rating before it, is avoided by motion picture companies. Theater owners remain opposed to exhibiting films that substantially restrict the size of the potential audience, many of whom are seventeen years old or younger.
Classification and Rating Administration Website. 2000. "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Movie Rating System." Available online at <www.filmratings.com/questions.htm> (accessed December 1, 2003).