The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) issues the movie ratings you see in the newspaper. Motion picture companies are under no legal obligation to have their movies rated, but they are not allowed to affix their own rating. In order to obtain a G, PG, PG-13 or R rating, a fee must be paid to the MPAA. An MPAA committee views each film and issues an edict that sets the rating, subject to appeal, None of the major film companies is willing to bypass the MPAA ratings. Since the rating codes were instituted in the 1960s, there has actually been much less pressure on studios to reduce violence and sexual content. Also some newspapers refuse to accept advertising for non-MPAA-rated movies, and most film executives feel that the rating system has worked reasonably well as a warning device for concerned parents.
The X-rating was originally conceived as the designation for any movie suitable only for adults, regardless of genre. Such critics favorites as the Best Picture Oscar-winning Midnight Cowboy were rated X because of their mature subject matter, and A Clockwork Orange was rated X for its violence and intensity.
With only a few other exceptions, non-pornographic X-rated movies have bombed at the box office. Any film that catered to adults automatically excluded many of the most rabid moviegoers – teenagers. The advertisements for so-called “adult films” gladly trumpeted their X ratings: how better to prove the salaciousness of a movie than by prohibiting children from viewing it? Even better, MPAA rules allowed companies to rate their films X without the association’s certification, a policy that enabled low budget film companies to nab an X rating without paying the fee of nearly a thousand dollars. As the few mainstream X-rated films were overwhelmed by the multitude of X-rated porn movies, major companies like Paramount and Columbia refused to release any X-rated movies, for X had become synonymous with smut.
The producers of adult films had the opposite problem. Here they were, trying to purvey their X-rated product, when prestigious films like Midnight Cowboy were sullying the reputation of the adult-only rating by containing redeeming social value.
David F. Friedman, board chairman of the Adult Film Association of America, told us that the XXX rating was actually started as a joke, to distinguish “straight films”, with the mature content, from pornography. There is not now and has never been a formal XXX rating for the movies; it has always been a marketing ploy adopted by film distributors and/or movie exhibitors.
Is there any difference between an X- and XXX-rated movie?
According to Friedman, no. Although some customers might believe that an XXX-rated movie is “harder” than the simple X, this has never been the case. Many pornographic films are made in several versions: hard-core X-rated; a “soft” X, used for localities where hard-core is banned; a “cable” version, a doctored once-explicit version; and an expurgated R-rated version, designed for playoffs in nonporno theaters, such as drive-ins.
Whether of not any of these versions of a pornographic movies is billed as X or XXX is more dependant on the whims of the producer or the theater management than on the content of the movie.
Why no XX rating? Who knows?
Once someone started the XXX, who was going to say that their movie wasn’t quite a sexy? X-inflation is likely to remain rampant as long as pornographic theaters.