Why is 'Blonde' – Netflix's Marilyn Monroe biopic – rated NC-17 instead of TV-MA?

The NC-17 rating has historically been a film certification that’s bad for business due to its adults-only label and pornographic stigma.

Yet Netflix’s Marilyn Monroe biopic, “Blonde,” will carry the rating – a first for the company. On Sept. 28, 2022, it will debut on its streaming platform, following a Venice Film Festival premiere.

Based on Joyce Carol Oates’s 2000 book and starring Ana de Armas, the film reportedly includes a graphic rape scene and a vaginal point-of-view shot in its treatment of the Hollywood icon’s life and career.

I study the rating system and am the author of “The Naked Truth: Why Hollywood Doesn’t Make X-Rated Movies.”

Movies carrying the NC-17 rating were often difficult to screen and promote, as they were locked out of some movie theater chains and traditional advertising. The critically acclaimed, sexually graphic “Blue is the Warmest Color” in 2013 was the last serious film released with the rating. Despite making over $2.2 million on 142 screens, its relative success as an NC-17 film didn’t fuel the production of any more movies like it.

So why would Netflix resurrect a rarely used, contentious, and restrictive NC-17 for “Blonde”? Netflix’s 2020 film “Cuties,” which caused a PR crisis over the perceived hypersexualization of young girls, now has a “TV-MA” rating on the streaming service. Why wouldn’t the company simply use the same rating for “Blonde”?

From ‘X’ to ‘NC-17’

The NC-17 is one of five ratings – the others are G, PG, PG-13 and R – that the Classification and Rating Administration, a division of the Motion Picture Association, assigns to films submitted for certification.

NC-17 means “No one 17 and under admitted.” This classification prevents children from purchasing a ticket or entering a theater, even if accompanied by an adult. It replaced the X rating in 1990, which had been the adults-only marker since Motion Picture Association of America President Jack Valenti created the rating system in 1968.