First let me specify. An X rating back in the 1960’s to the beginning of the 80’s did not mean pornography. Yes, by the 1980’s the pornography industry took over the X rating because the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) did not trademark it, but films released in theaters with an X rating were not porn. Films that received an X rating were deemed unsuitable for children under 17 and could not be admitted, whereas adults could take a child to see an R rated film under their supervision.
Since the X rating became synonymous with pornography, the MPAA dropped the rating and trademarked a new rating, the NC-17 rating, which stands for “No Children under the age of 17”, meaning no one under 17 is admitted even if accompanied by a parent. Honestly, I don’t think it’s that bad of an idea to rate more films “X” or nowadays NC-17 because I believe children should simply not be allowed to see what would be called “hard R” films. If a film is deemed a “hard R” then it should be rated NC-17, whereas Rambo: First Blood Pt. II is a very “soft R” and I would allow a teenager to see such a film.
When first presented to the MPAA these films were originally rated X. As stated above this mean that no one under the age of 17 could enter the film. Mostly every film given an X rating would have to be re-cut because A). Most theaters would not even carry an X rated film and B). An X rated film would most likely receive poor box office returns therefore making it a financial failure.
Nowadays director’s know that if there film is going to be rated NC-17 due to too much gore then they won’t even present such a version to the MPAA. Instead, they will release a cut they believe will be rated R (sometimes they have to do a little cutting) and later on home video they will release the “Unrated Cut” which means this was not submitted to the MPAA for rating. An unrated version is a clear indicator the film would have received an “X” or today an NC-17. Normally an unrated cut is for publicity sake and to increase DVD sales. If this increases sales then why this version isn’t put into theaters is a discussion for another time.
The 80’s was a time for a lot of movies to get the X rating. Most of the films listed below were re-cut to gain an R rating, except one film kept the X (later re-rated to NC-17) and went to theaters anyway. It’s a worthy argument that if these films had entered cinemas with the X they would not have been or be the popular films they are today (except for a few of the films at the bottom haha).
Robocop (1987) This film was deemed too violent so it was given an X rating by the MPAA. The director, Paul Verhoeven, didn’t want his film going into cinemas with an X rating so he had to edit out violence to receive the more acceptable R. Today the R rated version is not available on most home video releases, so home audiences are getting the director’s original “X” rated cut.
Total Recall (1990) Paul Verhoeven just can’t catch a break. A few years later, his film, Total Recall, would also initially get the X rating from the MPAA. Of course it didn’t go to theaters with the X and instead got the R. Again it was a violence issue and a few scenes had to be trimmed since they were considered too gory.
Scarface (1983) Is anyone surprised? If you’ve seen Scarface you know what I’m talking about. This film was submitted three times to the MPAA and each time it came back to director Brian De Palma with the X rating. De Palma was so frustrated he told the head of Universal to either release the film as is or replace him from the editing room. Well you don’t go around upsetting De Palma like that because he’s a big deal director. Universal appealed to the MPAA who relented that the third cut of the film would be released with an R rating. De Palma actually snuck the cuts back into the film and released it to the theaters. So he got his “X” rated film into cinemas with an R rating.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) I’ve seen this movie and as far as horror films go it’s kind of hokey and not that bad. If you’ve seen the movie you know there are some bloody sequences (nothing too bad by today’s standards though) so they had to do some minor cutting to secure the R over the X.
The Evil Dead (1981) This may be the most interesting film on the list. I say this because this indie horror film did not make any cuts to ensure it got an R rating. This film went to the theaters with the X rating and was quite popular (and still is) and was even screened at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival. That being said it did have issues with distribution into certain theaters and it was so offensive to some countries that it was and still is banned. It was banned in the UK & Ireland but I believe that restriction has been lifted. Once the X rating was retired the film was re-rated to NC-17 and it still holds this rating today. For promotional purposes (as usual) the home video release does not say NC-17 so don’t go rushing to your shelf to check if you actually own an officially labeled NC-17 film. Instead whoever released the film for home media conception opted to simply put “Not Rated” on the box, though we know that isn’t true. The sequel Evil Dead II also received the X but opted to be re-cut to receive an R but is still banned in a few countries.
Friday the 13th (1980) Violence clearly (though it’s not that violent). Actually most of the Friday the 13th films were originally rated X but all of them have been edited for an R rating.
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) I have noooo idea why this got an X. Probably just a little too much bloodshed. I’ve seen this movie and I don’t remember this film being very violent.
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989) Again I have nooo idea why this would be rated X. My biggest guess is because there are two child protagonists who are put in peril and the MPAA didn’t want kids seeing that.