The future of NC-17 -- ''Showgirls'' offers new hope for the controversial rating, but will other movies follow suit?

With Showgirls now demonstrating that Hollywood can go topless without tanking, are NC-17 movies the next bust-out market — or just another bust? Both arguments have currency in the wake of Showgirls‘ $8.1 million opening weekend. ”The [adults-only] label has been reclaimed,” crows Pulp Fiction executive producer and Jersey Films president Stacey Sher. ”Studios won’t be scared to do an NC-17 movie with the right material.”

Indeed, Showgirls‘ debut on 1,388 screens and its breach of once inviolable marketing barriers has earned MGM/UA industry kudos. ”We’ve been told for years you can’t get [TV] ad time or [print] space for an NC-17 release, but MGM/UA did it,” says Craig Baumgarten, producer of Paramount’s upcoming Jade. ”Some subject matter we’ve stepped away from because we couldn’t do it honestly.”

The issue of principle remains: Even if NC-17 seems more viable, is it desirable? ”In very few cases,” says Baumgarten — and Jade isn’t one of them. Paramount toned down the Joe Eszterhas-scripted erotic thriller, due Oct. 13, to an R by cutting footage of a male cast member’s testicles. Fine Line made similar cuts to secure an R for Total Eclipse, a portrait of two 19th-century poets already notorious for Leonardo DiCaprio’s and David Thewlis’ S&M couplings. To the executive VP of one studio, trims like these make sense: ”There’s too much porn in video stores for people to want to see this [at the movies].”

Meanwhile, some distributors don’t see edits or the NC-17 rating as the answer. Two independent releases — Trimark’s romance The Doom Generation (Oct. 27), which ends with a castration; and the clinically sexual Angels and Insects (January) — will carry no rating at all, a liberty their distributors can take because they aren’t signatories of the MPAA. Given these compromises, does Showgirls‘ gamble mean more NC-17 movies at local theaters? No, says Twentieth Century Fox distribution exec Tom Sherak. ”Studios look for home runs,” he says. ”That’s an uphill fight once you limit your audience to grown-ups.” In short, why aim for the lap when you can swing for the fences? — Reporting by Tiarra Mukherjee and Stephen Schaefer

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