A Brief History of X-Rated Movies Winning Oscars

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In recent years, critically acclaimed films like Shame and Blue is the Warmest Color had their dreams of Oscars glory shot down due to their racy rating.
The real difference between an R-rated and an NC-17 rated film? Sex. In fact, the term “NC-17” was first created in 1990 as an artistic alternative to the X rating, long associated with pornography. So, if a movie has a drawn-out intercourse scene or shows full nudity, the MPAA will brand it with the NC-17 — usually condemning the film to box office suicide.
Here's a history of the three movies in all of Oscars history that have scored noms despite their X ratings — and the one movie whose Oscar dreams were almost dashed by the MPAA.
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Midnight Cowboy (1970)

In 1970, the X-rated Midnight Cowboy was nominated for seven awards and walked away with Best Picture. Starring Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, the movie tells the story of a naive Texas drifter's partnership with a cynical New York man of the streets. In the bleak, smutty world of 1960s Times Square, Ratso Rizzo shows Joe Buck how to make his way in a city that doesn't care a cent about him.

The film received an X rating due to its unabashed portrayal of prostitution and homosexuality. At the time, however, its X rating wasn’t as shocking as an NC-17 is today. The X rating was introduced in 1968 to indicate it wasn’t appropriate for children, not necessarily that it was full of sex.

Since 1974, Midnight Cowboy has been downgraded to R.
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A Clockwork Orange (1972)

Most people still haven't recovered from their first time seeing this riveting, disturbing film, directed by Stanley Kubrick. Set in a dystopian future of the United States, A Clockwork Orange follows a gang of boys on their forays into a mischievous, terrifying sort of violence. Alex and his "droogs," the term for friends in the boys' slang language, terrorize people in their bleak society with a strange sort of charisma.

Released in 1971, the chaotic satire spoke to the uncertainty of the present day. A Clockwork Orange became a huge hit despite its X rating, and garnered nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. Like Midnight Cowboy, A Clockwork Orange's rating was later downgraded to an R.
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Last Tango in Paris (1974)

Still rated NC-17 to this day, Last Tango in Paris shocked audiences with its graphic sex scenes. Star Marlon Brando received a Best Actor nomination, and director Bernado Bertolucci got a nod for his work as a director.

Recently, long after Brando and Bertolucci's deaths, it was revealed that the film’s iconic rape scene was completely non-consensual and designed to humiliate 19-year-old actress Maria Schneider.
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Blue Valentine (2010)

The team at the helm of Blue Valentine was dismayed that the emotional romance garnered an NC-17, since it effectively ruled the movie out of award show season. Distributor Harvey Weinstein rallied the Hollywood community to express its disapproval at the harsh rating. Three weeks before its grand release, Weinstein successfully persuaded the MPAA to downgrade the rating to an R.

Actress Michelle Williams later was nominated for Best Actress, a feat made possible because of the R rating.

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