In the United States, the term X-rated applies to movies featuring explicit sex or, more rarely, to movies featuring extensive graphic violence. The term is now purely a colloquialism; it is not a trademark nor does it have any other legal status. At one time, it was used as a rating by the MPAA. For instance, the film Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer was originally rated X by the MPAA and has since been released on video in an unrated version. Nowadays the rating NC-17 is used instead. All the ratings used by the MPAA, which administers the MPAA film rating system, are trademarked by them.

There has never been an MPAA rating higher than "X". Any movie can call itself "X," "XX," or "XXX," provided that it does not claim that these are MPAA ratings. Today, any film that uses any of these ratings is typically pornographic and the "ratings" are used as a marketing gimmic. Supposedly, the more X's the film contains, the more graphic it is. Since the X ratings are unadministered, producers can assign any number of X's to a title they desire, so the number of X's beyond one has little meaning aside from the fact that the film is pornographic.

In the United States, Midnight Cowboy is the only X-rated film ever to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. At the time of its use for the film, the X rating simply meant that the topic was for adults only and not necessarily pornographic. It has also been deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, the X certificate was created by the British Board of Film Censors in 1951. It indicated that a film was intended for adults only, defined as those aged seventeen or over.

The X certificate was replaced by the 18 certificate in 1982. The less restrictive R18 certificate was subsequently created for pornographic films which may only be sold in designated sex shops. In general, 18 films may show simulated sex acts, but R18 films may show real sex acts.


In Australia, "X-rated" is a legal term. The Office of Film and Literature Classification (OLFC), a government institution, issues ratings for all movies and television shows sold or aired. Movies showing explicit, non-simulated sex are rated "X". "X" rated movies are not permitted to be sold in most States, but possession of such movies is legal and they are sold in the Australian Capital Territory; the constitution forbids restraint in goods and trade between the States, so they are available in all States by mail-order. An attempt to change the classification ratings such that some of the material in the "X" category would be banned and the remainder would be available under the new category "NVE" (an abbreviation for Non-Violent Erotica), failed in the Senate partly due to a mistaken belief by some Senators that the new categories were less restrictive than the old.

See also: pornographic movie, motion picture rating systems

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