From 1934 to 1968, most Hollywood films abided by the Hays Code, a system of self-censorship with scrupulous moral standards promulgated by the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America. The Hays Code was discarded in 1968, and what had by then been renamed the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) introduced a new rating system, separating films into four categories based on perceived appropriateness for various age groups. (Today there are five categories, defined slightly differently.)
The original R (for “restricted”) rating limited viewers to those over 16 unless accompanied by a parent or adult guardian (today’s R raises the age to 17), and it freed filmmakers from the restraints of censorship. A school of emerging directors seized the moment, channeling new modes of expression and changing the face of cinema in the process.
Nowadays, R-rated movies make up the majority of releases, by a wide margin. In 2018, it was reported that, out of 29,791 films rated by the MPAA since 1968, 17,202 had been rated R. 24/7 Tempo has assembled a list of the best R-rated movies ever made, but they certainly haven’t all been masterpieces.
To identify the best R-rated movie ever made, 24/7 Tempo reviewed a database of over 17,000 movies and calculated an index of each movie’s rating on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) and its audience score and Tomatometer scores on Rotten Tomatoes. IMDb is an online movie database owned by Amazon, while Rotten Tomatoes is an online movie and TV review aggregator. Domestic box office figures came from The Numbers, an online movie database owned by consulting firm Nash Information Services, last updated in April 2021. Box office figures are not inflation adjusted. Casting and other supplemental data comes from IMDb.
It is no coincidence that a number of cinematic classics also happen to be rated R. Obvious examples include everything from “The Godfather” to “Raging Bull” and “Pulp Fiction,” to name just a few. Not just adored by critics and audiences alike, at least some of these films also performed quite well at the box office.
By these measures, the best R-rated movie ever made is “The Godfather.” Here are some details:
- The combined score was 2.95, the highest out of the 17,276 films.
- It starred Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan and Diane Keaton.
- Domestic box office came to $135.0 million.
- Its genres include crime and drama.