Special Report

The Best R-Rated Movies of All Time

From 1934 to 1968, the majority of 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, dividing 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 free 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. 

Some of them used the new freedom as an excuse to depict copious violence and dispense as many F-bombs as each character could muster. Nevertheless, precious few movie-lovers will argue against the glorious benefits of undiluted creative expression. 

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 R’s. 24/7 Tempo has assembled a list of the best R-rated movies ever made — but they certainly haven’t all been masterpieces. Check out this list of the worst R-rated movies ever made.

Click here to see the best R-rated movies ever made

To identify the best R-rated movies ever made, 24/7 Tempo reviewed a database of over 17,000 movies and calculated an index of each movie’s rating on IMDb and its audience score and Tomatometer scores on Rotten Tomatoes. IMdb is an online movie database owned by Amazon. 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.

But it’s no coincidence that a number of cinematic classics also happen to be rated R. Obvious examples include everything from “The Godfather” to “Pulp Fiction” to “Raging Bull,” 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. (On a related note, here are the biggest box office hits since 2000). 

50. This Is Spinal Tap
> Combined score: 2.70 — #269 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Rob Reiner, Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Kimberly Stringer
> Domestic box office: $4.7 million
> Genre: Comedy, Music

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49. Dog Day Afternoon
> Combined score: 2.71 — #262 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Al Pacino, John Cazale, Penelope Allen, Sully Boyar
> Domestic box office: $46.7 million
> Genre: Biography, Crime, Drama

48. Swimming to Cambodia
> Combined score: 2.71 — #256 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Spalding Gray
> Domestic box office: $1.1 million
> Genre: Comedy, Drama

47. The King’s Speech
> Combined score: 2.71 — #251 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Derek Jacobi
> Domestic box office: $138.8 million
> Genre: Biography, Drama, History

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46. 12 Years a Slave
> Combined score: 2.71 — #246 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Kenneth Williams, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt
> Domestic box office: $56.7 million
> Genre: Biography, Drama, History

45. Stand by Me
> Combined score: 2.71 — #240 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell
> Domestic box office: $52.3 million
> Genre: Adventure, Drama

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44. Boyz n the Hood
> Combined score: 2.71 — #230 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr., Laurence Fishburne, Hudhail Al-Amir, Lloyd Avery II
> Domestic box office: $56.2 million
> Genre: Crime, Drama

43. Brazil
> Combined score: 2.71 — #225 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond
> Domestic box office: $9.9 million
> Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi

42. Before Sunset
> Combined score: 2.72 — #204 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Vernon Dobtcheff, Louise Lemoine Torrès
> Domestic box office: $5.8 million
> Genre: Drama, Romance

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41. Room
> Combined score: 2.72 — #203 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers, Wendy Crewson
> Domestic box office: $14.7 million
> Genre: Drama, Thriller

40. A Bronx Tale
> Combined score: 2.72 — #198 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Robert De Niro, Chazz Palminteri, Lillo Brancato, Francis Capra
> Domestic box office: $17.2 million
> Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance

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39. Sling Blade
> Combined score: 2.73 — #182 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, J.T. Walsh, John Ritter
> Domestic box office: $24.5 million
> Genre: Drama

38. Capernaum
> Combined score: 2.73 — #180 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Zain Al Rafeea, Yordanos Shiferaw, Boluwatife Treasure Bankole, Kawsar Al Haddad
> Domestic box office: $1.7 million
> Genre: Drama

37. Fargo
> Combined score: 2.73 — #174 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare
> Domestic box office: $24.6 million
> Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

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36. Raging Bull
> Combined score: 2.73 — #171 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty, Joe Pesci, Frank Vincent
> Domestic box office: $23.4 million
> Genre: Biography, Drama, Sport

35. The Terminator
> Combined score: 2.74 — #164 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn, Paul Winfield
> Domestic box office: $38.0 million
> Genre: Action, Sci-Fi

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34. Full Metal Jacket
> Combined score: 2.74 — #145 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey, Vincent D’Onofrio, Adam Baldwin
> Domestic box office: $45.0 million
> Genre: Drama, War

33. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
> Combined score: 2.74 — #145 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson, Gerry Robert Byrne
> Domestic box office: $34.4 million
> Genre: Drama, Romance, Sci-Fi

32. Reservoir Dogs
> Combined score: 2.74 — #145 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn
> Domestic box office: $2.8 million
> Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

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31. The Last Picture Show
> Combined score: 2.75 — #139 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Ben Johnson
> Domestic box office: $20.5 million
> Genre: Drama, Romance

30. Short Term 12
> Combined score: 2.75 — #135 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Brie Larson, Frantz Turner, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever
> Domestic box office: $1.0 million
> Genre: Drama

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29. The Departed
> Combined score: 2.75 — #129 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg
> Domestic box office: $132.4 million
> Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

28. Die Hard
> Combined score: 2.75 — #125 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson
> Domestic box office: $81.7 million
> Genre: Action, Thriller

27. Spotlight
> Combined score: 2.76 — #108 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber
> Domestic box office: $45.1 million
> Genre: Biography, Crime, Drama

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26. The Usual Suspects
> Combined score: 2.76 — #105 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, Chazz Palminteri, Stephen Baldwin
> Domestic box office: $23.3 million
> Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller

25. Taxi Driver
> Combined score: 2.76 — #101 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Albert Brooks
> Domestic box office: $28.3 million
> Genre: Crime, Drama

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24. Unforgiven
> Combined score: 2.76 — #101 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris
> Domestic box office: $101.2 million
> Genre: Drama, Western

23. Amadeus
> Combined score: 2.76 — #94 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Roy Dotrice
> Domestic box office: $52.0 million
> Genre: Biography, Drama, History

22. Memento
> Combined score: 2.77 — #89 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Mark Boone Junior
> Domestic box office: $25.5 million
> Genre: Mystery, Thriller

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21. Chinatown
> Combined score: 2.78 — #76 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, Perry Lopez
> Domestic box office: $23.2 million
> Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

20. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
> Combined score: 2.78 — #75 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick
> Domestic box office: $203.5 million
> Genre: Action, Sci-Fi

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19. Before Sunrise
> Combined score: 2.79 — #68 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Andrea Eckert, Hanno Pöschl
> Domestic box office: $5.3 million
> Genre: Drama, Romance

18. Whiplash
> Combined score: 2.79 — #67 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Paul Reiser
> Domestic box office: $13.1 million
> Genre: Drama, Music

17. Aliens
> Combined score: 2.79 — #62 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Carrie Henn, Paul Reiser
> Domestic box office: $85.2 million
> Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

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16. L.A. Confidential
> Combined score: 2.80 — #52 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kim Basinger
> Domestic box office: $64.6 million
> Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery

15. Saving Private Ryan
> Combined score: 2.80 — #51 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns
> Domestic box office: $216.3 million
> Genre: Drama, War

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14. Good Will Hunting
> Combined score: 2.80 — #46 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Robin Williams, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Stellan Skarsgård
> Domestic box office: $138.4 million
> Genre: Drama, Romance

13. Alien
> Combined score: 2.82 — #31 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, Veronica Cartwright
> Domestic box office: $62.0 million
> Genre: Horror, Sci-Fi

12. Apocalypse Now
> Combined score: 2.82 — #31 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Frederic Forrest
> Domestic box office: $83.5 million
> Genre: Drama, Mystery, War

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11. Psycho
> Combined score: 2.82 — #29 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin
> Domestic box office: $32.0 million
> Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller

10. The Pianist
> Combined score: 2.82 — #28 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Frank Finlay, Emilia Fox
> Domestic box office: $32.5 million
> Genre: Biography, Drama, Music

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9. The Silence of the Lambs
> Combined score: 2.83 — #26 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Lawrence A. Bonney, Kasi Lemmons
> Domestic box office: $130.7 million
> Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

8. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
> Combined score: 2.83 — #22 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Michael Berryman, Peter Brocco
> Domestic box office: $109.0 million
> Genre: Drama

7. Pulp Fiction
> Combined score: 2.84 — #20 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis
> Domestic box office: $107.9 million
> Genre: Crime, Drama

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6. Goodfellas
> Combined score: 2.86 — #9 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco
> Domestic box office: $46.7 million
> Genre: Biography, Crime, Drama

5. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
> Combined score: 2.89 — #8 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef, Aldo Giuffrè> Domestic box office: $6.1 million
> Genre: Western

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4. The Shawshank Redemption
> Combined score: 2.90 — #7 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler
> Domestic box office: $28.2 million
> Genre: Drama

3. The Godfather: Part II
> Combined score: 2.90 — #6 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton
> Domestic box office: $57.3 million
> Genre: Crime, Drama

2. Schindler’s List
> Combined score: 2.91 — #4 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Caroline Goodall
> Domestic box office: $96.9 million
> Genre: Biography, Drama, History

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1. The Godfather
> Combined score: 2.95 — #1 highest out of 17,276
> Starring: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Diane Keaton
> Domestic box office: $135.0 million
> Genre: Crime, Drama

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