Special Report

Highest-Grossing R-Rated Movies of All Time

The modern movie rating system was created in 1968 by what was then the Motion Picture Association of America (“of America” has since been dropped). The ratings, which are voluntary on the part of the major film studios belonging to the Association, have evolved over the years. There are currently five categories: G (for general audiences), PG (parental guidance recommended), PG-13 (may be inappropriate for those under 13), R (restricted, meaning that anyone under 17 must be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian), and NC-17 (no one under 17 admitted under any circumstances).

NC-17 ratings, usually given for extreme violence or sexual situations, are rare. There were only 90 of them between 1990 and 2020, and such films rarely receive wide theatrical release. R-rated films are another matter. More than 50% of all films released since 1968 have earned an R rating. According to the Hollywood Reporter in 2018, some 17,202 movies over the previous 50 years were R’s. That rating doesn’t seem to have hobbled ticket sales.

To compile a list of the 25 R-rated movies with the highest domestic ticket sales, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data by The Numbers, an online movie database owned by Nash Information Services. Films were ranked based on the inflation-adjusted domestic ticket sales. The data

covers all movies released in the U.S. (including Puerto Rico and Guam) and Canada since 1995. (For the biggest smash films in the category on an international basis, see this list of R-rated movies that broke the box office.)

Click here to see the highest-grossing R-rated movies of all time

All 25 movies on our list grossed more than $253 million, inflation-adjusted. Box-office success, however, did not necessarily translate into Academy Award honors. Only seven of the 25 films on our list won Oscars. (Two of them, “The Matrix” and “Saving Private Ryan,” won multiple awards as each broke new ground in cinematography and storytelling.)

Comedies are a favorite, whether they are rom-coms such as “The Wedding Crashers” or “Jerry Maguire,” raunchy flicks like “There’s Something About Mary” and the two Hangover films, or farces like “The Birdcage” and “Scary Movie.” (See where these fall on the roster of the highest-grossing R-rated comedies of all time.)

Films that have a historical theme loom large on the list: “300,” “Gladiator,” “American Sniper,” “Saving Private Ryan,” and “The Passion of the Christ.” Moviegoers who like a good fright made box-office winners out of “The Blair Witch Project,” “Hannibal,” and “It.”

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