The giant Blockbuster Video chain struck a sharp blow to the new NC-17 movie rating by announcing on Friday that it will not stock any movie that carries the adults-only designation.
As the nation's largest video retailer with 1,600 outlets, the move by Blockbuster Video was the clearest sign yet of a growing perception that NC-17 equals the X rating that it replaced.
"We have always had a policy that we don't carry any movie that the Motion Picture Assn. of America rates X," said Blockbuster spokesman Ron Castell by telephone from the company's Florida headquarters.
"When they revised the X rating, we said we would wait and see how they would use the new rating. But the criteria used for NC-17 was the same as the X," Castell said.
"So we're saying that since NC-17 is the same criteria as the X, we're not going to carry it."
Many theater chains, video stores and newspapers previously have announced they would judge NC-17 rated movies on a case-by-case basis before booking, stocking or running ads for films with that rating. But Blockbuster's decision is one of the first that categorically bars all movies with the NC-17 rating.
The NC-17 rating was introduced by the MPAA in September in hopes of ridding the rating system of the stigma of the X rating, which was generally regarded as synonymous with pornography. The new rating was copyrighted by the MPAA so that it could be used only by films that were officially rated and contained adults-only subject matter.
Castell said that Blockbuster Video's decision, made earlier last week, had no connection to a boycott recently begun by the Tupelo, Miss.-based American Family Assn. and its crusading family-values leader, the Rev. Donald Wildmon.
Castell said that Blockbuster had received "less than a thousand" pre-printed postcards from members of Wildmon's group that said they would "take their business to another video store until you stop carrying NC-17." But after phoning some senders of the cards, Castell said, "we found that most came from people who don't do business with us anyway."
Castell said the campaign may have been started because when such adult-themed movies as "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover," and "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!" were released unrated last summer, Blockbuster carried them under its "YRV" (youth restricted viewing) label. But he said both of those films subsequently received NC-17 ratings from the MPAA.
Wildmon on Friday called off the anti-Blockbuster campaign upon hearing of the chain's decision. Reached at his Tupelo office, Wildmon dismissed a question about whether or not the boycott had any impact. "The only thing that really matters is that they stop stocking NC-17 movies," Wildmon said.
Wildmon called the NC-17 rating, "an attempt by Hollywood to mainstream pornography." He said his organization is "going to put the stigma on NC-17 just like it was an X. If you show these movies or rent these movies, we have the right to take our business elsewhere."
A spokeswoman for the MPAA on Friday acknowledged that the decision by Blockbuster may affect the NC-17 rating. "It could be (that) we'll see the same thing happen with NC-17 as happened with X," she said. "Decisions in the marketplace are not something we can do anything about."
The spokeswoman reiterated the oft-stated position of MPAA President Jack Valenti: The rating system is designed for parents--it cannot be used to make a distinction between hard-core and non-hard-core. Valenti has said that his attorneys have determined that the MPAA cannot make quality judgments on movies and defend those judgments in court.
The MPAA, in conjunction with the National Assn. of Theater Owners (NATO), changed the rating system in September in response to growing public concern about the X rating and criticism within the movie industry that the X rating applied to adult-themed movies unfairly branded them as pornographic.
The MPAA and NATO said that the criteria for films rated NC-17 would be the same as X-rated films have been: "That most parents would agree that such a film should not be made available for viewing by youngsters."
The other MPAA ratings, used widely throughout the United States, are: G, for all ages; PG, for parental guidance suggested; PG-13, for some material inappropriate for children under 13, and R, meaning that children under 17 must be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian.