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15 Best R-Rated Movies of All Time

Updated July 12, 2018
12 min read

One of the many things I absolutely love about cinema is its ability to document the dark realities of human lives and society while being unconditionally non-judgmental in its approach. As human beings, we tend to hate things that are morally preachy and have a morbid fascination to explore lives soaked in darkness and misery. And cinema has produced countless movies that explore such precarious lives of human beings and has intrigued, baffled and disturbed viewers due to its sheer profoundness. The list I am going to present here features films that explore human darkness and evil. As a result, these films, unsurprisingly received R-rating. It should also be noted that the films here may include from a wide range of genres that focus on dark human minds at its core. Here is the list of top r-rated movies ever.

1. Persona (1966)

Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 masterpiece is the ultimate epitome of darkness. It is difficult to add a film like ‘Persona’ in any genre-based lists because of the sheer depths and ambiguities of the themes dealt in the film. ‘Persona’ is a film that is open to numerous interpretations and is still widely discussed, debated and analyzed by critics, scholars and cinefreaks across the world. The film tells the story of two women, a nurse and her mute patient and the eerie bonding of their strange personas. The film explores human identity, blurs and shakes our perceptions of dreams and reality and plunges into the deepest and darkest aspects of the complex human psyche and the bizarre fantasies that encompass it. ‘Persona’ is a profoundly intimate and personal experience and is a pure piece of cinematic poetry.

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2. The Shining (1980)

A list covering films that explore human darkness would seem ridiculous without Stanley Kubrick’s name coming up. Kubrick’s venture into horror was unlike any other. ‘The Shining’ isn’t really the traditional horror film that we’re so accustomed to seeing. There are no jump scares or flashy sound effects. But it affects you profoundly on a psychological level, unnerving and disturbing in ways you haven’t been before. Adapted from Stephen King’s 1977 novel, ‘The Shining tells the story of Jack Torrance who arrives at a chilling, mysterious hotel with his family to be interviewed for the position of winter caretaker. Jack slowly loses control of his mind as he sinks deep into the horrifying depths of unimaginable darkness. ‘The Shining’ explores the dark sides of masculinity and indolence as the devil embraces Torrance’s soul, wiping away the slightest tinges of humanity.

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3. The Godfather (1973)

The Godfather explores a father and his sons, and the mafia of the forties. In the immediate years after the war, the Corleone family is among the most powerful crime organizations in  New York, but there are others moving in. When the Don (Brando) is shot but survives, war is declared and many deaths are racked up including the Don’s son Santino (James Caan) the hot-headed eldest. A superb study of the American dream turned perverse, about a crime family making their wealth through criminal activity and a fathers loyalty to his sons. Though Brando got the most attention and the Oscar, it is Pacino who shines brightest as MIchael, the son who wanted nothing to do with the family, but us drawn in and becomes a lethal Don. Robert Duvall, John Cazale, and Diane Keaton are all superb in this excellent ensemble. Directed again with confidence, yet a subtle hand. Superb.

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4. Taxi Driver (1976)

‘Taxi Driver’ tells the story of a Vietnam veteran emotionally wrecked by his life clouded with loneliness and misery. A heavily character driven film, ‘Taxi Driver’ features an astonishing acting feat by Robert De Niro who portrays a man’s descent into madness as we see him being pulled by the extremities of human darkness. Maybe Travis Bickle was once a lovely, charming guy and it was war that made him feel alien to a world that was once his home. His inability and desperation to come in contact with people and the perpetual struggle to fit in a bizarre, freakish world ridden with murders and misdemeanors is a deeply, disturbing dark portrait of a human soul.

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5. Mulholland Drive (2001)

Oh, you saw that coming, didn’t you? The problem with great movies is that they invariably tend to feature on every list. And ‘Mulholland Drive’ is a great film; arguably the greatest of the century. A film like ‘Mulholland Drive’ is not to be understood and should never be tried to either but rather be experienced. ‘Mulholland Drive’ follows the plot of a young, aspiring actress wanting to make it big in the world’s most glamorous film industry who meets an enigmatic, amnesiac woman. The film feels like an exquisite painting of the dark human subconscious; the depths we fear to go to. But Lynch pulls it out, tears apart into pieces and exquisitely presents them on-screen.

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6. Apocalypse Now (1979)

A war film might come off as an unlikely choice. But as I said, great films break from the hurdles of their genres. ‘Apocalypse Now’ is widely regarded as the greatest war film ever made. But at its core, it is a film that explores darkness of the human minds. Captain Willard’s journey into an obscure village in Cambodia to assassinate an enigmatic renegade army officer serves as a visual metaphor for a human being’s gut-wrenching voyage into the inexplicable depths of darkness. ‘Apocalypse Now’ is about Willard’s quest for answers. With him in his journey, we question the moralities created by a civilized society masked with hypocrisy and megalomania. His strange, mysterious fascination for Colonel Kurtz culminates in his discovery of the extremities of war that could turn a man into an uncivilized beast.

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7. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Kubrick’s dystopian crime drama delves deep into the sheer madness and chaos inherent in human psyche. The film’s protagonist Alex DeLarge is a psychopathic maniac with an insatiable taste for violence. In the classic Kubrician style, the film questions morality and human psychology in the most eerily profound and disturbing manner. Kubrick’s genius roars throughout the film as he toys with our emotions by providing an utterly despicable protagonist but find ourselves sympathizing with him and strangely relating to his character at some places.

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8. The White Ribbon (2009)

One of the greatest filmmakers in world cinema, Michael Haneke, takes us on an emotional journey into the roots of human evil. Cold, unsettling and spine-chilling, ‘The White Ribbon’ is Haneke’s take on violence and evil inherent in the human psyche and society. The sinister atmosphere he creates is unsettling and frightening beyond words. The film is a subtly powerful mock on the futility of extremism and violence and Haneke invites us to look into the world; a world of people glutted with hatred, violence and ludicrous fanaticism. An immensely shocking and disturbing experience enriched with pure cinematic prowess as the film ceaselessly continues to haunt us for the rest of our lives. A timeless classic indeed!

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 9. Dogville (2003)

Lars Von Trier. Well this was always on the cards. Probably no other contemporary director has explored human darkness and evil as much as this man. And ‘Dogville’ could well be argued as his masterpiece. Loved and loathed in equal measure, ‘Dogville’ is Trier’s undaunted exploration of human darkness. The film is exquisitely innovative in its treatment and storytelling while disturbing our senses to the core. Trier reveals a side of humanity which we are so frightened to venture into and opens it up in ways that leave our nerves frozen and minds numb.

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10. Pulp Fiction (1994)

Pulp fiction, a term which is denoted to the magazines or books highlighting over the top violence, sex and crime. These elements made the magazines sell like hot pancakes. Tarantino took these elements, blended them around three stories and created a narrative that was no less than a cinematic genius. One of the most unique pop culture movies to have been made, the viewer gets introduced to the world of mob hitman Vincent Vega, his partner in crime and motormouth Jules Winnfield, the gangster’s wife Mia Wallace, the boxer Butch Coolidge and gets blown away with its stylish treatment of crime and violence. One of the most important aspect of the film which contributed to its success was Samuel L Jackson’s performance. As the hitman Jules Winnfield who quotes bible verses as punchlines, he was phenomenal. One of the greatest films of this era, ‘Pulp Fiction’ has become a textbook for aspiring filmmakers worldwide.

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11. Raging Bull (1980)

Martin Scorsese is known for depicting stories of broken, flawed, often self-destructive protagonists in his films. And he has often scoured the annals of history to find his fallen heroes in true stories. ‘Raging Bull’ is the life story of legendary boxer Jake LaMotta, whose self-destructive and obsessive rage, sexual jealousy, and animalistic appetite, which had made him a champion in the ring, destroyed his relationship with his wife and family. The film is entirely shot in black-and-white, to veritably portray the the era it was set in and the dark, depressing mood it defined. Scorsese expected that this was going to be his final project. Thus, he was painstakingly exacting in his filmmaking. Equally dedicated was Robert De Niro, who stars in the titular role. He gained 60 pounds and actually trained as a boxer. He imbibes the short-fused mannerisms of LaMotta with fiery perfection as he completely submerges himself into character. He received a deserved for his troubles. This is Scorsese-De Niro’s biggest triumph. An intense, powerful magnum opus.

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12. Trainspotting (1996)

It’s a little difficult to explain the cinephiles like ourselves about the fanaticism of ‘Trainspotting’. It came around a time, when the reality of drugs had just begun to sink in. One would say, that it glamorized drug abuse and to some extent, it’s true. The fact that came out of it, was Danny Boyle’s attempt to show the high and lows of drug abuse, without taking sides. ‘Trainspotting’ is a cult movie which tells a story of four friends and their tryst with addiction. Outrageous and bizarre are the only two words to describe it. A drug addict who wants to go clean, only to falter at each step due to his deepest of urge of getting high. Generously overdosed with humour, the film tries to underline a fact with utter seriousness: Despite the luxuries that life offers, the youth denies them with much aplomb. And the reasons? There are no reasons. “Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?”

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13. There Will Be Blood (2007)

One of the finest American films of the 21st century, ‘There Will Be Blood’, is an epic tale of greed, ambition and megalomania. Starring the great Daniel Day-Lewis as a manically competitive, hard-working oilman, the film is a harrowing portrait of a man driven by his deranged ambitions and rapacity towards the extremities of immorality and violence. The entire film is ambiguous about his emotions as Plainview is a man who has made a world all for himself and shuts people off when he discerns them sneaking into his realm of congenital hatred and utter disdain for humanity. ‘There Will Be Blood’ is an astounding character study of a man’s fall into the deep pits of greed, violence and obsession.

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14. Psycho (1960)

Human beings, at best can be described as peculiars. The human mind which is capable of many astounding things, is also capable of degenerating itself to beyond comprehension. Alfred Hitchcock’s ’Psycho’ does not need introductions as it holds its head high, in the midst of timeless cinemas. Apart from being a classic, it’s also a sad commentary on the failing moral of human beings. And it’s not Norman Bates mind you! The caustic hold of Mrs. Bates that set Norman’s life into doldrums right through his childhood and eventually adulthood is a reminder of how love can be suffocating. Famously, Mr.Hitchcock adopted strange policies for ‘Psycho’, which included not to allow late entrants into the movie. It was adopted to ensure full justice to the pulsating climax scene of the movie. A thriller to its truest form, ‘Psycho’ is a story of a son, his mother and their unhealthy bond of possessiveness. Hitchcock was so fiercely guarded about the finale, that he promoted the movie this tag line – “Don’t give away the ending – It’s the only one we have!”

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15. The Exorcist (1973)

William Friedkin’s ‘The Exorcist’ is perfectly directed. The man is infamous for an erratic career path that sees classics fall in with shlock (and often the two groups crossing over for some fascinating explorations of cinematic shamelessness). With his best film, Friedkin decided to shoot a drama that just so happened to be about demonic possession: Sewing pathos for his complex characters and viscerally translating original author William Peter Blatty’s text trapped between belief and crippling doubt. The end result of two wonderful artists working at the top of their game to deliver a shimmering classic of American cinema: One which eclipses almost every film in its genre (bar perhaps the unconscionably horrifying ‘Wake in Fright’ or Tobe Hooper’s serendipitous tour-de-force The Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Simply stunning.

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