‘Joker,’ ‘Oppenheimer’ & the Top 10 R-Rated Movies of All Time

The R-rated movie has been a moviegoing constant since 1968, when the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) created the modern rating system.

R of course stands for “Restricted,” which initially meant “Persons under 16 not admitted, unless accompanied by parent or adult guardian.” That age threshold was upped to 17 in 1970.

We’ve had movies rated R (and G, for general audiences) in every iteration of the rating system. The two other ratings during the first two years of the system (1968-70) were M (“Suggested for mature audiences – parental discretion advised”) and X (“Persons under 16 not admitted”).

The three other ratings under the current system are PG (Parental Guidance Suggested), PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned) and NC-17 (adults only).

The modern ratings system was created in 1968 to replace the Motion Picture Production Code, also known as the “Hays Code” – which had been in place since 1930. Such ground-breaking films as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Blow-Up (both 1966) made the old code seem archaic. Jack Valenti, who had become president of the MPAA in May 1966, took the lead in creating a new system. On Nov. 1, 1968, the voluntary MPAA film rating system took effect. (The MPAA became the MPA in 2019 when they dropped the word America from their name.)

Let’s take a look at the 10 highest-grossing R-rated films of all time, according to All of the films in the top 10 are from this century, which makes sense, owing to higher ticket prices. To give you an idea of the popular R-rated films from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, we looked deeper on the list. Here are the top three R-rated films, in descending order, from each of those decades.

1970s: The Exorcist (1973), National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978), The Godfather (1972)

1980s: Beverly Hills Cop (1984), Rain Man (1988), Fatal Attraction (1987)

1990s: Saving Private Ryan (1998), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), Pretty Woman (1990)

A current hit, Oppenheimer, has already made this list. It also surpassed Bad Boys for Life to become the top-grossing R-rated film of the 2020s. (No. 3 for the decade: John Wick: Chapter 4.)

Todd Phillips directed three of 10 highest-grossing R-rated films of all-time – the first two films in The Hangover trilogy and Joker. Bradley Cooper starred in three of the 10 highest-grossing R-rated films of all time – the first two Hangover films and American Sniper. (Movie buffs should check out our lists of the top 10 box-office hits of 2023 and the 30 highest-grossing films directed or co-directed by women. Spoiler alert: Barbie heads both lists.)

Here are the 10 highest-grossing R-rated films of all time, according to

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