Lars von Trier's controversial serial-killer movie could be the first in over 30 years to have its rating revoked by the MPAA

IFC FilmsMatt Dillon as serial killer Jack in ‘The House That Jack Built’
  • IFC Films faces sanctions from the MPAA after it screened without a waiver the uncensored director’s cut of its serial-killer movie, “The House That Jack Built,” directed by Lars von Trier.
  • An R-rated cut of the movie comes to theatres December 14, but a possible sanction includes the R rating being revoked, which could limit its theatrical release.
  • MPAA sanctions are rare, and the last time it happened was in 2007 against the movie “Captivity.” The last rating to be revoked was in 1985.
  • But industry experts explained to Business Insider why IFC doesn’t have a lot to fear if “The House That Jack Built” loses its rating.

Controversy has followed director Lars von Trier’s serial-killer movie, “The House That Jack Built,” since it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. The uncensored screening prompted over 100 people to walk out because of its grisly depictions of violence against women and children.

On Wednesday, the movie’s distributor, IFC Films, screened the version seen at Cannes for one night only in select theatres across the country. The movie pulled in $US172,000 from 140 theatres, according to Exhibitor Relations, for an average of about $US1,230 per venue.

But that night, IFC violated Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) ratings rules by screening the uncensored director’s cut without a waiver in such close proximity to the release of the R-rated cut, which comes to theatres December 14.

READ MORE: An uncensored screening of Lars von Trier’s controversial serial-killer movie, ‘The House That Jack Built,’ violated MPAA ratings rules

Sanctions against IFC could include the movie’s R rating being revoked, or the process for any other IFC Films awaiting a rating could be suspended. Any sanctions will be determined after a hearing with the Classification and Ratings Administration (CARA), which conducts ratings for the MPAA and National Association of Theatre Owners.

In a statement, the MPAA said, “The effectiveness of the MPAA ratings depends on our ability to maintain the trust and confidence of American parents. That’s why the rules clearly outline the proper use of the ratings.”

The MPAA guidelines are in place, for starters, to avoid confusion for audiences, which can be intensified by a number of factors. For instance, on ticket service Fandango, the director’s cut of “The House That Jack Built” is labelled as rated R, even though it is unrated.

House that jack built fandangoFandangoMislabeled ratings can lead to confusion that the MPAA tries to avoid with ratings rules.

When a distributor submits a movie for a rating, it signs off on the MPAA ratings rules, so sanctions against a movie are rare. The last instance of sanctions was in 2007 against “Captivity,” when a graphic image appeared on a billboard for the movie. The movie did not have a rating at the time, so it wasn’t revoked, but the process was delayed.

Revocations are even more rare. According to data provided to Business Insider by the MPAA, only four movies have had ratings revoked in the organisation’s 50-year history, and the last was 1985’s “Sudden Death” (the others are “The Divorcee” in 1976, “Mannequin” in 1979, and “Hard Country” in 1980).

Exhibitor Relations senior box-office analyst Jeff Bock told Business Insider that if “The House That Jack Built” loses its rating, that could influence the number of theatres that play the movie, and limit its expansion.

As a recent example, theatre chains disagreed on whether to show the unrated version of the documentary “Bully” in 2012. AMC Theatres, the largest theatre chain in the world, decided to let minors into the movie with written or verbal permission from a parent, and Regal let minors in if they were accompanied by a parent. But Cinemark refused to show the movie unless it was an R-rated version.

Considering the content of “The House That Jack Built,” it probably faces a tougher battle.

READ MORE: An analysis of the last 50 years of film ratings shows how much we love R-rated movies

If another film or distributor faced these kinds of sanctions, it would cause panic. But von Trier is known for stirring the pot, and his risky films, such as the two-volume erotic drama “Nymphomaniac,” are never box-office gold. His best performing movie, “Melancholia” in 2011, made $US3 million in the US.

“This was never going to be a huge hit in multiplexes and was always going to be an arthouse audit,” Bock said.

IFC distributes small, art-house fare, such as this year’s “Wildlife” and “The Death of Stalin,” which won over critics but didn’t make big splashes at the box office.

“IFC releases generally don’t command much distribution in the first place,” said BoxOfficeAnalyst.com’s Doug Stone.

The biggest blow would be if IFC’s other films were impacted by the sanctions. But if only “The House That Jack Built’s” rating is revoked, the controversy could even end up benefiting the movie, according to Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian.

“Specialised films from notable and often controversial directors like von Trier can benefit from the heightened awareness that such news can create,” Dergarabedian told Business Insider. “Though the lack of a rating may limit mainstream theatrical access to the film, it is now higher on the radar screen than before.”

What would be the best way to capitalise on the publicity?

“If the producers were smart, they’d sign a streaming deal,” Bock said. “Pronto.”

Update: Fandango has updated “The House That Jack Built – Director’s Cut” on its website to have no rating.

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