Big Question: What was the first R-rated film you saw?

As you read this, I am just kicking off a week-long globe-trotting vacation with my family. Toshi and Allen and I should be doing wind-sprints up and down the steps outside the Parthenon right about now.

While we enjoy that, I’d like to share the first of five special vacation articles, where I’ve reached out to a wide array of people I know to answer a different question every day. I sent out the fire questions as part of one big e-mail last week, and I asked people to send me as many of the five responses as they felt like. Some people did one, some people did a few, and several people answered all five.

I would love to hear your responses to these questions as well. When I get back to Los Angeles next weekend, I’m excited to dig in and read all the answers you guys leave, and I hope you end up enjoying this week’s articles in the meantime.

My movie-crazy 8-year-old is starting to get anxious about ratings, upset that there are so many films that are “R” that he can’t see yet. It’s a huge milestone for young film fans, which led me to wonder… what was your first R-rated movie, and was it in a theater or at home?

JUDD APATOW (screenwriter, “You Don’t Mess With The Zohan”)
The first R rated movie I remember seeing was “Jaws.”  I was in third grade.  The place was packed like a roc concert. Total terror. A fantastic communal experience. The ocean was ruined for me but it was worth it.  The head popping out haunts me to this day.

Before you guys pile on, I know “Jaws” wasn’t rated R, but it’s amazing how Judd’s not the only person who thought it was. By today’s standards, there’s no way that film gets a PG, but back then, it must have seemed crazy.

JASON FLEMYNG (actor, “X-Men: First Class”)
It was “Excalibur” …. I must have been 13ish…. I snuck in and saw Helen Mirren’s boobs… I remember thinking it was the greatest thing that had ever happened to me…. Still love that film.

I was able to personally thank Helen Mirren for what “Excalibur” did to me at 11 during one of the many times I’ve interviewed her, and she told me that she has young men mention that movie to her all the time. I think it’s safe to say she left a mark on my generation.

PAUL MALMONT (novelist, “The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril”)
In 1978 my parents saw a movie that they felt so closely aligned with their own experiences that they felt it could only help inspire me to go to college, too.  So, one evening when I was 12-years old, I was dropped off by myself to see “Animal House.” My Dad bought the ticket, got me in, then left me to enjoy myself.  I think what they had really appreciated was the Kennedy-era campus, the music, the Beatnik college sensibility. None of which meant a thing to me; the only thing I recognized was John Belushi.

What I got was a double-edged sword. On the downside: The cruelty of the Omegas, the humiliations forced on Flounder, even the excesses of the Deltas freaked me out (it took me a few years to understand what was funny about a food fight – it just seemed so gross). On the other hand, one of the biggest laughs of my life was thanks to a dead horse. And, of course as every guy my age knows, for the first time ever, there was the cinematic glory of beautiful naked ladies. They don”t make R-rated movies like that anymore.

ROY LEE (producer, “The Departed”)
The first R-rated movie I saw was “The Exorcist.”  My mother was hoping to put the fear of God into me.

I saw that film way too young, and at the time, I just accepted it as documentary. It was one of about four or five films that really did a number on me because I was nowhere near ready to see them.

GERRY DUGGAN (writer, “Deadpool”)
“Running Scared” – The Billy Crystal & Gregory Hines one. I might have seen one earlier on cable during a sleepover to a friend’s house or something, but I really don’t think so. My mom forbid cable TV in the house, so I read as many comic books as I could. It’s funny, because those got a pass in terms of content, but this was 1986-87, the new Golden Age of Comics and the themes in my comics were much more adult than any of the R-rated films I wanted to see.

During this time I saw “Sorcerer” for the first time, I think during a “Rain Delay Theater” on WPIX, but that’s not Rated-R, nor is it the question you asked. Anyway, as I recall this was when my folks were starting to separate for the first time, and my father and I went down to the local theater. It was at one time a very large movie house with a balcony that was later subdivided into 4 screens. I forget the specifics of how “Running Scared” was selected but my dad shrugged. I remember just laughing at every utterance of “fuck” and then wondering if I was going to get in trouble for seeing boobs up on the big screen. As I recall the movie just ended up being one of the things a father and son didn’t advertise to mom.

PAUL SCHEER (podcaster, “How Did This Get Made?”)
I think my 1st R-Rated movie was “The Jerk” at the Drive-In, I was 2 or 3 years old but I distinctly remember begging to stay up and watch it because it was paired with “Star Wars” as a double feature. But I don’t know if that counts because I don’t think I understand anything. After that, I had a VERY long R rated dry spell which ended with “Beverly Hills Cop” on Home Video (years after it was released). I was just a HUGE Eddie Murphy fan and I begged my dad to see it. So he devised a plan where he’d tape it off HBO and edit out all the extreme violence and nudity and just leave the rest, so when I finally was old enough to see the movies, it was like I was watching a brand new movie.

DAVID LOWERY (director, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”)
The first R-rated movie I ever saw was “Robocop,” and it was on VHS at a friend’s house. I was eight. It was not only the first time I ever heard the F word, but also the first time the biological meaning of that word was explained to me. Thus it was that Paul Verehoven, by way of my more worldly friend, beat my dad to the punch with the birds and the bees talk.

That’s a crazy first R-rated film. That’s so R-rated it almost breaks the R-rating. After that, everything must have felt tame.

DAVID MANDEL (screenwriter, “Clear History”)
My best friend’s mother was a big whig in advertising when we were little.  They had the first betamax i had ever seen– it was huge– and she had a copy of “Animal House” that she let us watch in 1978.  But she literally covered our eyes during the seen where Otter makes out with Fawn’s roommate in the car and when Pinto’s date passes out.  We didn’t know why she was covering our eyes for many years.

There are several R-rated films that I saw in the early days of home video that were helped along by some judicious fast-forwarding by my parents, and in some cases, they seemed like totally different movies when I saw them years later.

ALBERT PYUN (director, “The Sword And The Sorcerer”)
It’s hard to remember because I watched movies before anybody really gave a shit about  “R” ratings or any ratings. Except you know you didn’t want to see G rated . At the time, the X ratings were enforced and tantalizingly forbidden: My first X was “Midnight Cowboy”: I hid in the the Hawaii Theater’s back alley and wore a disguise to sneak in after being refused at the box office – first time I was ever carded for a movie.

I convinced my mother to take me to see Albert’s film in the theater because it was the same year “Conan” was set to come out. I was a raving fantasy fan by that point, and my mother read many of the books I was bringing into the house and seemed to really enjoy them. I used that to get her to take me to see this. “It’ll be just like ‘Conan,'” I remember telling her. I also remember the look on her face when the lights came up at the end of this film. She looked like she was either going to choke me or burst into tears because it was so horrifying. Albert Pyun’s “Sword and the Sorcerer” is so non-stop sleazy and bloody that I felt like I actually entered puberty while it was playing. I haven’t seen the film since, and I think I want to keep it that way. The film lives as this decadent, sweaty explosion of filthy megaviolence in my memory, and I salute Albert for taking full advantage of at least one of his R-ratings.

PAUL DINI (creator, Harley Quinn)
My first R-rated movie was “M*A*S*H*.” It was a big deal for me and every other thirteen year old I knew to see it. You either got your parents to take you, or you got an older friend to open the exit door so you could sneak into the theatre. Either way, we all saw it.

DAVID HAYTER (voice, Solid Snake)
Having grown up during the very dawn of the VHS Age, I managed to see a number of the first R-rated titles available on tape, having found them left on coffee tables by irresponsible parents (not my own, of course).  And they were: “Friday The 13th Part 1,” “Escape From New York,” and “The Road Warrior.” Each one left indelible scars of delight and joy on my tattered, twelve year old psyche.

But the first R-rated movie I ever snuck into, underage, in Toronto, was “Heavy Metal.” Now that one changed my life, primarily by kicking me into early-onset puberty.

MARK DUPLASS (writer/director, “Jeff, Who Lives At Home”)

This is another of the misremembered PG-rated movies. It’s funny because I can totally see why “Jaws” and “Kramer Vs. Kramer” would feel like they were R-rated, and not even because of specific content. They just play like movies aimed at adults, and these days, that rarely if ever includes a PG-rated film.

SCOTT DERRICKSON (co-writer, “Hellraiser: Inferno”)
My first Rated-R movie was “Death Race 2000” at the drive in — I was in 1st grade. My parents would take me, my brother, and my sister to R-rated movies all the time, but only at the drive-in. When the Rated-R parts came on my Dad would say “DOWN! DOWN!  GET DOWN!” and we would duck down in the back seat so we couldn’t see – but we would hear either screams of violent agony or moans of sexual ecstasy.  I think that usually made me imagine things more graphic than whatever was actually on the screen.

One of the great parental mistakes is thinking “Close your eyes” does any good at all. Take a kid to the Haunted Mansion at Disney and tell them to go through it with their eyes closed. They’ll have post-traumatic stress disorder by the end of it. It’s almost foolproof.

DEREK HAAS (inventor, Popcorn Fiction)
The first R-Rated movie I saw was “The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas” in 1982 at the age of 12. I was from Texas and my mom was southern Baptist, but she loved musicals, loved Burt Reynolds and loved Dolly Parton. I’m not sure how she felt about Jim Nabors. I hope Toshi sees a better first R-rated movie than I did.

I think I’m the exact same age as Derek. My parents also took me to see this film that same year, which makes me wonder… what the hell were our parents thinking? Admittedly, it helped spur my lifelong fondness for Charles Durning, who has an amazing number in the film, and watching mostly-naked women dance and sing was a kick for a 12-year-old.

KEITH CALDER (conspiracy mastermind)
Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to watch R-rated films until I was well into my late teens. But when I was 9, I moved from London to Los Angeles and was introduced to the world of parents who didn’t seem to care what their kids did. I was at a friend’s house one day, and his mom decided she wanted to go see “Another 48 HRS.” I made it about five minutes into the film before a massive wave of guilt struck me. I hid in the bathroom for the rest of the movie. To this day, I still don’t understand why my friend’s mother was ok with me spending the entire movie hiding in a theater bathroom. I have also never revisited “Another 48 HRS.”

When I convinced my dad to rent “48 HRS.” on home video, we all sat down to watch it as a family, and we made it about six minutes into the film before my dad jumped up, pressed eject, and walked silently out of the room. The moral of the story? Walter Hill don’t fuck around when he earns an R-rating.

GEOFF LATULIPPE (does it really matter? His last name is LaTulippe. That rules)
I was probably not much older than Toshi – 9 or 10 – when “Planes Trains & Automobiles” came out on video. My mom took me to Blockbuster one day when I was home sick from school and allowed me to rent it. I say “allowed”, but I don’t think she ever checked the rating – I mean, for God’s sake, it’s Steve Martin and John Candy. When Martin let fly with his series of “fuckings” I think she was just as surprised as I was. But instead of freaking out, she got a big kick out of it, and I did too. And I don’t recall being disallowed from seeing an R-rated movie any time after that.

BETH SCHACTER (writer, “Bunheads”)
“Cat People” at the drive-in in Cleveland, OH. My parents would put us in the way way back and take us to a double feature. I have no idea what the kid movie was, but if you pretended to sleep with your head just so on the back window, you could watch the R-rated second movie. And it was Nastassja Kinskii and boobs and that dude getting his arm chomped off. It was great.

I love how many of these stories deal with the drive-in. Love it.

When I was 4 or 5, my mother took me with her to see “Hair,” assuming I wouldn’t notice anything that was happening on the screen. Suffice it to say, she was wrong. And I always have a strange flashback whenever Beverly D’Angelo pops up in anything.

Hey, you said “pops up.”

JENSEN KARP (Gallery1988, JASH, Tyson/Givens Marketing)
My first R-rated movie was actually the original “Police Academy.” My aunt and her boyfriend at the time showed it to me on VHS, without knowing much about it. I must have been 6 or 7. I was a HUGE Guttenberg fan and knew I was getting away with something. It had boobs in it, which was exhilarating, and the film, although I bet no one remembers, actually starts with a racial slur. I’m a fan of almost the whole PA franchise, minus the obvious Russia bullshit, so in the end, I’m happy this was my first.

The first “Police Academy” was blatantly, unapologetically R-rated. Seeing it in the theater was great because the reactions were MASSIVE. You may not realize it if these films were released before you were a film fan, but when the first “Police Academy” came out, it was one of those genuine word-of-mouth hits where people just kept coming to see it. Over and over and over again. And when the big moments in the movie played, people went berserk. I’m not exaggerating. Audience reactions were much, much more communal back in my formative years as a movie fan. I think that’s something I find myself chasing more and more, and I think there’s a very particular joy that comes from watching an R-rated comedy with a crowd that’s having a blast.

SCOTT FRANK (screenwriter, “Out Of Sight”)
My first R-rated movie was Dirty Harry. My grandfather took me to see it at the theater. The next day at the school bus stop, I recited every damn line from the movie to the great annoyance of my 12-year-old friends.

One of the main reasons someone my age would start to see R-rated movies is because those are the films my parents wanted to go see, and I would somehow convince them that I would suffer through “their” movies if I had to. My dad is definitely a Clint Eastwood fan, as I’ve mentioned before, so after a certain point, he’d take me to whatever new Eastwood film was opening, which led to two of the most disturbing R-rated films I saw in my early teens, “Sudden Impact” and “Tightrope.” Those are pretty crazy movies in terms of the sexual politics at play, and I couldn’t begin to unpack that sort of textual conversation with my dad. At age 43, I’m still not sure I ever need to have any sort of chat about S&M and sexual violence with him. Sure was on Clint’s mind a lot in the ’80s, though.

TRAVIS STEVENS (producer, “Cheap Thrills”)
Kenneth Hughes low budget, urban thriller “Night School.” When I was 11, my parents bought a new house and had me stay at a  babysitter’s while they completed the move. The movie is about a killer who believes that placing a victim’s head in water prevents their spirit from coming back and haunting them. So there were a ton of scenes of decapitated heads being placed in water. Including one in a bathroom toilet. I have no idea wtf the babysitter was thinking by letting me watch that movie, but when my parents picked me up and brought me home I was terrified to learn that my new bedroom had an unobstructed view of…the bathroom toilet.  

I applaud every single thing about this story, and I love that I’ve never even heard of that movie.

DAVID PRIOR (director, “AM1200”)
“Pretty sure my first R-rated movie was “Blazing Saddles,” on a re-release. My parents sent my sister and I in to see it at the old Eagle Rock Plaza four-plex, while they went next door to see “Annie Hall.” I boasted to friends at school that I’d finally seen an R-rated movie (they’d all seen “Friday the 13th” and “Halloween” — with their parents(!)), and they scoffed and swore “Blazing Saddles” was PG.  But it was R, you bastards, it was R!

Indeed it was. I’ve watched two Mel Brooks movies with my kids so far. One was “Spaceballs,” and one was “Young Frankenstein.” Both of them are on the far end of what I would consider acceptable for them, and the only reason “Young Frankenstein” passes muster is because the sexual material is played subtle and smart instead of overt. My boys have no idea what a “roll in the hay” is, and I’m pretty sure they did not understood the conversations about his enormous svanshtupper. Best part of David’s story is the way movies used to play like that. You’d go to the theater, and there’d be new films, and a few films the studios were bringing out again, since that’s the only way you could see them again in the pre-video days. Many movies I saw were not first-run, but they were theatrical. I wish the giant 18 plex theaters would have two houses each that just played a constant amazing rotating schedule of everything. I’d go. The only reason I don’t live at the New Beverly these days is because my house is on the other side of LA, pretty much. If the local AMC or Pacific near my house did regular constant revivals, I’d absolutely go and see those films. Constantly.

DOUG TENNAPEL (world record holder, Tallest Living Cartoonist)
My first R rated movie was in the summer of 1980 just before my freshman year of high school when I stayed the night at a friend”s house and got to see “Alien” on cable. It was a fantastic experience, and it hit me at just the right time in my life. I remember being so scared, yet intrigued by the doom of this fantastic alien monster. In hindsight, I”m glad I lost my R rated virginity to “Alien.”

Great one, and that was what cable was for… seeing R-rated movies without your parents knowing about it. I am deeply indebted to cable.

LUCKY MCKEE (director, “The Woman”)
“First Blood”. It was at my father’s friend’s house on a magical new invention called a VCR. Movie blew my mind. Still one of my favorite films. Same night I saw “American Werewolf In London” and “Faces Of Death.” I was eight years old.

Wow. That night chemically rewired you. I guarantee it. I would have loved to have talked to you the next day to see how that triple feature landed on you.

GREG LONGSTREET (publicist, all-around good dude)
I”m going to go with “Animal House” because it”s a film I vividly remember seeing in the theater – While my parents could have very well taken me to an R rated film prior, this was the one that stuck with me. Why? I mean, when John “Bluto” Blutarsky took me up that ladder to see that naked pillow fight and Mandy Pepperidge alone in her room I was a changed boy.

I’m intrigued by how many people listed “Animal House” as one of their first. My parents had more of a problem with R-rated comedy than with R-rated action or horror. The same was true of “Mad” magazine and “National Lampoon” magazine and even stand-up albums. Subversive establishment-challenging comedy just rubbed my dad wrong, but even he seemed to make an exception for “Animal House,” which both of my parents swore was the best period recreation of their college years that anyone ever attempted on film. They said it got it all right. It’s like hearing a British person of a certain age talk about “Hope and Glory” and how right the details were.

JOHN DOWDLE (director, “Quarantine”)
The first one I remember is “Rambo: First Blood Part II.”My dad took my brother and I to see it in the theater when we were just young little pups. All that supermacho machine gunning was almost too much awesomeness for our impressionable minds. I remember my mom objecting strongly and my dad saying, “Relax. It’s not like they’re going to want machine guns for Christmas.” Fuck yeah, Dad. Nice one.

Amazing way to wrap it up. I notice how often gratitude is part of the memory, a feeling of accomplishment, of being finally allowed to peek at secret things, the R-rated world of adults.

And for me? The first R-rated film I was formally shown by my parents was “Excalibur,” which opened in April of 1981. In order to protect the guilty parties, we’ll let my parents continue to think that was the first R-rated film I saw.

And speaking of gratitude, I sincerely want to thank everyone who took the time to respond to the questions, and even those who couldn’t but who took the time to read the questions. We’ll have one of these every day this week. You’ll see some of the same names each day, and there are questions where someone only answered one out of the five.

What I hope this does, more than anything, is spur some of your own memories. I still feel like out of the literally millions of you who read our site every month, we only ever hear from a small percentage of you, and I would love to change that.