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‘The House That Jack Built’ MPAA sanctions explained: analysis



house that jack built
Matt 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 theaters 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
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 theaters
across the country. The movie pulled in $172,000 from 140
theaters, according to Exhibitor
, for an average of about $1,230 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
theaters 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 Theater 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 labeled as
rated R, even though it is unrated (Fandango did not return a
request for comment).

house that jack built fandango
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 organization’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 theaters that play
the movie, and limit its expansion.

As a recent example, theater chains disagreed on
whether to show the unrated version of the documentary
in 2012. AMC Theatres, the largest theater 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 $3 million in the

“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’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

“Specialized 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 capitalize on the

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

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