R-Rated Sound of Musics, or R-Rated Films for Latter-day Saints

There was a deacon in my childhood ward that badly wanted to be a soldier when he grew up; he went all out with the camouflage, shooting, and playing “steal the flag” in the woods with glowsticks (a piece of rural Mormon culture that I hope does not die with the decline of Latter-day Saint BSA troops). 

However, he changed his mind abruptly after watching the Omaha beach landing scene in Saving Private Ryan, which I suspect modified his idea of what battle looked like from some PG-13 situation–everyone is killed with one shot, the enemies lack basic marksmanship, and at the protagonist receives an inconspicuously bloodless wound–to the more realistic R (limbs getting removed with .50 caliber machine guns). 

The fact is that “we are what we eat” also applies to media. While as Latter-day Saints we are rightly concerned about a diet of dark, heavy material, by not sometimes including R-rated material in our media diets we run the risk of:

1) Not having access to potentially moving or insightful content because of an R label.

2) Consuming disproportionately infantile content because we are limiting our media diet to a universe where people get shot and never die and never get stressed out enough to use the F-bomb.

R-rated movies often deal with realistic, gritty scenarios, and sometimes they are more profound and impactful because of the realism. Life in an existence where tyrants often reign with blood and horror is sometimes R-rated, and art needs to speak about those situations too. Of course, there are some A-grade, absolutely stellar films where the person dying a slow and painful death never gets around to dropping the F-bomb (Wit, for example), so R-rated material is not necessary for greatness, but the fact is that there are also films that do include that language, and in a world with a dearth of truly moving content (at least compared to what it should be), cutting out all of those severely limits your options for experiencing and engaging profound cinema.  

I realize that I’m not making a particularly unique argument here, and I get the sense that the “R-rated rule,” the use of the MPAA guidelines as a bright line for what to watch, has attenuated over the past decade or two, with it being more of a thing of 1990s, Utah-corridor Mormonism than other contexts. In terms of Church pronouncements, it is clear that the Church doesn’t officially hold to that rule anymore (Mormonr has recently come out with their full, helpful historical analysis on the “R-rated rule”), and I’ve found the Common Sense Media site helpful for knowing whether a movie is appropriate for me and my kids. Consequently, I don’t want to exaggerate the power of the R-rated rule in our culture (you can tell when somebody hasn’t been that involved in recent Mormonism when they’re still arguing against 1990s cultural things that aren’t really things anymore.) Still, when done with care and caution, incorporating some select R-rated movies into a media diet can be beneficial for one spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually.

When I started watching R-rated movies, I experienced a month or two of absolute cinematic joy on a level that I doubt even a Spielberg or Tarantino has experienced; every evening was like watching Star Wars for the first time every night for a month as I worked my way through library version of the R-rated greats all at once. However, I also learned that not following the rated R rule doesn’t mean that all rated R movies are fair game (which obviously goes without saying when one thinks about it for more than a moment). There are still some genres that are bright red lines for me. I don’t see anything “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy,” about the torture horror genre (Saw, Hostel, etc.), for example, so for me personally I do think viewing those films would be a sin.There is no education to justify the sensationalism (although I’ve heard that for surgeons they aren’t that sensational–“that’s not what a severed arm looks like!”)

So with that, below is a list of R-rated analogs to Sound of Music; these are R-rated (or MA-rated) films and series that, in my opinion, are some of the most impactful gems that a member could miss if they hold to a hard and fast R rule. Being on this list doesn’t mean that they’re perfect, or don’t convey the occasional bad messages, but they all artistically convey a message about the human condition, society, God, faith, truth, or something else important, that makes them worth watching (even if it involves some fast forwarding every now and then). Readers will notice some overlap with an earlier list I made. In no particular order.

Succession (HBO series)

The Way Back (2020 Film)

Slum Dog Millionaire

The Northman

There Will be Blood

Marriage Story

Weiner (Documentary)


Hacksaw Ridge

The Kingdom of Heaven


A Serious Man

The Passion of the Christ



Saving Private Ryan

About Schmidt

Shawshank Redemption


The Wrestler


The Thin Red Line

The Hurt Locker

Macbeth (the Michael Fastbender version)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Once Were Warriors

Godfather Parts I, II, and (so sue me) III

Glenngary Glen Ross



Breaking Bad

The Master

Monster’s Ball

Lives of Others

Little Miss Sunshine

Short Term 12

Uncut Gems


Margin Call

The Big Short

Silver Linings Playbook


Requiem for a Dream

City of God

The Father

Son of Saul


Apocalypse Now

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Schindler’s List


Good Will Hunting



The Departed

Better Call Saul 

Midnight Mass 

20 comments for “R-Rated Sound of Musics, or R-Rated Films for Latter-day Saints

  1. thx for creating, and posting, this list. My comments: 1) typo in GlenGarry Glenn Ross; 2) I wouldn’t recomment ‘The Passion of the Christ’ – there is little to be gained from watching Jesus be flogged for 20 minutes, no matter how much we need to understand His suffering on our behalf; 3) Must agree whole-heartedly with your including ‘Frost/Nixon’. I also very much appreciate your mention of the Emma Thompson masterpiece ‘Wit’. Everybody should see that one.

  2. I’ve seen several movies on that list and none of them I felt bad for watching.
    Schlinders List – was an eye opener about an amazing character.
    Once Were Warriors – better to be drowned in the depths of the sea for one character at least, whom I truly despised.
    Braveheart – at last I understood why the Scots hated the English. (Sidenote – I was once at the British Houses of Parliament on Willam Wallaces birthday – that was interesting!)
    Cuckoo’s Nest – how I loved Chief!
    Saving Private Ryan – relief at the end.
    Gladiator – I wonder if Rome was really like that.
    Hacksaw Ridge – a bit too gory but wasn’t he amazing, standing up for his beliefs!

  3. Some of my favorite movies on that list. And a couple (like Requiem for a Dream) are so good that they made your list twice :)

    I agree with much of what you said, sometimes the despair and disillusionment of real situations just can’t be conveyed ina PG-13 way. Apocalypse Now is a great example. For war-related things that are factual, I recommend Band of Brothers, The Pacific and Generation Kill (all miniseries). And for another look at addiction Trainspotting is fantastic.

  4. Raymond Winn: I was hesitant to include the Passion of the Christ, as it definitely has its issues, but there are some parts that are quite impactful. A common thread in a lot of these movies is dealing with some of the bad to get to the gems.

    Seniorhalf: I actually watched Hacksaw Ridge on Vidangel, so it wasn’t gory to me! Maybe that was one where they could have gotten the point across without the gore, but maybe not. Once were warriors is definitely in the “dark but meaningful” category.

    Ethan: Apocalypse Now is an interesting case because it is and isn’t a realistic war movie (to my knowledge no Green Beret actually ran off and started his own fiefdom). I forgot about Band of Brothers, but that is a good one; I’ll have to check out the other ones you mentioned.

  5. A few passing thoughts on this post (which I also had while reading a couple of essays in the recent BCC “Mormonism and the Movies” book):

    (1) While “no R-rated movies” is a heuristic to carve out a class of content that is believed (probably rightly) to be more coarsening of our moral sensibilities than edifying, the underpinnings of that are underdeveloped. Those pushing back against that heuristic (as in this post) generally do little to clarify those underpinnings in a way that would allow us to determine whether a particular film is, on balance, worth watching (i.e., from a moral perspective, not merely for aesthetic or entertainment value).

    (2) The double-edged sword of the “no R-rated movies” heuristic–particularly in combination with the underdevelopment of a theory of *why* those films should be avoided–leads to the common takeaway that everything with a lower content rating is just fine. Church leaders have occasionally tried to disabuse members of that notion, but to little effect. In the absence of a clearer understanding of what makes a film worth watching (from a Mormon perspective), the greater hazard is not in missing out on some worthy R-rated content, but in consuming truckloads of PG and PG-13 films that range from mere time-wasters to truly morally pernicious stuff. (And, if we don’t find it necessary to apply standards in choosing among PG-13 movies, why must we do it for R or NC-17?)

    (3) Whenever I see pushers-back on the “no R-rated movies” rule (with no intention of singling out Stephen’s list), the proposed worthwhile movies often strike me as dubious. They’re heavily tilted towards Hollywood fare, usually from writers/directors who aren’t working from a moral perspective or with moral (*not* to say didactic) intent, and often aren’t regarded as excellent by the standards of cinema. There’s no pattern to the suggestions that would indicate principled selection, rather than just being pretty good (or sometimes excellent) popular films that general audiences also like. I would submit that “pretty good (or sometimes excellent) popular films that general audiences also like” is no better a heuristic than a rating prohibition for selecting worthwhile films. (I’d also point out that, in these “R-rated Movies Mormons Should See” exercises, the list-makers tend to be Beehive-blushingly puritanical about sex, rarely recommending films that have significant sexual content and themes, even though sex is likely to be more salient to viewers than homicide, homicide, homicide.)

  6. I haven’t seen a lot of the movies on this list, but one you ought to add is “The Killing Fields” about the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

  7. MP: In terms of some grand theory for appropriate R-rated movies, I think messaging is key. It would be easy to simply say if the light > dark, then watch, but some films have very important points and messages and end up on very, very dark notes. That isn’t to say that every film with a good message is watch-worthy, but that’s where the artistic merit and sophistication comes in. Quite a lot of Oscar-bait social justice films are just as simplsitically didactic and moralizing as any 1980s Church bit.

    For example, in terms of Hollywoodization, I intentionally left off films such as Terminator, Diehard, or Jaws, which one might want to watch as a matter of cinematic education, or for simple-carbs fun and entertainment, but for which it’s kind of a stretch to see any meaningful or profound messaging, even if they are considered generically good films by a large swath of the population.

    Tom: Good addition.

  8. When the church got into the movie rating biz I thought it was odd. Not watching an R movie seemed like the wrong approach. There were plenty of PG-13 that were not “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy,” but members had the green light to view, but not the R….?? It seems a better approach would be to say what about the R or any movie rating the church had issues with….swearing? Nudity? Sexual content? Violence? All the above? Well you get all that in PG-13 to some degree too.

    I also dont understand how a church that warns of porn so much does very little warning about the violence levels in movies today and the last 15 years. When I was a bishop I had priest in my ward meeting at parks to have fights with other priests in the stake “tap out” style. All for entertainment. What!? Go get a girlfriend!

    Full disclosure, my love language is physical touch so any violence to other humans is not something I can watch without feeling bad.

    I have not watched any of the shows listed above so I cant comment to them, but I am sure there are really good, watch-worthy R shows that should be watched over some PG-13 shows.

    On a side note….If someone looks at violence for entertainment have they committed murder in their hearts? It would seem to be on the level of sin/indiscretion as the lusting…?

    Church should not have got into the movie rating biz IMO and just taught the “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy,” principle better. You dont have to have a bunch of do’s and don’ts when principles are taught/focused on.

  9. Slumdog Millionaire is fantastic! I lived in India for a year and when people want to better understand life there I recommend they watch this award winning flik.

    With the advent of streaming platforms creating their own content and the post-COVID slow death of the movie theater, ratings have become somewhat irrelevant. It seems streaming platforms aren’t bound to the same rules, which has caught me by surprise a few times. Also as a theater buff, there is no rating system when Broadway tours come into town. I have to do my own homework.

    All that to say, the rating system has changed so significantly since the 1980’s that it really does fall upon us to do the work ourselves. I think this is a good thing.

  10. I grew up in a Latter-day Saint home which was very permissive with regard to media. We had shelves of VHS tapes that had some of the older films you listed above plus many, many more not listed. In between early 90s cartoons, I remember watching a lot of movies I had no business watching all throughout my childhood. Along with Schindler’s List, and Apocalyse Now, there was Terminator and Total Recall and Animal House.

    I only share that background to say that while I agree that the R rating should not be our only media rule for the reasons you outline, I’ve come to think there is not a good reason to consume most movies period. As you say “we are what we eat” not just with food but with media. Movies are really powerful, brain altering stories. And we should respect their power and their ability to influence us in ways both subtle and obvious. Movie lines, imagery, music and emotions take up a vast territory in the imaginations of most LDS people. I’m not sure that’s healthy, regardless of the movie rating.

    I think Latter-day Saints would be better off if we produced more of our own media. And I don’t mean just stuff like The Singles Ward or fluffy, moralizing Seminary videos where everyone learns the value of the Sabbath. I mean we as a people would be stronger if we cultivated an imagination and tried to tell interesting stories and spent less time and energy only consuming “appropriate” films.

  11. Godfather III? You are a son of perdition, truly a Korihor in our day!

    But seriously: thank for the list. Not technically rated R but I’d also add “Taegukki” to the list. It’s been called the Korean “Saving Private Ryan” and it’s a startling window into the historical and ongoing pain of the Korean people.

  12. Stephen C – I completely agree on Apocalypse Now, as I didn’t exactly say in my comment but tried implying it’s not factual. But the despair and disillusionment of Vietnam is well captured in it, especially for me in the segment where they come across the Do Long bridge at night.

  13. The Matrix – Neo as the allegorical “One” is a kick-butt Christ figure. Really great movie.

  14. Thank you for providing a nicely curated list of R movies! Really, I agree on all your points, although the meaning of “sin” is subjective no matter who’s asked. Once I got past the “R is bad” obstacle, my cinematic world opened up in *beautiful* ways. It was like seeing directors unshackled from harsh constraints forced upon them by lower-age ratings, and it was a wonder to behold. Any cinephile who avoids R movies is missing out on meaningful and impactful masterpieces of theater.

  15. I feel that good movies are no different from good literature, that good movies will enlarge your understanding of the world, the people in it, and open a sense of other peoples’ lives and motivations, both good and bad.

    There are two competing values here (1) keeping ourselves pure and clean, and (2) becoming like God. It may be argued that God can allow no unclean thing, but at the same time, we argue that God is perfect and just, that he understands all of us perfectly and comes to our aid. To become like God, we must have that ability–to understand those whose lives are not like us, to have empathy for the circumstances they are in, and to have whatever ability we can to help. Good movies and literature will enlarge those boundaries so that we can understand others and become more empathetic and hopefully, less judgmental.

    Where we must exercise judgment on movies and literature is if or when those things become more detrimental to us than enlightening. Knowledge does not only come in PG rated content. Much of life is not PG rated, nor should we expect it to be for the world at large, nor should we turn our eyes away from it.

    There are, of course, movies and literature that do not contain enough of good value to be watched, but the list is different for everyone. I once thought that Kill Bill had no real redeeming value, but I read a comment by a woman who was battling cancer. Kill Bill was her favorite movie because she felt inspired by the Bride character and used that inspiration to fight with all her strength against her cancer. People find inspiration in many ways, not only through scriptures and the gospel.

    By the way, Requiem for a Dream is technically an NR film (not rated). It was felt the film would not pass R standards and would get the dreaded X, so it was not submitted for rating. I guess there may be edited copies, but I saw it as an NR film (I didn’t realize until I walked out of the theater and looked at the poster). That many people cite it as a great film tells you that going by ratings means little.

  16. Good list! Some great movies that I can’t believe anyone would miss. What I don’t understand is how some LDS folks would avoid R-rated movies that are so evocative of the human condition ins such difficult circumstances and yet think nothing of watching “Game of Thrones,” which I found totally prurient and dystopian.

  17. What about old movies that were made before the current ratings? Is it Ok to watch Gone with the Wind? Or what about Disney’s Song of the South?

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