Most MPAA rules dictate that films with full frontal nudity be immediately slapped with an R rating, if not an NC-17, which significantly impacts ticket sales at the box office. Visionary filmmaker Wes Anderson had another vision for his latest outing, Asteroid City, which features a fully nude Scarlett Johansson scene despite its PG-13 rating. To pull this feat off, Anderson had to employ a series of complex maneuvers to avoid added censorship by the MPAA.
Wes Anderson included in Asteroid City a very brief shot of Scarlett Johansson topless, reflected in a mirror, yet the film is rated PG-13.
The scene in which Scarlett Johansson goes fully nude in Asteroid City is not meant to be overtly erotic in nature, and is, in fact, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it instance in which her character drops a towel to reveal her nudity in the reflection of a mirror. The scene initially caused the MPAA to label the film with an R rating, though Wes Anderson pushed back against this ruling. In a stunning upset, Anderson was able to convince the MPAA to overturn their decision, a feat which rarely if ever goes according to plan.
The MPAA is composed of a number of nameless executives representing the United States’ five major film studios, as well as Netflix. In order to protect against moral panics from the public, they often label films with a strict rating system that negates much of any flexibility.
The MPAA is infamous for being infelxible with directors, making it a historic moment that Wes Anderson was able to keep Scarlett Johansson’s split-second nude scene.
While there’s no way for the public to know for sure how Wes Anderson managed to grease the wheels of Hollywood politics in order to get the MPAA on board with the nude Scarlett Johansson scene, many fans are hailing this as a historic moment in cinema history.
Of course, 2023 has been mired with a number of high-budget box office flops, with films such as Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, Shazam: Fury of the Gods, and The Flash losing millions for their respective studios. Despite Scarlett Johansson’s brief appearance of nudity in the film, Asteroid City has managed to pull in over $48 million with its theatrical run thus far against an estimated budget of only $25 million, making the film a certified hit.
Despite only receiving a 75 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, the film has received overwhelmingly positive reviews, marking another in a long line of major successes for Wes Anderson. Though Asteroid City is not Scarlett Johansson’s first time ever going fully nude for a film, this does mark the first time a nude image has been shown in a Wes Anderson film, perhaps lending the director some leverage when arguing for a PG-13 rating.
Scarlett Johansson going nude in Asteroid City is the first time Wes Anderson has used nudity in any of his films.
Wes Anderson has produced a number of R-rated films in the past, such as Bottle Rocket, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and more. For Asteroid City, however, this could have placed the box office future for the film at risk, particularly when much of the film maintains a focus on family-friendly writing, with only a brief nude appearance from Scarlett Johansson pulling the film from its desired PG-13 status. In the end, Johansson’s brief nudity was not deemed significant enough to the overall film to warrant the rating, allowing Asteroid City a chance to make the most of its theatrical run.