Director Chris Columbus revealed that because of Williams' improv they had "three or four versions of the film" including material for an R-rated version. But this version will never see the light of day.
There is no NC-17 version of the film, according to Columbus.
Robin Williams, a widely beloved actor and comedian who died in 2014, is still remembered for his many iconic roles including one where he played a man pretending to be a woman in 1993’s “Mrs. Doubtfire.” For years, rumors have abounded about the existence of an NC-17 or R-rated version of the comedy, but those were largely relegated to film mythology.
But in March 2021, fans on Twitter demanded to see the NC-17 or R-rated version of the film, bolstered by a tweet claiming that such versions did indeed exist.
“Mrs. Doubtfire” was about a man who disguises himself as an old nanny so he can have access to his children amidst his divorce. Williams was known for his improvisational skills, and reportedly ad-libbed many scenes in the film that could not make it into the final cut because they included some off-color and inappropriate humor, particularly for younger audiences.
So, what gives a film an NC-17 (no one 17 and under admitted) and an R-rating (restricted, so children under 17 require an accompanying parent or adult guardian)? These ratings depend on violence, sex, drug use, and anything considered too "adult" for children. Back in 1993, the ratings system was scrutinized for its various inconsistencies, but an NC-17 rating mostly hinges on sexual scenes featuring nudity, sex acts, and the length of time those make it into a film. As a result, many are skeptical of the likelihood of a film like “Mrs. Doubtfire” having an NC-17 version.
The film was ultimately rated PG-13 for “mild profanity.” But in a 2015 interview with Chris Columbus, the director, Yahoo Entertainment quoted him as saying that they shot with multiple cameras at once “like shooting a documentary” to capture other cast members' reactions to Williams’ improvisation.
“For instance, in the dinner scene toward the end of the movie, the other actors had no idea what he was going to say,” Columbus said. “And it was getting their expressions and reactions the first time they ever heard him say something like that.”
He added that thanks to Williams’ off-color improvisation, he ended up with four different cuts of the film in the editing room.
"Literally, a PG rated version of the film, PG-13, R, and NC-17.” (We should note that the video of Columbus reportedly making this claim is no longer available.)
In a 2016 interview, one of the stars of the film, Mara Wilson, cast doubt on the existence of an NC-17 rating.
“I don’t know about NC-17, but with some of the things he said, I’m sure there was probably an R [rated] cut somewhere,” she said. Wilson, who was just five years old when she was in the film, added, “He was very respectful around me. He had kids himself and obviously he’s known for some of his blue material; he didn’t do that around us.”
The film's screenwriter, Randi Mayem Singer, also weighed in on Twitter:
While she said there was some footage of Williams' "dirty" material, she can't confirm there is a full cut:
This claim emerged again in the promotional materials for the book, “Robin Williams, American Master,” which was published in December 2020 by Post Hill Press, a publishing house distributed by Simon & Schuster. The book claims to be a “comprehensive guide to all of Robin Williams’s movies.”
In a promotion for the book, it says, “Did you know that, according to director Chris Columbus, Robin Williams improvised so much during the filming of Mrs. Doubtfire that the studio had enough footage to release PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17 versions of the movie?” We bought the book, and could not find this anecdote actually referenced in it.
On March 19, Columbus confirmed in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that they did indeed have enough material for an R-rated version of the film, but it would never see the light of day. He added that he would be open to doing a documentary in which they would showcase some of the material, but there would never be an R-rated cut of the film for viewers to see. He also said there could not be an NC-17 version either. He added that there was enough material for "three or four versions of the film." His comments:
The reality is that there was a deal between Robin and myself, which was, he'll do one or two, three scripted takes. And then he would say, 'Then let me play.' And we would basically go on anywhere between 15 to 22 takes, I think 22 being the most I remember [...] He would sometimes go into territory that wouldn't be appropriate for a PG-13 movie, but certainly appropriate and hilariously funny for an R-rated film. I only [previously] used the phrase NC-17 as a joke. There could be no NC-17 version of the movie [...] I would be open to maybe doing a documentary about the making of the film, and enabling people to see certain scenes re-edited in an R-rated version. The problem is, I don't recall most of it. I only know what's in the movie at this point because it's been a long time. But I do remember it was outrageously funny material.
Given that Columbus denied the existence of an NC-17 version of the film, but stated there was enough material for a R-rated version, we updated this claim to a "Mixture." A full R-rated version of the film, however, is unlikely to ever be made available for viewing.