I believe the phenomenon began with the widescreen DVD release of the second Charlie’s Angels movie. The theatrical version was a fluffy PG-13 rated action comedy. By all accounts, the “unrated director’s cut” on the DVD was … a fluffy PG-13 rated action comedy.
The “unrated” edition used to mean, “We put back in all of the blood, guts, filthy words and heaving, sweaty naked flesh that the tight-spinchtered assholes at the MPAA made us take out to avoid an NC-17.” A truly unrated version of Charlie’s Angels ought to feature a three-way, full-frontal, hot-oil make-out scene between Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and Drew Barrymore… or, um, something like that. I didn’t say that out loud, did I?
In 2005, “unrated” seems to mean, “We spliced a couple scenes into a PG-13 movie, nothing that would actually change the rating, and then we don’t resubmit the new version to the MPAA and presto, we have an ‘unrated’ version that will make all the gullible teenagers think ‘Woo hoo! Smut galore!'”
In other words, “unrated” has gone from a way to restore the integrity of the filmmaker’s original vision to a wickedly cynical marketing ploy.