Let’s talk about movie ratings. Have you ever gone to the movies and wondered how it got its rating. Thinking, “why is this only PG13, or why is this rated R.” Here is some information that you might find useful in solving those little questions that bug us all. (Or at least me.)
What film ratings are there?
Movie ratings were made by the Motion Picture Association of America, aka the MPAA. They were put in place so that parents would know whether the content of a movie would be appropriate for their children. The original ratings, way back in 1968, were G, M, R, and X.
- G was for all audiences
- M was for mature audiences but was not restricted
- R was restricted for all under 16 unless accompanied by a parent
- X was restricted to all audiences under 18
These ratings lasted until 1970 when they changed M to GP to alleviate some confusion among parents. GP was changed again in 1972 to PG.
In the 1980’s, Steven Spielberg suggested that there should be a rating in between PG and R. The PG13 rating was then introduced in 1984. Oddly, Spielberg wanted this “in between” rating for “The Temple of Doom” which did not receive a PG13 rating. The first movie to receive a PG-13 rating was “Red Dawn”.
The Rating system then stayed the same until 1990 when the X rating was changed to NC17 to differentiate between pornography and other mature material.
What does rated G mean?
The G in Rated G stands for General Audiences. All ages are permitted, and there will be no content that would be inappropriate for children. This is the lowest, softest film rating for movies in the US.
What does rated PG mean?
The PG in Rated PG stands for Parental Guidance Suggested. Unlike the G rating, PG rated movies may have some content that parents don’t want their young children to see. PG is one of the most common film ratings.
What does rated PG-13 mean?
PG-13 stands for Parental Guidance for children under 13. The film will likely contain material not appropriate for pre-teens.
What does rated R mean?
The R in rated R means Restricted audiences. Anyone under 17 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian to watch the movie. This is one of the harshest film ratings next to NC-17.
What influences film ratings?
Now that I have bored you with things you probably won’t remember and don’t really care about, let’s get into what gets what film rating.
How does violence affect movie ratings?
First up, violence. For a movie to be considered G it must have no more than light cartoonish violence. For a PG movie rating, it can only have a little more than G. If the violence is more frequent or realistic this warrants the PG13 rating.
Now, this is where things get odd. The more frequent the violence, even if it is less bloody and such, the worse the rating. So to get an R rating the movie must be considered to have more frequent violence than the baseline for PG13, right? Wrong. The “more frequency/less frequency” of violence, or anything really, is very subjective. So the rating often depends on personal opinions of the board that is rating them, instead of a more stringent guideline. Sure, there are some things that will almost always warrant an R rating like saying the “F” word more than once or having an explicit sex or rape scene. But for the most part, the rating is based on the opinions and beliefs of those reviewing it.
Does bad language affect a movie’s rating?
So let’s move on to language. For a G rating you can’t say any “curse” words, though you may have some rude language. Anything stronger than “darn” or “rats” gets you a PG rating. For a PG rating a movie can only say “mild” curse words. As a general rule, anything stronger than the “S” word will draw a PG13, though there are PG-rated movies that contain the “F” word, like “Beetlejuice” for example. So like I said before, everything is subjective.
As mentioned above, a PG13 rated movie should not say the “F” word more than once and cannot use it to mean anything sexual. Anything worse than that gets an R rating, and rarely any movie gets an NC17 rating for language.
Drugs, surely drugs don’t influence a movie rating
Next up, drug use. Almost (and again I say almost because the MPAA is starting to make less and less sense) any movie that uses drugs will draw a PG13 rating. Now to get an R rating there must be frequent or explicit scenes of drug use. That being said, smoking LEGAL substances can make a rating go from a G to a PG rating, or even a PG go to a PG13, though not always. It seems to depend on the amount (there’s that word again) this occurs.
The Surgeon General is now pushing the MPAA to rate ALL movies with smoking in them R. They claim that this will reduce the amount of smoking in young adults by 18%. The MPAA already gives a “smoking label” to any movie that pictures someone smoking. However, according to the CDC, 88% of all PG13 movies and under that contain smoking does not have this “smoking label”. Now based on the already proven tried and true consistency of the MPAA I find this very hard to believe (NOT).
Sex and nudity and movie ratings
Finally, sex and nudity. In 2010 the MPAA said that any movie that contains brief, non-explicit, nudity in a non-sexual manner will get a PG rating. More than a brief (again, subjective) incorporation of non-sexual nudity will get a PG13 rating. Any full frontal nudity will get an R or NC17 rating. Now, this all seems pretty objective, but with the inconstancies and loopholes that are in place in renders many of the so-called “rules” mute. For example, if the movie displays a “primitive culture” then full frontal nudity is okay. There is no consistency due to the subjectivity that the MPAA has allowed.
There should be clearly defined rules, with little room for the personal belief or opinion of the rating board. If more structure was used there would still be many and disagreements over whether this should be R or this should be PG but there at least would be a consistency, and you would know if you disagreed with a rating you will probably have the same feelings about other similar films with that same rating. This would help parents more than anything decide whether a movie is appropriate for their child, and not just have them guessing about if the movie will be fine or not. So next time you think, “why did this movie get that rating,” remember, it’s because of the improper and subjective rating systems done by the MPAA.
To learn more about the film rating system, and it’s bias, check out the documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated.