The Motion Picture Association of America's film-rating system is used in the U.S. and its territories to rate a film's thematic and content suitability for certain audiences. It is one of various motion picture rating systems used to help patrons decide what movies are appropriate for children, for adolescents, and for adults.

In the U.S., the MPAA's rating system is the most recognized classification system for determining potentially offensive content, but usually is not used outside the film industry, because the MPAA has trademarked each rating. Its system has been criticised for the secrecy of its decisions,[1] and for censorship being stricter for sexual than for violent content.


The current MPAA movie ratings are:

G - General Audiences

All ages admitted.
No nudity, no sex, no drugs, minimal violence, and limited use of language that goes beyond polite conversation.

PG - Parental Guidance Suggested

Some material may not be suitable for children.
May contain some language like "damn", "hell" or "ass" and mild violence, or very mild drug references.

PG-13 - Parents Strongly Cautioned

Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
May contain moderate language, sexual content/partial nudity, moderate violence and/ or gore, or mild drug content.

R - Restricted

Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
May contain very strong language or strong sexual content/nudity, strong violence and gore, or strong drug content.

NC-17 - No One 17 & Under Admitted

May contain very strong sexual or offensive language, strong sexual content/nudity, very strong gore or disturbing violence, or graphic drug abuse.

If a film is not submitted for rating, the label NR (Not Rated) is used; however, "NR" is not an official MPAA classification. Films as yet unrated by the MPAA, but that are expected to be submitted for rating, are often advertised with the notice "This Film is Not Yet Rated" or, less frequently, "Rating Pending."

History Edit

Origins Edit

The United States began rating its movies relatively late, having depended upon the United States Motion Picture Production Code of 1930 to control the content of films; most other countries began classifying their films decades earlier, such as the United Kingdom with the BBFC rating organization. The MPAA's film ratings were instituted on November 1, 1968, in response to religiously-motivated complaints about the sexual, violent, profane, and impudent content of American cinema, after the MPAA's 1966 revision of the Production Code. The revision, prompted by imports and the first US studio releases lacking MPAA approval, created the "SMA" (Suggested for Mature Audiences) advisory, identifying violent movies and movies with mature themes, along with the MPAA Code seal. (see Green Sheet about an internal precursor to the ratings system).

The cultural erosion of the film production code had several effects: it allowed violently artistic films such as Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), and an increase in low-budget exploitation films that were more sexually and violently explicit. In 1966, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? used the phrase "hump the hostess". In 1967, two movies—Ulysses and I'll Never Forget What's'isname—used the word fuck in their dialog. This precipitated public demand for the reintroduction of self-censorship. After meeting with government, the MPAA and the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) agreed to a uniform ratings system for every film produced by its members that, theoretically, would be enforced by exhibitors.

The Non-MPAA member film producers were unaffected; the ratings system was legally unenforceable because of the free speech guarantee, inherent to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, as interpreted regarding the sexual, violent, profane, and impudent content in communications media dating from the 1952 Joseph Burstyn, Inc v. Wilson decision. However, two important 1968 Supreme Court cases, Ginsberg v. New York[2] and Interstate Circuit, Inc. v. Dallas,[3] led to the MPAA's creation of its movie rating system.

Original ratingsEdit

The original movie ratings (used from 1968 to 1970) were:

  • Rated G: Suggested for general audiences. All ages admitted.
  • Rated M: Suggested for mature audiences. Parental discretion advised.
  • Rated R: Restricted. Persons under 16 not admitted unless accompanied by parent or adult guardian.
  • Rated X: Persons under 16 not admitted. Age restriction may be higher in some areas.

This content classification system originally was to have three ratings, ending with the Restricted rating (like the system then used in most of Canada); however, business pressure from cinema owners forced the MPAA's creation of an exclusively adult "X" film rating to protect them from local church-instigated complaints and lawsuits. Initially, the "X" rating was not an MPAA trademark: any producer not submitting a movie for MPAA rating could self-apply the "X" rating (or any other symbol or description that was not an MPAA trademark).

The M rating is replacedEdit

Parents were confused as to whether or not M-rated films had more mature content than R-rated films. This was especially true in the pre-rating years 1965 to 1968 when the earlier, ambiguous "Suggested for Mature Audiences" advisory allowed explicit violence and adult subjects in a movie. Their confusion led to its replacement, in January 1970,[4] by the GP rating.

The ratings then used, from 1970 to 1972, were:

  • Rated G: All ages admitted. General audiences.
  • Rated GP: All ages admitted. Parental guidance suggested.
  • Rated R: Restricted. Under 16 (17 later that year) requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
  • Rated X: No one under 16 (17 later that year) admitted.

In the GP-rating, the "G" meant the film was not age-restricted (like the G rating, "All Ages Admitted"), while the "P" told audiences that, despite the lack of age restriction, parental discretion was expected. However, many misunderstood GP as an abbreviation for "General Patronage". The change from "M" to "GP" took effect on March 1, 1970;[5] again, "GP" confusion caused its revision to the "PG" rating, an abbreviation for Parental Guidance.

Age problems with the R and X ratingsEdit

Simultaneously, in 1970, as the M rating changed to GP, the ages of viewers admitted to R- and X-rated movies was raised from 16 to 17.[4][5] However, the age on the X rating varied per the jurisdiction, until the MPAA officially changed it to the NC-17 rating. Some newspaper advertisements clearly altered ages for R- and X-rated films to 17 years of age instead of 16 or 18.

The GP rating is replacedEdit

By 1972, problems with the GP rating emerged; parents perceived it as too permissive, unindicative of a film's true content. In 1971, the MPAA had experimented with including a content advisory warning to GP-rated movies; the wording varied, but typically read: Contains material not generally suitable for pre-teenagers. It was essentially an early form of the PG-13 rating; the warning was often indicated with an asterisk next to the GP letters. This short-lived rating can be called GP*; however, the number of such films quickly outnumbered GP films (without the warning), and the MPAA, in February 1972 (standardizing rating symbols used in movie advertising), announced that both the GP and the GP* ratings would be replaced with the new PG rating.[6] It has been used since.

The ratings used from 1972 to 1984 were:

  • Rated G: General Audiences—All ages admitted.
  • Rated PG: Parental Guidance Suggested—Some material may not be suitable for pre-teenagers (or children).
  • Rated R: Restricted—Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
  • Rated X: No one under 17 admitted.

By then, the rating box contained the rating in boldface, the MPAA logo, and the content advisory warning. From the adoption of the system through the mid-1970s, mildly adult mainstream films such as Airport, Planet of the Apes, The Green Berets, The Odd Couple, Tora! Tora! Tora!, and 2001: A Space Odyssey were commonly released with G ratings. However, by 1978, the G rating became over-associated with children's films, while the PG rating became the norm for "family" films. Most G-rated films from the system's early years are today perceived as having PG and PG-13 content. So, most G-rated movies from the 1960s and 1970s have often been re-rated PG in later years.

In retrospect, some ratings of this era seem rather odd, though it must be remembered that the rating standards then were more liberal; violence, sexually suggestive speech and action, naked men, and mild cursing were acceptable in the lower ratings, while sexual intercourse (either implicit or explicit) and naked women were not. A movie's rating depended on the personal mores and opinion of the individual censors. For example, the G-rated Battle of Britain (1967) had mild British cursing and explicit killings of RAF and Luftwaffe aircrew. True Grit was G-rated after being edited down in tone; however, it still contained American cursing and strong cowboy violence. Larry Cohen's cult horror film It's Alive (1974), about a killer mutant infant, re-released in 1977, was rated PG despite being bloody per the standards of the time. On the other hand, both its sequels, It Lives Again (1978) and It's Alive III: Island of the Alive (1987) (released direct-to-video), were rated R. Nevertheless, Finland banned all three films per its film rating system. Also, the film The Graduate was rated PG in 1972, despite the fact that the theme of the film, an adulterous affair between a graduate student and an older woman, is definitely mature; the film also has scenes in a strip club with nudity.

Moreover, The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) was rated R instead of M (despite its violence being no more explicit than, say, the James Bond films of the time), because of a chess-game-as-sexual-foreplay between the protagonist and antagonist. The scene would most likely give the film a PG-13 rating today, however (though the 1999 remake of the movie was also rated R).

In 1975, the phrase May Be Too Intense For Younger Children accompanied the PG rating featured in the advertising for Jaws (1975).

In the late 1970s, the PG rating was reworded, the word pre-teenagers replaced with children. An analysis of the proportion of films rated G and PG at that time (corresponding with a cultural shift to stricter rating standards) shows that fewer G ratings were issued, while more family films were rated PG with the less restrictive "children" label. By the early 1980s, the phrase "pre-teenagers" was almost unused, and, in 1984, the PG-13 rating (see below) was established, restoring the clear distinction (see GP and GP* above) between films of lighter and heavier content. However, on some such as the first three Pretty Cure films and Ultra Maniac, the word pre-teenagers is used for the PG rating instead of children due to content that would normally net the film a PG-13 rating (the first three Pretty Cure films for being abnormally dark, and Ultra Maniac for including a scene where a character is under the influence).

By the end of the 1970s, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) was the last commercially successful mainstream film that was rated G. (The re-edited director's cut became PG for sci-fi action violence and some cursing, although the ratings-related content was effectively unchanged, thus showing that the standards for the G rating had narrowed significantly between its use in the 1960s and 1970s and in later decades.) Since then, such movies would be released with a PG rating. That transition was when live-action Disney movies, such as The Black Hole, The Watcher in the Woods, and The Devil and Max Devlin were rated PG.

The addition of the PG-13 ratingEdit

Before July 1, 1984, there was a minor trend of cinema straddling the PG and R ratings (per MPAA records of appeals to its decisions in the early 1980s), suggesting a needed middle ground. One such movie was Watership Down, released in early 1978. Although animated, there was very explicit violence, but what made the film alarming was that the targets of the violence were rabbits. This led to a preconceived notion among the public that this film was for kids; however, it certainly wasn't. Also, Disney's PG-rated Dragonslayer (1981, distributed by Paramount Pictures in the USA) alarmed parents with explicit fantasy violence and blood-letting. In summer of 1982, Poltergeist (1982) was re-rated PG on appeal, although originally rated R for strong supernatural violence and marijuana-smoking parents.

Because of such successful appeals, based upon artistic intent, many mild, mainstream movies were rated PG instead of R because of only some thematically necessary strong cursing, e.g. Tootsie, Terms of Endearment, Sixteen Candles, and Footloose. These censorship reversals were consequence, in large measure, of the 1970s precedent established by All the President's Men.[7] Had these movies been released after 1984, they likely would have been rated PG-13 because of their content.

In 1984, explicit violence in the PG-rated films Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins were "the straws that broke the parents' backs". Their complaints led Hollywood figure Steven Spielberg, director of Temple of Doom and producer of Gremlins, to suggest a new rating, PG-14, to MPAA president Jack Valenti. Instead, on conferring with cinema owners, Mr Valenti and the MPAA on July 1, 1984, introduced the PG-13 rating, allowing in children under 13 years of age without a parent or an adult guardian, but warning parents about potentially shocking violence, cursing, and mature subject matter that may be inappropriate for children under 13; though weaker than an R rating, PG-13 is the strongest unrestricted rating. The first widely-distributed PG-13 movie was Red Dawn (1984), followed by Dreamscape (1984), and The Flamingo Kid (1984), although The Flamingo Kid was the first film so rated by the board.[8][9]

It took a year for the PG-13 logotype to metamorphose to its current form, as noted below.

The ratings used from 1984 to 1986 were:

  • Rated G: General Audiences — All ages admitted.
  • Rated PG: Parental Guidance Suggested — Some material may not be suitable for children.
  • Rated PG-13: Parents are strongly cautioned to give special guidance for attendance of children under 13 - Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
  • Rated R: Restricted — Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
  • Rated X: No one under 17 admitted.

The ratings then used from 1986 to 1990 were:

  • Rated G: GENERAL AUDIENCES—All ages admitted.
  • Rated PG: PARENTAL GUIDANCE SUGGESTED—Some material may not be suitable for children.
  • Rated PG-13: PARENTS STRONGLY CAUTIONED—Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
  • Rated R: RESTRICTED—Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

With the PG rating still being used unchanged, it remained unclear to some parents, at first, whether or not PG and PG-13 films are intended for adults. Until 1990, some of the same content that prompted the creation of the PG-13 rating was in some PG films. For example, Big, Spies Like Us, Spaceballs, and Nothing in Common were four late-1980s PG releases containing PG-13-level innuendo. Additionally, four films in this period — Spaceballs (1987), Big, Beetlejuice, and Eight Men Out (all 1988) — were able to use the word "fuck" at least once and get a PG rating. It still happens (as was the case with Ultra Maniac), but the word "fuck" is almost never used in PG-rated films nowadays.

The socially and culturally conservative ratings board quickly reacted to protesting parents, and PG-13 films outnumbered PG films; content standards were narrowed for PG classification. At decade's turn, PG-13 rating standards also were narrowed, at least for violence, as the censors became more likely to issue R ratings to violent films showing explicit blood-letting and the killing of policemen. Except for a brief reversal in 1994, the number of PG-13 films outnumbered the PG films since, and the proportion of R-rated films (beginning with the boom of privately-viewed home video in the late 1980s) has generally increased at the expense of unrestricted films. Only within the last two years has there been an indication that the proportion of restricted films has slightly decreased as a cultural trend.

Some films from before the addition of PG-13 retain their original ratings; however modern standards would give them a higher rating. For example, The Brave Little Toaster, though initially rated G, is dark enough that by today's standards would receive at least a PG rating. Because the ratings of older films go unchanged, people may be misled into associating their ratings with modern ratings.

NC-17 replaces XEdit

In the rating system's early years, X-rated movies, such as Midnight Cowboy (1969), A Clockwork Orange (1971), and Last Tango in Paris (1973), could earn Oscar nominations and win awards, yet film makers continue disputing the true effects of an X rating.

That the MPAA rated those mainstream movies X as if they were pornography only underscored the contradictions between commerce and art. Although Deep Throat (1972), Behind the Green Door, and The Devil in Miss Jones were rated X, the rating never was either an official rating or trademark of the MPAA. Pornographers often self-applied it for business reasons, to the degree that it became acceptable in their advertising, and then the eponym for pornography in American mainstream culture; not the rating's original intent. Ironically, its overuse led pornographers to rate their films XXX to increase the success of their marketing efforts.[10]

This concern led many newspapers and television stations to refuse advertisements for X-rated movies; some cinema owners forbade the exhibition of such films. Such policies led to the distributors' compromise with George Romero about his classic zombie horror film Dawn of the Dead (1978): participating NATO cinema owners would enforce the audience restriction rating, but the letter X would not appear in advertising; instead, the the following content warning advisory message would be displayed: "There is no explicit sex in this picture; however, there are scenes of violence, which may be considered shocking. No one under 17 will be admitted."

The MPAA stresses the voluntary nature of their film rating system, denying that it could inhibit a film's commercial distribution and so deny the businessman-filmmaker the right to earn a profit and make a living. Horror films, such as the sequel Day of the Dead (1985) and Re-Animator (1985) were so marketed. Some, such as the horror parody Evil Dead 2 did earn an adult rating, while others, such as Guardian of Hell and Zombie, used such violent content warnings along with their R ratings (sometimes deliberately surrendered) as profitable marketing ploys.

In 1989, two critically-acclaimed mainstream art films, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer were released featuring very strong sexual and violent content. Neither was approved for an R rating, hence had limited commercial distribution and so suffered commercially as unrated films. At around that time, the MPAA revised its rating system. Again, in answer to such dilemmas between art and commerce, director David Lynch (writer and director of Blue Velvet (1986)), suggested establishing an RR rating for such mainstream adult drama films.

On September 27, 1990, the MPAA introduced the rating NC-17 ("No Children Under 17 Admitted") as its official, standardized rating allowing the commercial distribution of adult-oriented cinema bearing the MPAA seal. This rating, as opposed to no rating, would in practice be an indication that the film is not pornography. (Pornographers tend not to submit their films for rating, since pornography is either independently distributed to cinemas or directly to video distributors). Thus, for the first time, people could differentiate between MPAA-rated adult mainstream cinema and pornography, leaving the definition of "obscene" to the viewer.

The ratings used from 1990-1995 were:

  • Rated G: GENERAL AUDIENCES—All ages admitted
  • Rated PG: PARENTAL GUIDANCE SUGGESTED—Some material may not be suitable for children
  • Rated PG-13: PARENTS STRONGLY CAUTIONED—Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
  • Rated R: RESTRICTED—Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

In practice, however, communications media that refused to advertise pornography and X-rated films also refused to advertise NC-17 movies as equally unsuitable for family consumption through their venues, effectively transferring censorship authority to cinema landlords' decisions to permit or deny the exhibition of such movies. In addition, socially conservative and religious groups pressured video distribution businesses (e.g. Blockbuster Video and Hollywood Video), to not rent or sell NC-17 movies, citing "family values." Nevertheless, the stores do rent and sell the movies, provided they are not explicitly labeled as such, i.e. are in a plain wrapper. In 1995, the NC-17 rating age limit was subtly increased by one year, by rewording it from "No Children Under 17 Admitted" to "No One 17 And Under Admitted".

Starting with Henry & June (1990), few NC-17 movies have proved profitable, but United Artists, boldly attempting to broaden public acceptance of such films, marketed the big budget drama Showgirls with clever, colourful television and print advertising. To date, it was the only widely distributed NC-17 movie—to 1,388 cinemas simultaneously. It also was critically savaged, earned little money for the studio, and for a time, established the NC-17 rating as commercially untenable: "box office poison" in journalese. Also, Showgirls was a factor in the ultimate failure of Carolco Pictures, the co-distributor/international distributor of the film.

The makers of the critically-successful anti-drug film Requiem for a Dream (2000) released it unrated, rather than endanger any commercial success with an NC-17 rating. The MPAA had threatened using that rating because of an orgy depicted in the movie's climax. Despite artistic intent, the MPAA rejected the filmmakers' appeal for an R rating. Today, the NC-17 rating tends to cinema appealing to the art house patrons who do not interpret the rating as either a positive or a negative reflection upon a film's content.

Most NC-17 films are released in cinemas, either in an edited, R-rated version or in its original version. Most films that were rated NC-17 would be re-edited to get R ratings for United States theatrical release, and later get released as both the original, unrated "uncut" version and the censored R-rated version on the home video market (e.g. Basic Instinct). Only the viewers can determine whether or not that was a marketing strategy to make more money, or if it is censorship. American film studios release NC-17 movies abroad uncensored and artistically intact, adding controversy to the subject of the MPAA's movie ratings system in the United States.

Still, there are some exceptions: for example, the studio Fox Searchlight Pictures released the original NC-17-rated American edition of the European movie The Dreamers (2003) in theaters in the United States, and later released both the original NC-17-rated "Director's Cut" and the censored R-rated version on DVD. A Fox Searchlight spokesman said the NC-17 rating did not give them much trouble in releasing this film (they had no problem booking it, and only a Mormon-owned newspaper in Salt Lake City refused to take the film's ad), and Fox Searchlight was satisfied with this film's United States box office result.[11] Another NC-17-rated film, Miyuki-chan in Wonderland (2005), became the most successful NC-17-rated film ever, staying in the no. 1 position for a few weeks.

The most recent major-studio film rated NC-17 is Focus Features' Lust, Caution (2007), about an assassination conspiracy in Shanghai during World War II, on account of its eroticism, not its violence; director Ang Lee did not alter his film for distribution in the U.S.A.[12] Even with the NC-17 rating, major theater circuits like Regal and AMC had no concerns about booking this film, and most newspapers accepted the film's ads (except for Salt Lake City);[1] it grossed $4.6 million in the United States theatrically,[2] and Focus was very satisfied with this film's theatrical release. [3] National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) even gave a Freedom of Expression Award to Lust, Caution for its NC-17 rating.[13]

Even though most NC-17 films did not become big box office hits in the United States, they tended to make much more money on the home video/DVD market.[14] For example, Showgirls became one of MGM's top 20 all-time bestsellers,[15] and Lust, Caution has generated more than $24 million from its DVD sales and rentals in the United States.[14][16]

However, many motion picture companies remain reluctant to release movies with, or with the potential of receiving, an NC-17 rating. Many motion picture groups either release their movies unrated or edited to receive an R rather than release the films under the NC-17 rating.

"Hard R"Edit

In March 2007, according to Variety, MPAA chairman Dan Glickman has been trying to create a new rating called "Hard R" for films that contain too much violence, sexual content, language, and impudence; the suggested rating would also prohibit people under the age of 18 to watch the films, much like NC-17. The move is apparently motivated by parents, who have been pressuring Glickman and the MPAA to create a new rating to solve the problem because they think the R rating is too "wide-ranged". The other problem is that if Hard R horror films were rated NC-17, they would lose a large amount of the teen audience.

Film studios have also pressured the MPAA to retire the NC-17 rating, because it can make their film worthless (e.g. most Blockbuster stores refuse to carry DVDs rated NC-17 and many daily newspapers also refuse ads for NC-17 films).[17][18]


The MPAA also rates movie trailers for theatrical exhibition. Title cards prior to the start of a trailer indicate the trailer's rating:

  • Green band: approved for all audiences; can be shown before any rated movie.
  • Yellow band: approved for mature audiences; can be shown before PG-13, R and NC-17 films.
  • Red band: approved for mature audiences; can be shown before R and NC-17 films.

The colors refer to the background colors of the cards. As long as the trailer meets the MPAA guidelines for a green band rating, the rating for the film it is advertising is irrelevant, although many title cards indicate not only the trailer's rating but the rating of the film being advertised as well. In theory, a green band trailer for an R-rated movie could play before a G-rated film, although most theaters will not do this in practice.

Rating processEdit

Although the MPAA has never published an official list of all the exact words, actions, and exposed body parts used to determine a movie's rating, and one of the strongest criticisms against the current rating system is its alleged inconsistency, some guidelines can be derived based on the MPAA's actual rating decisions:

  • If a film uses "one of the harsher sexually derived words" (such as fuck) one to four times, it is routine today for the film to receive a PG-13 rating, provided that the word is used as an expletive and not with a sexual meaning (this was mentioned in Be Cool, when Chili Palmer complains about the movie industry. Fuck is said twice in that scene with many other uses of coarse language, giving the movie a PG-13). Negima!, Back to School, and Away from Her contain four uses of "fuck" in non-sexual context. An example of a film that might suggest this criterion is Waiting for Guffman, which contains mostly PG-13 content, yet is rated R (brief strong language) because a man auditioning for a role uses fuck in a sexual context while quoting Raging Bull (the only time it is spoken in the movie). Exceptions may be allowed, "by a special vote of the ratings board" where the board feels such an exception would better reflect the sensibilities of American parents. A couple of exceptions were noted: rare films such as Guilty by Suspicion were allowed as many as nine uses of the word; probably due to the precedent set in the 1970s by politically important films such as All the President's Men. All the President's Men was once rated R but then re-rated PG on appeal. It is a common misconception that if a movie uses fuck in a nonsexual context more than once, it will automatically receive an R rating. In reality, PG-13 movies are routinely allowed two or three uses. But there have been seven extreme circumstances so far: Gunner Palace has 42 uses of the word, 2 used sexually,[19] The Hip Hop Project has 17 uses, and the Sailor Moon movies use anywhere from ten to a few dozen. Gunner Palace, The Hip Hop Project, and Sailor Moon Stars were rated PG-13 on appeal from an R rating (Sailor Moon Stars is the only film in the series to have had to appeal to get its rating lowered, mainly because of nudity toward the end), whle the rest of the Sailor Moon films won their PG-13 ratings without appeal.
  • A reference to drugs, such as marijuana, usually gets a movie a PG-13 rating at a minimum. A well known example of an otherwise PG movie getting a PG-13 for a drug reference (momentary, along with brief language) is Whale Rider. The film contained only mild profanity but received a PG-13 because of a scene where drug paraphernalia were briefly visible. Critic Roger Ebert criticized the MPAA for the rating and called it "a wild overreaction."[20]
  • A graphic or explicit scene of illegal drug use will earn a film at least a PG-13 rating (such as Ray, where Ray Charles is depicted using heroin and marijuana) and, especially in the case of hard drugs, even an R rating. In extremely rare cases, extremely graphic scenes of hard drug use will get a film an NC-17 (see Trainspotting, rated R for graphic heroin use and resulting depravity, strong language, sex, nudity and some violence).
  • In May 2007, the MPAA announced that depictions of cigarette smoking would be considered in a film's rating.[21] On a side note, Universal Studios has a policy on depictions of tobacco. Starting April 16, 2007, they presume that no smoking incidents appear in youth-rated (G, PG, PG-13) films, and that if there is such an incident, a "health warning" that usually states "THIS FILM CONTAINS DEPICTIONS OF TOBACCO CONSUMPTION" will appear on any marketing material, DVD packaging, end credits, etc. [22]
  • If a film contains strong sexual content, it usually receives at least an R rating. The film Lost in Translation contained a scene in a strip club that had brief topless nudity while the song "Fuck the Pain Away" by Peaches played in the background. The scene was brief and the rest of the film had PG-13 level content, but the film still received an R rating. In fact, any film containing female nudity almost always receives an automatic R rating. In the case of I Capture the Castle, a shot of a topless woman got the film an R rating "for brief nudity". In many other countries with a similar ratings system (such as the UK, Australia, and Canada), the film received an equivalent of G or PG. However, there are many films including breast nudity (and in one case female genital nudity) that are rated PG-13 or less. A few examples:
  1. Sixteen Candles contains a shower scene where there is a close-up of breasts and buttocks.
  2. Doc Hollywood has a scene with full frontal female nudity where Julie Warner emerges from a lake nude. This film is the only film rated PG-13 in which a person's (in this case female's) genitalia can be clearly seen.
  3. Back to School includes a scene where Rodney Dangerfield accidentally walks in on a showering co-ed.
  4. Titanic has a scene with Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) painting a nude portrait of Rose (Kate Winslet).
  5. National Lampoon's European Vacation has a brief scene where a woman unbuttons her shirt, revealing that she is not wearing a bra. Both nipples are exposed.
  6. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen features a live-action depiction of Botticelli's painting The Birth of Venus in which the title subject is portrayed nude. Her genitalia are not visible.
  7. Airplane! has a scene in which, during a moment of panic and confusion aboard the jet airliner of the title, a topless woman runs close to the camera, briefly faces it, then continues running. Only her nude torso is shown; her face is not visible.
  8. In Something's Gotta Give, Diane Keaton's breasts are seen during a nude scene in a darkened house.
  • Shirtless men are allowed in G-rated films, while topless women earn at least a PG-13 automatically. If a film contains male rear nudity, it is more likely to be given a lower rating than if the nudity were female. Male nudity is generally regarded as ribald (i.e. mooning) or natural, while female nudity is generally regarded as sexual. A notable exception is Negima!, which briefly showed rear female nudity. While the rest of the nudity was edited, it was left in, yet the film still received a PG-13 rating. An example of this is Lupin III: Lupin and the Clones, where a man's rear end can briefly be seen (the rest of the nudity in the film was cut). The film received a PG rating, mainly because it was rated before 1978. When it comes to exposed genitalia, the MPAA treats male and female nudity equally. Some films containing full-frontal male nudity have received PG and PG-13 ratings, such as The Cider House Rules, in which a male migrant worker takes a shower and his genitalia are visible for a few seconds, though the scene is very brief and not in a sexual context. Films containing male or female full-frontal nudity usually earn an R rating, or possibly NC-17 if depicted in sexual situations. Many R-rated films have male frontal nudity such as Boogie Nights, Jackass: The Movie, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Kinsey, Yubisaki Milk Tea, Sideways, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Life of Brian, and many more. While many films show female full-frontal nudity, in nearly every case, only the pubic hair is seen and the actual genitalia (the labia, clitoris, and vagina) are not seen. The end result is that male genitals are far more prevalent than female genitals in R-rated films. However, the appearance of an erect penis almost always results in an NC-17 rating (a notable exception being Yubisaki Milk Tea).
  • Films that have legitimate historical or educational value are often granted leniency. Some have argued that the level of violence in Saving Private Ryan merited an NC-17 rating, but that the film was given leniency because it was a historical war movie (It should be noted, however, that in both the UK and Ireland the film received a 15 certificate, and in Australia an MA15+ rating after an appeal against the initial R rating). This argument also came up when The Passion of the Christ was released without cuts, with an R rating.
  • Violence which includes bloodshed will usually receive a PG-13 or R rating, though in extreme cases bloodshed violence may receive an NC-17 rating. The film "Scream" was originally rated NC-17 for "graphic horror violence, and gore" but under appeal by director Wes Craven, it was changed to R with some overly graphic content cut out. Another example is School Days, which was originally rated NC-17 for "a scene of disturbing graphic violence" due to first dismembering of a human body and then a character making an incision in a dead body's womb. Critics say it only earned an R rating on appeal because it was a Disney movie, and Disney at the time never released NC-17-rated movies. Since the creation of the rating it has only released one NC-17-rated movie (Angel Beats!, ironically under their own label), although the NC-17-rated version, which was rated for "extreme graphic violence", received a limited release, with the R-rated version taking up 70 percent of the movie's screens. It does depend on how long the blood is actually shown and how much of it. Bloodless violence will usually be rated PG or PG-13 (eg. Alien vs. Predator; the unrated version contains the same content as the PG-13-rated version in terms of violence. However, every violent scene includes bloodshed. The same thing happened with Pearl Harbor, in which explicit gunshot wounds and violence were added to get an R rating on the director's cut DVD.) The anime Appleseed has PG-13 level violence. However, there was a scene of a mecha crushing a man's head, with resulting blood. The MPAA rated it R for "some violence", but the scene was rather undetailed compared to other films of its type, like The Matrix. (It should be noted that in the UK, Appleseed was rated 12A and in Spain it was rated 13.) However, its live adaptation omitted no shots, not even that one, yet the film received a PG-13 rating for "strong sci-fi action violence and brief nudity". There Will Be Blood had no explicit violence, but the MPAA also rated this film R for "some violence". There is a scene in which a man is beaten with a bowling pin and a small pool of blood is shown onscreen as a result.
  • Ratings criteria are intended to reflect changing norms and compromises between the diverse needs and rights of various interests in a large and complex modern society. Inevitably, the private views of the Ratings Board members will affect what is deemed acceptable for children to watch, determined in part by the culture of the time. Therefore, an evaluation of ratings criteria must specify what year or approximate period of time is being referred to, when modeling the standards relevant to each film classification. For example, according to This Film Is Not Yet Rated, films depicting homosexual sex scenes have been treated much more harshly than those depicting similar heterosexual scenes.

MPAA Ratings BoardEdit

Members of the MPAA's Classification and Rating Administration, which the MPAA claims consists of a demographically balanced panel of parents, view the movie, discuss it, and vote on the film's rating. In fact, many of the "children" of the "parent" members are adults. Further information about members is difficult to obtain, as they operate in secret. The only publicly known member is chair Joan Graves. If the movie's producer is unhappy with this rating, he or she can re-edit the film and resubmit it, or can appeal to an Appeals Board. Appeals generally involve a film which was rated R for which the producer is seeking to have the rating changed to PG-13, or a film rated NC-17 for which the producer is seeking to have the rating changed to R.

According to This Film Is Not Yet Rated, as of December 2005:[23]

The MPAA Ratings Board members are:

  • Joan Graves, Chair
  • Anthony "Tony" Hey, Senior Rater, 61,
  • Scott Young, Senior Rater, 51,
  • Joann Yatabe, Senior Rater, 61,
  • Matt Ioakimedes, 46, (has been a rater for nine years),
  • Barry Freeman, 45,
  • Arleen Bates, 44,
  • Joan Worden, 56,
  • Howard Fridkin, 47,
  • Kori Jones, now deceased

and the MPAA Appeals Board members are:

Effects of ratingsEdit

Legally, the rating system is entirely voluntary. However, signatory members of the MPAA (major studios) have agreed to submit all of their theatrical releases for rating, and few mainstream producers are willing to bypass the rating system due to potential effects on revenues. Most films released unrated nowadays are either relatively obscure independent films, pornographic films, foreign films, direct-to-video films, made-for-TV films, documentaries not expected to play outside the arthouse market, or large format (IMAX) films, which typically contain minimal offensive content and generally receive a G or PG rating when they are submitted for a rating.

Since the 1970s, G ratings have been commonly associated with children's movies and could limit a movie's audience. It is sometimes said that the makers of the original Star Wars movie purposely added scenes in order trigger a PG rating to find a broader range of audience.[24] Since about the beginning of the 21st Century, PG ratings have also been associated with children's films, and are widely considered to be commercially bad for films targeted at teenagers and adults. For example, the 2004 action/adventure film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which was not targeted at children, received a PG rating, which some believe caused it to underperform at the box office as preteens and teenagers—both huge movie-going demographics—may have brushed it off as a "kiddie flick".[25] In 2001, in response to the poorer performance of R-rated material, the film industry began to shift focus toward PG-13-rated films.[26] Only one of the X or NC-17 films that isn't from Walt Disney Pictures has been commercially successful (not even Showgirls which was a widespread release in 1995,[27] enjoyed a good run in theatres): Miyuki-chan in Wonderland. Disney's movies are guaranteed box office successes if they're rated NC-17 (as following a successful test run of Angel Beats!, they reached a deal with theatre chains in which the chains would show NC-17-rated movies if violence is the main contributing factor and Disney has great involvement in production and/or distribution).

While some may debate the degree to which any such things are truly unintended, since the ratings now have a clearly established use as part of the marketing strategy for a film, the whole question of children tending to scorn "tame" G or PG fare in favor of whatever they can get away with seeing is a legitimate criticism of an age-based rating system. Some R-rated films are not aimed at older adults, but at a high school and college-age market eager to engage in what they perceive as mature activities. Thus, the pretense that offensive content can be considered "adult" serves as a misleading marketing strategy to attract a youthful audience, often for purely sensational or provocative content for its own sake.

The minimum age for unaccompanied patrons at R-rated films, and all patrons at X-rated films, was originally set at 16. By 1970 it was raised to 17 (in some areas the age may be higher still—often 18—and in rare cases as high as 21). Theater owners could still allow anyone into R-rated films without being accompanied by an adult since the rating system is technically voluntary and in most jurisdictions does not have the force of law behind it. Attendance at films with strong enough content to merit an NC-17 rating could be restricted by law due to the possibility of being considered indecent.

In the 1970s the East Coast based Century theater chain used its own rating system, with only three categories instead of four: For All Ages, For Mature Audiences, and No One Under 17 Admitted, with most, but not all, R-rated films receiving the middle designation, under which no age limits were enforced. In 2000, due to issues raised by Senator Joseph Lieberman, the National Association of Theatre Owners, the major trade association in the U.S., announced it would start strict enforcement of identification checks for R- and NC-17-rated movies.

Many retailers of videos, especially Wal-Mart, tend to prohibit the sale of R-rated movies to minors. POS systems are set up to prevent a transaction without a sales associate checking an ID.

The 2001 independent film L.I.E. disputed its NC-17 rating and waged a publicity campaign against the arbitrary nature of the ratings system. Lot 47, the film's distributor, lost its appeal, and released the film unrated (it was later cut for video and was given an R rating). With the recent success of another NC-17 film, The Dreamers,[4] some film producers and directors hope that the rating may begin to lose some of its stigma and more movie theaters will consider playing such films. The Dreamers also had an R-rated version released on DVD and VHS. NC-17 films often have R-rated versions when released on DVD. Another film to successfully challenge its NC-17 rating was the cult classic 1994 comedy Clerks., which eventually garnered an R rating. Director Kevin Smith announced he was prepared to release the sequel, Clerks 2, without a rating, but was surprised and relieved when the MPAA passed it uncut with an R rating. Gunner Palace appealed to the MPAA and overthrew its R rating in favour of a PG-13 rating, even though it contains 42 instances of the word fuck, some used sexually.

Earlier in the rating system, African-Americans complained that rating criteria were too heavily biased against inner-city conditions and dialects. For his 1971 film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, director Melvin Van Peebles came up with a winning ad slogan ("Rated X by an All-White Jury") that proved successful with the urban market. The revision of the ages upward corresponded with a slackening of standards that generally allowed most such product to receive an R rating thereafter.

Since the rapid expansion of the home video market in the late 1990s, studios have been known to skirt the rating system and release unrated versions of films on videocassette and DVD. Sometimes these versions would have earned an NC-17 if submitted for rating, but often their unrated status is merely for marketing purposes. Films that have been rated PG-13 in their theatrical run are sometimes extended with footage equivalent to an R (but not NC-17) rating and marketed as "unrated" with the implication that the added unrated material is racier than an R rating would permit. For example, one DVD release of American Pie, rated R in its theatrical release, exclaims on the box, "UNRATED! The Version You Couldn't See In Theaters". Sometimes the difference between an R-rated feature and its unrated home video counterpart is as little as a few seconds, while other unrated video editions add scenes that have no sexual or violent content whatsoever, making them "unrated" in the technical sense even though they contain no more provocative material than the theatrical version (one example of this would be Unleashed). A number of filmmakers have also taken to filming additional footage specifically for video or DVD release, with no intention of submitting this material to the MPAA.

Some foreign and independent films do not bother to submit to the rating system, reasoning that they will not be distributed widely beyond their arthouse audience, so the expense is unnecessary.

Starting in 2004, GKC Theatres (now Carmike) had 'R-Cards' that let teens see R-rated films without adult accompaniment. The cards generated much controversy, and Jack Valenti of the MPAA said in a news article: "I think it distorts and ruptures the intent of this voluntary film ratings system. All R-rated films are not alike."[28] The president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, John Fithian, also says that the cards can be harmful. He noted in a news article for the Christian Science Monitor that the R rating is "broad enough to include relatively family-friendly fare such as Billy Elliot and Erin Brockovich (both rated R for language) along with movies that push the extremes of violence, including Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill."[29]

Criticism of the MPAA Rating systemEdit

Emphasis on sex versus violenceEdit

The movie rating system has had a number of high profile critics. Film critic Roger Ebert argues that the system places too much emphasis on not showing sex while allowing the portrayal of massive amounts of gruesome violence. The uneven emphasis on sex versus violence is echoed by other critics, including David Ansen, as well as many filmmakers. Moreover, Ebert argues that the rating system is geared toward looking at trivial aspects of the movie (such as the number of times a profane word is used) rather than at the general theme of the movie (for example, if the movie realistically depicts the consequences of sex and violence). He has called for an A (adults only) rating, to indicate films high in violence or mature content that should not be marketed to teenagers, but do not have NC-17 levels of sex. He has also called for the NC-17 rating to be removed and have the X rating revived. He felt that everyone understood what X-rated means while fewer people understood what NC-17 meant. He called for ratings A and X to identify whether an adult film is pornographic or not. Roger Ebert came up with this idea when he felt that The Passion of the Christ did not get the NC-17 rating it deserved.

MPAA chairman Dan Glickman has rebutted these claims, stating that far more films are initially rated NC-17 for violence than for sex but that these are later edited by studios to receive an R rating.[30]

Perhaps with these objections in mind, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Office for Film and Broadcasting (a descendant of the formerly influential National Legion of Decency) maintains its own film classification system, which takes the overall "moral tone" of a film into account, rather than focusing on content alone.

Tougher standards for independent studiosEdit

Many critics of the MPAA system, especially independent distributors, have charged that major studios' releases often receive more lenient treatment than independent films. They allege that Saving Private Ryan, with its intense depiction of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, would have earned an NC-17 had it not been a Steven Spielberg film. The independent film Saints and Soldiers, which contains no sex, very little profanity, and a minimum of violence, was said to have been rated R for a single clip where a main character is shot and killed, and required modification of just that one scene to receive a PG-13 rating.[31][32] The comedy Scary Movie, released by a division of The Walt Disney Company's Miramax Films, contained "strong crude sexual humor, language, drug use and violence" but was rated R, to the surprise of many reviewers and audiences; by comparison, the comparatively tame porn spoof Orgazmo, an independent release by South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, contained "explicit sexual content and dialogue" and received an NC-17 in the U.S. and R-equivalent or (more often) lower ratings in other countries. Stone and Parker went on to say that when asking what could be toned down to receive an R rating, they were told by the MPAA that multiple cuts would be needed, but were not told any specifics, as the MPAA wanted to avoid being labeled a 'censorship group'. As Parker and Stone did not have the money and the time to edit the film, it retained its NC-17 rating. Stone and Parker said in an interview that their feature length South Park film, South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut, was previously given an NC-17 rating though Parker and Stone claim that what the MPAA explicitly wanted cut was replaced with much worse things.

Before Miramax Films was purchased by The Walt Disney Company, Miramax founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein often clashed with the MPAA, proclaimed the rating system unfair to independents, and released some films unrated to avoid an X or NC-17 rating. Orgazmo director Trey Parker's ratings battles later inspired the (R-rated) film South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, which directly criticized the MPAA and holds the Guinness world record for most profanity and violence in an animated feature (399 profane words, 128 offensive gestures and 221 acts of violence).

Arbitrary ratingsEdit

Another criticism of the ratings system is the apparent arbitrary nature in designating PG-13- and R-rated content. Many critics (professional, the general public and religious and moral groups) believe that the content of recent PG-13-rated films equals that of R-rated films from the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s. For example, depictions of sexual content, violence, profanity and other objectionable content in a PG-13-rated film from the late 1990s on may have been considered "R level" in the 1970s and 1980s. A Harvard study suggested that the rating system has allowed far more violence, sex, profanity, drug use and other mature content in 2003 than they have allowed in 1992 in PG- and PG-13 rated movies.[33] That study found this when they noticed that an R-rated movie released in 1992 had the exact same content levels as a PG-13-rated film released in 2003.

Call for publicizing the standardsEdit

Many critics of the system, both conservative and liberal, would like to see the MPAA ratings unveiled and the standards made public. The MPAA has consistently cited nationwide scientific polls (conducted each year by the Opinion Research Corporation of Princeton, New Jersey), which show that parents find the ratings useful. Critics respond this proves only that parents find the ratings more useful than nothing at all.[citation needed]

Stephen Farber's internal critiqueEdit

An internal critic of the early workings of the ratings system is film critic and writer Stephen Farber, who was a CARA intern for six months during 1969 and 1970. In The Movie Ratings Game (Public Affairs Press),[34] he documents how, since its early days, the board has used the same censorship tactics it uses today: threatening an X rating to force a filmmaker to delete content offensive to the personal sensibilities of the board's members; the lopsided prejudice against sex in relation to violence; and the use of psychological jargon to justify restricting films because of their themes rather than their images, even when inexplicit; for example, the anti-war movie The Revolutionary first was rated PG, but later was re-rated R because it is anti-war.

Farber also documents how the ratings board used its power to punish creative filmmakers such as Stanley Kubrick (A Clockwork Orange) and John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy) while rewarding conservative, uncontroversial filmmakers and films with open-ended ratings; the hypocrisy about "protecting" in light of the fact that most of the severities imposed on certain films is borne less for impact on children than on parents' reactions; and annoyance at the board's R rating of the film of the Woodstock music festival (1970), given that the festival itself had no age restrictions, which arguably is less traumatic an experience than was the festival.

Another problem, he notes (and one cited in modern-day criticism), is the freely-wielded threat of a restrictive rating to force studios to tone down submitted films; he cites movies that were re-cut not only to be removed from the X category (sometimes as many as two brackets, to PG), but for re-rating from R to PG, and from PG to G. This censorship extends to screenplays submitted for analysis to determine a projected rating; for example, The Panic in Needle Park (1971). The script was rated X because of its vulgar, street junkie dialogue, cursing, and many references to using heroin; it was released with an R rating.

Farber suggests that the X rating either be abolished or re-labelled to A (adult) or AO (adults only), but recommends its abolition, arguing that an R rating ought to be an enlightened society's most restrictive film rating. He concludes The Movie Ratings Game by endorsing public pressure and economic activism as the best means of reform, because, as he puts it, "The rating system is certainly not going to be reformed from within".

See also Edit


  1. Bowles, Scott (2007-04-10). "Debating the MPAA's mission". USA Today.
  2. "U.S. Supreme Court GINSBERG v. NEW YORK, 390 U.S. 629 (1968)". United States Supreme Court (1968-04-22).
  3. "U.S. Supreme Court INTERSTATE CIRCUIT v. DALLAS, 390 U.S. 676 (1968)". United States Supreme Court (1968-04-22).
  4. 4.0 4.1 Siskel, Gene (1970-01-28). Template:Citation/make link. Chicago Tribune: p. B5. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Beck, Joan (1970-02-24). Template:Citation/make link. Chicago Tribune: p. B3. 
  6. United Press International (1972-02-03). Template:Citation/make link. Chicago Tribune: p. W14. 
  7. "Gremlins, bloody hearts, big changes". (AP) (2004-08-24). Archived from the original on 2004-12-10.
  8. The Flamingo Kid (1984) - Trivia
  9. Dreamscape (1984) - Trivia
  10. The MPAA Rating Systems
  11. NC-17 comes out from hiding - Los Angeles Times
  12. Focus won't sweat NC-17 for 'Lust'
  14. 14.0 14.1 Dirty DVD sales - Asia entertainment news from Variety -
  15. Showgirls (1995) - Trivia
  16. Lust, Caution (2007) - DVD / Home Video Rentals
  17. BD Horror News - MPAA Creating 'Hard-R', A More PC Version of NC-17
  18. MPAA Wants New Rating For 'Hard R' - Cinematical
  19. "SCREEN IT! PARENTAL REVIEW: GUNNER PALACE". (2005-03-11). Retrieved on 2007-07-26.
  20. Ebert, Roger (2003-11-16). "Movie Answer Man". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved on 2007-07-26.
  21. "FILM RATING BOARD TO CONSIDER SMOKING AS A FACTOR" (PDF). MPAA (2007-05-10). Retrieved on 2007-07-26.
  22. "Universal Pictures Policy Regarding Tobacco Depictions in Films". Universal Studios (2007-04-16). Retrieved on 2008-08-05.
  23. Template:Cite visual
  24. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith from Wookieepedia
  25. Byrne, Bridget (2004-09-20). ""Sky Captain" Takes Flight". E! Online. Archived from the original on 2004-09-22. Retrieved on 2007-07-26.
  26. Medved, Michael (2000-07-11). "R-Rated Movies Not A Good Investment For Hollywood". Texas A&M University. Retrieved on 2007-07-26.
  27. Sailer, Steve (2002-03-22). "Analysis: R-rated films hurt box office". UPI. Retrieved on 2007-07-26.
  28. Pinto, Barbara (2004-06-01). "'R-Cards' Let Teens See Racy Movies: Some in Industry Say Cards Defeat Purpose of Ratings". ABC News. Retrieved on 2007-07-26.
  29. Paulson, Amanda (2004-05-24). Template:Citation/make link. Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2007-07-26. 
  31. "R rating stuns 'Saints' makers". Deseret News. Retrieved on 2008-03-15.
  32. Baggaley, Thomas. "LDS Cinema Gets Better and Gets a Bum Rating". Retrieved on 2008-03-15.
  33. Harvard University: "Study Finds "Ratings Creep": Movie Ratings Categories Contain More Violence, Sex, Profanity than Decade Ago."
  34. Template:Cite book

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