The article you are about to read has been rated G.
You see it before every movie — that plain, familiar screen with a small letter on it that lets you know what a film is rated. And yet, despite this familiarity, few movie-goers have a thorough understanding of how ratings are determined and who determines them. What exactly do the ratings mean and how they are derived provides an interesting look into the inner workings of the motion picture industry.
The movie rating system began in 1968 as a result of public pressure to regulate film content. The 1960’s had ushered in a new era of filmmaking in which riskier subjects were finding being explored in cinema. To strike a balance between artistic freedom and informing parents about the content of movies, the film industry adopted a new, voluntary standard to rate movies under the direction of the MPAA, the Motion Picture Association of America. Part of this strategy was to keep government away from regulating movies, much as the Hays Code did for motion pictures in the 1930s. Today, approximately 85 % of theater owners participate in the ratings system.
Who Determines a Movie’s MPAA Rating?
A board of parents who work for the MPAA’s Classification and Rating Administration rates movies according to their content. Ratings are not determined by movie studios or producers. All board members must have parental experience to better enable them to empathize with typical American parents. Ratings are decided by a majority vote of the 10 to 13 board members.
How are Ratings Determined?
The guidelines for determining ratings are based solely on a film’s content. They are broken down into the following categories:
A G-rated film is one that contains no nudity, sex or drug use. Violence must be kept to a minimum but is still permissible. Dialogue may contain brief passages that can be considered as heated exchanges, but these do not contain vulgarity. A G rating does not automatically mean that a film is a children’s movie. It simple means that the board feels that it contains nothing that average parents may find offensive for children.
A PG film is one that should be examined by parents prior to letting their children see it. PG films can contain some profanity and themes that may be inappropriate for children. Brief instances of violence and nudity are permissible, but drug use is not.
PG-13 is a strong warning to parents that the film may contain content inappropriate for under-teenaged children. Any drug use will require at least this rating, as will the use of the F-word as an expletive (using this term in a sexual context will garner an R rating). Nudity is permissible in a non-sexual context and violence may be more intense and persistent than in a PG film.
A rating of R indicates that a film contains some material for adults. Strong language and violence may be prevalent. The R rating also includes films with drug usage and other elements most parents would find suitable only for adults.
An NC-17 film is one the rating board feels most parents will find inappropriate for children under 17. NC-17 does not mean pornographic or obscene, but rather, that the film may contain a large amount of sex, drug use, or behavior of an aberrational nature that most parents would consider inappropriate for children.
The Rating’s Process
While ratings are not mandatory, most distribution contracts require the delivery of a certain MPAA rating. The reasons are obvious. Distributors want the widest possible audience to maximize profits. The higher the rating, the smaller the potential audience will be. The reverse is also true. Since many people automatically equate a G rating with children’s movies, some films would lose potential viewers with this rating.
Films are submitted to the MPAA for ratings and are charged a fee for doing so. The fee ranges anywhere from $2000 to $15,000 depending on a film’s budget. Films with budgets under $150,000 are charged the minimum fee, and films with budgets over $50 million are charged the maximum.
If the MPAA rating is disputed, a filmmaker can appeal this decision or alter the film to garner the desired rating. Ratings are determined subjectively; after all, what some people may find offensive, others may not. Such disputes are settled by the Rating Appeals Board.
Using Movie Ratings
While movie ratings are highly subjective, they can serve as a useful guide in determining what films are appropriate for certain ages of children. They are not meant to substitute for parental involvement, but rather, they should be used as a general guideline for determining whether a film contains material an average parent may find objectionable. Ratings do not reflect the quality of a film, just its content. Ultimately, it is the parent’s responsibility to determine which movies are appropriate for their children.