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18 category symbol

The 18 certificate is issued by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) to state that, in its opinion, a film, video recording, or game should not be seen or purchased by a person under 18 years old.

As with other British film certificates, the 18 certificate theoretically only has advisory power for films shown in public cinemas, with the ultimate say being held by local authorities. In practice, the local authorities tend to follow BBFC rulings in all but a few exceptional cases.

For video and game sales, the BBFC rulings have statutory power, as under the terms of the 1984 Video Recordings Act all videos sold or distributed within the UK must either be given a certificate by the BBFC, unless they fall into a number of exempt categories. Uncertificated recordings which are not exempt cannot legally be sold, regardless of content.

The 18 certificate was created in 1982 as the successor of the previous X certificate, which in turn was the successor of the H certificate (with H standing for "horror"). See History of British Film Certificates for more details.

Typical reasons for restricting films to the 18 certificate category have included scenes of hard drug use, supernatural horror, explicit sex, sadistic violence and sexual violence — the last two of which have in the past led to a certificate not being issued at all, effectively banning the film in the UK.

It was only recently that the censors passed films with explicit ('hardcore') sexual acts despite the 18 certificate existing for many years.

It is also issued by the Irish Film Classification Office.


Sex and the 18 certificate

Until recently, 18 certificate films could not contain the depiction of actual sex acts. With the relaxation of restrictions on the depiction of sexual acts, the R18 certificate was created to allow the sale of these films in sex shops. Although the BBFC allowed the depiction of simulated sex scenes in 18 certificate films, actual sexual acts were still not allowed to be depicted in 18 certificate films until recently.

This precedent appears to have been set when the BBFC granted 18 certificates for films containing short scenes of unsimulated sex, such as Catherine Breillat's Romance (in 1999) and Patrice Chereau's Intimacy (in 2001). In October 2004, a new precedent appeared to be set when the BBFC granted an 18 certificate for Michael Winterbottom's film 9 Songs, which featured a number of lengthy explicit scenes of unsimulated sex. This was followed by certificates for Shortbus and Destricted. In the statement justifying the latter decision, it was stated that there is no limit of the quantity of images that can be considered to be justified.

In 2004 the board was also challenged by pornographic video distributors to award 18 certificates to material otherwise falling under the R18 guidelines. This could have greatly diminished the role of the R18 certificate, but failed. This means there continues to be a form of artistic merit test requiring the work to be judged non-pornographic and the scenes in question "exceptionally justified by context" for a mainstream release. In a sex work, any explicit and non-obscured sight of vaginal or anal penetration by any object whatsoever; any contact between the lips or tongue and genital/anal area; and ejaculation requires an R18. Any sight of a liquid resembling semen is also restricted to R18, even if the ejaculation is not visible: women licking sticky white liquid off a model of the World Cup and similar liquid splashing onto faces, breasts or being swallowed have all been censored from 18 certificate films. The R18 versions contained these images unaltered. Further reasons for R18 as opposed to 18 include vigorous and/or extensive genital touching (brief genital touching may be passed "18"), implied triple penetration, extreme close ups of spread female genitals or anuses (erections are now permissible at 18 however), and certain fetish material- especially urination and potentially dangerous sado-masochistic activities.

Violence, horror, and the 18 certificate

In the past, violence was one of the most problematic aspects when passing a film with an 18 certificate, whether it is sexualised or fantasized violence. Horror films were often the culprits for depicting graphic violence and this often results in a lot of grief to the examiners. Therefore, they must remove the offending scenes before giving it a certificate. With the advent of videotape, this meant that any film that was cut in the cinemas could be released uncut on video. This had led to a moral panic concerning "video nasties" as coined by tabloid newspapers. The Government passed the Video Recordings Act 1984 which meant all videos offered for sale must be assigned a classification agreed upon by an authority designated by the Home Office (the BBFC in this case). As a result of this, many films previously cut for cinema (such as The Evil Dead and Dawn of the Dead) had to be cut further in order to get a legal release.

In recent times, the BBFC have been more lenient towards fantasized violence, and so the above-mentioned films have since passed uncut. Current concerns include content such as "any detailed portrayal of violent or dangerous acts which is likely to promote the activity", and sexualised violence. The BBFC also takes into account whether the scenes are considered to glamourise sexual assault. In 2002, the board passed Gaspar Noé's Irréversible without any cuts. This is because they state that the rape depicted in the film does not contain any explicit sexual images and is not designed to titillate at all. Less than a month later, Takashi Miike's Ichi the Killer had to be cut by 3.25 minutes due to sexual violence. In this case, it featured scenes of explicit sexual images and is designed to titillate the viewer. Another example is the former video nasty, Cannibal Holocaust. It had to be cut by 5.44 minutes due to scenes of sexual violence and animal cruelty.

References or scenes of suicide, which can be easily imitated by youth, can lead to a DVD being given an 18 certificate due to that potential. For example: Volume 3 of the anime Paranoia Agent is rated 18 because of suicide references and violence, mostly in the episode "Happy Family Planning", which had comic talk of suicide and a scene of a comic hanging (cut by the BBFC). The other volumes were rated 12 and 15.

See also

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