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The Motion Picture Association of America's film-rating system is a rating system for films. It is used in the U.S. and its territories to rate a film's thematic and content suitability for certain audiences. The MPAA system applies only to motion pictures that are submitted for rating. Other media (such as television programs and video games) may be rated by other entities. A voluntary system not enforced by law, it is one of various motion picture rating systems used to help parents decide what movies are appropriate for children.

In the U.S., the MPAA's rating systems are the most-recognized guide for parents regarding the content of movies. The MPAA has trademarked each rating so that the ratings are not used outside of motion pictures. The MPAA system has been criticized for the secrecy of its decisions as well as for perceived inconsistencies.[1]

Contents

Ratings

Current (since 1990) MPAA movie ratings are:

Rating symbol Text[2]
G rating symbol
G- General Audiences (1968–present)
All ages admitted
PG rating symbol
PG- Parental Guidance Suggested (1972–present)
Some material may be not suitable for children
PG-13 rating symbol
PG-13- Parents Strongly Cautioned (1984–present)
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
R rating symbol
R- Restricted (1968–present)
Under 17 requires accompanying by a parent or adult guardian
NC-17 rating symbol
NC-17- No One 17 and Under Admitted (1990–present)

If a film is not submitted for rating, the label NR (Not Rated) or Unrated is used. However, this is not an official MPAA classification. Films not yet rated by the MPAA, but that are expected to be submitted for rating, are often advertised with the notice "This Film is Not Yet Rated".

History

Replacement of Hays Code

The Hays Code, in place since 1930, was deemed by the MPAA to be no longer appropriate for the current film environment. The Code was revised in 1966 to include the "SMA" (Suggested for Mature Audiences) advisory. The MPAA's film ratings system was instituted on November 1, 1968 by the industry in order to avoid censorship by local jurisdictions.[3]

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

  • G: General audiences - all ages admitted
  • M: Mature audiences - parental guidance suggested, but all ages admitted
  • R: Restricted - children under 17 not admitted without an accompanying parent or adult guardian
  • X: No one under 17 admitted

[4]

This content classification system originally was to have three ratings with the intention of allowing parents to take their children to any film they choose. However, the National Association of Theater Owners urged the creation of an adults only category, fearful of possible legal problems in local jurisdictions. 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).[4]

From M to PG

The M rating was changed because parents were confused as to whether "M"-rated films or "R"-rated films had more intense content. This led to the "GP" rating in January 1970[5].

The ratings used from 1970 to 1972, were:

  • Rated G: All ages admitted. General audiences.
  • Rated GP: General audiences, parental guidance suggested.
  • Rated R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
  • Rated X: No one under 17 admitted.

Also in 1970 the ages of viewers admitted to R- and X-rated movies was raised from 16 to 17.[6][7] However, the age on the X rating varied per the jurisdiction.[citation needed]

By 1972, parents perceived the GP rating as not indicative of a film's true content. In 1971, the MPAA added content advisories such as: Contains material not generally suitable for pre-teenagers. In February 1972 the MPAA replaced the GP rating with the new PG rating.[8]

The ratings used from 1972 to 1983 were:

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

By late 1978, the PG rating was reworded. The word pre-teenagers was replaced with children.[9][10]

The PG-13 rating is adopted

In 1984, explicit violence and gore in the films Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins caused an uproar among parents over their PG rating.[11] Their complaints led Hollywood figure Steven Spielberg, director of Temple of Doom and producer of Gremlins, to suggest a new rating to MPAA president Jack Valenti. Spielberg's suggestion was for an intermediate rating of PG-13 or PG-14.[12] On conferring with cinema owners, Valenti and the MPAA on July 1, 1984, introduced the PG-13 rating indicating that some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

The first two films distributed with a PG-13 rating were Dreamscape and Red Dawn (1984) although The Flamingo Kid (1984) was the first film so rated.[13][14]

The ratings used from 1984 to 1985 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 young children
  • Rated R: Restricted — Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
  • Rated X: No one under 17 admitted

From 1985 to 1990 the PG-13 rating was described thus: Parents strongly cautioned — Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13

X replaced by NC-17

In the rating system's early years, X-rated movies, such as Midnight Cowboy (1969), Fritz the Cat (1972), and Last Tango in Paris (1973) were understood to be non-pornographic films with adult content. However, pornographic films - if rated at all - sometimes self-imposed the non-copyrighted X rating. Thus, the X rating (along with the hyperbolic "XXX") soon became a synonym for pornography in American mainstream culture.[15]

This association led many newspapers and television stations to refuse advertisements for X-rated movies and some cinema owners refused to exhibit them.[citation needed]Such policies led to the distributors' compromise with George Romero's horror film Dawn of the Dead (1978). Participating NATO cinema owners agreed to enforce the audience restriction rating, but the letter X would not appear in advertising. Instead, the following content warning advisory message was 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."[citation needed]

In 1989, two critically acclaimed art films, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, were released featuring very strong adult content. Neither was approved for an R rating, thus limiting their commercial distribution.[16] Director David Lynch suggested an RR rating for such adult-oriented films.[citation needed]

On September 27, 1990, the MPAA introduced the rating NC-17 ("No Children Under 17 Admitted") as its official rating for adult-oriented films bearing the MPAA seal.[17] Henry & June was the first film to receive the NC-17 rating.[17][18]

The ratings used from 1990–1996 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
  • Rated NC-17: No children under 17 admitted

In 1995, the NC-17 rating age limit was clarified by rewording it from "No Children Under 17 Admitted" to "No One 17 And Under Admitted".

In practice, media that refused to advertise X-rated films also refused to advertise NC-17 movies. In addition, large video distribution businesses such as Blockbuster Video and Hollywood Video refused to stock NC-17 movies.[19] Nevertheless, some stores with this policy stocked unrated films that would otherwise receive the NC-17 rating.

Few NC-17 movies have proved profitable, but United Artists, marketed the big budget drama Showgirls (1995) with an NC-17 rating. To date, it is the only widely-distributed NC-17 movie (1,388 cinemas simultaneously). It was a financial failure and established the NC-17 rating as commercially untenable.

The makers of Requiem for a Dream (2000) released it unrated, rather than risk the NC-17 rating. (The MPAA had rated the film NC-17.) Today, the NC-17 is found primarily in art house films where patrons are less likely to have a positive or negative impression of the rating.

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 and the cut 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.[20] Another notable exception is Bad Education, a NC-17 foreign-language film which grossed $5.2 million in the United States theatrically[21] (a moderate success for a foreign-language film[22]).

Films are often released with different versions and different ratings. Since R ratings are preferred for theatrical exhibition, filmmakers often cut films to meet the requirements. The "uncut" (either unrated or NC-17) version is sometimes released in limited engagements, other formats (such as DVD), and in foreign markets. This practice has become commonplace as an enticement to sell DVDs.[citation needed]

Re-released films

Some films, if re-submitted upon re-release, are given a revised rating by the current MPAA. Midnight Cowboy, for example, was rated X upon release, but re-rated (unedited) R in 1971. Films which predated the ratings system (and thus originally had no rating) are sometimes rated upon re-release. An example is the "approved" (under the pre-1968 MPAA) The Manchurian Candidate which was re-rated PG-13 in 1988.[23]

Additional information for parents

Some film ratings include additional information for parents. For example, the phrase "May Be Too Intense For Younger Children" accompanies the PG rating for Jaws (1975), though this appears to be for comedic and dramatic effect. The more formal information "Some material may not be suitable for pre-teenagers" is also included.[24] In 1990, the MPAA added brief explanations of the reasons for the ratings on some films.[5]

"Heavy R"

As of March 2007, according to Variety, MPAA chairman Dan Glickman had been trying to create a new rating called "Hard R" to replace the NC-17. Film studios have pressured the MPAA to retire the NC-17 rating, because it can severely decrease their film's box office revenue.[25][26]

Advertising materials

The MPAA also rates film trailers, print advertising, posters, and other media used to promote a film. Trailers are commonly referred to as "green band", "yellow band", or "red band" based on the rating given to the trailer by the MPAA. Green, yellow, or red title cards displayed before the start of a trailer indicates the trailer's rating.

  • Green band: approved for all audiences; can be shown before a movie with any rating.
  • Yellow band: approved for age-appropriate audiences; internet trailers only.[27]
  • Red band: approved for adult audiences; can be shown before R, NC-17 or unrated films.[28]

Rating process

The MPAA does not release specific guidelines as to what content will receive which rating. However, they do state that many factors are considered including content such as sex, violence, nudity, language, adult topics and drug use.

Early use of the G rating

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!, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and 2001: A Space Odyssey were commonly released with G ratings. During this time, adult content such as mild cursing, partial nudity, and mild violence were sometimes found in G-rated films. By the 1970s, however, the G rating became strongly associated with children's films. Many G-rated adult films have since been re-rated PG.

MPAA Ratings Board

Members of the MPAA's Classification and Rating Administration, which the MPAA claims consists of a broad, demographically representative 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, the members of the board as of December 2005[29] were:

  • Joan Graves, Chair
  • Anthony "Tony" Hey, Senior Rater, 61,
  • Scott Young, Senior Rater, 51,
  • Joann Yatabe, Senior Rater, 61,
  • Matt Ioakimedes, 46,
  • 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 ratings

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 producers are willing to bypass the rating system because of the potential effects on revenues. Most films released unrated are independent films, pornographic films, foreign films, direct-to-video films, and other films not expected to receive wide distribution. Specialty format films such as large format films are sometimes not submitted for a rating.

While its intent is debated, ratings are associated with the marketing strategy for a film. Since the 1970s, G ratings have been commonly associated with children's movies and could limit a movie's audience.[citation needed]

PG ratings are sometimes also associated with children's films, and are widely considered to be commercially bad for films targeted at teenagers and adults. For example, the 2004 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 may have brushed it off as a "kiddie flick".[30]

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.

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, because of 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 prohibit the sale of R-rated movies to minors.

The R Cards

Starting in 2004, GKC Theatres (now Carmike Cinemas) 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."[31] 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."[32]

Criticisms

Emphasis on sex versus violence

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 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[citation needed]. 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.

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.[33]

Despite this, 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),[32] he documents a prejudice against sex in relation to violence. This Film Is Not Yet Rated also points out that 4 times as many films received an NC-17 rating for sex rather as they did for violence according to the MPAA's own website.

Tougher standards for independent studios

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.[34][35] The comedy Scary Movie, released by a division of The Walt Disney Company's Dimension 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. As Parker and Stone did not have the money and the time to edit the film, it retained its NC-17 rating.

Call for publicizing the standards

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 (such as Kirby Dick) respond this proves only that parents find the ratings more useful than nothing at all.[29]

See also

References

  1. ^ Bowles, Scott (2007-04-10). "Debating the MPAA's mission". USA Today. http://www.usatoday.com/life/movies/news/2007-04-09-movie-ratings-main_N.htm. 
  2. ^ http://www.mpaa.org/FlmRat_Ratings.asp
  3. ^ http://www.mpaa.org/Ratings_HowItAllBegan.asp
  4. ^ a b http://www.mpaa.org/Ratings_BrthofRt.asp
  5. ^ a b http://www.mpaa.org/Ratings_hstry_Rvsns.asp
  6. ^ Siskel, Gene (1970-01-28). "The Movies". Chicago Tribune: p. B5. 
  7. ^ Beck, Joan (1970-02-24). "Children's Film Fare Skimpy". Chicago Tribune: p. B3. 
  8. ^ United Press International (1972-02-03). "New 'PG' Film Rating Clarifies Picture Type". Chicago Tribune: p. W14. 
  9. ^ "The Influence of the MPAA'S Film-Rating System on Motion Picture Attendance: a Pilot Study" in Journal of Psychology, Vol. 106, 1980, by Bruce A. Austin
  10. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yccbhnpug5k
  11. ^ "Gremlins in the Rating System" http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,926639,00.html
  12. ^ Q&A: Steven Spielberg on Indiana Jones from Vanity Fair
  13. ^ The Flamingo Kid (1984) - Trivia from the Internet Movie Database
  14. ^ Dreamscape (1984) - Trivia from the Internet Movie Database
  15. ^ The MPAA Rating Systems
  16. ^ MALJACK PRODUCTIONS, INC. V MOTION PICTURE ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA, INC, US Dist. Court, DC Circuit - http://www.ll.georgetown.edu/federal/judicial/dc/opinions/93opinions/93-7244a.html
  17. ^ a b "X-Film Rating Dropped and Replaced with NC-17" http://articles.latimes.com/1990-09-27/news/mn-1406_1_r-rated-films
  18. ^ "Henry Miller Meets the MPAA" http://articles.latimes.com/1990-08-27/entertainment/ca-117_1_henry-miller
  19. ^ First Major Film With an NC-17 Rating Is Embraced by the Studio from New York Times
  20. ^ NC-17 comes out from hiding from Los Angeles Times
  21. ^ Bad Education performance from Box Office Mojo
  22. ^ Foreign affairs from The Hollywood Reporter
  23. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0064665/
  24. ^ http://stockdisplays.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/jaws-poster.jpg
  25. ^ BD Horror News - MPAA Creating 'Hard-R', A More PC Version of NC-17 from bloody-disgusting.com
  26. ^ MPAA Wants New Rating For 'Hard R' - Cinematical
  27. ^ Halbfinger, David (2007-06-13). "Attention, Web Surfers: The Following Film Trailer May Be Racy or Graphic". http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/13/movies/13yell.html?ex=1348459200&en=42bf69fab0a0c9cc&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink. 
  28. ^ http://www.mpaa.org/FlmRat_Advertising.asp
  29. ^ a b Kirby Dick (Director). (2006-01-25) This Film is not Yet Rated [Film].
  30. ^ Byrne, Bridget (2004-09-20). ""Sky Captain" Takes Flight". E! Online. Archived from the original on 2004-09-22. http://web.archive.org/web/20040922020013/http://www.eonline.com/News/Items/0,1,14962,00.html. Retrieved 2007-07-26. 
  31. ^ Pinto, Barbara (2004-06-01). "'R-Cards' Let Teens See Racy Movies: Some in Industry Say Cards Defeat Purpose of Ratings". ABC News. http://aolsvc.news.aol.com/news/article.adp?id=20040601213009990001. Retrieved 2007-07-26. 
  32. ^ Paulson, Amanda (2004-05-24). "Under 17 not admitted without R-card". Christian Science Monitor. http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0524/p12s02-lifp.html. Retrieved 2007-07-26. 
  33. ^ http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1854732,00.html
  34. ^ "R rating stuns 'Saints' makers". Deseret News. http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,590041363,00.html. Retrieved 2008-03-15. 
  35. ^ Baggaley, Thomas. "LDS Cinema Gets Better and Gets a Bum Rating". http://www.meridianmagazine.com/arts/040220mpaa.html. Retrieved 2008-03-15. 

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