Once Again, Movie Ratings Make No Sense

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As a new study finds that violence in PG-13 movies is through the roof, and Harvey Weinstein fights another R rating, we have to ask: Will our ratings system ever get it right? 

A study in the journal Pediatrics, published online today, reveals that gun violence in PG-13 movies has more than tripled since 1985, the first full year the rating was introduced, and that recently, the rate of gun violence has even surpassed that in R-rated movies.

That obviously is troubling for myriad reasons. Study author Dan Romer told Bloomberg, in reference to the gun violence in PG-13 movies: "At the minimum, this is sending a wrong message, and possibly it’s having an influence on vulnerable kids, who see this as a way to show resentment." But it also just shows how messed up our system of rating movies can be. Sure, someone under the age of 17 can go see a movie like White House Down, which was perfectly packed with guns, no problem, but this 23-year-old writer gets her ID checked at About Time, where sex is implied and a couple of curse words are thrown about.

To the outside observer, the difference between a PG movie and an R rating is easy to discern. PG movies have little to no offensive content and are often explicitly made for kids. R films have adult content. But when it comes to figuring out the difference between a PG-13 film and an R, the difference often feels indistinguishable. The MPAA's description of what each rating means is hard enough to parse. 

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Take for instance, the case with Philomena. Harvey Weinstein is currently protesting the R rating that the MPAA stamped on the film, which stars Judi Dench as a woman searching for her child given up for adoption by nuns in 1950s Ireland. (Dench herself has contributed to the protest by starring in a video as her James Bond character M.) Philomena received an R because of two F-words that appear in the film. Weinstein, in this case, is absolutely right; there is no logical reason for Philomena to be rated R when say, Captain Phillips, which features a violent real-world situation that (spoiler-alert) ends in bloodshed, is rated PG-13. 

PG-13 asks movies to fall into a strange middle ground where two F-words get them kicked out of the club, but, frequently, gun violence can remain. It makes little sense. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.