The Answer is Not to Abolish the PG-13 Rating

The Answer is Not to Abolish the PG-13 Rating
Photo: Lionsgate

In an article over at Cinema Blend, Gabe Toro makes a case for abolishing the PG-13 rating on the back of the PG-13 recently handed out to Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables 3, the first installment in the franchise not to receive an R-rating.

The reason given by the MPAA for the rating was due to "violence including intense sustained gun battles and fight scenes, and for language". The reason given by Stallone for the rating, however, was, "We want to reach as many people as possible. It's very close to an R, believe me, it's right there. But I think we owe it to the next generation. We thought we'd join that club for a while." Of course, he could have just given the reason without beating around the bush, which is We want to make more money at the box office.

When the PG-13 rating was originally introduced it came on the back of, largely, Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which featured the removal of a man's beating heart from his chest and the dining on chilled monkey brains (Mmmmmmm). That film was rated PG, but I'd argue it remains far less gory than say similarly PG-rated films including Raiders of the Lost Ark and Poltergeist, where the melting of faces and facial mutilation in general is highly prominent and memorable.

Of course, with the PG-13 rating has come an unwritten set of rules; you can show a naked Kate Winslet in Titanic, you get one use of the word "fuck" which has been turned into a joke in most PG-13 movies, you can feature as much violence as you want as long as the blood is limited, non-existent or, in the case of something like Aliens vs. Predator, it isn't the blood of humans. Such "rules" are ridiculous, especially in the age of the Internet where red band trailers are readily available and porn is just a click away. What exactly are we protecting children from anyway?

So when it comes to Toro's request to abolish the PG-13 rating, he suggests it will accomplish the following:

What this does is force the MPAA to look at content differently. That means, no more arbitrary rulings or beliefs about one breast versus two, one headshot versus five. Whatever they think is a movie for "adults" will earn an R-rating. This means that anyone making a movie with a decent amount of violence and sex is going to get an R. Rather them limiting their audience (which is b.s. because tons of theaters don't enforce the ratings, and many teens or kids will still see an R-rated film with older people), the studios will see this opportunity to actually engage with adult ideas and concepts. A superhero film can actually still be thrilling and feature politics and romance. A comedy can be as naughty as it wants to be. And The Expendables 3 can be filled with exploding heads everywhere.

Uh, whether the PG-13 rating exists or not, The Expendables 3 can still feature exploding heads, it's just going to have to be rated R if it does. What removing the PG-13 rating will actually accomplish is a separate likelihood, which is you might not get an Expendables 3 at all.

Previously, Guillermo del Toro wasn't allowed to make At the Mountains of Madness with Tom Cruise attached to star because it would have been an R rated film, now he tells the Wall Street Journal, "[W]ith the way I've seen PG-13 become more and more flexible, I think I could do it PG-13 now, so I'm going to explore it with [Legendary], to be as horrifying as I can, but to not be quite as graphic." Get rid of PG-13 and you'll never see that movie.

All that said, the major flaw I see in this idea of abolishing the PG-13 rating is in the opinion it means we'll get more R-rated, adult blockbusters. No, you won't. Thanks to the PG-13 rating the PG rating has been softened to the point it's rarely used any longer, while at the same time studios aren't going to make big budget tentpole features for an R-rated, adults-only audience. Marvel and DC Comics' movies will be watered down to the PG-rating and adults will begin to shy away, a solution no one wants.

Okay, yes, if we got rid of the PG-13, perhaps The Expendables 3 would be made and released as an R-rated movie, but is that the kind of movie we're really fighting for? Maybe 0.2% of the PG-13 movies made today would remain uncut and released with an R-rating, but the majority of them would be watered down to largely uninteresting, PG-rated kiddie features, which I don't think is what Toro is fighting for.

As I pointed out, while a lot of movies that were released prior to Temple of Doom were rated PG, in today's world they would be rated PG-13 if not R and you take away that PG-13 and you'll dramatically limit the pool of anything remotely resembling a big budget adult feature.

So, no, the answer is not to abolish just the PG-13 rating, it's to abolish the ratings system entirely. The removal of the PG-13 rating might limit "arbitrary rulings", but it would increase strict rulings, which would limit the options available to filmmakers seeking to make a movie for a wide audience.

What needs to happen is the elimination of ratings and the introduction of descriptions as to what the film contains... period. It's not the theater's job to police our children, that's the job of the parents. So, provide an accurate description (yes, this involves reading) of the kind of "visual bloody violence", "graphic nudity", "vulgar language" and so forth a film contains and the audience can make up its own mind. After all, we have that ability right? The ability to think for ourselves. If not, be careful, there are walls everywhere, I wouldn't want you to run into one.

"But what about when I'm not with my child and they go to the movies alone?"

Well, have you raised them properly and what movie are they going to see that is really going to offer up something so heinous it's going to scar them for life? I can just imagine someone reading this and yelling, "I don't want my kid seeing Nymphomaniac!" Well kudos to you for having that one child out there seeking out the art house cinema so they can sit through two separate, two hour volumes of a Lars von Trier movie.

All told, the one line from Toro's piece that bothers me the most is when he writes, "And parents won't have to worry about taking their child to a PG-13 movie and having to have a talk with them about content, or try to tamp down their hyperactivity after seeing a particularly violent film."

Heaven forbid parents talk to their children about the content they see in the movie they chose to take them to. I guess that's someone else's job... but whose? One thing is for certain, not the movies, maybe the schools? Nah, hmmm, this is tough, but one thing is for certain, whatever you do if you're a parent... don't talk to your children about things you aren't comfortable talking about... hopefully they'll just learn on their own through trial and error. Right?

  • Newbourne

    I think the answer is abolishing the whole rating system. PG and PG-13 are pretty much the same thing. They differ in "suggestions", but no one is restricted from entering. As for Rated R, anyone 17 and over can go in, while 16 year olds have to be accompanied by an adult. That's just silly. What can a 17 year old see that a 16 year old shouldn't?

    Don't get me wrong. I don't think little kids should be able to walk into a theater and watch Shame, but then again, I don't think little kids should walk into a theater alone at all.

    We should just implement a rule that anyone under 13 cannot go to the movies without a parental guardian. It's up to the parent as to which movie they will be allowed to see, the same way states like New York allow minors to drink alcohol with parental supervision.

    And as for 13 year olds and over, they're all connected to the internet. They've seen it all. Like Brad says, there's no point in protecting them. If some parents don't want their kids watching certain movies, then they should supervise them on their own time. It shouldn't be the theater's job to parent those kids for them.

    • Kai Sacco

      "We should just implement a rule that anyone under 13 cannot go to the movies without a parental guardian."

      I quite like that idea. I think 13 is a good age. By the time you're that age, you've likely been exposed to sex, violence and other "horrors" of the world.

      My only problem with that rule or having no ratings system is that I wouldn't want to be watching an R-rated film in the theater with possibly a handful of immature kids laughing at inappropriate times and being boisterous.

    • udper8deck
    • Liam Pisan

      Just lower R ratings to 15. Boom.
      I like the idea of PG-13. I think there is a clear difference between the Expendables 3 and How to Train Your Dragon. Keep PG-13, but make Restricted movies more accessible. Somehow I doubt changing the Expendables to PG-13 is going to drastically change the number of thirteen/fourteen-year-olds who see it in theatres.

      • Newbourne

        There definitely is a difference between Expendables 3 and HTYD, but it should be left up to common sense to make that distinction. There's no point in labeling them when anyone can walk into the theaters and watch them anyway. I

      • Shaun Heenan

        Australia's system is almost exactly this. Our R equivalent is a 15. There's a higher rating, NC-17 equivalent, which is 18. I think it works pretty well.

  • Erik

    I HATE the the ratings system. As a Mormon, while I watch R-rated films, I have lots of family and friends who choose not to watch them (not watching R-rated films is NOT a Mormon commandment, it's more of a guideline that most choose to follow. But that's a whole nother topic...).
    While they have no problem watching something like Titanic, The Dark Knight, or Forest Gump because they're PG-13, they won't "be able" to watch something like Nebraska or There Will Be Blood or Prometheus or The Matrix. The whole ratings system is screwed up and based on opinions of some secret group of people that just make up rules as they go. I agree there should definitely be some sort of revamping of the system.

    Why 1 F-word? How about, 0 F-words? It doesn't make sense. I think they should have an in-between rating like PG-15 or something, much like the European ratings system.

    And I agree with you Brad, the parenting/guidance of a child should not be left to the MPAA, it should be parents and adults who would teach their children right from wrong and fake from real.

    • Newbourne

      I had no idea about that Mormon guideline concerning Rated-R films. Could you elaborate as to why they have the rule?

      • Erik

        Totally. A few years back the Prophet, or President of our church, made a comment that church members should try to avoid R-rated films, due to the crude, violent, and/or sexual nature of most of them. So, over the years most church members don't watch R-rated movies. But it is not necessarily a commandment, like say how we do not partake of tobacco or drink alcohol or have premarital sexual relations.

        • Esteban J. Hernandez

          The R rating for 'The Frighteners' meant possibly NOTHING.

    • udper8deck
  • Marc Rivers

    I've had this same opinion since, after entering teenage years, I was forced to pay extra for a ticket, but still wasn't able to see an R rated film by myself. Why even have the reasons there if parents and guardians won't read them. Let the parents actually do some parenting. Down with the MPAA!!... OK, let me relax. But seriously, the ratings system is a joke. Boyhood getting an R rating? Come on.

  • Ian

    Completely 100% agree with this article and each of the previous comments. The MPAA is a censorship organization. One thing you could add to your R vs. PG-13 breakdown is if a movie has a major studio logo in front of it and a three figure budget it's far more likely to get a PG-13 for the exact same content that would earn an R from a $10 million budgeted film with an indie label in front of it.

  • swlabr413

    I couldn't agree with you more Brad, I'm so sick and tired of the excuse "What am I supposed to tell my children about what they've seen?"

    I guess, I don't know. You talk to them about it. Stop trying to not be a parent because it's hard. YOU are the one who decided to be a parent. It's not up to the MPAA to be a parent to your kid.

    And the MPAA is terrible for American film. They have no problem with violence (Expendables 3, Transformers, most action movies get PG-13) but The King's Speech and Inside Llewyn Davis get an R because they used a naughty word. I hope it'll change soon, but I just know it's not.

    • Ian

      Yeah the most unfortunate thing about it is that no matter how vocal the MPAAs critics are, it's not going anywhere and neither are the ratings. The studios and theatres all benefit too much from them.

  • Heather

    This is why I prefer the rating system that Canada seems to have. There's G, PG (which can be MPAA PG or a soft pg-13), 14A (which can be either an MPAA PG13 or R) and 18A (a hard MPAA R). You have movies like the Hunger Games, Nebraska and Bridesmaids being 14A while you have The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Neighbours as being 18A. While it's not a flawless system either (it makes me feel a bit weird that a 14 year old could go see 21 Jump Street) it does seem to make a bit more sense to me. While I agree, the rating system should almost be abolished, it is helpful when determining what you're getting yourself into (especially as a Christian, I know I do take this into consideration often), but it almost seems like there should be a halfway point between pg-13 and R. Nothing is ever going to work best, but I don't really see them getting rid of the rating system anytime soon, though I didn't realize it has as much influence as it does (I really do need to watch This Film Is Not Yet Rated)

    • Esteban J. Hernandez

      The Canadian Home Video Rating system rated 'Lone Wolf McQuade' with a very stupid R rating, and it carries a PG in the U.S.

      • CSStrowbridge

        That movie also predates the PG-13 rating, so it is harder to compare.

        • Erik

          Like how the original Hitchcock film PSYCHO is still rated R...

    • Ian

      This Film is Not Yet Rated, an anti-MPAA documentary, was rated NC-17 by the MPAA. That pretty much says all anyone needs to know about that organization.

    • CSStrowbridge

      I would also like more ratings options rather than fewer.

      There should be three ratings for movies suitable for kids, G ratings for all, Tween for preteens, and Teen for 13-16.

      Then there should be three ratings for adults. One for films with adult situations that might be more than kids can handle, but nothing you couldn't see on prime time network TV. One that includes language you couldn't say on TV, nudity, and more extreme violence. And finally one that might be too much for most adults.

      The final one you would have to earn. It would be for Hard Rs.

      • Heather Martin

        I agree, this sounds a lot more reasonable to me. It might not be the most practical, but at the very least something needs to sit between PG-13 and R

  • disqus_eClptFS30L

    Ratings will never go away. It's a good way for movie theaters owners to cover their butts.

    • Jason A. Matthews

      I totally agree with you. The MPAA Ratings System will NEVER go away.

  • dam94

    Philomena was rated R. The Expendables 3 was rated PG-13. Clearly, the MPAA and the ratings system are broken beyond repair. Kudos to them for taking film and turning it into a black market for "michievous" children buying a ticket to The Smurfs 2 and walking into The Hangover Part 3. They skew box office, go beyond their reach, and are one of the most utterly and completely useless wastes of time and money in ours, or any lifetime.

    • Kessler

      Philomena was actually PG-13.

      • Esteban J. Hernandez

        It originally got an R, but the rating was as appealed to a PG-13 without only one "f-bomb." I am as curious to know as what "re-rating on appeal" usually means. 'A Perfect World' has a PG-13 ON appeal in the same year as the widely hapless 'RoboCop 3' has a PG-13, but NOT on appeal.

        • CSStrowbridge

          The King's Speech was given an R-rating purely on language. The same with Bully. That's completely crap. Language alone should never give a film an R-rating.

          • Esteban J. Hernandez

            I usually "suggest" that is as so parents do not complain at the film being as "too inappropriate" for a PG-13. Pierre Morel's 'Taken' carries a PG-13 rating, hence the severe censorship, but as due to the fairly brutal violence and a very dark tone, parents imply it as "too inappropriate" for a PG-13. As just as because the censorship is as severe does not mean the unrated cut is as a hard-R/NC-17-like-style type. As how as you usually felt, as for the editing of 'Taken 2''s violence?

          • Erik

            Totally agree. How about you rate it a PG-13, but put in the rating description, "The F-word is used 10+ times in a non-sexual manor".

  • Esteban J. Hernandez

    Involving the MPAA, I begun to learning they are as the scumbags who INTENTIONALLY treated Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson as dog-turd.

    Sam needed an R rating for 'Evil Dead 2,' but it got an X rating, prompting Raimi to releasing the movie as unrated. And in the early 1990's, specifically the time as the NC-17 starts continuing as a film-rating for Hollywood studios, and as a replacement for the X rating, thank the porn industry, Universal intended to having 'Army of Darkness' as a PG-13, but as an act of revenge with a POOR excuse, it gets an R rating from the MPAA, not for Ash decapitating the possessed woman's head but for him releasing 'Evil Dead 2' as unrated. 'Army of Darkness' became as a box-office flop, and any of some suggest the R rating was as financially responsible. As a different group of people as upset by 'The Expendables 3''s PG-13 suggest stuff like the rating financially killed the new version of 'Total Recall,' I remark the R rating did not financially save the remake of 'Conan the Barbarian,' and as I say they ought to falling in love with the NC-17 rating after the crooked MPAA "of Wall Street" treated Sam Raimi as dog-turd, that stuff is as linked to the R rating arguably financially killing 'Army of Darkness' as I wanted to knowing as why as they hold a grudge to the R rating. The suggestion of the R rating financially killing AoD is as personally anonymous, hence the low budget.

    And involving 'The Frighteners,' Peter Jackson and Universal intended it to be as a PG-13, but, as instead, the MPAA rates it with an R, and they did not explain as why, They only gave ridiculous comments to Jackson, as regarded on the amount of bullet holes as shot in the door in a chase scene. It financially loses to Roland Emmerich's 'Independence Day' before Emmerich's 'White House Down' financially loses to 'The Heat,' as the same as 'Wyatt Earp' the "rip-off" of 'Tombstone' loses to G-rated 'The Lion King.'

  • James Meiers

    Remember: Top Gun is rated PG.

  • Damien

    I think a big part of the problem is the 'no children under 17 admitted without parent or guardian' in the R rating. It's not a law and it was really just the MPAA trying to give themselves more power than they had. Plus it doesn't keep underage kids out of R-rated movies, it just keeps them from paying for them. KIds just buy tickets for a lower rated movie and sneak into the R-rated one (or, more often nowadays they just download it from the internet).

    On a side note, I really don't get the one f-bomb limit on PG-13 movies. By the time you get to high school you're hearing dozens of those every day and younger kids know what WTF stands for.

    • John W. Creasy

      True, but that doesn't change the fact that the majority of parents would be mortified if their ten-year-old kid casually said things like, "Waitress, these fries are fucking amazing!", or "Spelling homework? Get the fuck out of here!", or "Thanks, Grandma! This is the best fuckin' birthday present I've ever gotten!"

      Yes, they're all just words, but society decides which are appropriate for kids and which aren't. If your kid throws out these words, you're generally looked at as a failing parent. Just the way it is.

      Just wait, though. It'll be a non-issue soon. Taboos are evaporating. I teach third graders, and while they still secretly know the words fuck, shit, asshole, etc., they also know that fuck, shit, asshole, etc. are verboten, but many will casually throw out crap, ass, and sucks (short for "sucks dick", but society is getting okay with this slang now).

      Not too long ago, "crap, ass, sucks" etc. would've been scandalous for kids when adults were anywhere around. Not so anymore.

  • Bazellis

    Maybe it's time to follow the UK, where they have 12A, 15 and 18 ratings?

  • Corbin

    The whole ratings system is stupid. I don't get the MPAA logic that for PG-13, one f-word is ok, but 2+ would scar everyone's minds. There either need to be more ratings for them to become more strict about what goes into what [hypothetical example: PG-13: no f-words, no nudity or sex, and limited violence. PG-15: no ban on f-words, limited amounts of nudity and sex, and no ban on violence. R (a rating that will go from hard R-NC-17 and allowing kids to go into them with a guardian, but the guardian needs to be there, no dropping off, and John C. Reilly security guard outside the theater to prevent the kids from sneaking in): Free reign on anything.], or just get rid of the whole system entirely.

    And Brad, I would've sought out Nymphomaniac, but 1) I don't think it played here, and 2) my parents parent a bit, and don't let me see movies with gratuitous amounts of sex... yet.

  • Pacula Allen

    Agree. See Papillon, the Steve McQueen movie, rated PG in the 70's, and I dare to say it's as tough as the hard R 12 Years A Slave. Released today, Papillon will flirt with NC-17, or very hard R rating.

    • Esteban J. Hernandez

      Tell that to PG-rated 'Bullitt.'

    • Barry Rivadue

      PAPILLON was originally rated R but on appeal was rated GP (as PG was then known).

  • Gabe_Toro

    Ideally, "parenting" is the solution, and abolishing the ratings system is the dream that I mention in my piece. Unfortunately, it's not at all realistic. So yes, if I were making dream choices, nothing would be rated anything.

    Also, quit forcing parents to talk to their children. Children are awful.

  • Alexander Meatlog

    THIS IS FILM IS NOT YET RATED- by Kirby Dick. The MPAA can eat one.

  • Jason A. Matthews

    Getting rid of the MPAA Ratings System is a very BAD IDEA. The MPAA will NOT getting rid of the Ratings System AT ALL!! The MPAA Ratings System MUST BE KEPT FOREVER MORE. OK?

    • Brad Brevet

      Did you plan on adding any insight or reasoning to the conversation or are pointless comments sort of your "thing"?

      • Jason A. Matthews

        No, but I wanted to tell everyone that getting rid of the Movie Ratings system is a very bad idea. We must keep the MPAA Ratings System forever.

        • Brad Brevet

          Without reason I don't think anyone is going to take your comment seriously.

  • ldkendal

    We think it's time to add a "Soft R" or PG-17 -