MPAA Movie Rating System gets an F

By Tess McCarthy (Opinion Editor, Culture Editor, Columnist) [?]

Published: September 16, 2009 and Updated: February 22, 2010
Original LA News Desk Content

A brief summary of the process: to rate a movie, the Motion Picture Association of America screens the film to a board of 10-13 undisclosed members, all parents. The Board then votes on the appropriate rating (G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17). Film-makers have the option of re-editing the film for resubmission if they don’t like the rating. Though seemingly simple and fair, the system is thoroughly flawed.

But first, guess these films’ ratings from lowest to highest:

One major problem is that the system favors movies with big studio budgets. Although the films are put through the same initial steps, the option to re-edit is limited only by the ability to do so. That means that movies with bigger budgets can just keep editing until the rating is what the studio wants. Smaller independent movies don’t often have the funds required to keep submitting. A rating may not seem like it would affect the movie, but the effect is often huge. The NC-17 rating is seen as the kiss of death for a movie. No commercially driven theater will play NC-17 movies AT ALL.  It’s not surprising that the highest grossing film with an NC-17 rating, Showgirls, made about 1/30 of the highest grossing film ever, Titanic. Only 12 films with that rating have ever made over 1 million, compared with over 5,700 for other ratings. Sasha Baren Cohen’s Bruno was originally rated NC-17 but had the cash to re-edit and re-submit and went on to be #1 in the box office. Sometimes, even an R rating can affect the gross of a movie. The highest grossing R rated movie, The Passion of the Christ, is only 13th overall. The rating has too much power to broaden or Restrict the audience of a film, and puts smaller films at a disadvantage.

Another problem is the vague, meaningless rating that is PG. From Shrek, an animated family film rated for “some crude humor”, to Jaws, a movie chock full of suspense and well-supplied with shark attacks and blood, the spectrum of PG films is too wide to be of any help. The MPAA should add a PG-10 rating for films such as Monster House that are generally too frightening for younger kids or films like Apollo 13 that are simply not children’s movies because of theme or content, but more tame than a PG-13 film.

Lastly, the MPAA adds artificial restrictions like: two or more F-words earn an R. These rules undermine the democratic nature of the system outlined above, and they lag behind the views of parents. The movie Once is a perfect example of how outrageous this rule is. Once is the story of the friendship between two musicians in Ireland and their music. The only “violence” occurs when a man’s guitar case is stolen. If no swear words were present in the film, it would almost certainly have been given a PG rating. However, the F-word makes many appearances, just in casual conversation, which automatically lands the film with an R rating. Movies with a few swear words should not have the same rating as graphic films such as Halloween and Crank: High Voltage.

Is the current rating system better than nothing? Perhaps, but this “better than nothing” system no longer functions just as information for parents. It affects too much to be as flawed as it is.

Order of the films:

  1. Harry Potter and Bolt were rated PG
  2. Live Free or Die Hard was rated PG-13
  3. Erin Brockovich was rated R

For better movie ratings, I recommend, which simply lists what is in each movie and doesn't make any value judgements, leaving it up to the parents to decide.

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