Movie Ratings: Not Suitable for Adults

Often critics and other film industry types lament and whine over why a movie received an R-rating when it deserved a PG-13. This nonsensical demonstration of supposed artistic rights doesn’t win much sympathy from my mouth for one simple reason – these vocal opponents have long forgotten the true purpose of the movie rating system.

In the words of the late Jack Valenti, president of the MPAA and overseer of CARA, the Classification and Rating Administration which assigns movie ratings, “Indeed, if you are 18 or over, or if you have no children, the rating system has no meaning for you. Ratings are meant for parents, no one else.”

Movie ratings are for parents. They are one of the few tools parents have to help them decide what films might be suitable for their children. There is no rating, not even the most stringent NC-17 (known as the kiss of box office death) that will keep an adult out of a theater. So when we hear movie honchos complaining about their titles receiving an “R” or a “NC-17,” what they are really saying is "We want your children’s money – and we want it bad."

But demanding that movie ratings become increasingly lenient certainly isn’t the answer to this issue. We know the pornographic industry is alive and well, so it’s difficult to believe an NC-17 movie cannot survive simply because the management policy at some local multiplex won’t allow it to be shown (another reason why the industry tries to avoid this rating.) Perhaps their lack of attraction may be a reflection of the interest mainstream moviegoers have for films dealing with sexual perversions.

It’s no secret that teens account for a sizeable portion of Hollywood’s profits. Our current young generation has money to spend like never before—many have more entertainment dollars in their back pockets than their parents. When a movie is slapped with an “R,” it should keep those dollars from the box office.

The ratings are determined by CARA’s “ratings board,” a group of men and women who – again using MPAA President Jack Valenti’s words, “must have a shared parenthood experience, must be possessed of an intelligent maturity, and most of all, have the capacity to put themselves in the role of most American parents so they can view a film and apply a rating that most parents would find suitable and helpful in aiding their decisions about their children’s moviegoing.”

But the big problem is CARA has a direct relationship with the MPAA, the latter having the goal to, “…serve as the voice and advocate of the American motion picture, home video and television industries…”

If you’re thinking this is the mouse guarding the cheese, you’re absolutely correct.

CARA’s ratings board comes under tremendous pressure when an MPAA member studio decides its $50 million movie didn’t get the rating they wanted. Appeals are made for a lower rating. Or cuts are made to the film, sometimes a frame at a time, to bring a movie into a desired rating category.

Often these edits and protests for more lenient ratings make for great fodder in entertainment magazines, mocking the rating system even further. Such has been the case for movies like Stanely Kubrick’s infamous Eyes Wide Shut. Before the film released in the summer of 1999 the MPAA demanded an orgy scene be obscured to accommodate an “R” rating as opposed to a NC-17. Instantly, prominent critics like Roger Ebert and Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum were signing letters to the MPAA saying (in the case of the New York Film Critics’ Circle, of which Schwarzbaum is a member) the MPAA was in effect, “…trampling the freedom of American filmmakers.”

But think for a moment about what is really being said here. If Eyes Wide Shut had received an NC-17 rating, it would not have kept one adult out of a theater. However, it would have likely reduced the number of under-18 attendees to (hopefully) none. In essence, these critics are asking to have the rating reduced so teens (and perhaps even younger children) can have access to adult sexual material.

This has nothing to do with freedom, and everything to do with profits.

At least one cast member of the outrageous teen-targeted sex flic American Pie was honest enough to admit the truth – it’s all about money. Says Alyson Hannigan in the July 7, 1999 Entertainment Weekly, “If kids do get carded, that’s just going to force them to go with an adult, so we’ll get bigger box office,” she explains. “‘I think our campaign should be, ‘If your parents don’t take you, befriend the local homeless man and take him.’ Homeless people like movies too.”

So why bring up yesterday’s news? Because this issue has become far too quiet.

For instance, Anger Management, starring Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson, was appealed after receiving an “R” rating. It then opened with a toothless PG-13, indicating someone at Columbia Pictures fought long and hard to make sure your children would be able to see this movie.

Other R-to-PG-13 transformations after an appeal include Rob Schneider’s The Hot Chick, and the sci-fi Solaris, which contains a lengthy scene of George Clooney and Natascha McElhone chatting naked on a bed. The Four Feathers is an example of a film that received a PG-13 after being re-edited.

While directors, studio executives, and critics continue to bemoan the fact that ratings are censoring free speech, the public is led to believe the American rating system is dictating what adults cannot see.

The real truth is entertainment executives are dictating what your children can see, and these are the very people – our children – who are supposed to benefit from the rating system in the first place.

More details about the movies mentioned in this post…