New Potter Movie Is Back To PG—But Don’t Get Too Excited

The Harry Potter series began in the realms of PG ratings, but the last two (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) went into PG-13 territory. However, the latest magical movie—Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince—has been rated PG in the US.

That should be good news for parents, but before you begin making a Potter costume for your eight-year-old, beware that it may be the ratings, and not the movie, that have changed.

Here at Parent Previews we began noticing a quiet but major change to the PG rating in 2008. The Chronicles of Narnia—Prince Caspian came in at a PG rating with relatively high levels of violence. While we loved the movie and the messages it contained, swords and peril pervaded this film.

Later in 2008 we screened Marley & Me and were very surprised at some of the adult sexual conversations in this movie along with a scene of a married couple who were frantically embracing in their bedroom with the hopes of making a baby and are later skinny-dipping in a backyard pool. Again, we liked the movie overall and felt it contained some poignant messages, but were surprised by what we saw within a PG movie. The trend continued in 2009 with other movies, like Bride Wars.

According to industry trade journal Variety, the creators of Half-Blood Prince were not gunning for the less restrictive PG rating, and were just as surprised when their film fell into that classification. The article also states that other early reviews show the film is “no lighter in tone than the previous two films.”

So what does this likely mean? As of this writing, I have not seen the movie, but my guess is the new Potter will be very similar to the past two films, both of which fell into a “low” PG-13 rating. I suspect if Order of the Phoenix and Goblet of Fire were to be released today, they too would be granted the PG classification.

What is important is for parents to recognize that ratings are moving targets. Since the resignation (and eventual passing) of Jack Valenti, who created the MPAA rating system and helmed the MPAA for decades, things have been quietly shifting in the way movies are rated. The new MPAA chief, Dan Glickman, made comments back in January 2007 when he encouraged filmmakers to create more NC-17 movies. Since then, we’ve seen increases in violence in PG-13 films and now are seeing a “trickle down” of content into the PG category.

What is concerning is the industry’s perception that PG-13 movies are seen as more “cool,” quoting the term used in the Variety article, which also claims, “A PG rating may be viewed by teens as too juvenile.”

Many of us may recall that in the pre-PG-13 days, PG movies commonly contained adult sexual situations. I recently revisited 1979’s PG rated Kramer vs. Kramer and was reminded of an extended scene with full-frontal female nudity. However, after the introduction of the PG-13 rating in the 1980s, most PG movies fell into a kids’ category where they contained bathroom humor and grade-school gross-out jokes. That has left the “juvenile” perception attached to the PG rating.

Hopefully, receiving a PG rating in this latest Potter release won’t encourage filmmakers to include edgier content in future episodes simply because they can. If the MPAA wants parents to give them their trust, they must remain consistent in how they apply rating classifications. We will have to wait until July 17, 2009 to see if this PG Potter is any tamer than the previous PG-13s.

More details about the movies mentioned in this post…