Movie Mom

Movie Mom


The MPAA rating system turns 40

posted by Nell Minow

Defamer revisits the first 40 years of MPAA ratings. In the first days of film there were no ratings or limits. After outcries over the spicy content of some of the early talkies, Hollywood adopted the Hays Code in 1930. The studios agreed to its voluntary but highly restrictive terms not just about sex and language (the only proviso for violence was that it had to be in good taste). But it prohibited portrayals of clergy that made them appear corrupt or foolish and depictions of inter-racial relationships. There are legendary stories of battles over whether Rhett Butler would be allowed to say “I don’t give a damn” in “Gone With the Wind” (he was) or whether Bette Davis could get away with murder in “The Letter” (she wasn’t). And writer-directors like Ernst Lubitsch and Preston Sturges prided themselves on getting past the censors with subtle double entendres.
In November of 1968, MPAA head Jack Valenti created the ratings code at a time of cultural upheaval. The studios wanted to be able to tell stories about and for adults. At first, the ratings were G, PG, R, and X. But when X was appropriated by the porn industry, the MPAA switched to NC-17 (no children under the age of 17). And the PG-13 rating was added after objections to some of the grisly images in the second Indiana Jones film, like the eyeball soup.
Defamer lists some of the ratings system’s worst and most absurd moments, including the R rating for the original “Thomas Crown Affair” based only on a sensual (and fully clothed,ending only with a kiss) chess game and the PG rating for “Facing the Giants” for evangelical themes.
The documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated documented the failures of the rating system but mostly focused on its secrecy and favoritism in applying the ratings to studio films over independents. Under Valenti’s successor, Dan Glickman, there have been some small improvements.
For me, the most frustrating aspects of the rating system have been the inconsistency of the treatment of material based on whether it is in a comedy or a drama (permitting PG-13 ratings for the extremely raunchy “Austin Powers” films when the same material in a drama would get an “R”), the outright stupidity in the treatment of the f-word (permitted once or twice in a PG-13 as long as it does not refer to sex, a rule you’d need a PhD in semiotics to understand and interpret), and the continual ratcheting-down of the ratings so that what would have received a PG-13 a few years ago now gets a PG. Here’s hoping for many more improvements before its next anniversary.



  • jestrfyl

    The ratings system is far less for parents, let alone for kids, than it is for the movie studio heads. They use it to avoid costly lawsuits and niggling legal aggravations. It has become such an absurdity that it is often abused in order to promote films rather than prevent “innocents” from seeing them.
    O how times have changed. The fabled eyeball soup of I.J.2 is now standard fare for Halloween decorating magazines. If the ratings had any manner of standardization there would not be an allowance for changing tastes. Only the adults who assign the standards change, not the age or developmental issues of the young people they pretend to protect. It is almost impossible to assign objetive lasting tests to artworks, film included. What is cute and winsome now, like Nightmare Before Christmas, might have horrified people only a few decades ago. The single best measurement is a parent’s standards. I believe that real reviews, like your, are far more beneficial than the short-handed, short-sighted system in place.

Previous Posts

Three Views on the Challenges Women Face in the Film Industry
It is wonderful that directors like Ava DuVernay, Angelina Jolie, and Gina Prince-Bythewood gave us superb films in 2014.  But it is an indicator of the challenges still faced by women filmmakers that none of them was nominated for a major directing award. The Alliance of Women Film Journalists

posted 3:38:46pm Jan. 31, 2015 | read full post »

Snickers Wins the Super Bowl!
The real competition at the Super Bowl is for the commercials, right? This Snickers ad is a hoot. [iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/rqbomTIWCZ8?rel=0" frameborder="0"]

posted 8:00:02am Jan. 31, 2015 | read full post »

How Did Ca Plane Pour Moi End Up in So Many Movies?
How did a 1977 song in French by the Belgian singer Plastic Bertrand become a go-to for 21st century American movie soundtracks, from big studio films to quirky indies? "Ça Plane Pour Moi" has appeared in Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" and last week's "We'll Never Have Paris," from

posted 3:40:03pm Jan. 30, 2015 | read full post »

The Kitten Bowl 2015: You Can Win A Set of Kitten Cards
[iframe width="560" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/5sO4NoaF89Y?rel=0" frameborder="0"] The most-anticipated sporting event of the weekend -- in some circles anyway, is this year's Kitten Bowl, Su-Purr Sunday, February 1 (12/11c) only on Hallmark Channel! [caption id="attachment_3263

posted 12:00:45pm Jan. 30, 2015 | read full post »

Una Gran Noticia! Disney's First Latina Princess
The Disney princesses have their first Latina member! Princess Elena of Avalor will make her debut in the Disney Channel series "Sofia the First" before starring in her own series on the Disney channel.

posted 9:19:37am Jan. 30, 2015 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.