MPAA Rating System
The basic mission of the rating system is a simple one: to offer to parents some advance information about movies so that parents can decide what movies they want their children to see or not to see. The entire program rests on the assumption of responsibility by parents. If parents don't care, or if they are careless in guiding their children's moviegoing, the rating system becomes useless.
The criteria that go into the judgment are: theme, violence, language, nudity, sensuality, drug abuse, and other elements. Part of the rating flows from how each of these elements is treated on-screen by the filmmaker. In making their evaluation, the ratings board does not look at snippets of film in isolation but considers the film in its entirety. The board can make its decision only by what is seen on the screen, not by what is imagined or thought.
There is no special emphasis on any one of these elements. All are considered and examined before a rating is applied. Contrary to popular notion, violence is not treated more leniently than any other material. Indeed, many films rated X in the past and NC-17 now, have at least tentatively been given the "adults only" rating because of depictions of violence. Most of the film makers choose to edit heavier violent scenes in order to receive an R rating.
G: General audiences-All ages admitted. This is a film which contains nothing in theme, language, nudity and sex, violence, etc. which would, in the view of the board, be offensive to parents whose younger children view the film. The G rating is not a certificate of approval, nor does it signify a children's film. Some snippets of language may go beyond polite conversation but they are common everyday expressions. Violence is minimal, nudity and sex scenes are not present; nor is there any drug use.
PG: Parental guidance suggested-Some material may not be suitable for children. This is a film which needs to be examined or inquired about by parents before they let their children attend. Parents are warned against sending their children, unseen and without inquiry, to PG-rated movies.
The theme of a PG-rated film may itself call for parental guidance. There may be some profanity. there may also be some violence or brief nudity. But these elements are not considered so intense as to require that parents be more strongly cautioned. There is no drug use in a PG-rated film. Obviously, such a line may be difficult to draw, and in our society, there will always be some disagreement.
PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. PG-13 is a much sterner warning to parents and they should be alerted that they may want to be very careful about allowing viewing by their under-teenage children. A PG-13 rating leaps beyond the boundaries of a PG rating in theme, violence, nudity, sensuality & language, but is not strong enough to get an R rating.
Generally, the nudity will not be sexually oriented. Violence will not be too rough or persistent or the film get an R rating. The single use of any of the harsher sexually-derived words will force the board to issue the PG-13 rating. More than one of these words will make the film R rated. However, by a special vote, the board can lower the rating of a film with more than one of these words to the PG-13 level. The criteria used here is if the board feels that other circumstances in the movie would make most parents allow their pre-teens to see this film, then they will lower the rating.
R: Restricted, under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. This rating means that the film contains some adult material which may include hard language, tough violence, nudity with sexual content, drug abuse or other adult themes. Parents are advised to find out about the content of an R rated movie before allowing their teenagers to view it.
NC-17: No children under 17 permitted. This rating means that the board feels that most parents will not want their under-17 children to see the movie. The rating does not necessarily mean "obscene or pornographic", but it does mean that most parents would find the material much too strong and therefore off-limits for their children who are not yet 18 yrs old. The film may have graphic sexual scenes, very tough and graphic violence that recurs throughout the film, graphic drug abuse and extremely harsh language.