Regulation in Film: Ratings and Warnings

Every time we watch a movie, the first thing we see is a green screen with rating letters on it. As college students, these letters are far less significant to us than they used to be. However, when we are children, these letter, or ratings, often define what movies we can and cannot watch.

This system of rating movies based on the maturity of their themes has not always existed in the way that it does today. Initially the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) did not even allow the production of a film with indecent content, as defined by the association. As film producers began to challenge this system in the late 1960s, the MPAA was forced to change it’s format so a wider variety of movies could begin to be produced (Croteau & Hoynes 95). With this change came the rating system of films that we are familiar with today. The rating system is as follows:

G: General Audiences

PG: Parental Guidance Suggested

PG-13: Parents Strongly Cautioned

R: Restricted

NC-17: No one 17 and under admitted

Film content regulation is different than that of other forms of popular media because it is industry self-regulated, rather than government regulated (Croteau & Hoynes). This rating system is designed to benefit all. Movie producers have the freedom to produce whatever they choose,  with a rating to be determined by the MPAA based on the content. Ideally, parents of children are satisfied because they have a system that allows them to measure the maturity of a films themes.

Although the rating system looks great on paper, its lack of effectiveness in preventing mature media from reaching children has resulted in some criticism. The MPAA is not open to sharing who decides what defines these ratings, so it is often unclear what reviewers are focusing on. Additionally, some believe that the ratings have become more liberal over the years, allowing for a greater amount of explicit content in lower rated movies. Generally, movie theaters are not strict about enforcing these regulations, often allowing kids admittance into movies with content considered too mature for their age. Some see the MPAA as irrelevant, claiming we do not need someone regulating what we watch, while the majority believes this organization should improve upon and clarify what defines each movie rating.

While this system is generally unchanging, the dissatisfaction with its success prove that changes should be considered. MPAA ratings have the potential to be very successful if they are made more specific and objective. If the explicit content was outlined in more detail in the rating, parents would have a more clear idea of what their children are viewing. Also, movie theaters need to tighten their grip in enforcing these restrictions by not allowing underaged kids in to see films with higher ratings. Although it is difficult to completely prevent children from being exposed to mature content through film, I believe consistency and conciseness in the rating system would allow for a more uniform and helpful rating system.


2 thoughts on “Regulation in Film: Ratings and Warnings”

  1. The film rating system had definitely gone back and forth and started out very unclear to the public. Regulating film is sort of a balancing act, balancing those who want to watch the inappropriate or R rated moves vs those who either don’t want to or are not of ago to do so. Today, when renting or buying movies there are often two versions of a movie, the rated version and the unrated version.  This allows for a balance in film regulation, allowing views that like the unrated version to select it and views who like the rated to select the opposite. This was a brilliant idea by the film industry to help balance these two opposite parties of people and this will hopefully continue to be successful. I think as you said about the rating system needing have consistency and conciseness is totally spot on. If they keep their consistency it will help continue to balance the different parties of people and maintain success in the movie industry.

    1. This is similar to what I said in my post. In a way ratings can be as a type of advertising, because they only appear to a certain audience. When people pick up a movie box and see UNRATED in capital letters, they think OH, this will be a party. Even though its initial intent was to describe the appropriateness of the content, it advertises too.

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