The MPAA: 50 Years of Movie Ratings

Posted on December 9, 2018 at 10:46 pm

MPAA head Charles Rivkin writes about the first half century of the Motion Picture Association’s Ratings system.

It took a little time but, over the decades, the rating system gained credibility and acceptance with audiences. And this month, as we celebrate the system’s 50th anniversary, it remains the gold standard of voluntary industry self-regulation.

Given the extraordinary changes in our culture, entertainment, and society over the past half century, this anniversary feels particularly hard-earned and special. And if you can measure success by how long it has lasted, then I agree with The Center for Association Leadership which recently called the ratings system “the most famous association initiative of all time.”

We could point to many factors behind that success. But the clearest one of all comes directly from its founding mission: to maintain the trust and confidence of American parents.

I have often complained about the MPAA rating system, but Rivkin is right that it was a huge improvement over the Hays Code, which literally set a time limit for kisses and forbade portrayal of clergy as incompetent or corrupt — and, most importantly, required all movies to be suitable for all audiences. We look forward to continued refinements over the next half century.

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Understanding Media and Pop Culture

The MPAA Reveals Some Details of its Famously Secretive Rating System

Posted on November 3, 2018 at 8:18 am

As the Motion Picture Association of America’s rating system celebrates its 50th anniversary, it has revealed some details of its first half-century. The rating system was instituted after three decades of the famous, highly restrictive Hays Code, was no longer workable in the tumultuous 1960’s. Filmmakers and audiences wanted a wider range of material and movies like “The Pawnbroker” and “Carnal Knowledge” were undeniably (even, in the latter case, SCOTUS confirmed) of artistic merit. So then MPAA head Jack Valenti adopted a parental guidance rating which was further refined over the years. The documentary “This Film Has Not Yet Been Rated” exposed some of the failings of the system, including inconsistent ratings based on whether the movie was independent or studio-made, the lack of any qualifications of the secret raters, and the absurdity of the appeal system.

The LA Times reports on the MPAA’s new report on 50 years of movie ratings:

In the eyes of many filmmakers, the Motion Picture Assn. of America should be rated R — for reticent. The MPAA has long kept its rating methods a tightly guarded secret as it continues to wield enormous power over the types of explicit content that can been shown in U.S. cinemas.

Now the MPAA is drawing back the curtain on its rating system, at least partially. In a new report published Monday, the Washington-based trade organization representing Hollywood’s major studios released data on all films rated since the system was created five decades ago. The MPAA’s Classification and Rating Administration has rated 29,791 movies, the majority of which have received an R rating, which requires children under 17 to be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

The most films the MPAA has reviewed in any given year was in 2003, when it rated 940 titles (compared with just 563 last year). The organization attributed the surge to the popularity of DVDs at the time.

R-rated movies account for nearly 58% of all titles rated by the MPAA, followed by PG at 18%. The dreaded NC-17, and its predecessor the X, accounted for less than 2% of titles, though they have garnered the vast share of negative publicity whenever a director has sought an appeal. NC-17 prohibits children younger than 17 from entry into a movie theater.

The MPAA said that of the nearly 30,000 films it has rated, only 1.4%, or 428, have been appealed, and a scant 0.6% have had their rating overturned. Filmmakers often appeal NC-17 and R ratings in an effort to reach the largest audience possible. Recent successful appeals include Clint Eastwood’s “The 15:17 to Paris,” which went from R to PG-13, and the upcoming Rebel Wilson comedy “The Hustle,” which was also reduced to PG-13.

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Is “Action Violence” Okay for Kids?

Posted on July 11, 2016 at 3:55 pm

What is the difference between a PG-13 movie and an R movie? Usually it has to do with language but very often it has to do with violence — not the amount of violence but the amount of gore. A battle scene can be just as long and have as many fatalities, but if we don’t see much blood or any graphic wounds, it will get a PG-13 rating.

Some people believe that what is called “action violence” (little blood) is worse for kids than R-rate violence because it perpetuates an unrealistic notion of the real-life effect of shootouts and car crashes.

A recent New York Times piece collected four essays on the subject under the title: PG-13 Blockbusters and the Sugarcoating of Violence. Betsy Bozdech of Common Sense Media writes:

dventures that are light on blood and guts may seem more palatable. But showing violence with minimized consequences might be damaging in a different way. If you don’t bat an eye when, in a movie, thousands of innocent civilians are caught in an alien-fighting crossfire, or a national landmark explodes, you may be becoming desensitized.

More important, when movie characters are walking away from firefights with barely a scratch or slaughtering hordes of bad guys, it sends an iffy message when their actions don’t have repercussions. Research shows that if kids don’t see negative behavior punished, they’re more likely to imitate it — especially when it is performed by an appealing character or if it seems to be justified by the outcome (both of which are fairly typical of superhero movies).

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