Ratings and why they don't work

If you haven't heard, this year's Academy Award winner for Best Picture has been reedited and will shortly be re-released to have a PG-13 rating! Awesome! Oh wait...I already saw this film. And to be honest, this film was one of the cleanest movies I've seen in some time (also one of my favorite films and quite inspirational and uplifting). There has been a lot of talk about whether Weinstein should have re-edited the film or not. This post isn't to argue either way.

Instead, this post is my about why the rating system in the US is broken (thanks to the MPAA). I'll be honest - I think the rating system is pretty horrible. I realize there needs to be some type of rating system, but this system just doesn't work. Before I go on I need to state that as a member of the LDS church we are counseled not to watch R-rated movies (I couldn't find a link to this on the LDS.org site however). I've still seen my share of them in my lifetime but I'll usually get a guilty feeling afterwards (I didn't after watching The King's Speech though). That's probably one of the main reasons why the rating system bothers me so much.

Honestly though, there are some PG-13 movies that are far worse than R-rated films. Let's look at the King's Speech. The film received it's R-rating due to two scenes in which Colin Firth spills out the F-word about 6 times in a row the first time and then 6 times in a row the second time. There are some other swear words throughout (mainly in the same scenes as these F-words). That's it. Don't believe me - read the guide over at IMDB (this is where I typically look for what's in a film). I know the rule - 2 f-words max to earn the PG-13 rating. To be frank though, that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. While I'm not a parent yet, here are two PG-13 films that I wouldn't want my kids watching, without me, over The King's Speech.


I went to this film when I was probably about 13 years old. I didn't know much about the film, but since it was PG-13 I was "allowed" (both by my parent's rules and by MPAA standards). As a 13-year old growing up in the LDS church, I had been highly exposed to swearing throughout school. But I don't know if I'll ever forget the scene where Jack is sketching Kate posing nude. I was more than shocked at this scene in a PG-13 film. Also I'm not clear why this use of nudity in an "artful" sense warrants a PG-13 rating but swearing in an "artful" sense does not (the swearing in the King's Speech is definitely artful and not overused by any means).

The Dark Knight

I really liked this movie but my wife stopped watching after she saw the scene where the Joker impales a character with a pencil in the eye. While I'm glad this film got a PG-13 rating (I didn't have to feel guilty about watching it) I'll admit that it is very dark and intense. There were definitely people that felt it should have been rated R. How often do you or your kids see violence like that depicted in this film at school or work? I'm betting for most of us it's very rarely.

My recommendations

As a parent or just a moviegoer in general, don't rely on the ratings system if you're concerned about content. The MPAA is far from perfect. Look at what is contained in the film. I typically look at IMDB, but while preparing this post, found this site which I may start to use: Kids in mind. Unsurprisingly, Titanic and the Dark Knight are both rated worse overall than The King's Speech.

As for the rating system, I think that we need to move to something similar to that of what Kids in mind is doing. Splitting a rating out and putting it on a 1-10 scale for three different categories - Violence, Language, and Sex & Nudity. From there, taking some kind of combination of those three values to determine an age limit on the film. Until then of course, we'll be left scratching our heads as to why we don't see some of the best films made because they are rated R while we sit through some very degrading cinema because someone thought it didn't meet the R-rating standard. However, go enjoy a great film in The King's Speech if you've been holding out because of the rating (the reedited version of course).

On another note, let's get rid of heavy swearing all together in movies. Whenever they translate movies into Russian they always translate the heavy swear words into very mild words in Russian. What's the obsession with swearing in American cinema?


Bradwich said...

Ha, I was totally going to suggest Kids in Mind until I saw that you mentioned it at the end of the post. It's a great resource. IMDB is pretty good, too, but seems kind of hit or miss on whether they have the info about a particular movie.

From what I've heard, getting a rating from the MPAA is pretty political, but I don't have a source I can point to.

All told, though, I agree that the system could use a good reboot.