The mystery of film ratings

I’m starting to get very perturbed by film ratings. I understand their purpose, to educate film going parents as to what the recommended minimum age is for a specific work and allow them to make decisions as to what their kids can/are allowed to see. However I’m increasingly finding the line between rating for advice and rating for advertisment being skewed. It’s becoming more of an issue as my eldest son is getting to the age where he’s watching a lot more “grown up” films and I find myself looking critically at films, their content and deciding what to show him.

A case in point is Raiders of the Lost Ark; one of my favourite films and, dare I say, the best action adventure movie ever made. Anyway, that movie was, and still is, rated a PG. I have to question whether it would receive that rating today – it’s got brutal, bloody fights and moments of pure horror (melty Nazis!) which would, in my opinion, land it a firm 12 rating today. Conversely I have to wonder whether some modern 12’s deserve the rating they get – Captain America, for example, contained material similar to the aforementioned Indiana Jones joint yet – 12. Okay, so the 12 rating didn’t exist when Raiders was released, but my question still stands – why are more films these days getting 12 ratings over PG?

This question is partially answered when you look at recent theatrical releases The Woman in Black and The Hunger Games. Both were offered 15 ratings by the BBFC however their respective distributors cut them to receive a more marketable 12 rating. And therein lies the point. Is the 12a (as it stands in the cinema – a more advisory rating) more attractive to a younger audience? PG is too “kiddy” – that red circle means we’re off to see a proper growed up film, right? This seems to be a similar situation in the States where films are purposefully pre-cut to garner a much desired PG-13 rating.

This goes the other way, too – does a lower rating immediately make a film less adult? You can certainly see this presumption on discussion boards – for example, the recent rating decision for Prometheus caused some stir when it was rumoured it would receive a 12/PG-13 rating instead of a more “adult” certificate. Martin Scorcese’s Hugo got a U certificate, but I’d say I got far more out of that than my son (on a side note, it’s a wonderful film which must be seen by anyone with an interest in film making).

I’d love to see a percentage of BBFC decisions over the last twenty or so years (how many PG’s, 12’s etc for cinema releases) to see if there is a recurring trend of ratings skewing for tentpole films. If there is such a list, please link it in the comments!

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