How do movie ratings work?

Eddie Sheehy

G. PG. PG-13. R. NC-17. You see these every time you go to the theatre, watch a trailer or look at a movie poster. You see them on everything that has anything to do with the movies, but have you ever stopped to question what these things are, what they mean, and where they come from? It doesn’t matter if you’re an expert movie lover or just a casual movie viewer, these questions have crossed your mind at one point or another, and knowing the answers are actually a great way to become better acquainted with films.

For starters, it’s important to understand a little bit about the history of the movie ratings system in the United States. The current rating system in use today is the MPAA, or Movie Picture Association of America ratings system.

The MPAA was founded at the dawn of cinema in 1922 under the name “Hays Code” by a conglomerate of motion picture studios. Their mission was to self-censor films in order to keep government out of the movies, and insure the future of the filmmaking business. In 1945 the name of the organization was officially changed to MPAA, but continued to use the Hays Code as the method by which movies were rated, a system that would stand for another twenty years.

It was in 1968 that the ratings system we see today was finally adopted, with ratings options G, M, R and X. Over time, the system evolved by changing M to PG, adding PG-13, and turning X into NC-17.

That’s how we got the ratings we use today, but what’s the point in having them? In a lot of ways, self-regulation is still the main goal of the MPAA. Just like in 1922, there is still a real concern over government interference in the movies, and what impacts the government could have on the film industry.

Submitting a movie for a rating is not mandatory by law, and is not actually required for anything. In fact, submitting a movie for a rating actually costs studios money, as there is a fee for getting a movie rated, so why do studios do it?

The reason comes down to release in theatres. While there is no written rule that says a theatre won’t accept a movie if it is not rated, the fact is that most theatres just won’t. People, especially those with families, have come to rely on the ratings system to tell them what movies are appropriate for them to see. Without them, movies and theatres stand to lose a lot of money.

While ratings probably don’t really effect your life to much right now (if you’re like me, you’re old enough to see everything in theatres but not so old as to have a kid to worry about), they are still a very important part of the film industry. And understanding them helps garner a greater understanding in how the movie business operates as a champion for free speech.

If you’re interested in even more of the nitty gritty workings of the MPAA or you just want to know what certain films are rated, visit http://www.filmratings.com/ for more information.