Rated R Means Rated R
I'm a 30 year old man who loves movies and grew up on superheroes. Of course I ventured to the movie theatre to catch the R-rated superhero action comedy Deadpool over the weekend. I'd been looking forward to it for months. Every minute of screen-time was spent earning that R-rating. A significant portion of the advertising was devoted to making it clear that this was an R-rated film. The movie rating system has more or less been in place for almost 50 years. So even though it was inevitable, why, why, WHY are we getting news stories cautioning parents against this particular rated-R film and viral images of parents shocked, SHOCKED that their kid was exposed to foul language, nudity, and graphic violence?
Back in the early days of cinema, content was a free for all, so in the late 1920s, early 30s, a producer by the name of Will Hays, then president of the Motion Picture Producers & Distributors Association (MPPDA) met with other producers and they came up with what was known as the Hays code. It was a list of do's and don'ts for film-making, just to keep it clean and respectable. The rise of bolder directors in the 50s, as well as the popularity of television, as well as feelings in the industry that the Code was bordering censorship, Jack Valenti, head of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), felt that a rating system would be better. In 1968 we got the ratings system that has become what we are all familiar with now. Films can be made how ever they want, but are given one of the following ratings by the MPAA panel:
G - General Audiences
PG - Parental Guidance Suggested
PG-13 - Parental Guidance for children under the age of 13
R - No one under 17 unless accompanied by a parent
NC-17 - Absolutely no one under 17 at all, period.
They've even gone a step further in the past decade or so to include a brief description as to WHY they got those ratings. They're more of guidelines for theatre owners and parents to determine whether a film is appropriate for children. There's a lot of bureaucratic and political nonsense between studios, the MPAA and the National Association of Theatre Owners, all of which I won't get into*, but that's just the brief backstory on the ratings.
Now. When I was a kid, I was allowed to watch Rated-R films. Some were OK for me to watch, nothing too bad, I saw Die Hard at a far younger age than probably appropriate, but I don't feel scarred for life (saw it on VHS, not in theatres). There were some movies my parents probably wish I hadn't seen, mostly due to language, but that's all in the past, nothing we can do about it now. Shortly before my 16th birthday, I wanted to see the film Swordfish, which was rated R. It was an action/crime flick with Hugh Jackman, John Travolta and Halle Berry. There's really nothing bad about it, but there was a big deal made about Berry's topless scene**. My parents knew this before dropping me off at the theatre, they didn't have a problem with it. I got turned away at the ticket counter, ended up seeing the comedy Evolution instead, it was hilarious. Incidentally a few months later I saw both Snatch and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind in theatres. I was still under 17, but no one carded me.
The point I'm taking far too long to make, is that the ratings are there for a reason. Die Hard, lots of language and violence. Swordfish, language and nudity. Snatch and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, language and violence. The R-rating is there as a guide saying "Hey, there's some pretty heavy stuff in the flick, maybe don't let your kid go see it if you don't think they can handle it." But it is ultimately up to the parent to make that decision.
These ratings have been there for almost 50 years. The PG-13 rating was put in a little over 30 years ago (because of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, by the way). They are part of the culture. We all know them. I don't have kids, so I don't spend a lot of time worrying about them, unless it's a horror film. Anything less than an R on a horror film just isn't worth it. I like scary, gory stuff, what can I say? Anyway... even not living in the age of information, there was an easy, basic way to determine if the movie is good for 9 year old Timmy. But now we are in the information age, carrying the internet in our pocket. There's no reason to not know what a movie is rated, and why it was rated that.
Again, it is ultimately the parent's decision. You know your kid better than the kid working the ticket window at your local cineplex. But just look into it first. The onus is on you. There's plenty of family friendly and kid friendly flicks released each year, no they don't HAVE to see this one... not yet anyway.
*I wrote a paper on then modern ratings systems in high school, and a term paper on the history of Hays Code and MPAA ratings in college, so this is a subject I've done extensive research on.
**No, that wasn't the only reason I wanted to see Swordfish. It was an action flick with two of the stars of X-Men, that was the driving factor. The "adult content" was a fringe benefit to my teenage mind.