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MPAA Ratings System

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) adopted a voluntary rating system for movies in 1968. The goal of the ratings was to give advance cautionary warnings to parents in regards to the content of films.

Ratings are decided by a 8-13 member Rating Board who screen each movie volunteered for review. Since 1990 the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA) has also cited the reasons for the rating it gives to a particular film. For more information, visit www.filmratings.com.

Ratings And What They Mean

Here are the current rating codes and what they refer to, according to the leader in the system's development, current MPAA President and CEO Jack Valenti.

G  PG  PG-13  R  NC-17  Not Rated

General Audiences - All Ages Admitted

This is a film which contains nothing in theme, language, nudity and sex, violence, etc. which would, in the view of the Rating Board, be offensive to parents whose younger children view the film. The G rating is not a "certificate of approval," nor does it signify a children's film.

Some snippets of language may go beyond polite conversation but they are common everyday expressions. No stronger words are present in G-rated films. The violence is at a minimum. Nudity and sex scenes are not present; nor is there any drug use content.

Parental Guidance Suggested, Some Material May Not Be Suitable For Children

This is a film which clearly needs to be examined or inquired into by parents before they let their children attend. The label PG plainly states that parents may consider some material unsuitable for their children, but the parent must make the decision.

Parents are warned against sending their children, unseen and without inquiry, to PG-rated movies.

The theme of a PG-rated film may itself call for parental guidance. There may be some profanity in these films. There may be some violence or brief nudity. But these elements are not deemed so intense as to require that parents be strongly cautioned beyond the suggestion of parental guidance. There is no drug use content in a PG-rated film.

The PG rating, suggesting parental guidance, is thus an alert for examination of a film by parents before deciding on its viewing by their children.

Obviously such a line is difficult to draw. In our pluralistic society it is not easy to make judgments without incurring some disagreement. So long as parents know they must exercise parental responsibility, the rating serves as a meaningful guide and as a warning.

Parents Strongly Cautioned, Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13

PG-13 is thus a sterner warning to parents to determine for themselves the attendance in particular of their younger children as they might consider some material not suited for them. Parents, by the rating, are alerted to be very careful about the attendance of their under-teenage children.

A PG-13 film is one which, in the view of the Rating Board, leaps beyond the boundaries of the PG rating in theme, violence, nudity, sensuality, language, or other contents, but does not quite fit within the restricted R category. Any drug use content will initially require at least a PG-13 rating. In effect, the PG-13 cautions parents with more stringency than usual to give special attention to this film before they allow their 12-year olds and younger to attend.

If nudity is sexually oriented, the film will generally not be found in the PG-13 category. If violence is too rough or persistent, the film goes into the R (restricted) rating. A film's single use of one of the harsher sexually-derived words, though only as an expletive, shall initially require the Rating Board to issue that film at least a PG-13 rating. More than one such expletive must lead the Rating Board to issue a film an R rating, as must even one of these words used in a sexual context. These films can be rated less severely, however, if by a special vote, the Rating Board feels that a lesser rating would more responsibly reflect the opinion of American parents.

PG-13 places larger responsibilities on parents for their children's moviegoing. The voluntary rating system is not a surrogate parent, nor should it be. It cannot, and should not, insert itself in family decisions that only parents can, and should, make. Its purpose is to give prescreening advance informational warnings, so that parents can form their own judgments. PG-13 is designed to make these parental decisions easier for films between PG and R.

Restricted, Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent Or Adult Guardian

In the opinion of the Rating Board, this film definitely contains some adult material. Parents are strongly urged to find out more about this film before they allow their children to accompany them.

An R-rated film may include hard language, or tough violence, or nudity within sensual scenes, or drug abuse or other elements, or a combination of some of the above, so that parents are counseled, in advance, to take this advisory rating very seriously. Parents must find out more about an R-rated movie before they allow their teenagers to view it.

No One 17 And Under Admitted

This rating declares that the Rating Board believes that this is a film that most parents will consider patently too adult for their youngsters under 17. No children will be admitted. NC-17 does not necessarily mean "obscene or pornographic" in the oft-accepted or legal meaning of those words. The Board does not and cannot mark films with those words. These are legal terms and for courts to decide. The reasons for the application of an NC-17 rating can be violence or sex or aberrational behavior or drug abuse or any other elements which, when present, most parents would consider too strong and therefore off-limits for viewing by their children.

"Not Rated"
Not Submitted For MPAA Review

The majority of feature films and home videos are submitted voluntarily by the issuing studio or distributor. However, an occasional film is not entered for review -- for whatever reason. A "Not Rated" label is not an indication of content. A children's movie like The Lion King II: Simba's Pride and an adult-themed film can both be "Not Rated" if they were not submitted for review.

"Not Rated" is not the same as "Unrated." An unrated label often refers to content inappropriate for minors. Many films are submitted in one form for theaters, where it earned a certain MPAA rating. The same film may be simultaneously made available on home video with additional footage. This version is often considered the "Unrated" version.

By the same token, a film can exist in two different MPAA ratings signifying two different cuts of the film, like Two Guys And A Girl, for instance.

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