The Evolution and Impact of Movies Ratings: From G to NC-17

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PG Films: Creative Freedom with Caution

Since 1968 there has been a system in place used to determine whether or not a movie would be appropriate for specific audiences. The Motion Picture Association of America is the group that decides what rating a movie will have. Although receiving a rating is completely voluntary, most filmmakers decide to get a rating to avoid theaters refusing to play their films. As of 1996, the rating that can be used are G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17.

Out of the five ratings, G is the most strict. Rated G means that the movie is suitable for all audiences regardless of age. This means that there is nothing in the movie that could offend parents or children viewing the movie. A G-rated film must not have any nudity, violence, substance abuse, sexual content, unsuitable language, or crude jokes. One good example of a G-rated movie is Finding Nemo. This family-friendly movie was able to balance humor and emotional scenes without going over the top, making it inappropriate for small children and having it still enjoyable for adults.

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Although having a PG rating means the movie is still appropriate for children, Filmmakers are allowed to get away with a little bit more. A PG rating means that the movie is for general audiences, but parents should review the content first to see if it is appropriate for their child. Although they can not have nudity or sexual content, there are some crude jokes and cartoon violence. One movie that does this perfectly is Minions.

Navigating Age-Appropriate Content: Rating Guidelines

There are countless action scenes that have slight violence but nothing that would upset a child. Some of the humor in the movie could be considered crude fart jokes, most parents are still comfortable with the content. Another PG movie, Rango, showed some substance abuse that had anti-smoking advocates upset. In the film, characters were shown smoking over sixty times. This is a perfect example of a movie that is acceptable for kids with parental approval.

PG-13-rated movies are given that rating when the Motion Picture Association of America feels that the movie is not suitable for anyone under the age of 13. Although anyone can purchase a ticket to a PG-13 movie, The MPAA suggests parental guidance when watching the film. To be considered PG-13 instead of PG, there aren’t too many specific rules. In a PG-13 movie, there may be small amounts of substance abuse, brief nudity if it is not sexually oriented, and small amounts of strong language. In order for strong language in a movie to be labeled PG-13, the language must be justified in the way they are used. One example of this is in Adventures in Babysitting. This particular movie would have probably received a PG rating, but there was one scene in which the word “fuck” was used twice.

Rated movies are ones that, with out a parent, you must be at least seventeen to view the movie. There are not a ton of set rules on what qualifies as a rated R movie, but films are usually given an R rating due to violence, nudity for sexual purposes, frequent strong langue, and drug abuse. This is one of two categories that actually require people to have an ID with them when they purchase a ticket.

Rating Controversies and Classification Nuances

In the past, parents could obtain “R Cards” for their children. This meant that the minor could see a rated-R movie without adult accompaniment. This, of course, came with controversy. These cards meant that a minor could have free reign and watch any rated R movie without their parent knowing. People became upset because not all rated-R movies are the same. One movie could be rated R because of its strong language, but the other could be rated R due to sex or violence.

NC-17 rating (formerly known as rated X) is a rating that means absolutely no one under the age of seventeen is allowed to view that particular movie. This is another category that doesn’t have clearly defined rules as to how to obtain this rating. NC-17 mostly just means that the movie is more intense than rated R. In the film industry, NC-17 ratings have been referred to as the “kiss of death” because the movie becomes less marketable and sold. A lot of films that originally received this rating have been edited to instead receive an R rating.

There is another category that is less common but is still occasionally used. Although not technically a rating, the terms “not yet rated” and “unrated” are sometimes attached to a film. “not yet rated” is used for films that are being advertised but are still waiting to be reviewed by the Motion Picture Association of America. Unrated films are films that will not go through the process of being rated. This doesn’t happen often because it is hard to market to audiences if you can’t tell people what the age range is in a movie.


  1. This organization’s role in determining movie ratings is mentioned throughout the essay.
  2. Reference: Motion Picture Association. (n.d.). Who We Are. MPAA.
  3. Reference: Finding Nemo. (2003). IMDb.
  4. Reference: Minions. (2015). IMDb.
  5. Reference: Rango. (2011). IMDb.
  6. Reference: Adventures in Babysitting. (1987). IMDb.
  7. Reference: MPAA Ratings System. (n.d.). MPAA.
  8. Reference: Canby, V. (1990, March 18). Are Ratings an Inexact Science? The New York Times.
  9. Reference: NC-17: No Children Under 17 Admitted. (n.d.). MPAA.
  10. Reference: Itzkoff, D. (2013, March 12). Earning an X Rating, Then Fighting It. The New York Times.
  11. Reference: Gray, T. (2016, January 25). ‘Ratings are too lenient’: The strange story of when the BBFC banned the X rating. The Telegraph.

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The Evolution and Impact of Movies Ratings: From G to NC-17. (2023, Aug 18). Retrieved from

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