What Goes Into a Movie or TV Rating?

Jul 19, 2011

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As parents, it's easy to rely on ratings. They are an extremely simple way to judge how 'good' or 'clean' a movie is. At least that's what we tell ourselves. Have you ever seen a PG-13 movie and thought "That's not clean enough for my 13-year-old. Or even me!"?

In the beginning, movies weren't rated at all. Then in the 1920's Hollywood began producing increasingly risque films. Concerned citizens recommended a code of standards which the head of the movie industry, Will Hays, liked and put into use. Starting in 1934 and lasting for nearly thirty years, nearly every movie made in the US had to abide by the Motion Picture Production Code. And it wasn't a graded rating system like the one used today- you either passed or failed and failure meant the movie wasn't released.

Over time though, the code was rewritten to be more and more lenient until by the late 1960s, it was just a few bullet points that let nearly anything through. And movies that failed to pass were starting to be released anyway. So on November 1, 1968, the MPAA came out with the graded rating system we know today.

The government has nothing to do with the ratings. A bunch of movie industry employees watch the movie and give their personal opinion about it and they take those opinions to make a rating. When you see NR or Unrated it means the film wasn't even submitted to this process. But the MPAA does not have a published guideline on what qualifies for which rating. When you see a rating- it doesn't mean much.

So the movie ratings are made by the movie industry. And TV ratings? Made by the TV channels. That's right. The company that displays the show decides what rating should go with it.

In both these cases, when you look at a rating, it's a somewhat arbitrary judgement call by a group of people in an industry whose first responsibility is to sell movies and TV shows. They do not care about your family- they are in business to make money and the only reason they use ratings is that they prefer doing it themselves to having the government (or you) get involved.

Luckily, the Internet doesn't have to be this way. The Net Nanny internet filter, for example, has default settings to keep your family safe online, but you can customize those settings to be what you think they should be. You don't have to go along with what everyone in the US, your state, or your neighborhood think. You can make the choice yourself. Your standards, your Internet. Online peace of mind because you're making the decisions instead of a panel of strangers.