Since 1968, the U.S. has had a rating system for theatrical movies. These ratings are of dubious value as they are vague and often tainted by politics or studio pressure. Given the forty years of experience we now have, I think it’s time that we re-examine how we rate our movies.
The original ratings were G (General Audiences), M (Suggested for mature audiences), R (Audience Restricted), X: People under 18 not admitted. Obviously there has been some tinkering since 1968 (GP has come and gone, M and X are no more, and PG-13 and NC-17 were added). There hasn’t been a change in the rating system since 1990, when NC-17 was badly introduced. Why “badly introduced”? Because instead of having a rating for that class of films that are so adult that children should not be admitted to see it, and reserving the X for the pruient films, the MPAA simply dropped the X rating…as a result accomplishing little except changing the name and adding licensing revenue (X hadn’t been trademarked).
Unfortunately, a movie’s ratings don’t tell you much about why they were rated that way. One of the great advantages of TV ratings is they they clue you into the reasoning (though that, too, can be quite subjective). I propose that we take a clue from the TV ratings and create a new system to take us further into the 21st century.
First, we need to set up flags to allow us to gauge content without actually having to preview the material. I’m going to not only name the flags, but also give them a numerical value.
- 00=V0 (no appreciable violence)
- 02=VC (cartoon violence; e.g. Bugs Bunny)
- 04=VA (absurd violence; e.g. The Three Stooges)
- 08=VM (mild violence; e.g. a small number of slaps)
- 14=VP (power violence; e.g. fist fight – no weapons used, but can be displayed)
- 14=VB (battle violence; e.g. war, but not gory)
- 18=VG (gory violence; e.g. “realistic” horrific wounds)
- 24=VX (extreme violence; when none of the rest quite cover it)
- 00=L0 (no appreciable bad language)
- 08=LM (mild language; e.g. “hell” “damn” when not used to excess as expletives)
- 14=LC (crude language; e.g. any “bad” words but not used to excess)
- 16=LQ (quantitative language; e.g. excessive use of “bad” language)
- 16=LV (violent language; e.g. “bad” words used in incitive ways)
- 18=LX (extreme language; when none of the rest quite cover it)
- 00=S0 (no appreciable sexuality)
- 02=SF (sexual flirtation; e.g. language or acts that are mildly suggestive to adults)
- 08=SI (sexual image; e.g. works of nude art)
- 10=SB (sexual brief nudity; e.g. exposed “erotic” body parts of any gender for 2 sec or less per 45 min)
- 12=SK (sexual kissing; e.g. “making out”, includes mild groping)
- 14=SL (sexual language; e.g. strongly suggestive or blatant language used to incite or augment sexual acts)
- 14=SC (sexual covered; e.g. simulated intercourse with no more than SB, not done to excess)
- 16=SN (sexual nudity; e.g. exposed “erotic” body parts of any gender)
- 18=SA (sexual acts; e.g. simulated intercourse with SN)
- 24=SX (sexual extreme; when none of the rest quite cover it)
- 00=D0 (no appreciable disturbing)
- 05=DG (disturbing general audience concepts; e.g. Bambi’s mother (or Old Yeller) dying)
- 18=DC (disturbing concepts; e.g. radical political views)
- 18=DI (disturbing images; e.g. images of genocide)
- 20=DR (disturbing reality; e.g. when the acts are documentary)
- 30=DS (disturbing simulation; e.g. an expertly done “snuff” film)
For the calculation of a rating, here’s what we do: a broad panel evaluates a movie based on the four categories above. The highest score in each category are posted. From those for scores, the highest two are averaged (summed and divided by two) to give the age-appropriateness of the movie (if the total exceeds 18, then the result is 18).
Let’s look at some movies for example:
- Die Hard: VG (18), LC (14), SB (10), D0 (00). The average of the highest 2 = 16 years and older
- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: VG (18), LM (08), SF (02), DG (05). The average of the highest 2 = 13 years and older
- The Wizard of Oz: VM (08), L0 (00), S0 (00), DG (05). The average of the highest 2 = 6.5 years and older
I had considered adding a suspense/horror category, but I figured that the other four categories would pretty much overlap. I’m certain that the numbers I have will fall apart in any given instance, and the values some would choose are different from what I dashed off, but it’s a starting point for debate.
Obviously it’s going to be impractical for theater managers to track the ages of all of their patrons. I suggest reasonable splits: G = all ages; P (or P-6) = all ages, 6 and younger with adult; A (or A-12) = must be 12 or older; R (or R-16) = must be 16 or older; M = must be 18 or older.
But, along with the letter ratings, there is also a list of the category ratings (ideally all of them, but certainly the highest ones in each category). This allows parents to judge why a movie got a certain rating. Some parents don’t give a hoot about mild forms of violence, but care deeply about any sexuality. Some parents don’t care about the sexuality bit but don’t want their kids exposed to violence. This lets them have the freedom to raise their kids as they choose while also giving society a check on the age-appropriateness of this art form. Everybody wins.