Thinking about ratings creep: Lost in America to Red

The film Consuming Kids talks about ratings creepthat is, the tendency of the film rating board to allow more and more images and situations to appear in more stringently rated movies, mainly because we just get used to them. So sexual situations, violent acts and language that might once have made a movie R-rated, is seen in more recent years in a PG-13.

 As we watched the 2010 film Red with the boys, I was reminded of this tendency. The movie is rated PG-13. In one of the first scenes, a man is seen with a rope around his neck, standing on a table, and begging for his life. Another man callously kicks the table out from under him and he hangs by his neck. We have no idea what the situation is or who the men are. The scene struck me as very disturbing. My son is 12 and he has of course seen lots of violence in movies. All the other explosions, shooting, etc. in this movie? Eh. He knows it’s all fake. In fact, it’s kind of a satire of action movies. But I wanted to put my hand over his eyes for this scene. It wasn’t graphic, but the image stuck with me. I thought this alone should have made the movie an R.

Meanwhile, there’s this. Throughout the movie the language is rather tamer than other PG-13s I’ve seen, but then at the end, there is a “F*** you, Cynthia.”  Now that’s interesting, because it reminded me of the movie Lost in America, in which Albert Brooks’ character delivers a passionate and comically well-timed “F*** you” to his boss. It was, I must say, actually really appropriate. Unlike the comment in Red, which was frankly a hackneyed usage. The point, though, is that Lost in America, made in 1985, is rated R just for this one incident of profanity, as far as I can tell.

What’s the greater meaning? I don’t know. People do get used to things. The community standards are different now than they were in 1956. Probably it would be good for parents to be aware of ratings creep. It happens in television ratings too. So you have to use your own judgment as to whether something rated TV-14 is ok for your own 14-year-old. (My use of this prerogative annoys the heck out of my 14-year-old son.)

Also, one disturbing image isn’t going to do a great deal of harm, but many disturbing images might. I do think it’s worth limiting the total amount of violent images that children see.


  1. I agree with you on this and remember being really surprised at the level of violence that Return Of The King had compared with its rating, at least here in Ireland. Personally, I felt the rating was far too low.I do, however, really find myself feeling for filmmakers here and also see why people within studios would be pushing hard for ratings creep. In the US, it seems the R rating is unacceptable in this day and age. I was reading recently that Gore Verbinski has been trying to make a movie based on Bioshock, an M (mature) rated game (it was rated 18 in the UK). But the studio wouldn't make the movie unless he made a PG-13 film. Which it really shouldn't ever be.The same happened with the last Die Hard. And Predator. They were sucked from the adult world and made PG-13. But that doesn't mean they're appropriate for children. Just that they've been pulled back enough to scrape by the cert boards. Or that they can argue their case with the cert boards, which they'll do and, hence, ratings creep.So there is a real blurring going on that isn't really doing either side (children or adults) any favours.That's not to say there wasn't always blurring. To this day, it sticks in my head that there were Robocop toys for children all over toy shops when the movie had an 18 rating. They knew who their real audience was.As an adult cinema-goer, I don't think I want my films watered down for a young audience. As a parent, I want to be sure that, when I see a rating, it reflects content that will or won't be in the movie. Over here in Ireland, we do seem to get little explanations which is very handy (contains mild peril, strong language and so on).

  2. Thanks for adding these observations, Jason. It sometimes seems, in fact that all the movie makers want a PG-13 rating. I suspect it is to maximize audience share, and thus, profits. I see movies that could easily be a PG, but they are pushed a little, with some added language or whatever, to get that rating that might appeal more to older teens, young adults is my guess. And then of course, as with Robocop, or Transformers, they are marketed to young kids. And you're right. It doesn't do adults or children any favors.

  3. Great post, Erin! I saw Red — by myself, and thought it had a lot of adult content not suitable for kids. I can't believe it was Rated PG-13. A lot of parents I talk to use the argument –"but my kids know it's all pretend and not real." That's not the point. The point is that these movies with their foul language and gratuitous sex market out kids — and it may all be fake, but that doesn't mean our kids should be watching this stuff. You should do some research as to how many kids paid to watch SAW (all of them). I couldn't even watch it — it made me sick — these kind of movies feed our kids with horrific content that no one should be subjected to — let alone kids under the age of 18.

  4. great observations Erin. Indeed it's sad to see the standards of ratings change over time. It's really sad when we bring youths to PG-13 movies that are specifically catered to children, only to gasp through inappropriate scenes. I know on my end, we try to skip the previews altogether since the previews are always horrendous.thanks for adding to the blogroll. will be visiting here to see what other good articles you have. I'll try to link to some of them in the future 🙂

  5. Even if you do your research, it seems like it's still hard to find out what's in the movie unless you watch it first yourself. Previews, definitely problematic.Thanks for visiting and sharing. I'll be keeping an eye on your site, too.

  6. This link doesn't seem to go anywhere, Mich9

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