Are You Ratings Ready? by Mike Nappa, Trends & Truths Online

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Every wonder how film & TV ratings are determined? Here’s the first in a two-part blog series to help you easily interpret those ratings systems for your family.

First, for any movie, I’d recommend you always look up the “Reason for the Rating” at That’ll give you a clearer idea of a film’s content and whether it’s appropriate for your family. 

G—General Audiences
According to the Ratings Board of the Motion Picture Association of America (, a film with this rating “contains nothing in theme, language, nudity, sex, violence or other matters” that parents accompanied by young children would find offensive. Generally speaking, if you trust the MPAA this rating should be fine for your family.

PG—Parental Guidance Suggested
In a PG movie no drug use is allowed, but “there may be some profanity and some depictions of violence or brief nudity.” This most often shows up as mild swear words or mild violence. Parents should be aware, however, that PG-rated films released before 1984 more closely reflect the standards present in today’s PG-13 rating. You’ve been warned.


PG-13—Parents Strongly Cautioned
A PG-13 movie has more frequent, or more intense, depictions in regard to “theme, violence, nudity, sensuality, language, adult activities or other elements”—but those depictions not as graphic or pervasive as in an R-rated film.

Drug use is allowed in a PG-13 movie. Brief nudity can appear too (usually a bare behind), as long as the MPAA doesn’t view it as “sexually oriented.” Violence is allowed if the Ratings Board sees it as “generally not both realistic and extreme or persistent.”

Most general profanities are to be expected in a PG-13 film, including a single use of “one of the harsher sexually-derived words.” So practice this mantra with your kids: “Just because you hear it doesn’t mean you have to repeat it.”

This film “may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements.”

The Ratings Board applies the R rating broadly, resulting in wide variance between individual motion pictures. For instance, rare “hard language” will receive the same R rating as torture-porn or graphic sex. The “reason for the rating” is the best indicator of content here.

NC-17—No One Under 17 Admitted
The age of admittance for NC-17 seems arbitrary and out of touch with American families. (Why would this content be appropriate for high school kids?) Nevertheless, according to the MPAA: “An NC-17 rating can be based on violence, sex, aberrational behavior, drug abuse or any other element that most parents would consider too strong and therefore off-limits.”

Next Month: Ratings-Ready Part 2: TV Ratings

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Mike Nappa is a bestselling author, a noted commentator on pop culture, and founder of the website for parents,