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Roger Ebert thinks the MPAA's ratings are useless

12.14.2010

I would say that the vast majority of us here would agree that the current MPAA rating system is antiquated in many ways, but now one of the most prominent names in film is saying the same thing.

Veteran critic Roger Ebert has written a rather great column detailing the problems with the current MPAA ratings system, and what should be done to fix it.

In today's real world, there are only two meaningful ratings: R and not-R. In theory, members of the National Association of Theater Owners agree not to sell tickets to R-rated films to those under 17, unless accompanied by the proverbial parent or adult guardian. In practice, as everyone knows, this has led to theater-hopping in multiplexes and a porous standard of guardianship ("Hey, mister—get us into 'Saw 3D'"). Kids slip into the movies they want to see, especially the horror films. They also see them at home on widely available DVDs, on cable, and via popular streaming services like Netflix and Amazon.

So rather than protecting kids, what do ratings do? Limit the reach of certain films based on arbitrary criteria. He cites recent examples like THE KING'S SPEECH being rated R for one scene involving the word "fuck" and BLUE VALENTINE's recent NC-17 classification for a non-nude oral sex scene, a ruling which has since been overturned.

The examples I usually cite when this topic comes up are ONCE, the heartwarming film about two musicians in Ireland, rated R because of a few f-bombs. Contrast that with ATTACK OF THE CLONES, rated PG despite characters losing limbs and heads onscreen.

What's Ebert's suggestion? A new type of rating system, of far simpler design.

Perhaps only three categories are needed: "G," for young audiences, "T" for teenagers, and "A" for adults. These categories would be not be keyed to specific content but would reflect the board's considered advice about a film's gestalt and intended audience. At a time when literally any content can find its way into most American homes, what's the point of singling out theatrical films? It's time to admit we've lost our innocence.

But even with that kind of system, when is a kid ready to see their first decapitation? Their first pair of tits? Hear a slew of curse words? Chances are the first time they experience each of these things will not be in a movie theater but rather in each instance, playing a video game, searching for internet porn or listening to their friends at school. It all seems so arbitrary.

What do you think is the solution here?

Extra Tidbit: I think the "mass murder is OK, sex is not" overriding theory should be the first thing to go.
Source: WSJ

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6:19PM on 12/15/2010

Nothing personal, but

So is he.
So is he.
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3:06PM on 12/15/2010
Well, we definately need some kind of rating system, but I also think that we don't practice what we preach. We talk about protecting kids from certain content, and yet it's so heavily accessible and we generally don't seem to care. I believe there is an appropriate age for all things, and that kids certainly shouldn't be learning about certain things, like acts of violence, language, or sexual content from films. However, I also think it needs to be regulated in other areas of media and
Well, we definately need some kind of rating system, but I also think that we don't practice what we preach. We talk about protecting kids from certain content, and yet it's so heavily accessible and we generally don't seem to care. I believe there is an appropriate age for all things, and that kids certainly shouldn't be learning about certain things, like acts of violence, language, or sexual content from films. However, I also think it needs to be regulated in other areas of media and parents need to be responsible. It's not hard either. Theaters should check for ID, as well as video game vendors. Parents should put blocks on their computers or have computers for their children with limited access. Adults can still enjoy adult entertainment and kids don't need to be exposed to things without proper explanation of why certain things are wrong or inappropriate.
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8:38AM on 12/15/2010
I haven't had to look at a movie's rating since I was a kid. My parents wouldn't let me watch R rated movies at all (which never stopped me of course). As a parent of two boys now I still don't look at a movie's rating, rather it's content. One good thing the MPAA does is specify why a movie has a certain rating. Such as violence, drug use, nudity, a scene of brief strong language, etc. I use these as a guide to decide whether or not my kids should see that type of content and couldn't tell you
I haven't had to look at a movie's rating since I was a kid. My parents wouldn't let me watch R rated movies at all (which never stopped me of course). As a parent of two boys now I still don't look at a movie's rating, rather it's content. One good thing the MPAA does is specify why a movie has a certain rating. Such as violence, drug use, nudity, a scene of brief strong language, etc. I use these as a guide to decide whether or not my kids should see that type of content and couldn't tell you after looking it up what the rating was.
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10:12AM on 12/15/2010
why don't you see it first, then judge, those stupid specifications are fucking ridiculous.
why don't you see it first, then judge, those stupid specifications are fucking ridiculous.
9:35PM on 12/14/2010
ONCE was rated R?!? You have got to be fist-fucking me...
ONCE was rated R?!? You have got to be fist-fucking me...
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7:32PM on 12/14/2010
i could not agree more, MPAA has gotten very uptight lately, i remember having to take my mother to see Pineapple Express with me, and she even said this movie is not R worthy...great movie btw :)
i could not agree more, MPAA has gotten very uptight lately, i remember having to take my mother to see Pineapple Express with me, and she even said this movie is not R worthy...great movie btw :)
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7:21PM on 12/14/2010
Ebert is right.
Ebert is right.
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6:28PM on 12/14/2010

Most Perfect Example

Way back when Verhoeven's "Starship Troopers" was in theaters, I remember seeing a woman walk out with her two less than 12 years old boys. The boys were pretty upset. Not because of what they'd seen, but because their mother was dragging them out against their will. (to a 12 year old boy, that movie is pure awesome). Anyway, she complains to the manager...not about the gore, not about the violence, but that her boys saw some boobs in a co-ed shower scene? Seriously?
Way back when Verhoeven's "Starship Troopers" was in theaters, I remember seeing a woman walk out with her two less than 12 years old boys. The boys were pretty upset. Not because of what they'd seen, but because their mother was dragging them out against their will. (to a 12 year old boy, that movie is pure awesome). Anyway, she complains to the manager...not about the gore, not about the violence, but that her boys saw some boobs in a co-ed shower scene? Seriously?
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6:18PM on 12/14/2010

How ironic...

...since most people I know think film critics are useless. Anyone swayed by one persons opinion is just sad.
...since most people I know think film critics are useless. Anyone swayed by one persons opinion is just sad.
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1:46PM on 12/15/2010
I'm sure that a large majority of the people here reading the article had already agreed with Ebert's opinion beforehand.
I'm sure that a large majority of the people here reading the article had already agreed with Ebert's opinion beforehand.
6:12PM on 12/14/2010
I remember hitting puberty the minute Leo starting drawing Kate on the Titanic... and that was PG-13!
I remember hitting puberty the minute Leo starting drawing Kate on the Titanic... and that was PG-13!
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4:56PM on 12/14/2010
More categories is always better than less because people can have different level of tolerance even though they have the same age but the problem with the MPAA is that it's self regulated. Having anonymous people decide behind closed doors what's offensive and what's not without any input from the outside world is bad because society's tolerance is always evolving and we need a system that's ready to evolve with it.
More categories is always better than less because people can have different level of tolerance even though they have the same age but the problem with the MPAA is that it's self regulated. Having anonymous people decide behind closed doors what's offensive and what's not without any input from the outside world is bad because society's tolerance is always evolving and we need a system that's ready to evolve with it.
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3:37PM on 12/14/2010
Ebert is right that things need to change. But I don't see how his suggestion is any different than the system already in place. He suggested 3 categories: A, T, and G. Hell, we already have that: R, PG13, and PG + G. (People tend to lump PG and G together, anyhow.)

The problem isn't the category, it's partly the theater not enforcing the rating and the MPAA not rating films correctly. I love Star Wars, but all 6 of those films should have been PG13.
Another example is the animated movie
Ebert is right that things need to change. But I don't see how his suggestion is any different than the system already in place. He suggested 3 categories: A, T, and G. Hell, we already have that: R, PG13, and PG + G. (People tend to lump PG and G together, anyhow.)

The problem isn't the category, it's partly the theater not enforcing the rating and the MPAA not rating films correctly. I love Star Wars, but all 6 of those films should have been PG13.
Another example is the animated movie Coraline. I couldn't believe that movie was PG. There was a scene where one stop motion female character was topless with nipple tassels. I love boobs and the horror in films, but if they're going to get it right, then they need to get it right.

Now, I used to work as an usher at a theater, so I've always thought about how to fix the problem. 1.)Either put the box office in front of each auditorium, or 2.)Put ushers in front of each auditorium, or 3.)Have all the rated R films on one side of the theater and the G, PG, and PG13 on the other side. (But I know the 3rd one isn't very practical due to theaters not being set up the same.)
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3:26PM on 12/14/2010
I agree with pretty much everything that has been said here. Couldn't say it better myself.
I agree with pretty much everything that has been said here. Couldn't say it better myself.
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3:19PM on 12/14/2010

Also...

So, while ratings may be created with "morality" in mind, that's not necessarily why we care about enforcing them. And then there's also the fact that, as someone else mentioned, the film industry isn't controlled by the government because of its voluntary participation in the MPAA rating system. The last thing exhibitors and distributors want is to have the government interfere.
So, while ratings may be created with "morality" in mind, that's not necessarily why we care about enforcing them. And then there's also the fact that, as someone else mentioned, the film industry isn't controlled by the government because of its voluntary participation in the MPAA rating system. The last thing exhibitors and distributors want is to have the government interfere.
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3:11PM on 12/14/2010

As a theater employee...

...we enforce the ratings (at least, R ratings) because kids tend to behave when their parents accompany them to the movies, and not so much when they're hanging out with a bunch of friends. It makes for a better environment for adults, and you don't have to deal with (as many) lights from texting teens, etc.
...we enforce the ratings (at least, R ratings) because kids tend to behave when their parents accompany them to the movies, and not so much when they're hanging out with a bunch of friends. It makes for a better environment for adults, and you don't have to deal with (as many) lights from texting teens, etc.
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2:47PM on 12/14/2010
I never pay any attention to ratings - ever. My sister has two children 10 & 13 and uses the PG-13 to determined whether things get too intense, but even she considers this a guide not a rule.

The line between G and PG is pretty non-existent in my mind. Censorship is the only way to describe them not allowing films a R-rating when that is what the filmmakers intend - I'm an adult I can tell for myself what I am capable of watching.
I never pay any attention to ratings - ever. My sister has two children 10 & 13 and uses the PG-13 to determined whether things get too intense, but even she considers this a guide not a rule.

The line between G and PG is pretty non-existent in my mind. Censorship is the only way to describe them not allowing films a R-rating when that is what the filmmakers intend - I'm an adult I can tell for myself what I am capable of watching.
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2:36PM on 12/14/2010
It really is pointless at this point in my opinion. Not to mention that cutting movies down to achieve an R rating is pointless being that a couple months later they get released on dvd unrated anyway.

I'll never forget the first night The Strangers came out. It was a full house with teenagers and a few adults and every kid kept asking this guy behind us to say that he is their parent. Eventually the guy told the guy working at the movies who was checking on everybody that every single kid
It really is pointless at this point in my opinion. Not to mention that cutting movies down to achieve an R rating is pointless being that a couple months later they get released on dvd unrated anyway.

I'll never forget the first night The Strangers came out. It was a full house with teenagers and a few adults and every kid kept asking this guy behind us to say that he is their parent. Eventually the guy told the guy working at the movies who was checking on everybody that every single kid in the audience was his and to not even bother. It was great.
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2:21PM on 12/14/2010
Haha yup I'll admit I bought tickets once for some random 13 year olds trying to get in to one of the Saw movies, and I did the same thing when I was that age
Haha yup I'll admit I bought tickets once for some random 13 year olds trying to get in to one of the Saw movies, and I did the same thing when I was that age
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2:08PM on 12/14/2010
The UK ratings system pretty much follows this format already. Never really understood the point of the American system and I'm pretty surprised its taken this long for someone like Ebert to come out and say it needs to be changed.
The UK ratings system pretty much follows this format already. Never really understood the point of the American system and I'm pretty surprised its taken this long for someone like Ebert to come out and say it needs to be changed.
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2:04PM on 12/14/2010
Great suggestion. And, for the record, I'm ready to see a pair of tits right now.
Great suggestion. And, for the record, I'm ready to see a pair of tits right now.
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1:46PM on 12/14/2010
Great suggestion, but will it ever happen? I really don't think the MPAA will ever change their current setup, which saddens me.
Great suggestion, but will it ever happen? I really don't think the MPAA will ever change their current setup, which saddens me.
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1:31PM on 12/14/2010
Interestingly enough, until the '90s movies didn't account for why they got their ratings. It wasn't really until Warner Brothers started including the MPAA that I even knew why a movie I never saw derived its rating.

I think Ebert's idea might be a little hard to put into action. Though I do think it could help certain movies succeed better at the box office. People would go see an A-rated movie and "The King's Speech" could break the Top Five. Speaking of which, how is it they could slap
Interestingly enough, until the '90s movies didn't account for why they got their ratings. It wasn't really until Warner Brothers started including the MPAA that I even knew why a movie I never saw derived its rating.

I think Ebert's idea might be a little hard to put into action. Though I do think it could help certain movies succeed better at the box office. People would go see an A-rated movie and "The King's Speech" could break the Top Five. Speaking of which, how is it they could slap an R on that one and not on all those PG-13s that use the f-bomb. Is it used in sexual context or something?

I do believe there is a change coming, but it might be internal. That's the way it usually is.

And though I don't watch them, I do rather miss the G-rating, as only the most childish of films seem to garner it. Most kiddie flicks are PG, which used to carry some weight with grown-ups as well.
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1:30PM on 12/14/2010

Said the same thing just yesterday.

When youngsters have constant contact to adult material with cable and the internet what is the point of singling out theaters? Which are a once a month experience for most kids. If the parents can successfully keep their children from online sites and cable programs "like walking dead, much more violent than most R-rated films" than the parents will know what their children are going to see in the theaters. It's not the MPAA's responsibility to raise Americas children.
When youngsters have constant contact to adult material with cable and the internet what is the point of singling out theaters? Which are a once a month experience for most kids. If the parents can successfully keep their children from online sites and cable programs "like walking dead, much more violent than most R-rated films" than the parents will know what their children are going to see in the theaters. It's not the MPAA's responsibility to raise Americas children.
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1:25PM on 12/14/2010
Extra tidbit: Definitely the first thing to go. Followed closely by the "smoking". Because no kid sees people smoking out in the street... right.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles got an R rating because of that one scene where Steve Martin flips out on the rental car attendant and says "fuck" 20 times. That movie does not deserve a hard R. The King's Speech seems to be in the same situation.

I like Ebert's suggestion of a simplified system. You can nitpick a movie's content to hell, but
Extra tidbit: Definitely the first thing to go. Followed closely by the "smoking". Because no kid sees people smoking out in the street... right.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles got an R rating because of that one scene where Steve Martin flips out on the rental car attendant and says "fuck" 20 times. That movie does not deserve a hard R. The King's Speech seems to be in the same situation.

I like Ebert's suggestion of a simplified system. You can nitpick a movie's content to hell, but miss the overall tone and who (in a broad sense) can understand the movie's intentions.

The MPAA reflects a lot about how some of America (pushed by media like the news) wants to treat its teens like some sort of sheltered babies. We all, naturally, by the time our bodies start changing, become interested in sex. Most kids that are 12, 13 or 14 are going to find out about sex. Either through porn, a parental talk, or actually getting naked with a friend (most likely a combo of three or more). Sex is okay.
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1:07PM on 12/14/2010

kids in mind

the best way to handle it is to have studios collaborate with kidsinmind.com more, and even advertise the site in the promos for movies, and not in the fine print.

some parents are ok with 5-10 f-words in one movie, but not ok with male genitalia, 100 f-words, and graphic violence in one movie. yet, both of these types of movies would be the same rating.

hard R movies ultimately hurt tamer R movies because parents think it will be completely raunchy and over the top graphic - when in fact
the best way to handle it is to have studios collaborate with kidsinmind.com more, and even advertise the site in the promos for movies, and not in the fine print.

some parents are ok with 5-10 f-words in one movie, but not ok with male genitalia, 100 f-words, and graphic violence in one movie. yet, both of these types of movies would be the same rating.

hard R movies ultimately hurt tamer R movies because parents think it will be completely raunchy and over the top graphic - when in fact it may be tamer than so.

You can put the blame for the drop in ticket sales for R movies on the likes of Kevin Smith (dont get me wrong, I love him) and others who insist on continuously wanting to push the envelope.
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12:55PM on 12/14/2010
this is hard because i totally get what ebert is saying and everyone else on here, but some people forget that without a detailed ratings system that we have now, the government would be able to interfere and censor our films. But i also get annoyed becuase many R rated films lose ticket sales because kids buy tickets for other movies and sneak in. but without this rating system, many of these r rated films may not be released. so its kind of a double edged sword.
this is hard because i totally get what ebert is saying and everyone else on here, but some people forget that without a detailed ratings system that we have now, the government would be able to interfere and censor our films. But i also get annoyed becuase many R rated films lose ticket sales because kids buy tickets for other movies and sneak in. but without this rating system, many of these r rated films may not be released. so its kind of a double edged sword.
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1:36PM on 12/14/2010
But it's not a detailed rating system. They don't ever say what passes for R or PG-13 so a lot of things have to guess at what passes for a censor or not. A lot of things get censored without understanding. A change can happen that isn't negative.
But it's not a detailed rating system. They don't ever say what passes for R or PG-13 so a lot of things have to guess at what passes for a censor or not. A lot of things get censored without understanding. A change can happen that isn't negative.
12:23PM on 12/14/2010
@tidbit: agree totally, plenty of pg13 movies out there with extraordinary body counts.
@tidbit: agree totally, plenty of pg13 movies out there with extraordinary body counts.
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12:22PM on 12/14/2010

Extra Tidbit

Thank you! God, this has been bothering me for years. What a double standard: it's ok for kids to watch impalements, decapitations, and general blood/gore in the Lord of the Rings and other movies? Sex is, in the words of George Michael (forgive me), natural and good. It's how we all GOT here! But honest depictions of sexuality and/or nudity have to be kept under tight wraps.
Please understand I'm not saying that kids should be exposed to sexuality at an early age. Obviously it's up to
Thank you! God, this has been bothering me for years. What a double standard: it's ok for kids to watch impalements, decapitations, and general blood/gore in the Lord of the Rings and other movies? Sex is, in the words of George Michael (forgive me), natural and good. It's how we all GOT here! But honest depictions of sexuality and/or nudity have to be kept under tight wraps.
Please understand I'm not saying that kids should be exposed to sexuality at an early age. Obviously it's up to parents to determine when kids are mature enough to handle content like that.
But it has always seemed so backward to me; I knew a family with 12 kids that bought that device which bleeped out ANY "inappropriate" words on ANY DVD or TV show (even words as mild as "crap"). But, they sure didn't have a problem with their 4 year old watching Lord of the Rings or Jim Caviezel being tortured in "Passion of the Christ"...
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12:11PM on 12/14/2010
Ebert's suggestion is a good one. When I discovered that the American rating system meant that kids can see all the films I usually had to wait for (or sneak into) I was pretty shocked. Admitting that there is a 'loss of innocence' as Ebert puts it is a tough thing to do but its something that really has to be done as there are certain films that kids really shouldn't be exposed to.
Ebert's suggestion is a good one. When I discovered that the American rating system meant that kids can see all the films I usually had to wait for (or sneak into) I was pretty shocked. Admitting that there is a 'loss of innocence' as Ebert puts it is a tough thing to do but its something that really has to be done as there are certain films that kids really shouldn't be exposed to.
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12:08PM on 12/14/2010
The MPAA and it's rating system has changed many times over the years of hollywood and the theater going experience. I agree with Ebert in that they are kind of pointless, and should be simplified. And as he said, anyone can buy an R rated film, yet people are restricted when they see it in the theater? Yeah, gaps all over. I'm past the age of not being able to see anything, so I could care less really. But I undertand the reasoning to have the rating system, and it's good to announce
The MPAA and it's rating system has changed many times over the years of hollywood and the theater going experience. I agree with Ebert in that they are kind of pointless, and should be simplified. And as he said, anyone can buy an R rated film, yet people are restricted when they see it in the theater? Yeah, gaps all over. I'm past the age of not being able to see anything, so I could care less really. But I undertand the reasoning to have the rating system, and it's good to announce the content of a particular film incase you want to bring your kid or not.

I remember not being able to see 'American Wedding' when it was R, so I bought a ticket for League of Extrodinary Gentlemen and just went into American Wedding.
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