Movies By Rating

This weekend, while rearranging our DVD collection, I decided to conduct a little experiment. Just for fun, I wanted to know how many movies we had of each rating under the MPAA. The results and follow-up findings, while not shocking, started me down the path of, you know, thinking.

Currently we have exactly 50 DVDs, which fall under the jurisdiction of the MPAA rating system. Of the 50, 3 are rated G (6%), 10 PG (20%), 24 PG-13 (48%), 13 R (26%), and 0 NC-17. The only category that really surprised me was PG. As I looked closer, most in this category were pre-1995 and as I looked even closer, of the more recent PGs, most were animation. Now, realizing this is a very small sample size and holding a few million other variables constant, this seems like further proof to me that the PG rating is disappearing from film and reinventing itself as the new rating of slightly more intense and/or crude animation (The Incredibles for the former, Shrek movies for the latter).

But that’s not all I wanted to point out here. The other night, my wife and I were deciding what movie to watch potentially with some friends who were coming over. We were both interested in seeing the movie De-Lovely. But knowing that these friends were R avoiders and more conservative in their movie-watching habits, I decided to research on-line the basis of the PG-13 rating for De-Lovely. When I found the reasoning to be for homosexual undertones, the red flag of uncomfortableness was raised in my mind, and my wife and I quickly decided on another movie (though we watched De-Lovely later and found it to be, well, quite lovely).

After the fact, my wife commented on how it was a good thing that we didn’t watch De-Lovely with our friends, as she thought it was rated R. What?! How could she not know that this movie was, in fact, rated only PG-13? Not to mention the fact that these particular friends of ours would not watch a rated R movie, thus making our previous hypothetical of should-we-watch-it-with-them-or-shouldn’t-we completely pointless. But my wife was completely oblivious to all that.

As I analyzed it further, I realized that I was the weird one (I know, I know, you could have told me that long ago). This is how I was raised; I was conditioned to always know the MPAA rating of any movie. Not only that, I was conditioned to quickly decipher movie-watching habits of others (at the time, this was so that I’d be prepared to decline offers to watch movies I shouldn’t see). Old habits die hard, I suppose. As I conducted my little experiment, I didn’t have to verify the rating of even one of our DVDs. I already knew them all. It gets worse. If you ask me the rating of any movie, I’ll almost always know it with the only prerequisite being that I have to have at least heard of the movie (old not-very-grammatical phrases die hard as well).

Am I alone here? Anyone else conditioned in a similar way? In any event, I’d be interested in hearing the results of any other movies-by-rating home studies.


  1. I’m with you Bob. One of the first things I find out about a movie is what it’s rated. It’s second nature.

  2. D. Fletcher says:

    I couldn’t possibly do the research in my own library, though off the top of my head, the majority of my collection (70% or so) are “pre” rating, making them essentially G. No language, no nudity, though plenty of innuendo. These may be G-rated, but they’re not all for kids.

    As to the other 30%, I wouldn’t even know the ratings. I have never bothered to pay attention to such things, since I was 17 and old enough to go to anything.

  3. Bob, I used to be very ratings-centric, then as my movie collection grew I found I shifted towards content rather than ratings. I’ve found that researching the offensive content of a film is a more reliable indicator than the ratings themselves.

    But yeah, we had a little bit of the conditioning growing up. Canada has a slightly different ratings system, so I got to see some pretty cool movies, but overall it was a similar experience. A friend of mine was only allowed to watch G-rated movies. Yikes!

  4. “I was conditioned to quickly decipher movie-watching habits of others.”

    In a culture where MPAA ratings are given so much weight and opinions differ so strongly, you have to be.

    If there was a game show where all you had to do was give the ratings of movies, Mormons – of all varieties – would win every time.

  5. Bob Caswell says:

    I have to agree with you, Steve. I too research “offensive content” more so than relying on the ratings. Although I’d like to pretend like the rating of any given movie doesn’t affect me, it really, really does… mostly indirectly. Living in Utah especially, I try to be very conscious of those around me. Hmmm… That was worded funny (as if I won’t be conscious of those around me in other cities, but I wonder…). But honestly, I wonder if once I move, I’ll be able to be myself more rather than varying degrees of myself based on the audience. As Eric pointed out, especially within this context, and within a culture I know all too well, I’m quick to tip toe around certain issues in person, though I’m a chatterbox about them on-line!

  6. HL Rogers says:

    I also could name the rating of any movie I’ve heard of. It’s that great Mormon upbringing. I know the caffiene content (whether it has or does not have)of every soda on the market (especially the tricky rootbeer category–damn that Barq’s) and the rating of every movie. Not to rehash a very hashed over topic but I too look to the content of movies on great sites like but I also still follow the ratings. If it’s PG-13 I screenit (I like turning products into verbs and I know they like it too).

  7. Bob & Eric,

    Are there social consequences attached to familiarity or unfamiliarity with the rating of a movie? If you suggested going to see a movie and it turned out to be PG-13 instead of G or something, would others care? I know you can get shunned for seeing an R, but apart from that threshold, do the other ratings matter?

    I guess that’s my question: do the other ratings matter, besides R?

  8. Bob Caswell says:

    Great question, Steve. The answer is definitely yes. While the R rating truly does “matter” more than any of the other ratings, PG-13 has become more problematic in recent years largely because of Kate Winslet’s breasts. Of course, I speak from my own perception of the world around me here in Utah, but it seems that PG-13 action movies are not nearly as much of a problem as PG-13 sexual content movies [in Utah]. I’m not pointing this out as good or bad, per se, just saying that in general, all of my non-R watching friends have little to no issues with violence whereas sex – even PG-13 sex – can be disturbing. Witness my example above, De-Lovely obviously wasn’t rated PG-13 for violence, but homosexual undertones meriting a PG-13 rating raises a red flag [in Utah]. Did that answer your question?

  9. HL Rogers says:

    A follow-up question: do you think PG-13 ratings mattered as much as they do now before the new For the Strength of Youth pamphlets came out that took out the line about R-ratings and beefed up the comments regarding looking out for the content of the movies.

    In other words, has there been a trend away from using R as a bright line to using content as the bright line and saying no R-rated movies and no sexually heavy PG-13s?

  10. Bob Caswell says:

    “In other words, has there been a trend away from using R as a bright line to using content as the bright line and saying no R-rated movies and no sexually heavy PG-13s?”

    HL Rogers, you just opened a can of worms [at least for me]. I think another revision of the For the Strength of Youth is needed. If you read closely, even animated Disney or Living Scriptures would be out, very poor editing and/or word usage:

    “Don’t attend or participate in any form of entertainment, including concerts, movies, and videocassettes, that is vulgar, immoral, inappropriate, suggestive, or p0rnographic in any way.”

    Many, many good stories have hints of one or more of these things portrayed in a very tasteful way (even for youth). But saying “in any way” is one step away from saying, “don’t use any of these forms of media period”. I almost want the rated R rule back in there. No, no, what I really want is some rewording / reediting. Whoever writes this needs to say what he/she means, not some over-reaching, broad-brush painting, guilt-causing cryptic message.

    But to answer your question, logically what you hypothesize could be true, though even if there is a correlation, I’m not sure to what extend one caused the other.

  11. I agree with Bob. It is nearly impossible to watch a PG-13 in large groups of members – especially if it is PG-13 because of sex-related material. Even if no one is offended, the thought that someone might be offended is enough for the host to go with a PG, just in case. At least, that’s my experience.


    I think very possibly so. Add to it the editing practices of Cleanflicks. In a given R movie, they will take out all “R level” sexuality as well as all “PG-13 level” sexuality but remove only “R level” violence, leaving in most, if not all, “PG-13 level” violence.

    I think the line for many members is not R and PG-13, but “appropriate” and “inappropriate”. Sexuality, of any sort, is likely to be “inappropriate.”

  12. Re: “De-Lovely”

    My wife and I rented the film a week or two ago and I came away thinking that Cole Porter was a selfish, arrogant, narcissistic weasel. I could deal with that if his music held up — but most of it doesn’t. I found myself cringing every time they broke out one of his songs. A few of his hundreds of songs still hold up today (“Night and Day,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” — especially the Sinatra versions) but overall the guy’s art pales in comparison to others in his generation like Ellington and Gershwin.

    The filmmakers did a nice job overall though. They pulled no punches but I got the feeling they tried to be sympathetic to a man who would be hard to tolerate in any generation…

  13. Eric Russell: “It is nearly impossible to watch a PG-13 in large groups of members – especially if it is PG-13 because of sex-related material….Add to it the editing practices of Cleanflicks. In a given R movie, they will take out all ‘R level’ sexuality as well as all ‘PG-13 level’ sexuality but remove only ‘R level’ violence, leaving in most, if not all, ‘PG-13 level’ violence.”

    This has always been confusing to me: Why is it okay to see someone receive a nasty, graphic, blood-gushing mortal wound but it’s not okay to see a couple fondling each other with their clothes mostly on? Isn’t graphic violence at least as, if not more, pornographic in such an instance?

    In reality, if you were sitting in a bishop’s office confessing to having committed either violently killing someone or heavy petting, which do you think would bother the bishop more? Which would God find more offensive?

    If you’re going to take the time to edit out the sexual content, you’d better rid yourself of the graphic violence as well.

  14. a random John says:

    Is it true that Barq’s now has caffiene in Utah as well?

    I have a mental matrix of who in the extended family will watch what and with whom. The rules for each person vary depending on if their significant other is around and perhaps on if the significant other will find out.

  15. Bob Caswell says:

    Geoff, I sympathize with your views of the man himself (Cole Porter). But his darling wife was a complex character much more worthy of my attention (and not just because she was played by Ashley Judd). It sounds like I enjoy his music more than you, though.

    LauraC, you bring up an issue, which is different for everyone. Personally, I find watching similar degrees of sex and violence at about the same level on the offend-o-meter (though in high school and before marriage, sex bothered me more than violence). But it does seem that most tend toward violence = no issues and sexual content = huge issues. But at the same time, p0rnography as an addiction does not have an equal in the violence sphere (i.e. killing someone after watching a violent movie probably doesn’t happen frequently whereas p0rn after continual exposure to sexual content seems much more likely in this free country).

  16. Bob Caswell says:

    “I have a mental matrix of who in the extended family will watch what and with whom.”

    So I’m not the only one!

  17. As far as the PG genre re-inventing itself, I think that has a lot to do with the fact that certain movies want to market themselves mostly to kids and therefore try for a G rating while other movies see their market as broader, and that therefore a G would mean reduced profits. In Stuart Little, the one about the mouse in a human family, the cats say damn twice as they chase Stuart aroun when they could just as easily not have said it. In fact, the places where they do are kind of awkward. Even though the cats are sort of like gangsters, they don’t swear like gangsters, they just sort of throw in a few words where they don’t seem to fit. I can only figure that they didn’t want a G rating because they would loose all adult and youth dollars.

  18. Steve H: exactly. It’s for this reason that I won’t go see PG-13 rated horror movies.

    I looked at my collection to see the rating breakdown and was somewhat surprised to see that 76% we ‘R’. With the exception of my favorite and third favorite movie of all-time, the rest of my top-15 were ‘R’. I wonder why I seem to like ‘R’ rated films more.

    Actually, I think it’s mostly the language that makes most of my films ‘R’ (i.e. the Blues Brothers), which I think is a bit ridiculous.

  19. “Mental Matrix” Brilliant. I love it. You can add me to that list as well.

  20. HL Rogers
    Last summer I was visiting inlaws in Washington state. I pointed out to the Utah SIL that I couldn’t have Barq’s because it had caffeine (I was nursing). She looked at the bottle. No caffeine. I told her that the summer of 1994 Barq’s had caffeine in that city. She didn’t believe me. Quite annoying for them to be so tricky!

  21. Here’s my take on the sex vs. violence.
    Sex is sacred.
    WHile on the question of violence, you could say life is sacred or that you should be kind to others, I do not view “fake violence” as immoral. I think there is such a thing as too much violence.
    But in a world without our same values, an R for sex based on THEIR standards or an R for violence based on THEIR standards does not correlate with how I would rate a movie. I would rate plenty of R movies PG-13, if they had no sex on screen but had “R” violence.
    You have to remember that most Americans let their 13 year olds watch R movies. So what does R sex or violence actually mean? It means that it is a step up from PG-13 sex or violence. I would, personally, allow less sex in PG-13 movies, less sex in R movies. And then happily watch most rated R movies with their R level violence (not the really freaky ones though).

  22. I have to say that I have an entirely different outlook on movie ratings than most of the people in this forum. In fact, I’m feeling a little bit shaken (not stirred, as Mr. Bond would say) right now after reading this discussion.

    When I think about evaluating movies, I’m interested in whether the film takes a moral stance toward the people and behaviors that it portrays. I’m rarely concerned with cataloguing those behaviors. To briefly raise an extreme example, the film “Requiem for a Dream” from a few years ago explicitly and in a heart-felt way depicts the consequences of drug addiction. The content of this film is unquestionably strong–too strong to watch twice. But the purpose seems to me entirely moral: confronting viewers with the real-world consequences of self-destructive behavior.

    After reading this thread, it now seems clear to me that this attitude is way in left field among Latter-day Saints. Wow! I’m less typical than I thought…

  23. Bob Caswell says:


    Part of the [original] purpose of this discussion was to compare not only notes on such matters, but also potentially to discern how and if a change is needed. In other words, is the conditioning I received from my parents necessarily a good thing? Should I raise my kids in like manner, emphazing movie ratings as the single most important aspect of any film?

    I [mostly] know the answers to my own questions but would be interested in others feelings as well.

  24. Bob:

    You ask whether you should raise your kids emphasizing movie ratings as the single most important aspect of any film. For what it’s worth (one shiny penny), I feel that the answer to this should clearly be, “no.” I am far more worried about films that take a carefree attitude toward moral questions than about films that seriously and responsibly, but forthrightly, depict people making immoral decisions.

  25. Bob Caswell says:

    I agree, RoastedTomatoes, but it’s still a difficult issues. Although I find some kindred spirits [especially here in the Bloggernacle], I wish there were a way for more Mormons [around me] to understand this. I’m just not too excited about my kids feelings like strangers in a strange land within their own religion (though there are worse things).

  26. RoastedTomatoes,
    Actually, I do hear that a lot especially about violence. Pulp fiction, for instance, would have a definite lack of morality in its violence. No good fighting evil there!
    American History X is one of my favorite movies but I close my eyes during parts of it to self-edit. I found it moral, powerful, and very thought-provoking.
    Anyway, you won’t find yourself as a minority if you consider morality of the story when making decisions on movies, however, they seem to be making even the more moral stories, as immoral as possible.

  27. Bob Caswell says:

    “…you won’t find yourself as a minority if you consider morality of the story when making decisions on movies…”


    I admire your ability to give the benefit of the doubt to all the Mormons who use the MPAA rating system as a second prophet. You can’t consider the morality of anything if you’ve already given that decision to someone else to make for you. Those who do such are the majority in my neck of the woods…

  28. I have to agree with Bob on this point. The problem is that it’s nearly impossible to figure out whether a film is moral in its attitude and message without watching it. Numerous sources exist that catalogue the content of films, but very few exist that might warn us against films that treat violence or sexuality in a cavalier or disrespectful way.

    JKS mentions Pulp Fiction as a film that has an immoral approach to the content it depicts. I think this may be true for many viewers of the film–but it almost certainly was not for the filmmaker. In my view, Pulp Fiction deliberately and vividly depicts morality by what is absent from the universe it presents. This seems even more clearly true in two of Tarantino’s other films: Reservoir Dogs and Kill Bill. (Of course, Tarantino plays the clown in public, but that’s also part of the art.) For the right audience, I think Pulp Fiction can be a deeply moral film that forces the viewer to question her own complicity in Hollywood’s approach to depicting crime.

    A much better example of the kind of film that I find really morally worrying is The Matrix. That film carefully sets up a world in which the lives of humans who are not a part of the enlightened resistance are of limited worth. Such humans can be killed by the heros, if necessary, with few second thoughts. Indeed, their main plot function is to serve as conduits for the sinister villains. This kind of dehumanizing assumption about violence and individuality worries me a lot in moral terms.

    A parallel point could be made about the film Independence Day from the mid-1990s. That movie carefully constructed an invading alien race with no redeeming features, so that violence against it could be cheered on with no moral considerations whatsoever. I worry that this kind of film has a message that may indeed weaken our moral sense. (Note, by the way, that Independence Day was morally worrying without being terribly strong in terms of content.)

    Okay, I’ve said too much… Cheers.