Movie Film Ratings, Explained

Movies sure have changed a lot since we were kids, right? The animation has gotten so good, it sometimes looks like real life. Special effects and computer-generated imaging ha made even the most fantastical characters look shockingly realistic. Even stuff like sound, sound editing, and music has improved tenfold over the last two decades or so. Watching a movie these days is a completely

different experience

! And just as the quality of


has changed over the years, so has the way movies are rated. As parents, we're probably all pretty familiar with film ratings. And we probably refer to a film's rating when deciding if it's

appropriate for our kids to watch


But the way films are rated, and what each of those ratings actually mean, can be a bit confusing. So we're here to explain what goes into a film's rating, and help parents understand what a rating means in terms of a movie's content.


How do film ratings work?

Credit: iStock

Films are rated by the Classification and Ratings Administration, or CARA. They use a

system created by

the Motion Picture Association of America, a system which dates back to 1968. The ratings arm of the MPAA, that's CARA, is made up of anonymous people of varying backgrounds and professions.

Basically, CARA reviews films prior to their theatrical or direct-to-video release and assigns a rating based on their system. They watch a movie and decide which age group it would be most appropriate for by weighing the presence of adult language, violence, adult themes, sexuality, and nudity in the film.

There are levels of acceptable content within in each rating, as well. For example, for a PG-13 movie, some adult language, violence, and even some nudity are permitted.

Film Rating G: General Audiences

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Most parents are VERY familiar with the G-rating! Movies with a G-rating are considered appropriate for

general audiences

; in other words, all ages permitted. There is nothing in the movie relating theme, language, nudity, or violence that the ratings board believes would offend parents of young children who watch the movie.


The language used is not profane and doesn't go beyond what the population at large would hear in daily conversation, and any violence is typically minimal. Movies with a G-rating include many animated movies like the

Toy Story




, and live-action movies like

Charlotte's Web


Film Rating PG: Parental Guidance Suggested - Some Material May Not Be Suitable for Children

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After G-rated movies, we move into the


. PG stands for 'Parental Guidance', meaning that parents should be aware that there may be content in the movie they find is not suitable for their kids.

There's not a set age for PG movies; rather, the ratings board suggests parents view the movie before allowing their young children watch it. PG movies may contain more mature themes, some profanity, violence, or nudity. If present, these elements are not graphic enough to warrant a higher rating, but caution should be taken with younger kids. PG-rated movies include

Frozen I



, the

Lego Movie

franchise, and older movies like

Home Alone





Film Rating PG-13: Parents Strongly Cautioned - Some Material May Be Inappropriate for Children Under 13

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A PG-13 rating means that the ratings board

strongly urges

parents to be cautious when allowing children under the age of 13 to watch a movie. Movies with a PG-13 rating will go beyond a PG when it comes to violence, language, nudity, sexuality, and mature themes; additionally, any movie that shows drug use requires a PG-13 rating.

Brief nudity requires a PG-12 rating, but the nudity generally isn't sexual in nature. And more depictions of violence may nab this rating, but the violence is typically not graphic or extreme. The material will be stronger than a PG movie, but not intense or prevalent enough to warrant an R-rating. PG-13 movies include many of the most popular films of recent years, like the



Star Wars

movies, and even some horror/suspense movies like

A Quiet Place



Film Rating R: Restricted - Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian

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An R-rating

means the film

is, generally speaking, made for and marketing to adults. R-rated films have many (but not all) of the ratings board's elements for rating: adult language or profanity, nudity, sexually-oriented nudity, sexuality or sexual themes, drug use, violence (realistic, graphic, intense/persistent, horror), and others.

While some parents may be comfortable with allowing their kids under 17 to watch R-rated films at home, movie theaters will not permit anyone under the age of 17 to watch an R-rated movie without being accompanied by a parent or guardian. CARA strongly urges parents to screen any R-rated film prior to allowing their kids to watch it, especially if they are under the age of 17. R-rated films include horror movies like


, comic book movies like


, adult drama like

A Star Is Born

, and even comedies like

The Hangover




Best ‘Harry Potter’ Movies For Kids, Ranked

Sources: Legal Resources


Motion Picture Association



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