Is it time for a 15A/PG-15 rating?

Feature Simon Brew 14 Feb 2013 - 06:53

With Die Hard 5 and Taken 2 cut to get a broader rating, is it time that UK and US ratings boards took another look at the system?

To our American readers, this week, you've got off lightly. The version of A Good Day To Die Hard that's being released in North American cinemas is uncut, with its swearing and violence in place. In the UK, 20th Century Fox contacted the British Board Of Film Classification in advance, showed them a print of the film, and was advised that, in that form, it would get a 15 certificate.

A 15 certificate in the UK is a restrictive rating, in that, in theory at least, nobody under that age is allowed in to see the film (although most of us managed to sneak in when we were younger to films we weren't supposed to see). This is different from the American system, where even an R-rating - the toughest that most US cinema chains will screen - allows anybody of any age in, provided there's an adult in the party. I visited an AMC cinema in the US a few weeks back, and it had a sign up saying its policy was to not allow infants into R-rated films in the evening, but that seemed as tough as it got.

After much pressure, the BBFC relaxed its 12 rating - which used to be a restrictive certificate too - and turned it into a 12A. Thus, anyone under 12 could now see any film, as long as there was an adult accompanying them. This basically brought the certificate in line with PG-13 in the States, and it's been regarded as a sweet spot for makers of blockbuster movies ever since. It used to be commercial poison for a blockbuster to have a U or a G rating, so a bit of swearing was generally added in somewhere along the line. Now, PG too is apparently too namby pamby.

Which leads us to here. Two high profile films last year were chopped by their respective distributors to get a 12A certificate: The Woman In Black and Taken 2. Both outperformed their box office expectations by some distance, and the decision was apparently vindicated. 

Few people were surprised, then, when the BBFC confirmed not only that A Good Day To Die Hard was getting a 12A in the UK, but also that Fox had actively cut the movie to get one.

Just playing devil's advocate for a minute then, let's see it from their side of the fence. The Taken 2 experiment may well have reduced the film to something of a farce for those who liked the harder edges of the original, but it ultimately got more bums on seats and more money in the bank. Predictably, a 'harder' cut that we couldn't see in cinemas has made it to DVD (the irony isn't lost on many of us that nowadays, the uncensored version tends to make it to the home release rather than the cinema one).

The bottom line for the studio then is that adhering to the wishes of the Die Hard fanbase will cost it money. Sure, there are lots of people saying they'll boycott the movie now, but Taken 2 proved that those people are either in a minority, or didn't boycott it. Furthermore, it's no threat to Fox to say you're going to wait for the disc release, as the studio gets cash off you either way.

It certainly doesn't help that a much harder film (like Dredd) wore its rating on its sleeve - R in the US, 18 in the UK - and was seen to commercially suffer as a result (although it did quite well in Britain).

Perhaps this is where the BBFC needs to act, and offer another option. Sadly, the era of genuinely useful and age restrictive certificates seems to be coming to an end (12A allows you four uses of the word 'fuck' in a Die Hard movie, we've learned this week). Frequent cinemagoers are all too aware that there are some parents who don't seem to give two hoots what they sit their kids in front of as long as it acts as a surrogate babysitter for a couple of hours. So perhaps we're left just fighting for the films. 

If, reluctantly, we accept that cinemas and distributors are looking for certificates that don't involve refusing someone a ticket (heck, that might require an usher), then can those of us who want to see our films unsullied at least have another option? Can we - as was suggested by one of our readers (JP) here - have in the UK a 15A certificate, that keeps the parental option open, but also prevents studios chopping films to fit in with existing guidelines? Might the US also follow suit, with something akin to a PG-15? It's less of an issue in the States, as A Good Day To Die Hard demonstrates, but it still may help.

This is no ideal solution, clearly. It's changing the goalposts slightly, but you're still going to get five year olds legally allowed to watch Die Hard movies in a cinema. However, we're all about winnable fights, and getting studios to actively make big films targeting 15 and 18 certificates doesn't seem like one of them. Adapting the existing rating system so at least films can make it through the ratings charade that's led to neutered Taken and Die Hard movies intact feels like a fight where there's at least a chance of success.

What about it then, BBFC? Care to help us out?

UPDATE: The BBFC has got in touch and sent us the following, which we're reproducing in full:

"The 12A certificate was introduced because there was a strong and widespread feeling amongst parents that some children under 12 were equipped to deal with films rated 12. There is also  research to show that at this age group mental and emotional development amongst children matures at varying rates. After extensive public consultation and research the 12A was introduced to allow parents to asses whether a 12A film is suitable for their particular child. To help adults make this decision, we provide BBFCinsight for all films.

At present there has been little public feedback from parents in favour of a 15A rating. At the 15 rating film content is stronger in terms of: Strong violence; frequent strong language; portrayals of sexual activity; strong verbal references to sex; sexual nudity; brief scenes of sexual violence or verbal references to sexual violence; discriminatory language or behaviour; and drug taking. These are all elements that parents tell us is not acceptable for children aged around 12.

At the last review of the Classification Guidelines the research found that at the 15 rating, parents are still concerned that children are at a vulnerable age and there were varying views about how ‘adult’ a teenager is at 15. There were also concerns about teenage violence in particular and a strong desire to protect this age group from glamorised knife crime. Taking this into account it is unlikely that parents would feel inclined to allow a 12, 13 or 14 year old to see a 15 rated film."

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Moving the 'Advisable' certificate up by 3 years is not going to stop irresponsible parents who drag their kids along to inappropriate movies, which then ruins the viewing experience for the adults in the audience.

If parents are going to be dumb enough to let their offspring watch this stuff at home, there is not much you can do to stop them, But we should at least be maintaining standards at the cinema. I don’t want a situation like the US, where some idiot takes their toddlers into “Drag Me To Hell” just because they couldn’t be bothered to arrange a babysitter.

There are reasons why some films are 15 and 18 certificate. Those in the film distribution business should remember that not everything is, you know, for kids.

If that means smaller budgets for films with lower expectations at the box office, that's fine. It wasn’t a problem for “The Hangover”.

Southern Ireland has a 15A rating, in fact, I think they only have 15A's and not 15's.

way hay a name check:-)

I think it is time for a 15a or even a 17A. several reasons, 1 kids between 10 and 18 all vary on maturity and ultimately the only the parents know what stage they are at not the BBFC
2. we have the ridiculous situation where films are getting cut to make 12A yet their subject matter is clearly not for 12 year olds I mean are Die Hard and Taken family movies regardless of the neutered swearing? No?
3. the 12A certificate is there for allowing movies that push a PG a bit more breathing room without punishing it with a 15 certificate but it is used as a middle ground and killed (as has been discussed on DoG) PG family films and harder adult films in the process. Before the 12 certificate you wouldn't make robocop as a PG so a 15/18 was logical, now they will doubtless go for a 12A.

I wouldn't worry about adults bringing kids, that's up to the cinema to police or lose custom also no harm in banning under 10s to a 15A easily done while leaving the early teen market the movie distributers want.

Right now I have a host of films that are inappropriate for families and far too neutered for adults it's time to separate them again

Ban toddlers then. The problem won't be any worse than now because 15 and 18 films are so few and far between. If anything it will be better as although they can take their kids a lot less parents will take their kids to a 15A than a 12A.

If there is a problem with noise then that's up to the cinemas chains to sort out it's no reason to prevent a needed change to certificates

Maybe this is too simple, but could studios not distribute a cut and un-cut version of the film to cinemas? Cinemas could then shows both giving everyone the choice. If it's a worry about using more than 1 screen for 1 film then alternate showing times, or show the uncut higher rated verion later in the evening when it is more likely the kiddie winks will be in bed and not a target audience for the cinema to attract at that time.

What's wrong with having two releases. I'd happily pay to sit in a cinema without the money making 12-18 year old age group in there.

My experience watching Skyfall was almost ruined by some moron bringing two young children (and one infant) to see it and sit a few rows from me. Absolutely ludicrous thing to do.

All I see in this article is the suggestion that exposing children to inappropriate material is somehow justified by box office sales.

It's not. but right now films that are woefully inappropriate for kids are having their wings clipped in order to package it and sell it to kids. it doesn't matter how many F words or blood spatters you take out of Die Hard or Taken 2. Their subject matter is not appropriate for 12 year olds but it is being sold to them.
If you have it as a 15A then less parents will take their kids, if something is a 12A it gives the impression that it is borderline suitable for a 10 year old. 10???? where as a 15A you might take a 13 year old. Feckless parents are always going to be feckless parents but decent parents should be given better information to make correct judgements and and films about revenge or killing russian gangsters are not suitable for 12 year olds regardless of the number of F words

A lot of movie experiences have been ruined by infants and sarky teens a 15a certificate may cause more issues . While I would like the softer certificate (15a) so we could see films as intended (and for those with more mature minds can enjoy) I wonder why cinema chains cannot put on adult only screenings (either adhering to the films suggested age or over 21's) especially considering that they regularly have parents and babies screenings of which they general public are restricted from entering

I'll agree with the other posters. Here in the States, since it's cheaper (if not free) to drag your kids to the movies rather than get a babysitter, guess what parents do? Worst part is they've "tuned" out their kids noise - rest of us haven't.

Going to the Cinema is a nightmare. Leaving aside the costs of tickets these days there is always some annoying idiot in there. Some one talking, chomping and chewing, on the mobile phone etc then add in the annoying kids if your an adult.
Then factor in this ratings nonsense and it just becomes pointless. Why pay to see a film cut to ribbons at the cinema, when you can just buy it on DvD or Bluray three or four months later and watch it uncut, and in peace at home???

Years ago you used to get 18 rated films. There used to be films for the kids at Certificate U, then there was the A rating for slightly edgier films, children should be accompanied by adults. Then there was the 18 rating, for adults. That was it, perfectly simple and logical.

And under this set of certificates you could see things like ALIEN if you were 18 and it was aimed at adults. Imagine if it never happened. Imagine if ALIEN was coming out this summer. It would be a 12. And cut to bits to make the most money out of it.
Look at what we have lost people!!!! Its a mess. And the reason is money. Cut the film, pack em in and make as much cash from it as you can. Even if the film is utter crap like Die Hard 5.

I just dont bother with the Cinema any more, for all of the above reasons. And cutting films and all these stupid different certificates is part of the problem. Just get yourself a cheap Blu ray player, and buy a 42" screen Tv from the internet and watch them at home in peace. Add in a cinema surround speaker package, and it will pay for itself in a few years in savings on getting to the cinema and ticket prices. And you can watch uncut films, without all the annoying berks at a time to suit you.

Im old enough to recall Saturday night Fever coming out 18 certificate (or was it "X" :-)). When that did well they released a cut version due to demand, the version my auntie took me to see.
Since some cinemas class all movies after a specific time, ie late movies as 18 certificate, i recall one kid being turned back on his 17th birthday for this reason. There is scope for both versions being shown at cinemas.
Any thoughts?

Vue Cinemas, or at least the one near me (Portsmouth) do actually show 12a or 15 films in the evening for only over 18's, with the aim actually being precisely for adults to enjoy the film without annoying younger people.

"it is unlikely that parents would feel inclined to allow a 12, 13 or 14 year old to see a 15 rated film"

But every kid in that age group has a bunch of 18-rated Xbox games on their shelf where they get shot, stabbed, exploded, swore at, etc. and their parents are fine with that.

No...the parents would rarely go along to a showing to see if it was suitable, then take their 6 year old along....and its very hard to leave a film you've just parted with £38 for on the grounds that you thought it was inappropriate to see a girl bitchslapped if you're little....

really ill have to look into that perhaps there may be some at my closest vue

My memory may be playing tricks on me but I seem to remember that the introduction of the 12A coincided with the release of Tim Burtons Batman, and The Delinquents, starring Kylie Minogue, and at the time this was not considered a coincidence.

I don't consider myself irresponsible at all. I teach my children to be as open minded and progressive as I am able to, they know violence is wrong and they have respect for other human beings no matter what their sexual orientation or ethnic origin.

My boys can watch a movie and not then go outside, kidnap a toddler, put him through torture and kill him. They know not to go out and kill another human being, just because they saw John McClane do it in Die Hard.

I'd be interested to hear your explanation of why Drag Me To Hell, a very fun horror, with some beautiful film making touches, is unsuitable for anyone under 15 or under 12 for that matter?

I have to add that my two boys, 8 and 9, sit through a film without a peep, except I've let them get a packet of sweets or something, but then I tell them to "wait until a loud bit" before opening them.

For god's sake, my kids just came to see Lincoln with my wife and I two Wednesdays ago, sat through the whole film and didn't make a sound except (very understandably) to ask for help understanding what was going on; they enjoyed the film but said they were a little bored at times. I totally understand their reaction (I was never bored myself) but I wanted to expose them to a different kind of film, with a different kind of pacing and my eldest for some reason has a real interest in President Lincoln.

Here's my observation on the whole rating saga. 2 films with the same rating are not always suitable for the same audience. My 2 examples are The Avengers and The Dark Night. Both 12A.
I have a 6 year old son who adores the Iron Man & Tony Stark characters so, naturally, wanted to see the Avengers. I didn't take him because it was a 12A. Having watched it I decided it was ok for him to watch. Would I let him watch The Dark Night? Not a chance! Wholly unsuitable yet the same rating.
Basing a films rating only on language used or blood splatter taken out of context is no way to classify who can watch a film, the subject matter and the way it is portrayed must be taken into account.

Hopefully that's changing. People having kids these days will have grown up with computer games, and hopefully realise that computer game doesn't always equal child-friendly.

In Australia, we have a "G" for all ages, "PG" for children under 15 with parental guidance,"M" for ages 15 and above, "MA" for ages 15 accompanied by an adult, and "R" restricted to 18 and over.....seems to work fine for us, almost all US rated "R" movies are "M" or "MA" in Australia and always uncut.The only films that seem to get an "R" in Australia are those with extreme violence or strong sexual content. The purpose of a rating system should always be to inform the potential viewer of the content held within, never to remove content to assure a lower rating.

We have 15a in Ireland, that's how Die Hard went uncut.

Doesn't change the fact that the majority of the people reading this have had multiple experiences in the cinema of some selfish A dragging their too young children to a far too mature movie. Whether the result is an ongoing chorus of "I'm bored" to an all out screamfest. Most of us weathered movie goers have experienced it, and we can't bloody stand it. I'm only 20, and I can emphatically state that since I was a kid not too long ago, the content in these movies has grown more and more mature, and parents have become much more lax about what their kids see and absorb.
Oh, and 8 and 9 years old? Since you're clearly an argumentative human being, I'll give you my honest, outright opinion in a similarly argumentative fashion. If you choose to allow an 8 and 9 year old to sit through Drag me to Hell, you are without a doubt a selfish excuse for a parent. Sure, there's much worse parents out there, but to sit a child in front of the TV and say "Hey, look, this movie has beautiful film making touches." is bizarrely irresponsible. The fact that you don't see a problem with it speaks volumes about your parenting abilities, I think. When I was 8, I was watching shows for 8 year olds. You obviously want to be complimented on your efforts, given the double post of bragging. I genuinely hope no one sees you as an example to follow.

Ireland has a 15A certificate which Die Hard 5 received but it didn't stop us getting the watered down UK version. It's frustrating that even though we have a different rating system, we're still subject to BBFC standards.

This may be a waste of my breath, but if my post has come across as bragging, that was not my intention. Nor was it to be argumentative. I was merely giving a different point of view.

I take the point completely that some people, even a lot of people have had to endure a film being spoiled for them by kids presence in the theatre. It's not on and if parents can't keep the kids quiet, it might be better that they leave the cinema; I myself would never complain about such a thing as I know what it's like to have a young kid causing a scene in a supermarket and that's really a tough situation.

That being said, a much bigger problem for me as a 'weathered' movie goer, is the neddish behaviour or the people of all ages who seem to have come to the theatre to have a little discussion at various points throughout the film. My worst exepriences have been a seat being lit on fire, a snake being let out of a box and a guy threatening to punch the face in of a pension age woman; all adults for what it's worth. The state of cinema right now is disgraceful, from the ushers coming in two or three times during the picture to the smelly toilets.

It would be very stupid of me to try argue with you that I am not a bad parent (how many bad parents are even aware they are bad parents?) as you are a stranger, have gone on an offensive and I don't care. For the record I have my moments where I lose my temper and yell, which is wrong, but it happens. Other than that I have very happy kids.

I reply now because I'm genuinely interested to hear why you think it irresponsible of me to allow my 8 and 9 year old boys to watch 'Drag Me To Hell'? 'Bizarrely irresponsible'.

As far as being complimented on my 'efforts', how could I expect this from the other use comments here? I also don't see what you mean by efforts? It's no effort.

Alright, I'll indulge.
I think that whether or not a movie was released to critical acclaim should not have an effect on whether or not you allow your children to see it. Whether it's done in a comedic way should be irrelevant. Are we really having this conversation? Am I really sitting here talking to a responsible parent about this topic? Shall we sum up the details?
8 year old Child.
9 year old Child.
Horror movies for mid-teens and adults.
You seem to rest on the logic children should be allowed to watch anything, if their parent deems it "beautiful". Sure, how you raise your kids is your decision. I made the decision to remove my toast with a metal fork, that doesn't stop it being thoroughly stupid and wrong.

"Hey kids, come watch this. It's a horror movie aimed towards an audience of teenagers and adults much more emotionally mature and able to cope with such things, but I deem it beautiful. What's that, son? You're an 8 year old, and want to want shows designed for 8 year olds? But how ever will I brag on comment sections about my childrens blatant superiority if you don't watch it!?"

15A is a ridiculous idea. We need to stop selling adult themed films to kids. Look at your average "nice" 12 year old. Are you really telling me that Jack Reacher and John McClane should be there movie diet? It's one thing watching a 15 or 18 rated movie at home with a parent or older brother - in full knowledge that you are being naughty and you might see things which are scary. But sanctioned targeting of kids with this stuff is just wholly wrong. Unfortunately, the BBFC are a big part of this problem. The 12A certificate is a mess. The Dark Knight should have been a 15. We allow 12A movies with the F word in for f***'s sake! Perhaps if we let kids be kids, we as adults might be rewarded with the odd grown-up film once in a while.

Rant Over :)

I as a parent and a movie goer, I wouldn't go to take my child to see a 15 or an 18, also I would go and take my child to a movie that is clearly one of these ratings dumbed down to get a 12a just so I go to take them.
I also dislike it when they make films in a franchise that clearly started of as 18, to deal with mature content, into 12a's.
I have gone and seen them before, and I didn't think DH5 should got the amount of hate it did for being average.
However I am starting to now not go see these movies and wait for the Likes of Dredd to come out.
If I want to take my child to the cinema I'll go see the muppets or something
Why cant Hollywood make films for different age groups, I don't need an 18 action movie to cost 200 million dollars so they have to reduce the rating to get there money back!
There are fine examples of movies made for next to nothing that do the action well, Asian films come to mind

If a 15A was introduced, we'd have the same situation they have in America, where practically nothing gets released for adults with an NC-17 certificate, because it all gets cut for the rating that allows everyone in.

You're making too many assumptions that are not backed up by my few posts.

I don't allow my boys to watch a movie because it released to critical acclaim. For example, I would never expect them to endure The King's Speech, nor would they want to watch it.

I don't suggest that the reason for letting children see a film is that the film is 'beautiful'. Taking Drag Me To Hell as an example, the fact I find some of the film making touches to be beautiful is only one reason I'd let my kids watch it. Another is that kids love scary movies. You were a different kind of kid, that's fair enough I completely understand. My cousin Janet could never watch anything remotely frightening, even Ghostbusters 2, but her brother and I couldn't get enough at that age. It's expected that children can be different from one another.

The part about " children's blatant superiority" I just don't get. Where was I bragging? I've set myself up for attack if anything. I'm the only one with comments voted down. Superiority? Would that be because I let them watch films that the majority deem inappropriate for children? Why would that be grounds to consider myself or my children superior? Or because I said they can sit quietly through a film? If it's the latter, I can tell you that this was not always the case. I remember sitting for roughly ten minutes when one of them was much younger before pulling them out of a film because they were so badly behaved. It took time, but now they are really well behaved during a film.

You're proposed conversation between myself (or someone like me) and my child (someone's child) is not one I'm familiar with, for the record.
For what it's worth, I would still like to hear why you believe it is inappropriate for children of 8 or 9 to view a film such as Drag Me To Hell. And whether Raimi had a cut off point in his mind regarding age when he was making the film (I fully expect he did) or not, is to some degree irrelevant.

My wife cannot sit through Drag Me To Hell or Paranormal Activity; she couldn't even bear to see the eyes of the monster stuck in the basement of the latest Evil Dead remake trailer. My wife is coming up on thirty. My wife's parents never allowed her to view anything above a U certificate and she was made to leave the room if there was even a hint at anything beyond kissing in any programme the family might watch. For my wife films such as Drag Me To Hell and Paranormal Activity are a much more visceral and almost difficult film going experience to endure, so perhaps it is better to wait until you're fifteen till you see a film like Drag Me To Hell, that way you are not used to horror films and they are actually too scary to endure. I don't have any strong feelings on that. I grew up seeing a lot of horror and I still love horror today, but the last time I was actually too scared to watch something was well before my fifteenth birthday.

Lmfao i watched Die Hards/s, Universal Soldier, Stallone, Arnie... all kinds of movies from a small kid up until today (I'm 25) and i don't go on massive killing sprees. If your kid is mentally ill then you might have to worry but these movies are a form of escapism entertainment, and i have notice, kids today are a lot more mature and know their own mind better than any of us would have at that age. The world has moved on so should all of us. I will admit that showing explicit sex scenes would be too much but as for action, doesn't faze kids today look at the games they play on their consoles COD etc... We aren't protecting them from anything they haven't experienced already.

This is my experience exactly. I watched all sorts of films when I was a kid. From Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (cartoon and movies) to Die Hard and Aliens. I also watched Halloween a billion times and didn't then start killing promiscuous young men and women.

I am complete open to other people's points of view and would happily look at any peer reviewed studies that indicate media violence has a detrimental effect on our kids. As far as I can find right now, the evidence is against this notion of media violence damaging kids.

Most crimes that are attributed to violent video games and movies are actually perpetrated either by adults or young adults who are at the legal ages to view the material - those cases are very few and far between and we can't ignore the now well worn defense of those on trial, blaming media violence as a get out of jail clause.

I applaud anyone, like yourself, who is willing to admit they are law abiding, 'normal' people, yet saw the unedited, violent die hard as a kid and are just fine.

The question that needs to be asked is - why is the UK always the black sheep of the international market that keeps getting cut films? The answer would appear to be that whereas the classification bodies of other countries classify ONLY, the BBFC will also take money from the studio to advise on cuts.

I suggest we need a system like our European neighbours, Australia, Canada and Mexico where the classification bodies simply classify, and don't get involved in the cutting/editing of a film. When the BBFC's dubious 'cuts advice service' goes, we'll get uncut films, just like everywhere else.

The question that needs to be asked is - why is the UK always the black sheep of the international market that keeps getting cut films? The answer would appear to be that whereas the classification bodies of other countries classify ONLY, the BBFC will also take money from the studio to advise on cuts.

I suggest we need a system like our European neighbours, Australia, Canada and Mexico where the classification bodies simply classify, and don't get involved in the cutting/editing of a film. When the BBFC's dubious 'cuts advice service' goes, we'll get uncut films, just like everywhere else.

I may be being naive, but I don't see how the 'screaming kids' problem can be easily sorted. Surely you can just make it so that only children 12 or over can view a 15A with an adult. Also, the 15 certificate covers a broad range of films, surely its possible to have 15A rated films as well as those including gratuitous violence or sex which are strictly 15. My son is 13 and could not watch Prometheus nor can he watch word war z. I watched Prometheus and really could not understand why my 13 year old would have been so damaged by watching it.

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