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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