VIDEO: How the PG-13 rating is ruining movies

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In this episode, Cecil takes an exhaustive look at just how watered down the formerly edgy PG-13 rating has become, and why it’s ruining movies.

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  • Jonathan Campbell

    While I agree with a lot of what you said, I think you overstate your case.

    No amount of swearing or violence would make me think Die Hard 4 was as good as the first three.

    And World War Z was surprisingly successful, moreso than it would have been without the PG-13 rating (makes me glad I live in a country where its all simple numbers- U and PG, but followed by 12, 15 and 18 because they wanted people to KNOW what the rating was for). WWZ was also pretty dark and intense at times, in spite of its lack of blood.

    Of course, WWZ was released as a 15 over here, so….

    I’d also bring up the James Bond franchise, which when adjusted for inflation is the most financially successful franchise OF ALL TIME, yet the overwhelming majority of those movies are bloodless and wasn’t until Roger Moore that they even gave a single “shit”.

    Expendables III was leaked before released, and that hurt the box office. Beyond that, the first two simply did not do that good and WEREN’T that good, so I think most people simply didn’t bother. Honestly, the first two weren’t even THAT violent, except for obviously-fake CGI blood.

    I can accept that America needs to overhaul its rating system, and I agree that too many movies are neutered for no good reason, but you are trying to say that this neutering is what made these films perform poorly (and again, WWZ did NOT) or fail critically, and that isn’t the case; films like Die Hard 4 and Terminator: Salvation failed because they were CRAP.

    • Cecil_Trachenburg

      It’s not just about the swearing, its about the content in general. While taking into account they were going to have a PG-13 cut of the film, they had to alter the script accordingly, thus removing certain things that potentially could have made it into a better film.

      WWZ was successful most likely due to Brad Pitt’s involvement.

      Right but the Bond franchise was never about the blood and violence so they never were watered down. Actually, Casino Royale and Skyfall are two films that do push the PG-13 envelope and guess what? They were both critically and financially successful.

      Expendables – $274 mil worldwide
      Expendables 2- – $305 mil worldwide

      I’d say they were plenty successful.

      On the violence, I could have done without the CGI blood (it should have been squibs) but go back and watch them. The tone is there. Neck snaps, bones breaking, heads exploding. Violence isn’t just blood spurts. Some movies have to have the audio removed to get their PG-13 rating. (the sound of bullet hits, bones shattering, etc)

      Back on WWZ, I was more stating that I thought it was an idiotic idea to make a PG-13 zombie film. Sure it did well financially but it was bland and forgettable. Even the unrated cut didn’t fix it because you could tell they still shot this with the intention of it being PG-13.

      • Jonathan Campbell

        Most of the examples you gave, I could think of a dozen other problems with them that have nothing to do with the lack of R-rated content. Be it swearing, or violence, or whatever- if you cut those things down or out, you do NOT have to completely alter large chunks of your script to do it.

        Brad Pitt has been in financial bombs before; some of these, such as “The Assassination of Jesse James….”, were brilliant movies that were critically lauded, but still failed. WWZ did not succeed JUST because Brad Pitt was in it. A lot of people enjoyed it and yes, they found it tense and scary.

        Doesn’t matter if Casino Royale and Skyfall pushed the PG-13 envelope; the rest of the franchise was successful despite that. The point is its perfectly possible to have an action series that does not rely on R-rated content that is still good and is still successful.

        And while we’re on the subject, Licence to Kill is by far the most dark and violent of all the Bond films (and for my money, one of the best) but it was also the least financially successful, at least in America. While there were a variety of reasons for this (like a poor promotional campaign) one of the most common complaints levelled against it by critics (or, those critics who disliked it) was how violent it was.

        I never said Expendables 1 or 2 were not successful; I said they weren’t that GOOD. I think WWZ is better than both of them as well, and both the public and the critics seem to agree with me because it was ALSO more successful. YOU might think WWZ was “bland and forgettable”, but it made almost as much as both of those movies combined and got far better critical feedback.

        And frankly, even if Brad Pitt WAS the only reason that movie was as successful as it was (and I very much disagree with that), that alone would disprove your point- you DON’T need R-rated content to make these movies financially successful. You sighted the poor returns of Die Hard 4 relative to the previous three, and used that as evidence that PG-13 ratings and content make such movies perform more poorly, but WWZ did NOT perform poorly IN SPITE of that.

        It doesn’t really matter WHY that is; it alone simply proves that PG-13 content in a normally R-rated genre can and does work critically and commercially.

        Again, I agree with your argument UP TO A POINT, but you take it too far. You CAN make a successful PG-13 action / horror / whatever movie (hmm….could they ever make PG-13 porn?); and movies like Die Hard 4 and 5, Expendables 3, Terminator: Salvation and the rest failed for reasons unrelated to their lack of R-rated content; and no, even if they DID drastically alter the scripts in those cases to accommodate PG-13 content, they did not HAVE to and in most cases I doubt they ever did. I can easily imagine the R-rated versions of Die Hard 4 and all these other movies; and they STILL aren’t that good. It might elevate them SLIGHTLY, but they are still mentally disappointing me.

        EDIT: And while I’m at it, over here, WWZ got the same rating (15) as Expendables 1 and 2; and that is a higher rating than Casino Royale, Skyfall and Expendables 3 (12). None of the Expendables movies approached the success of the other three.

      • writebrain

        I agree with you on the ratings system, and I will go a bit further in stating that this current onslaught of political correctness is also to blame. Everything that made movies charged up in the 70’s and 80’s(nudity, gore, language, etc.) has been whitewashed into bland, forgettable entertainment, and has been done under the veil of “branding”. Look at the difference between the original Total Recall and its remake; it’s not hard to guess which one is the bland, soulless one. Political Correctness is a very big symptom of our current corporate society, and it makes our entertainment flat and predictable, with no risks taken.

  • Muthsarah

    Gotta wonder just how much Hollywood films are a kid-driven industry. Kids being anyone under 17, I suppose. But the kind of money kids can command (/demand) from their parents, and how much of the market they make up probably lies behind the marketing decisions that lie behind everything else.

    The G rating might as well be the animated film rating. If it’s Disney animated, Pixar, Dreamworks, etc. it’s G, and if it’s G, it’s Disney animated, Pixar, Dreamworks, etc.

    PG is for live-action kids’ films, and usually not the cooler ones. And the occasional “teen-friendly” animated film, like Paranorman. Drop in the bucket, them.

    PG-13 is for anything designed to make money, even if it’s a kids’ movie (exception: if it’s animated). Maybe something big like Harry Potter can get a PG if they want to, since that would sell no matter what the rating, but that’s increasingly rare. It’s where a live-action blockbuster wants to be, because it’s technically fine for kids (in the eyes of most parents), but still rough enough to seem like something a kid wouldn’t mind his/her schoolmates seeing them…seeing. It promises lots of action, mild language, and tight, revealing outfits, but always cut to be just this side of acceptable, if your parents insist on tagging along. You get a taste, but not a mouthful. Like smelling cotton candy without eating it. For some, that’s enough.

    R is for horror, grisly/visceral drama, sex farces, and “serious” Oscar-bait. Not “adults”, but stuff that either sells itself on its “not for kids” content, or “too serious for kids” stuff for adults who want to see a film with something serious to think about. Oscar bait being R-rated now seems to be a mark of distinction. Being seen as a kids’ movie (as PG-13 movies increasingly are, since kids = money) is a detriment to a film’s artistic respectability, if that’s an intrinsic part of the sell.

    In other words, only the R rating has anything to do with the actual content of the films, the rest is just about what types of audience expectations you’re playing to. And even then, it’s still a calculated choice to give something an R rating, because an R rating MEANS something, and that something isn’t “this movie is R-rated through-and-through”, but “this movie is being SOLD as an R movie”.

    It’s marketing, all marketing. How are you going to convince an industry NOT to chase the money?

    • Cecil_Trachenburg

      When investing millions of dollars I understand they want to get the proper return on investment. There has to be some kind of happy medium though. Movies like GotG of course are going to be summer popcorn blockbuster fare, so going PG-13 makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is when they intentionally will undercut movies to reach a wider audience, especially when that audience isn’t really interested.

      I mean, have you ever heard anyone say “The R rated version was good but the PG-13 version was so much better!”?

      • Nasty In The Pasty

        Live Free Or Die Hard is better s a PG-13, mainly because the added CGI blood squibs look like shit, the added profanity is poorly-dubbed in, and some of the best lines from the PG-13 cut are inexplicable absent (“I was outta bullets”).

  • Thomas Stockel

    Preach on, Cecil!

    • Cecil_Trachenburg

      All glory to the Hypnotoad!



    Damn this is well researched, well argued, well made and says what needs to be said. Alas plenty of people have been saying the same thing for years and nobody who matters listens.

    Ah remember when the PG rating meant something? Thanks for showing the clip of Jaws jumping on a boat and biting a guy in half, it really shows how much mainstream movies have lost their teeth.

    To make things stranger I can remember years ago people complaining Alien Vs. Predator was rated PG-13 for violence, language, horror images, slime and gore. Slime in a movie? That’s offensive?

    I can also recall around the same time people getting curious on Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory being rated PG for Rated PG “for quirky situations, action and mild language,” (Quirky situations? The hell?) and Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties was rated PG for “off color elements”. Whatever the hell they are.

    • Muthsarah

      Rated PG for being live-action. Meanwhile, The Lion King has hyenas eating a severed zebra leg JUST off-screen, right after Scar dangles it, all pink and plump (this, after us seeing living zebras in the opening). Right after the hyenas tried to capture and eat two “child” characters. One of those characters nearly gets trampled to death in a long, intense sequence. Then the “kid”‘s father get thrown off a cliff before his eyes. Then the kid finds the dead body of his father and cries next to it. Then he’s blamed for killing him, and traumatized so badly he flees. Then the hyenas try to kill him again, and he ends up wandering into the desert, where we eventually see him lying motionless, as vultures descend and start pecking at him.


      • Cecil_Trachenburg

        Bingo. Although this was 94 so again, they were not as strict just yet.

        Either that or Disney just paid off the right folks.

      • Nasty In The Pasty

        To say nothing about The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, where the villain’s motivation is a raging boner for the heroine, who he fantasizes about writhing around half-naked in his fireplace. THAT got a G, and yet the benign and toothless Tangled and Frozen got rated PG?!

        • Muthsarah

          That’s nuts. I hadn’t even realized they were PG. They are seriously MUCH tamer than the Disney I grew up on. Sebastian was placed in a chamber of horrors in Louie’ kitchen (Louie was voiced by Odo from DS9, can’t resist bringing that up, EVERY TIME!), and Ariel was literally, if not explicitly, naked during her first swim to the surface as a human (that water pressure woulda killed her too, I can’t even get my head two feet underwater). And then Ursula was IMPALED with a broken ship’s prow. If someone was stabbed through the gut with a broken beer bottle, you know that wouldn’t’ve gotten a G. But impaled by a frigate death-hulk? Totally kid-friendly.

          Aladdin had the title character drown on-screen and nearly get crushed by a rolling tower. Another character was rather explicitly EATEN by a giant panther-headed cave-opening, his last sounds being his panicked screams; same guy earlier boasted he “had to slit a few throats”. Also (because I’m certain SOMEONE was offended), Jasmine flounced about in a glorified bikini top for the whole movie’s run, and then it’s implied that Jafar ordered the Genie to turn her into an aroused sex slave.

          But Frozen, with icicles being spontaneously created, with not a drop of blood being shed, and only a vague, storybook “her heart was frozen”, gets a PG because….exploding sled? I dunno. The wolf-attack scene in Beauty in the Beast was more intense than Frozen’s. But BatB got a G.

          Now that I think about it (Shrek was PG too), I gotta wonder, is there ANY significant difference between G and PG anymore, or were they smooshed together? Would any parent be cool taking their four- or five-year-old to a G movie, but see a PG and be like “whoah! this suggests parental guidance. Nope, this is clearly inappropriate for my kid”?

          • Nasty In The Pasty

            I think Frozen and Tangled got rated PG for the sole reason that young adults and teenagers will think there’s more material that will appeal to them with a “stronger” rating, while a G rating means that it’s strictly for the under-five set. It’s the same reason a clean-cut family classic like E.T. had lines like “Penis Breath” inserted…for no other reason than to avoid a G.

    • Cecil_Trachenburg


      Its just funny to me…how many millions of kids grew up watching Jaws, Ghostbusters, Raiders, etc and are all fine? If the reinforcing of PG-13 is supposed to be protecting the children, why are there so many messed up kids today?

      Slime? LOL wow.

      As far as quirky situations, off color elements, it pretty much means that the ratings board had something that made them uncomfortable but they couldn’t quite put their finger on it. So, giving it a vague description will suffice.

      The ratings board needs a complete cleansing, it is beyond ridiculous.

  • Immortan Scott

    Surprised you didn’t mention Jonah Hex. There’s no way this film wasn’t butchered to get a PG-13. The film’s not even 90 minutes long!

    • Cecil_Trachenburg

      The rumor is that 30-40 minutes of the film was cut in order to get the coveted PG-13. I didn’t want to say because I don’t have facts on that one, just hearsay. I might look into it further for a future video.

      • Immortan Scott

        Fair enough. Also, this video has inspired me to add Dragonslayer to my Netflix queue.

        • Muthsarah

          It’s a pretty sweet lil’ movie. It’s plenty dark, but not without whimsy. It’s a kids’ movie still, easy enough for a child to understand. It takes its subject matter and its audience seriously, but isn’t too bloody or scary. It’s atmospheric, with nice sets, a classic D&Dish theme, and Ralph Richardson. And the special effects with the dragon are surprisingly good for the early 80s.

          Needless to say, it’s very, very different than what the kids are served up today.

  • RockyDmoney

    Good stuff. Valid points

  • The biggest irony, thanks to the internet, kids and teenagers can get to see WAY more stuff that would be counted as R or even X rated than they ever hoped to back in the 80s, so watering down the movies you see in the cinema does little more than ruin movies.

  • NixEclips

    Chud has an article about this vid and I think they missed the point.

    • Jonathan Campbell

      Well, the article is just a ruder version of what I said here, so I’m going to have to agree with what it says, if not the way it says it..

      Here is the thing- Die Hard 4 was bad for a variety of reasons. Timothy Olyphant was the worst Die Hard villain (up to that point; haven’t seen Die Hard 5), Bruce Willis was entering the phone-it-in phase of his career, the action was completely OTP even for a Die Hard movie, overuse of CG effects and not enough practical effects, and….it just didn’t feel like a Die Hard movie. It felt like Generic Action Flick #23578, and I’m not blaming the PG-13 rating (incidentally, it was 15 over here, which was what Die Hard 3 got) for bland acting, run-of-the-mill direction, and a script that was above-average at best.

      Frankly, I’m surprised they even gave a single fuck.

      Cecil says that the PG-13 rating forces the producers to make big changes to the script that ultimately ruin the movie, but the onus is on him to prove that- he doesn’t. These movies failed for many reasons, and I’m not convinced that the changes to any these scripts over the rating system were particularly major ones.

      And I’ll bring up WWZ again, because he cites that as a film that failed because of its PG-13 rating, when it didn’t fail at all- it was surprisingly successful.

      I’m not saying that he’s wrong on everything; I’d love to see more proper old-school action an violence in these kind of movies, and he’s not the first person I’ve heard complain about the American movie rating system. But….Terminator: Salvation, AVP, Die Hard 5, the Expendables movies (ALL of them)- they just weren’t very good films, and this is the first time I’ve heard anyone say that all they needed was more R-rated content.

      • NixEclips

        I believe it’s more of taking inherently R rated subjects and forcing them to fit the PG13 mold that he’s saying hurt those films.

        • Jonathan Campbell

          To an extent, but that is a vague argument- he assumes that each of these movies were made with PG-13 in mind, and were that much different from how they would have been if they were written as R-Rated.

          But he doesn’t offer much evidence for this; instead, he uses movies like Die Hard 4 and Terminator: Salvation as examples when many of the complaints about those are to do with the acting, the story, technical aspects, and many other things that have little or nothing to do with the script. For Salvation, he says that it WAS R-rated originally, but changes were made to make it PG-13- and the changes he notes aren’t really that big.

          Also, he thinks that Expendables 1 and 2 were better or more enjoyable than World War Z; fair enough, that’s his taste, but he uses them as examples of R-rating working and PG-13 failing, when the latter was much more successful financially and critically than the former 2; in other words, the PG-13 did not hurt it, at all.

          Cecil makes some good points, but he overstates his argument.

          • He uses numerous examples of good movies using edgy content to improve/differentiate their film in the market. WWZ stands out because it came out recently, same with Expendables, Salvation (relatively), and the recent Die Hard films.

            It is not just the content alterations that causes the problem, but that the market itself is warped by the meta-gaming of studios and content. Avengers kept getting an “R” rating because of the spear in the chest incident but studio pressure eventually got it thru. When the rating board can and does drastically affect what content is made and sold then there is a serious problem in the media.

          • Jonathan Campbell

            I’m….not quite sure what you are trying to say here.

            Are you saying WWZ, Expendables et al. were good movies?

          • No. I am saying he uses examples from lots of movies. WWZ and Expendables stand out in your mind because those are recent movies. By focusing on the individual examples you are missing the forest for the trees. It doesn’t matter if individual movies are good or not, it matters that movies are being altered and retarded so they can be sold to audiences that are not even looking to see them.

          • Jonathan Campbell

            But it does, because those are the examples he uses and the way he uses them is flawed.

            He thinks World War Z is a bad film- fine; he thinks Expendables 1 and 2 are GOOD films- also fine. But he uses the former as an example of PG-13 ruining a movie even though it was financially and critically successful- HE might not have liked it, but many / most other people DID; and he uses Exp. 1 and 2 as examples of R making a movie better even though they only did moderately well at the box office and were critically butchered.

            Yes those are the examples that stick out to me the most, but I felt that way about a lot of the movies he talks about. I’m not missing the forest for the trees because as I said, I think he brings up many good points, but he takes his argument too far. Few of the examples he gives were good or bad because of their R-rated content or lack thereof.

            I don’t see why it doesn’t matter that movies are good or not- his whole point is that PG-13 is making them NOT good. You seem to be complaining that these films are not being catered to their traditional target audiences, but their target audiences complain about them anyway for stuff that has nothing to do with whether they are PG-13 or R. Plus, there is no reason they HAVE to be catered to their traditional target audiences- I’d rather watch a GOOD action film that isn’t targeting just me than a BAD one that is. And just because an audience isn’t looking for a certain kind of movie doesn’t mean it won’t enjoy that movie or won’t flock to see them.

            You and Cecil seem to be a subsection of that target audience that is more concerned about movies being “altered and retarded”- having their swearing and violence toned down- than you are about those individual movies being good or not (your words, remember). I’m part of another part of that target audience, the one that says “yes, actually its more important that they are good”.

            Honestly, a lot of this argument seems like its over individual tastes.

  • Nasty In The Pasty

    A movie isn’t inherently better or worse because of the rating attached to it. Live Free Of Die Hard was a “neutered” PG-13, and yet was a slick, exciting action movie. A Good Day To Die Hard went for an R rating, and was the worst film in the franchise (ditto the two Alien vs. Predator movies…the R-rated one was FAR worse). Yes, PG-rated movies got away with a lot more violence back in the day, and today they’re essentially interchangeable with G-rated ones, but look at something like Hanna…full f incessant, bloody violence, and yet slips by on a PG-13, while The King’s Speech gets slapped with an R just for a handful of F-Bombs (and used in a humorous, even therapeutic manner). I’m just sick of the usual “If it isn’t R, it will suck!” fanboy whining. As long as it’s good, I don’t CARE what the rating is.

    • Did you watch the video?

      • Nasty In The Pasty

        Yes, and it mostly adds up to the usual “Wahhhh, I miss boobs and blood squibs and F-Bombs!” whining.

        • That is not “whining” that is a legitimate complaint. Movies and the industry that decides what is age appropriate content have become wildly out of touch with reality and it is making the products worse as they cannot reach the audiences they should.

  • Muthsarah

    Cecil, currently listening to your recent-ish Radiodrome about sequels. You mention a recent (then) debate between you and Josh on Geek Juice Media about which Terminator film is the better one. Which episode is that in?

  • Hemal Bhawani

    This would have held more ground if your examples of edgy pg13 weren’t so obscure or terrible.
    And no, the whole moral outrage of Janet Jackson is not the main cause, as you put it.
    Besides, when a movie goes from R to PG, it’s usually a sign that the movie wasn’t that good. I don’t think any unrated version of PG movies are that much better than the PG version.

  • Chris Palmer

    I’m taking it that the studios need to learn that Silver Linings Playbook got the same rating as Iron Man 3 here? Or better yet: But I’m A Cheerleader, that movie which almost got an NC-17 thanks (reputedly) to that one scene where the protagonist lets her hand wander below the frame while she is clothed, got a lower rating than American Beauty, where the protagonist is quite clearly jerking it while naked. Why the former almost got an NC-17 while the latter was never in danger of getting more than the R rating mystifies me. Hell, other than that one scene in BIAC, there’s only one other sequence of a sexual nature, and we only get just enough to make sure that Natasha Lyonne and Clea DuVall are fucking. In AB, we get two shots of boobs, drug use, two scenes featuring masturbation, gun violence, a sex scene, and a character uttering the word “cunt”. How is But I’m A Cheerleader worse than that?

  • Moppet

    I can’t really do anything but agree with everything you said here. Thanks for the video as always!

  • spiff2268

    The biggest problem is that if a movie gets a higher rating than the filmmakers were going for the asshats at the rating board won’t tell the filmmaker which scene put it over the edge. And having to go back and figure it out and re-edit and/or reshoot a bunch of scenes costs time and money. Sometimes it’s easy to figure out. If a movie is all dialogue with a steamy sex scene in the middle and it comes back with an NC-17 you pretty much know where the problem is. But let’s say they made WWZ Cecil’s way with blood shooting out the neck, blood splattering on windshields, limbs cut off on camera, etc. but were still going for the PG-13 rating and got an R instead. The board wouldn’t say which scene was too much for a PG-13. So I think that to avoid endless re-edits and resubmissions filmmakers have adopted a scorched earth policy and saying before submission “Go through the movie, find any and all scenes that might cause an R rating and scale them down”.

  • Jackie

    Also Paranormal Activity is the tamest R movie i ever saw, there’s no reason for it to be R.