The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) formed in 1922. With its formation came the first regulations and guidelines movie makers had to follow if they wanted their films to be shown in the available markets. These regulations were called the Hays Code.
Early ratings standards
The Hays Code was the first ratings standards the film industry enforced. The Hays Code banned filmmakers from incorporating any "immoral" scenes in their movies. Immoral scenes ranged from lustful kissing and suggestive dancing to criticizing religion or even depicting childbirth, according the MPAA. Based on the Hays Code, movies were either approved or not approved for distribution and presentation.
Jack Valenti, former MPAA Chairman, challenged the Hays Code. He wanted a less subjective approach to movie ratings. It was through Valenti's efforts the modern film rating system was established, debuting in 1968. Movies would now be rated by an independent agency.
Reasons behind the rating system
According to the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA), "the rating system exists to give parents clear, concise information about a film's content, in order to help them determine whether a movie is suitable for their children." Adults are free to choose which movies they see. An adult, in regards to movie ratings, is anyone age eighteen and older. CARA does not rate films based on moral content or the social worth of a film. The rating administration only rates film content to help parents determine if content may or may not be appropriate for their children.
G = General audiences (all ages admitted)
A G-rating means the film contains content appropriate for all ages. A G-rated film does not contain any adult theme, language, nudity or sex. There is no violence that may offend parents of younger children as well as no drug use. Examples of G-rated films are Toy Story 3, Gone With the Wind, The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady.
PG = Parental guidance suggested (some material may not be suitable for children)
Films with a PG-rating include Star Wars, Shrek, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Ghostbusters. Parents should view these films before allowing younger children to watch because they may contain some material that may be unsuitable. PG-rated movies may have some mature themes, profanity, violence and brief nudity, but never any drug use.
PG13 = Parents strongly cautioned (some material may be inappropriate for children under 13)
A step beyond the basic PG rating, the themes may be more intense, including sensuality, language, adult activities, violence, some nudity and some drug use. The violence in a PG13 movie may not be extreme. If the movie uses "one of the harsher sexually-derived words, only as an expletive," the film will receive a PG13 rating states the MPAA. Examples PG13 movies include Avatar, The Hunger Games, Spider-Man and Transformers.
R = Restricted (children under 17 require accompanying parent or adult guardian)
R-rated movies contain material considered adult and not appropriate for anyone under the age of eighteen. This adult material may include strong language, nudity, adult activity, drug use and intense violence. The MPAA recommends parents do not bring their young children into R-rated movies. Blockbuster R-rated movies include The Hangover, Saving Private Ryan, Beverly Hills Cop and Air Force One.
NC17 = No one 17 and under admitted
A movie rated NC17 is considered too adult for anyone under the age of eighteen. The ratings' board states a NC17 rating does not mean the movie is pornographic or obscene. An NC17 rating means the themes are adult and the film contains violence, sex and/or nudity and features behaviors a parent would not want their under-eighteen child viewing. Showgirls, Crash and Henry & June are examples of NC17 rated movies.