Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The key to securing a PG-13 rating is ensuring that no one looks like they're enjoying anything

Movie studios have long understood that PG-13 is the ideal rating for maximizing the number of butts in seats. But what if, as a filmmaker, your art requires you to maximize the number of butts on-screen? This video from Slate looks at how films do their best to include as much of the good shit (cursing, violence, sex/nudity, drug use, and, coolest of all, smoking) as possible, without getting bumped up to an R. As it turns out, there’s usually a way to get what you want in there, and ratings are often based more on intent than content.


Perhaps the most well-known ratings rule regards the usage of “fuck”: every PG-13 movie gets one “non-sexual fuck” to play with. So, Ron Burgundy can say “Go fuck yourself San Diego,” but he mustn’t encourage anyone in San Diego specifically to fuck. There are, however, exceptions to the rule, such as in PG-13-rated The Martian, where Matt Damon is afforded multiple fucks, seemingly on account of them being more wholesome, science-based fucks.

With sex, the MPAA mostly seems to want filmmakers not to get all horny about it. Show two people having sex if you must, but linger too long on the face of someone enjoying said sex, and you’ve popped, among other things, yourself on up to an R. Some LGBTQ advocates claim that gender is also a consideration, and that if said sex-havers are of the same sex the MPAA is likely to rule more harshly. With regards to nudity, it’s more likely to make it into a PG-13 film if it’s not sexual nudity. That is, you can see a breast, or you can see sex, but you most likely cannot see both simultaneously. It is therefore up to the viewer to imagine what that breast might look like having sex.

Slate’s video also gets into smoking and drug use, which follow similar rules. Again, it’s often not what you show but how: make these activities look cool or provide a visual guide for how to do them, and an R rating is much more likely. The MPAA also gives more leeway to historical smoking, versus lighting up in the modern day.

Finally, there’s violence. Here the line seems to be the least clear and most half-assed. The Expendables 3 gets away with a PG-13 rating by using darker, supposedly less visceral blood than a movie like Kill Bill. Audio can also be a tool to mitigate violence, with The Hunger Games removing sound from its most violent battle royale scenes to maintain a PG-13 rating. Unsurprisingly, one can rack up a whole lot more bodies than boobs before being bumped to an R.

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Contributor, The A.V. Club.