Motion picture ratings fail to distinguish violent content

What do “The Jungle Book” and “True Lies” have in common? Both contain similar amounts of violence despite respective PG and R ratings.

A new study led by researchers at the UCLA School of Public Health shows that parents and filmgoers who use the Motion Picture Association of America ratings system to gauge movie content receive little meaningful guidance related to violent content.


The research analyzed violent content in the 100 top-grossing films of 1994. An objective analytical model was used to study the relationship between rating, degree of violent content and industry labels that explain the rating assignment.

The study reveals that while the total average number of violent acts for each rating category increased from PG (14 acts) to PG-13 (20) to R (32), the MPAA ratings fail to predict the frequency of violence in individual films. For example, PG films contained anywhere from a single act of violence to 97 acts of violence; the range for R films was very similar, ranging from one to 110 acts. Besides, the ratings categories fail to distinguish the amount of violent content for films listing violence as a primary reason for the rating and containing the highest level of explicit violence: R ratings films averaged 62 violent acts, PG-13 averaged 55 and PG averaged 56.

“Objective content descriptions and measures of explicit violence are far better measures of big screen violence than a film’s rating,” explained the study’s lead author, Lucille Jenkins. “Parent and other organizations have been calling for meaningful content- rather than age centered ratings for years, and now there is scientific evidence to support that argument.”

Via Eurekalert.