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R-Rated Summer Blockbusters Rekindle Ratings Debate

With some of summer’s blockbusters having garnered an R rating from the Motion Picture Association of America, the issue of film ratings has marched again into the papers.

Weekend before last, the PG-13 “X2: X-Men United” took in over $85 million domestically. But upcoming mega-movies like “The Matrix Reloaded,” “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” “Bad Boys 2” and “American Wedding” have already been rated R by the MPAA’s ratings board. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” /> 
These films are generally considered attractive to the teen market, but exhibitors are cracking down on admittance.

“It creates problems for us, in that we are going to continue to enforce the age limits,” Jerry Pokorski, executive vice president of Pacific Theaters, told the Los Angeles Times. An R rating means the film is restricted and anyone “under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.” 
With theater owners more vigilant at the box office, the Times thus characterized “the parent” as “the summer’s hot new teen accessory.”

None of last year’s top-20-grossing films was rated R, according to the St. Petersburg Times. Writer Steve Persall also noted that, of the 46 films that have grossed at least $200 million domestically, only four have been R-rated. 
Studios and filmmakers will sometimes, upon receiving an R rating, remove offensive material from the movie and re-submit the film to get a more family friendly rating. Generally, restricted entry means limited box-office potential, which the studios of course want to avoid.

The ratings process is not mandatory for filmmakers and studios. However, most theaters refuse to show films that are “NR”—not rated. 
“The movie industry’s voluntary movie rating system, a partnership between NATO [National Association of Theater Owners] and MPAA, keeps rolling on,” said Jack Valenti, head of the MPAA, at his annual address at the ShoWest convention in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Las Vegas in March.

“It is a rousing success story, made so by parents of America who trust it and use it to help decide what movies they want their children to see or not to see,” Valenti continued. “Exhibition is to be saluted and admired for its indispensable role in this success, without which there would be no rating system.” 
Valenti also referred to an annual nationwide survey finding that 74 percent of parents with children under 13 found the MPAA’s rating system “very useful” to “fairly useful” in determining which movies their children might see.

A variety of Christian organizations, however, have created their own ratings systems, some of which rely on statistical models incorporating the number of profanities or short skirts evident in any given movie. 
Organizations applying their own ratings include the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, ChildCare Action Project and Christian Spotlight on the Movies.

But Valenti stands by MPAA ratings, which “are federally-registered certification marks of the MPAA and may not be self-applied,” according to the MPAA’s Web site
“The rating system will be 35 years old on November 1,” Valenti said in his ShoWest address. “Nothing lasts that long in this brutal marketplace unless it is doing something that benefits the people it aims to serve—American parents.”

In fact, the MPAA rating helps the Carthage Twin Cinema in Carthage, Texas, decide what it will show. 
Twin Cinema co-owner Hollis Pitts told the Los Angeles Times that most of the theater’s clientele are teenagers, and he sees no reason to exhibit R-rated movies.

“R-rated movies are mostly pretty disgusting,” Pitts told the Times. “We will be getting demands for ‘The Matrix’ but we probably won’t show it. I don’t think we’ll be missing out on much.” 
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.

To learn more about movie ratings, visit: 
Motion Picture Association of America

Classification and Rating Administration