PG-13 Movies are Now More Violent Than R Rated Movies

Published 1 year ago by , Updated November 12th, 2013 at 4:15 pm,

Hulk in The Avengers PG 13 Movies are Now More Violent Than R Rated Movies

Those who follow the film industry closely or even casually are no doubt aware of the power that the MPAA ratings system holds: a power that is particularly concentrated in the line between PG-13 and R. By precluding box office earnings from the lucrative crowd of early teens and kids, an R-rated film loses out on enough box office potential that studios generally insist upon their big-budget titles being strictly kept within the PG-13 range.

A particularly immediate example of this is the current ongoing struggle to bring Deadpool to the big screen. The R-rated script, which was penned by Zombieland writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, was received extremely well by fans and critics alike after being leaked online. Star Ryan Reynolds is eager to get started on the project, as is director Tim Miller, but Twentieth Century Fox is still holding off on granting a green light, despite Reese and Wernick’s insistence that the film could be made for around $50 million to increase the potential profit margin.

Given the significance of the line between the PG-13 and R ratings, it’s strange to learn that “family-friendly” movies might be even more violent than those reserved for older audiences!

Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University, who has previously published notable work on the subject of video game violence and youth aggression, has found in a study of 945 top-grossing movies that the amount of onscreen violence has more than doubled since 1950, and that PG-13 movies actually show more gun violence than R-rated movies.

Daniel Craig in Skyfall1 PG 13 Movies are Now More Violent Than R Rated Movies

The first of these findings isn’t all that surprising, as films have become more extreme in many different respects since the 1950s (as cultural views of what is acceptable have shifted), but the variation of trends between ratings is particularly interesting. For example, gun violence in G and PG movies has decreased since 1985 and in R-rated movies the amount of gun violence has more or less stayed the same. In PG-13 movies, however, the amount of gun violence shown has grown considerably, to the point that in recent years it has actually overtaken that of R rated movies.

While the knee-jerk response to the study might be to create links between onscreen shootings and real-life gun violence, it’s important to note that national statistics do not show any kind of correlation that would support this. In fact, there has been a steady decrease in American youth violence and gun crime since the early 1990s, with arrests for violent crimes among young people currently at a 32-year low. Nonetheless, Bushman concludes his study with the claim that viewing onscreen violence may increase real-world aggression among youths.

Youth violence trend graph PG 13 Movies are Now More Violent Than R Rated Movies

Graph showing trends in US youth violence

What the study also does is re-open the very interesting question of the way in which the MPAA rates movies, and some of the double standards that exist within the rating system. Violence, for example, is far less taboo than sex, and both sex and violence exist on a vast, confusing and branching scale between what is considered offensive and what isn’t. The MPAA’s highly secretive and, in the opinion of some filmmakers, unfairly biased system was the subject of a 2006 documentary titled This Film is Not Yet Rated, which exposed some of the absurdities and contradictions in the way movies are rated.

In the case of violence in movies, it seems that gun violence is simply easier to get away with. The most immediate reason for this is proximity; filmmakers can show as many bad guys getting riddled with bullets as they like, so long as the camera never gets close enough to see the whites of their eyes (or, more specifically, the red of their blood). By contrast, a character having their finger cut off in a horror movie close-up might not be as lethal an act, but it’s considerably more gruesome. Above all, what these results seem to show is that violence sells, even if it has to find loopholes in the ratings system to reach its audience.

Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight PG 13 Movies are Now More Violent Than R Rated Movies

‘The Dark Knight’ Certainly Pushed the Limit of PG-13…

Bushman’s study is an interesting look at how films have changed over the years and how on-screen violence is judged by the MPAA, but it’s disappointing that much of the paper consists of attempts to create a link to real world violence based on little more than anecdotal evidence (the introductory paragraph, for example, cites the Dark Knight Rises shooting by James Holmes in Aurora last year) and past laboratory studies of aggression that are lacking in external validity. If increased gun violence in movies has led to a general increase in violence and aggression amongst youths, then why isn’t it showing up on the radar?


Source: Pediatrics (via Deadline)

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  1. Ross Mckenzie

    The summer movies have changed from the 80′s the last really violent action movie i saw was The Expendables series.

  2. Adam Hill

    To which I say b*******

  3. Video games have really made kids immune to violence. My sister is 9 and kids in her class are playing Call of Duty (M) and watching The Walking Dead (TV-MA). Parents don’t seem to care any more and just let the kids do what they want. That’s why more movies are PG-13, because they can get away with the rating and they know that parents will take their kids.

  4. Another thing that ticks me off is… Government trying to telling me I shouldn’t have butter with my popcorn at the theater.

    • It will make your soul fat.

  5. R rated movies just have boobs, the occasional floppy penis, maybe a strong sexual scene, and lots of bad language. Explosions, killings, as long as they’re not bloody or involve stabbings, are generally kept PG-13.

  6. Angel Melendez

    They must have been smoking something if they think PG-13 movies are more violent than rated R movies.

    • Not really, it’s true. You just don’t see explicit bloodletting and injury in PG-13 movies. That’s the crucial difference between the two ratings.

  7. Jered Lacks

    Sounds like a bunch of f***** b******* to me.

  8. If it’s true, now I’m really pissed off about those PG-13 Die Hard movies.

  9. Na i dont belive that i think u can tell what a rated R movie and a pg-13 movie is just look at the swearing and nudity

  10. Ranko Jankovic

    star wars-ep 1-3,bodycounts over 158 billion kills,movies are rated pg-13,wtf?

    • Joe Niblo

      1 and 2 are PG not PG-13

  11. A study that used 3 R-rated films and 2000 PG-13 right?

    This depends which films they are comparing and how many of each. I’m guessing this was done though some type of poll amongst moviegoers. As there has always been far less R-rated movies that see the light of general release then the results must be skewed.

    It’s interesting that you use Batman as an image for this post because I think the questions is better answered if we discuss what really makes an R-rated film. I don’t think the level of violence is the only measurement. Batman although it might be considered violent in that it has many fight scenes (probably more than a 13 year old should be seeing), it has very little blood, zero rape scenes, child murder, no political or controversial subtext, psychological torture or excessive gore. For that reason or indeed an R-rating it falls pretty short for shock value.

    Films such as A Serbian Film demonstrate clearly why we have R-ratings and obviously these types of films are few and far between.

    So yes is my answer but only if we are looking at violence in it’s simplest form and not considering the factors that really make up a true R-rating.

    • The study actually looks like it was quite fairly balanced. Of the 396 films found to contain scenes of gun violence, 108 were G-PG rated, 166 were PG-13 and 119 were R rated. That means that an absolute minimum of 12% of the films included in the study were R rated, and overall it was probably closer to a quarter or a third of them.

      It was also controlled with a very specific definition of violence to prevent it from being affected by individual bias on the part of the coders.

  12. Daniel Scarborough

    I like how nobody reads the article and then complains wrongly about that article.

  13. Not really. It’s practically IMPOSSIBLE for a film to get a ratting of “R” anymore unless it has a sex scene in it. everything else is rated 14 A. HELL EVEN KILL BILL was rated 14a at one point.

  14. it’s what happens when you let your kids be raised by tv and movies…we can control what our child see’s (sure i used to sneek in stuff) but alot of it is lazy parenting

  15. How much does it cost for a thirty second spot on the Super Bowl? Madison Avenue makes it’s living on what most seem to be trying to deny.
    I can understand the defense of movies on a movie fan website and I don’t believe you can take the average kid, plop him down in front of a Robocop, Pulp Fiction, Scarface marathon and get a serial killer, but I also think it’s extremely disingenuous to act as if entertainment plays no part in the coarsening of the world. I think it contributes in a measurable way to the pressures that can push a sensitive kid into becoming a troubled kid. An already troubled kid into a violent kid. Violence in entertainment has power and depending on the dam in question (along with other factors) it can cause anything from a leak to a flood.

  16. Charles McGechie

    Um quit asking for peoples’ opinions on facts.

  17. Christian Madiedo

    The only way to get R rated these days is with an explicit anatomy shot of the urethra xD

  18. That is totally true and it┬┤s not OK.

  19. Lol

  20. Americans don’t care about violence anyway. I’ve never thought of violence as being the real line between PG-13 and R. Americans are very puritanical when it comes to sexual content…that seems to be where the (very subjective) ratings system comes in.

    • +1

    • I disagree that people don’t care about violence. It all comes down to how it’s presented. That Natasha Romanov was getting gun violent all over the place in Avengers, but it really didn’t offend me in that context.

      And nothing personal to you Ken (you’re certainly not the first or only), but calling Americans “puritanical” is getting a little stale. It’s as if others have the “official” view of sexual morality and their elevated standards are beyond question. Garbage. Next time just try writing that some Americans are not as licentious and perverse as other people and see how that comes across.

  21. Watch Supernatural on TV. There is more violence and gore in that show then there are in most PG-13 movies. A lot of movies based off of books had so many awesome things cut out, just to conform to the standards set by PG-13 movies. Just imagine what Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows would have been like if they made it exactly like the book. It would have been insane! Yeah, some PG-13 movies have more violence than movies that are rated R, but that’s because in a R rated movie, you can just kill somebody in a gorey, sloppy, nightmare inducing mess. In PG-13 movies, they have to get creative and fill in the empty spaces with more violence and action, and then a lot of killing is done off-screen, leaving the violent murders to the imaginations of the audience. So, sure, I think that PG-13 movies can be more violent.

  22. I’ve been saying that for awhile now.

  23. Marshall Miles

    what is this the Twilight zone or something?

  24. Vaniel Bunns

    Duh, so is some TV

  25. As long as theres no blood are nudity and only one nonsexual f*ck
    You can do whatever you want.

  26. The MPAA ratings are functionally/effectively bogus. The sites that list out the actual content are the only way to really gauge a film.

    Our sense of mature-content-hierarchy is also shaky. As someone else pointed out, we in the US are extremely fixated on sex/nudity, but in many cases not nearly as concerned with violence. Language/profanity is somewhere in between.

    But the bottom line is that the MPAA ratings are ridiculous, subjective, corrupt…bogus.

  27. Dacey Booker

    Sounds like someone wanted the “study” to have that find just so they could b**** about it on the internet.

  28. What a misleading title. The study didn’t conclude that PG-13 movies have more violence than R movies. Just that there is specifically more GUN violence.

    Taken from the text itself “In PG-13 movies, however, the amount of gun violence shown has grown considerably, to the point that in recent years it has actually overtaken that of R rated movies”.

    Gun violence is only one form of violence, and the aftermath is generally not shown. There are a lot of other forms of violence, like knife violence, which tends to be more bloody and would more easily warrant an R-Rating. You could have a hundred people being killed by guns in a PG-13 film and have them just fall to the ground with no blood, and if a movie has one scene like the one where Alex Murphy gets turned to mush by a gang of baddies in Robocop, and the PG-13 film is more violent? By the logic of your article title it is, but I doubt many people would agree.

    Click bait title if ever saw one. I thought you guys don’t do this.

  29. “Nonetheless, Bushman concludes his study with the claim that viewing onscreen violence may increase real-world aggression among youths.”

    US national statistics and the man’s own study shows that their is no correlation whatsoever between on-screen and real-world violence, yet still insists there is a link. God these people are getting desperate to find an excuse for poor parenting…