The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) have conducted a study to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the ratings system and found that over half of movies released since 1968 have been given an R rating. The MPAA first introduced the voluntary ratings system in the November of '68 and young theater patrons have been protected from all manner of blood, naked bodies and bad language ever since.
It's generally assumed that major movie studios actively try to avoid many of their releases being given an R rating, as such a classification limits a movie's audience and therefore hampers box office takings. There are a catalogue of tales, both recent and from decades past, which claim that a certain movie was forced to cut a certain scene in order to get a more family-friendly rating.
Now, according to the MPAA's 50th anniversary study (via THR), it has been revealed that movies have been given an R rating more often than any other classification. The study took into account all 29,791 movies released since the system was first introduced and found 17,202 had been rated R, approximately 58 percent. The PG rating comes in second with 5,578 movies, then PG-13 with 4,913, G with 1,574 and finally NC-17 with 524. The research has lumped short-lived ratings such as M in with the PG category.
Taken at face value, these findings may seem quite surprising; after all, if R-rated movies tend to bring in less money, surely studios would make less of them, but there are a number of factors at play here. First, it's worth taking into account that audience standards have evolved massively since 1968 and what may have constituted an R rating back then wouldn't necessarily do so today. Equally, filmmakers can perhaps get away with far more adult-themed material nowadays. This may account for why the study finds the R rating consistently in the lead throughout the years - as moral standards relax, movies become more mature in content and therefore the R rating reigns supreme, despite society becoming more accustomed to seeing such things in the media.
Furthermore, while it's certainly true that studios make efforts to avoid getting an R rating, this tends to only apply to big-budget features, superhero movies for example. Although R-rated fare certainly tends to generate less revenue, it also usually costs less to make, ensuring such projects remain attractive to studios. This is neatly illustrated by two current releases: A Star is Born and Venom. It seems to defy logic that a violence-heavy story about a murderous alien symbiote is rated PG-13 while a Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper love story merits an R and yet this can perhaps be explained by the fact A Star is Born cost less than half as much to make.
It seems then, that the prevalence of blockbusters in the public eye perhaps distorts just how many movies are getting an R rating and this trend shows no sign of slowing down. Indeed, thanks to the likes of Deadpool and Logan, not even superhero movies are necessarily shunning the R nowadays, while the success of the Fifty Shades franchise has moved raunchier material firmly into the mainstream.