While the Motion Picture Association of America has been known to be a stickler for strict censorship, their early reputation doesn’t really match with their current standards. Founded in 1922, the MPAA didn’t start rating movies until 1968, when they literally wrote the rules on what sort of movies were appropriate for children under the age of 17, as well as which movies they ought to avoid.
It became a helpful way for parents to determine which movies they felt comfortable bringing their children to, and it’s still in effect to this day. Over the years, the MPAA has been criticized for subjectively misjudging certain movies, deeming movies that portrayed steam content as being less appropriate than movies portraying blood and guts. As it turns out, though, this hasn’t always been the case, which may well have been the reason the MPAA has doubled down on their stringency over the years.
Just a few decades ago, the MPAA was considerably lax with their ratings, handing out P’s left and right. The PG-13 rating hadn’t yet existed, so, in their defense, they had no choice but to ping-pong between PG and R on movies that would have laughed the MPAA out of existence had they been given the latter. For a time, movies that were arguably inappropriate for children only suggested parental guidance. Now, the times have changed, and this list is proof.
Keep reading to check out 15 PG-Rated Movies That Would Never Be Allowed Today.
When Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg joined forces on Poltergeist, they were combining the best of their talents. From one corner, dread and horror; from the other, family drama and a general sense of wonder. It was a horror movie made in 1980s heaven. How it managed a PG-rating, however, is anyone’s guess.
In this movie, someone is essentially kidnapped by an evil entity that resides in her family’s television. On one occasion, a man tears the skin off his face; on another occasion, a possessed clown doll attacks someone. This is a movie predicated on scaring the hell out of its audience, but according to the MPAA, it was family fun for audiences of all ages.
14. The Goonies
If Stranger Things were a movie, it’d be rated R. Between all the vulgarity and violence alone, the modern MPAA wouldn’t have it any other way. That said, though, the MPAA circa-1985 might have done things differently—seeing as they technically already did with The Goonies.
Between the unexpected amount of violence and an abundance of swearing, this hardly seems like the kind of movie that modern audiences would allow children under the age of 13 to see. Despite the fact that this is one of those hallmark movies that ’80s kids typically refer back to as a defining film that helped shape their childhood, they’d have little luck selling that to a group of 21st century helicopter parents.
While Ghostbusters may have had a positive effect on your childhood, that’s not to say the MPAA would be nearly as forgiving with its rating as it was back in 1984. Sure, it’s remembered for its Ray Parker Jr. theme song and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, but when the titular ragtag crew of ghost hunters aren’t busy hunting ghosts, the movie is happy to test the limits of its PG rating.
Aside from various curse words scattered throughout, Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman calls William Atherton’s Walter Peck “d***less,” and in another scenario, it’s implied that Dan Aykroyd’s Ray Stantz is receiving pleasire from a ghost. Add scary situations, demons, and a scene in which Sigourney Weaver’s Dana Barrett is assaulted by a demon, it’s safe to say that a higher rating might have made more sense.
Once upon a time, Jaws was facing an R-rating. Had that turned out to be the case, the movie might have never experienced the success it ultimately received, becoming the first official “blockbuster” – Jaws first coined that phrase after a record number of people lined around blocks to see it. To save the movie from an R-rating, producers had no choice but to cut the film down significantly, trimming away scenes that showcased significant amounts of violence.
In the end, there are still scenes of a leg floating to the bottom of a lake, a shark eating someone in broad daylight, a woman being thrashed around in the water by a shark, and head popping out at the screen, but by some twist of fate, the final cut of the film was given a PG-rating.
Is it possible to distribute a movie about monsters hell bent on mischief and murder as “kid-friendly”? These days, there’s no way in cinematic hell. In 1984, however, Joe Dante pulled it off with Gremlins.
While most of the terror in this movie is played for laughs, it’s still objectively creepy for younger audiences. Creatures are decapitated, melted, blown up, and blended in an actual blender; an invalid is catapulted to her death; children are fooled into believing this will be entertaining per the MPAA rating. Add to this casual swearing and substance abuse, and a modern MPAA would have a field day with this one.
Also, let’s not forget Phoebe Cates’ Kate monologue detailing the reason she hates Christmas: her dad dresses up as Santa, attempts to climb down the chimney, breaks neck, dies, is later burned by way of cozy fireplace fire.
10. The Witches
There’s no reason why any child should be subjected to grotesque, child-eating witches who were human skin as suits. Alas, such was the case with The Witches.
Adapted from Roald Dahl’s novel, this movie had all the makings of a classic kid-friendly flick. Roald Dahl had written other kid-lit classics like James and the Giant Peach and Matilda, the main character is a young boy, and human characters magically transform into animals… So far, the PG rating makes absolute sense. Ultimately, however, the adaptation is nothing short of a nightmare for children.
One character is transformed into a mouse and squished; children are abducted with the intention to be consumed; and arguably worst of all, the titular witches peel off their skin and hair to reveal their true, grotesque forms.
Despite his gothic style, Tim Burton doesn’t make horror movies. There are nods to the horror genre, as well as moments that are particularly horrific, but his movies are very much embedded in fantasy most of all. That said, though, Beetlejuice earning a PG-rating is one of the 20th century’s great mysteries.
Not only are the two main characters killed off tragically in first few minutes of the movie, they are brought back as ghosts, sometimes depicted as grotesque creatures (by force and by choice, depending on the scenario). In fact, the entire foundation for this movie is “death,” elevated to fantastical levels by the demonic Betelgeuse.
Throughout the movie, Betelgeuse shows off a manic display of perversions, tries to marry an underage girl, and swears (going so far as to use the “F” word). Characters have limbs that fall off, there are animated corpses throughout, and many characters die horribly.
8. Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark/The Temple of Doom
If a man’s skin melts off his skull, should that deem a movie inappropriate for children under 13? What if a man has his heart ripped out of his chest? What about child abuse? If you answered yes to any of these, you’re wrong, according to the MPAA. Despite these aggressively dark scenarios, Indiana Jones movies Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Temple of Doom earned PG-ratings. (Seriously, the MPAA loves Spielberg.)
Now, to be fair, it was Temple of Doom that actually made the MPAA rethink their rating system, thus introducing the PG-13. In fact, the new rating came courtesy of Spielberg himself.
7. Tales from the Crypt
Before the TV series of the same name was released in 1989, there was a movie in 1979 titled Tales from the Crypt. It takes place inside ancient catacombs, its overarching theme is “death,” and the zombified Crypt Keeper is, as you might assume, a zombie— so, naturally, the MPAA gave it a PG rating.
Makes sense, right?
In one of the many horrific scenarios, one of the characters has their heart ripped clean out of their chest. Otherwise, the moments where a character’s head is bashed in, or where a character is strangled, or where someone hangs himself completely justify the rating. Considering it wasn’t up for dispute back in the day, it clearly seems that there’s no reason for it to be nowadays either…
6. Salem’s Lot
Despite the fact that the 1979 adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot is a two-part miniseries made for television, it still earned an official rating from the MPAA. Much to every Stephen King fan’s surprise, that rating was PG.
On one hand, this movie doesn’t come close to the dread and gore on display in other King adaptations like The Shining or Pet Sematary, but on the other hand, it’s still hardly the kind of movie any sane person would argue is suitable for children. In fact, aside from scenes involving stakes through the heart, children themselves are victims to the town’s new denizens (who just so happen to be vampires).
5. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!
While tomatoes aren’t generally scary, the creators of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! beg to differ. This anti-vegetable horror story may not have aged particularly well (nor was it conceived particularly well either), but it’s fair to argue that handing this movie a PG rating doesn’t necessarily fit the material.
One character dies after drinking tomato juice, an older couple refer to the death of someone named Timmy who was presumably killed off-screen, and a group of people are attacked while swimming in the ocean.
If nothing else, the MPAA should have recognized the fact that this movie would undoubtedly harm the universal agenda from parents to convince kids to eat their veggies. Then again, maybe the MPAA just fast-forwarded through the entirety of this movie and didn’t even bother focusing on the details.
4. Twilight Zone: The Movie
If the episode “USS Callister” from Black Mirror creeped you out, then chances are Twilight Zone: The Movie had a similarly chilling effect. In both, a character has her mouth covered over by flesh so as to keep her from talking. The only noticeable difference (aesthetics aside) is the fact that one is rated TV:MA, while the other is PG.
In Twilight Zone, Dan Aykroyd transforms into a monster in the film’s first jump scare right before diving in to eat his friend; a monster is on the wing of an airplane trying to destroy the engine; the aforementioned mouthless woman is being held captive by a maniacal kid-wizard. Nothing about this movie says “kid-friendly” in the slightest, but the MPAA clearly has a reputation for giving movies that Steven Spielberg movie is attached to a break.
3. Burnt Offerings
There’s a solid chance that the whole of the MPAA rating board fell asleep during their screening of Burnt Offerings. The proof is in the PG rating. Had the MPAA actually sat through this movie, they’d have recognized telltale signs that by no means is this movie suitable for children.
This horror movie is about an evil house that feeds on the pain of its occupants.
In one moment, Oliver Reed’s character tries drowning his son in the pool (sure, he’s possessed, but attempted murder is attempted murder). Then, as if the creepy chauffeur wasn’t creepy enough, Reed’s character jumps to his death from the fourth floor of his enormous haunted house. What’s PG about any of this?
2. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Invasion of the Body Snatchers may be a staple in the sci-fi horror genre, but that doesn’t give it a pass from the MPAA (even though it technically did). Now, while this 1956 adaptation is by no means nearly as provocative as its 1978 successor starring Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams, it’s still hardly something most parents wouldn’t likely give their children the casual go-ahead to watch.
This movie probably got the PG pass on account of not being particularly gruesome, but it’s still, by all definitions of the term, a horror film. The plot to possess human beings by literally snatching and invading their bodies is horrific enough for children, but murder by way of pitchfork is also objectively gruesome (whether it happens on screen or not). By today’s standards, PG-13 seems more appropriate.
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
Stanley Kubrick doesn’t make G-rated movies. Right? This is the man who terrified audiences with The Shining; who brought A Clockwork Orange to violent, disturbing life; who explored the dark pits of human desire in Eyes Wide Shut. Surely he’s never created a film that could technically earn itself a screening for a classroom of preschoolers.
Despite logical assumptions, 2001: A Space Odyssey (you know, the movie where an artificially intelligent mainframe kills an entire crew of astronauts by cutting off their oxygen supply) is rated G. Aside from the unapologetic murder, an ape beats an another ape to death, characters throw out casually foul language (nothing serious, but enough to bar it from G-rating territory), and terrifying displays of existentialism that only Kubrick could perfect have been turned up to 11.
Who could have ever guessed that 2001: A Space Odyssey fit in the same bracket as movies like The Cheetah Girls and Bambi?
Do you think any of these movies should have their ratings updated? Let us know in the comments!
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