How the Creation of the PG-13 Rating Changed Movies Forever

What Indiana Jones, Steven Spielberg, and divorce had to do with a brand new rating

Photo by Myke Simon on Unsplash

The First Movie Rating System

The MPAA movie rating system started in 1968 with G, M, R, and X. They were there to provide parents with information on what would be best for children.

How Indiana Jones Factors Into the PG-13 Rating

Raiders of the Lost Ark was a great movie. It was full of adventure, action, intrigue, and set the stage for one of the greatest trilogies of all time.

The Importance of Toy Sales in Dictating Movie Ratings

Because of the monumental success of toy sales attached to movie properties such as Star Wars, it was imperative to get these new franchises in front of as many kid’s eyes as possible.

The Backlash Begins

Parents were going nuts, and they were getting backed up by movie critics. Most critics loved the film, but couldn’t help but point out what this might do to children. A review from 1984 would state that the movie:

“…might prove extraordinarily frightening to younger children who, indeed, are being catered to in this film by the presence of the adorable 12-year-old Ke Huy Quan.”

People Magazine called it “a cinematic form of child abuse.” Even Spielberg’s own friends said he took it too far with this one. They had let it slide with things like Gremlins — but the Temple of Doom was too much.

Creating a Brand New Rating

Spielberg stayed adamant that the Temple of Doom shouldn’t have an R-rating. But he realized there needed to be something that bridged the gap between PG and R, as there was such a wide range.

“I remember calling Jack Valenti [then the president of the Motion Picture Association] and suggesting to him that we need a rating between R and PG, because so many films were falling into a netherworld, you know, of unfairness. Unfair that certain kids were exposed to Jaws, but also unfair that certain films were restricted, that kids who were 13, 14, 15 should be allowed to see. I suggested, ‘Let’s call it PG-13 or PG-14, depending on how you want to design the slide rule,’ and Jack came back to me and said, ‘We’ve determined that PG-13 would be the right age for that temperature of movie.’ So I’ve always been very proud that I had something to do with that rating.”

A PG-13, a PG-14, and a PG-2 rating were first proposed before the MPAA decided that PG-13 would be the best choice.

Why PG-13 is So Popular & Profitable

PG-13 is perfect: teens know it won't be a kiddy movie, and parents know it will be intense — but not as bad as an R-rated movie.

PG-13 Would Be the New Standard for Studios.

Billion-dollar movies didn’t happen until PG-13. 6 of the top ten highest domestic grossing films of all time are PG-13, including the top 2: Avengers: End Game, and Avatar.

Final Thoughts

PG-13 is perfect because it’s slightly geared towards adults but won’t turn young people off. We have now associated PG as a family movie and can be the kiss of death for studios unless it’s animated.

Some health, a little marketing, and a lot of 80s| The Startup, The Ascent, Better Marketing/Humans, PSILY|

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