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What do G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17 Movie Ratings Mean?

Last Updated Nov 8, 2022
person directing a movie

Trying to find a movie that will be entertaining for the whole family is challenging, but when you aren’t sure why something is rated PG or PG-13, it just gets trickier! Next time you’re on your way to the theater, you may want to know: what do movie ratings mean?

  • G: General Audiences. All ages admitted.
  • PG: Parental Guidance Suggested. Some material may not be suitable for young children.
  • PG-13: Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some content may be inappropriate for pre-teens.
  • R: Restricted. Contains some adult material.
  • NC-17: Clearly Adult. Content is strictly adult.

While these ratings may look self-explanatory, they are actually based on many different types of content and criteria. Read on to find out exactly what kind of violence is allowed in a PG-13 movie before it becomes an R-rated movie, or what is the adult content that makes a movie NC-17 instead of R.

How Movie Ratings Are Decided

It might surprise some people that a rating board made up of parents decides official movie ratings! The current movie rating system is a voluntary process that started in 1968.

A rating board under The Classifications and Ratings Administration (CARA) evaluates the movie after it has been submitted to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

Ratings consider film material that might cause concern for most parents, such as language, sex, violence, drug use, and other potentially offensive content.

It is important to note that the rating does not indicate a level of how appropriate a movie is, but rather what content is included in the film.

This rating gives parents the information they need to decide about the content viewed by their children.

What Do Movie Ratings Mean?

Keeping in mind the way movies get their ratings and who is making these decisions, it is now important for you to know what these ratings actually mean.

The rating tells parents what level of content is in the movie, but what is considered appropriate content for each rating?

G: General Audiences

A movie with a G rating contains no content that the Rating Board believes a parent would find offensive for children of any age.

It should be noted that while the movie may not contain offensive material, this rating does not necessarily make it a children’s movie.

The movie may not include strong language, nudity, sex, or drug usage. Depictions of violence are minimal.

While some language may be considered impolite, all words are common in everyday conversation.

PG: Parental Guidance Suggested

 A PG movie may contain some material that could be considered inappropriate for young children.

Parental guidance is advised before allowing young children to view this material, but the decision is left solely to the parent.

The material in this movie may contain more mature themes, some violence, profanity, or brief nudity.

None of these elements were deemed intense enough to require more than parental guidance. There is no drug usage allowed in a PG movie.

PG-13: Parents Strongly Cautioned

Parents are strongly advised to be cautious when allowing children under 13 to view this movie.

There may be more mature themes, violence, nudity, strong language, and adult activity than in a PG movie, but not intense enough to be rated as R.

The violence shown is generally not both extreme and persistent. Nudity is generally not shown in a sexual context.

While there may be mature themes, depictions of adult activities would require an R rating. Drug usage automatically requires at least a PG-13 rating.

Additionally, a PG-13 movie can contain exactly one use of an extreme sexually-derived expletive in a non-sexual context before being rated R.

R: Restricted

Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian. This rating means that this movie’s content includes material unsuitable for children without adult supervision.

Parents are strongly cautioned to find out more about these films before deciding if it is an appropriate movie for their children.

Movie theaters will generally enforce a policy to restrict access to R-rated movies to those under 17 without a parent or adult guardian.

The content in these films can contain harsh language, extreme violence, drug abuse, nudity, and sexual themes.

Adult activities can be depicted, and nudity and crude language may be sexually oriented.

NC-17: No One 17 and Under Admitted

This rating means this film is unsuitable for children in all circumstances. While this does not mean the movie is obscene or pornographic, the material is considered only acceptable for adults.

This film may include content that contains violence, sex, aberrational behavior, drug abuse, or other adult activities that are too extreme for an R-rated movie.

Unrated Movies

Because the MPAA ratings are voluntary, some movies can be left unrated.

A movie may be unrated or have a No Rating (NR) designation because it pre-dates the MPAA ratings, is an uncut version of the film, or was not submitted to be rated.

Final Thoughts

While the rating guidance has been the same since 1968, it is essential to note that because a board of parents gives these ratings, the ratings given are appropriate for the time in which they’re rated. .

 If you are still unsure whether a movie is suitable for your child, there are other steps you can take.

You can try watching it first or checking out viewer reviews for the film online. These extra steps may help you feel more comfortable.

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