What Do Movie Ratings Mean? (G, PG, R, etc.) | Engoo Blog (2024)

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With the popularity of streaming services, movie ratings may not seem as important as they did in the past, when theaters were the main place to see films. However, ratings are still a big step in the process of a film being released to the public.

For movie studios, a rating determines the size of a film's possible audience and the amount of money the film can make. For viewers —especially those with small children — they are a clue about what kinds of content the film contains, and can help in deciding what to watch and what to avoid.

This article will provide some basic information about the different ratings as well as keywords you will see when choosing if a movie is right for you or your child.

History of the rating system

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In the early days of Hollywood movies, what could and could not be shown in theaters depended on the local rules of each city. Eventually, the film industry created a central set of rules called the Hayes Code. This code’s purpose was to make sure all films only showed the “correct standards of life.”

Film studios slowly began fighting against the code's strict rules and started releasing movies independently to avoid them. In 1968, the Hayes Code was replaced with the modern system, which is controlled by the MPA, or the Motion Picture Association.

Instead of censoring, or blocking, anything not “correct” for society, this system gives different ratings to films depending on their content, and is designed to help parents make good decisions about what their children watch.

The 5 ratings of the MPA

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G is the lowest rating and stands for “General Audiences.” The MPA refers to films with this rating as “All Ages Admitted.” In other words, anyone buying tickets for these films at a movie theater would be allowed inside. G-rated films do not contain anything that may be scary or inappropriate for kids.

In the past, G was a common rating for animated films, such as Disney movies. Films like The Lion King, Ratatouille and Pixar movies like Toy Story have a G rating. Recently, however, G-rated films have begun to disappear.


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Next is PG, which stands for “Parental Guidance,” or the longer version, “Parental Guidance Suggested.” While parents can let their children watch G movies with no worries, PG films may contain some things they may not want their children to see — or at least, to not see alone.

This is generally the lowest rating you will see for most modern movies, even animated family films. For example, The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away and the first Harry Potter film are all rated PG.


The descriptor for this rating is “Parents Strongly Cautioned.” As you can guess from the name, PG-13 films may not be appropriate for children under 13 years old. However, children are still allowed to see them.

Because most adults are not interested in G or PG movies, PG-13 is considered to be the most important rating for movie studios because it has the biggest possible audience for a film. That means PG-13 movies have the best chance of making a lot of money!

The 1984 PG films Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom led to the creation of the PG-13 rating. Each movie had scenes that could be disturbing for children but weren't strong enough for a higher rating. When parents complained — and the famous director Steven Spielberg suggested it — a new rating between PG and R was born.

Modern PG-13 movies include the later Harry Potter films, Top Gun: Maverick, Barbie and nearly all superhero movies, such as The Avengers.


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“R” stands for "Restricted." This is the first rating that includes a strict rule: “Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian.” That means no one under 17 can watch an R-rated movie in a theater without having an adult with them.

It is the parent's decision to allow a child to watch R movies, but these movies usually contain things like strong language, violence, scenes of sexual activity or drug use. R is typically the highest rating most major movies receive.

R-rated movies include action films like Terminator 2: Judgment Day, The Conjuring series of horror movies, drama Oppenheimer, and even adult comedies like Bridesmaids.


While R-rated movies are “restricted” to adults or children accompanied by adults, NC-17 movies are for “Adults Only.” A parent taking their child to an NC-17 film would not be allowed to buy tickets or enter the theater.

NC-17 movies typically have similar content to R films, but it may occur more frequently or in more detail. Films with this rating often don't receive as much promotion as other films, so filmmakers and movie studios usually try to avoid it since a large number of people would likely not see them.

Many R-rated films started with an NC-17 rating before they were edited to remove or change some of the most intense content.


The last rating isn't a rating at all! You may see "Unrated" (sometimes shortened to "UR" or "NR" for "Not Rated") before a film's trailer or on a poster. In some cases, it means a film simply hasn't received its official rating yet — however, some films never do.

Similar to the old and unofficial “X” rating, some films use the fact that they are unrated as promotion to attract viewers interested in extra-violent or sexual content. However, unrated films do not necessarily contain those things. If you are not sure about what's in a movie, it's recommended to do some research online.

Common keywords in ratings

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Although ratings do help to give a general idea of what's in a film, you may still be confused about details. To help solve this problem, ratings have started including additional information.

Generally, a film's content is separated into a few major categories: language, violence, sexual content and thematic elements. Words you will see describing each category usually start with “light” or “mild,” which means there is only a small amount or that it is not very intense. As the content of a film becomes more mature, you will see descriptors such as “strong” or “pervasive,” which means it occurs many times throughout the film.

Simply including "language" as a descriptor means a movie may contain some "dirty" words that parents may not want their children to hear. Even PG and PG-13 films may have this descriptor, but it is generally not severe. However, there may be other descriptors related to language, such as "crude humor," which refers to jokes about body parts or functions.

Violence may be described in many ways, such as “cartoon violence,” “sci-fi violence,” or simply “action.” Many blockbuster films are described this way. On the other hand, horror films may have stronger descriptors like “graphic violence” or “gore,” which means the films contain very dramatic or detailed scenes that are definitely not appropriate for children.

Sexual content is indicated by terms like "sexuality," “nudity,” or “brief nudity” if it is only on the screen for a short time. These do not necessarily mean a film is bad for younger audiences. However, additional descriptors like "strong" or "intense" will warn you if they are.

The category “thematic elements” (also called “adult/mature themes”) is a little trickier to understand. Instead of specific words or scenes, it refers to the overall themes or topics in a movie. For example, films with this descriptor may show or be about things like drug use, disease, gambling, suicide, disasters or serious social issues. They may be topics younger viewers may not fully understand or may ask their parents about after the movie.

Extra resources

If you'd like to know more beyond the standard ratings, the popular movie website IMDb.com has information provided by other viewers that can help. After a film has been released, click the rating on any movie's main page to go to its Parents Guide, which has specific details about what the movie contains.

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