The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has been responsible for rating movies since 1968. Some of the original ratings proposed at that time have been changed in the ensuing years while others have been added or removed. The ratings system is entirely an arbitrary system involving a board of individuals put in charge of deciding which rating a film receives. This is the reason that some movies with an R rating may seem less offensive to some people that a movie with a PG-13 rating.
G: General Audiences
The G-rated film has also become a thing of the past as even some Disney animated movies are now receiving PG-ratings. To receive a G rating, a film must have no content that is generally considered offensive. This would include a ban on adult situations and themes as well a ban on even the mildest profanity.
PG: Parental Guidance Suggested
The PG rating is accompanied by the suggestion that some material included in the movie my not be suitable for children. Until the PG-13 rating was introduced, the PG rating was the only thing standing between a G and an R and as there used to be far more leeway given to the kind of material that might be considered unsuitable for children without being so offensive as to get the movie an R-rating. Today, certain movies may still earn a PG even with a few occasions of profanity and brief nudity.
PG-13: Parents Strongly Cautioned
The PG-13 rating was instituted in the mid-1980s as a direct result of the controversy surrounding the PG rating for "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" and "Gremlins." The MPAA felt that there should be a tougher rating between PG and R and instituted this change. Parents of children under 13 are strongly cautioned to consider the appropriateness of the material in the film. A PG-13 rating may have a few cases of extreme profanity, more the brief nudity although typically not in a sexually suggestive way and violence. If the nudity is coincident with explicit sexuality, the the film will receive an R rating. If the profanity is coincident with a sexual situation, the will probably receive an R rating.
No one under the age of 17 may be legally allowed into an R-rated movie at a theater unless accompanied by an adult. A movie with an R rating may contain copious amounts of nudity, including full-frontal nudity. If the nudity is used in a simulation of sexual activity, the film usually receives an R-rating, although it may receive an NC-17 rating if there are many scenes of explicit sexual activity.
NC-17: No One 17 and Under Admitted
NC-17 is the newest rating for films. NC-17 differs from an R-rating by virtue of the fact that even with adult accompaniment, no one under 17 is allowed into a theater to see the movie. The differences in content between an R and NC-17 is open to debate. Many films that have received an NC-17 rating don't appear to be substantially more controversial or offensive than some films that have received an R-rating. The NC-17 rating was instituted because the traditional X-rating had reached a point of failure.
When the MPAA first instituted movie ratings, the X rating was deemed necessary for the most adult and controversial of films, like "Midnight Cowboy" and "A Clockwork Orange." Unfortunately, the X rating was the only one that the MPAA neglected to copyright and it was quickly adopted by the burgeoning adult film business in the 1970s. As a result, any film that received an X rating had trouble finding advertisement in some newspapers. The X rating was therefore jettisoned and replaced by the NC-17 rating.