What Age Do You Have to Be to Watch Rated R?

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The film-rating system is designed to help parents make informed decisions about what movies are appropriate and inappropriate for their children. Movies open the doors to creative ideas, experiences and other culture but can be traumatic for children who do not have the emotional maturity to comprehend what they are seeing. The dividing line between G/PG movies and R-rated movies is a large one.

History of the Rating System

The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA) formed in 1922. The MPPDA later shortened its name to the Motion Picture Producers Association. Its goal was to allow the movie industry to regulate itself rather than being subject to local communities, towns and cities. Towns and cities passed laws to regulate movie content in their communities between 1907 and 1920. The original MPPDA rating system primarily was a list of what to do and what not to do. The advent of talking movies introduced more complicated issues. The Hays Production Code was introduced in 1930; this regulated specific content about moral behavior and mores. The contemporary rating system was introduced in 1968 under the guidance of MPAA president Jack Valenti. The goal of the updated rating system was to allow filmmakers the freedom to make movies without censorship and to provide parents with the necessary information to make informed decisions about appropriate movies for their children.

The MPAA and the CARA

The MPAA does not rate movies. The ratings responsibility resides with the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA). The MPAA established CARA in 1968. The rating board consists of eight to 14 members and is made up of a group of independent parents. According to the Federal Trade Commission, "Qualifications and membership in CARA are parenting experience and no connection to the film industry." The MPAA appoints the board chairman. The members view films and assign ratings. The assumption is that their decisions reflect the majority of parents. According to Filmratings.com, "CARA’s system is constantly evolving. As American parents’ sensitivities change, so too does the rating system."

The R Rating

The R rating was one of the original rating classifications created in 1968. The other original ratings were G, M (later changed to PG) and X. The R rating prohibits children under the age of 17 -- originally the age was 16 -- from attending a movie unless a parent or guardian accompanies them. In 1990, the MPAA explained an R rating is given for sexual content, brutal violence, drug content or profanity. Evaluating inappropriate content is not clear cut, and the R rating always has its share of critics. On one hand, parents may want to protect their children from viewing gruesome violence, sexual content, abusive language, drug abuse and full frontal nudity; on the other hand, content has to be evaluated in terms of context and the story.

Ratings and Controversy

One of the topics at issue is that a small group of individuals decide what ratings movies receive. Critics charge the rating system as operating in secrecy and with arbitrariness in its judgments. Film critic Roger Ebert accused the MPAA of being much more harsh on sexual content than violent content evaluating films. In Ebert's view, films with gruesome violence may receive a PG-13 rating whereas sexual content is more likely to receive a R rating. Other film critics and parents have expressed similar concerns. One example is the 2011 documentary “Bully.” The intended audience for the documentary was middle- and high-school students but the film received an R rating for profanity. A petition of 200,000 signatures changed the rating to PG-13. A compromise was reached and a version was cut with less profanity.