The economics of PG-13 rated movies

An MPAA R rating. The MPAA responds to calls for better policing of violence in movies, by increasing the TYPE SIZE on existing explanations. Why? To protect its business at the PG-13 level.

Coming on the heels of all the violence of late, the motion picture association has announced it’s changing its rating system. Films like "The Lion King" will still be rated G, and "Evil Dead" will still get slapped with an R. So what’s changing? For parents worried about their kids seeing too much violence or S-E-X at the movies, the Motion Picture Association of America says it wants to make things easier.

This being the movie industry, there's even a new trailer to let theater audiences know about the changes, with an announcer saying, "At the MPAA, we’re dedicated to making sure every film finds its proper rating."


The MPAA's rating system guide

Brent Lang, a writer with the Hollywood website theWrap.com, says the changes are not a dramatic overhaul to the ratings system. Instead, they’re only cosmetic -- a larger font, and more detail about what’s in the movie. But when the new system does kicks in, movies won’t just say “R” for violence.

“It might say something like R for thematic science fiction elements,or a scene of gory war violence, or something along those lines,” Lang says.

He notes that it’s likely the MPAA  is treading carefully so that it doesn’t scare away crucial audience members -- or their parents. “PG-13 is the sweet spot for studios. Out of the 20 highest grossing films last year, only two of those films were rated R.”

Tom Adams, an industry analyst with IHS says that’s why PG-13 is so important: “It’s teenagers,he says.
 
Adams notes that while PG-13 films brought in over half of the revenue from last year’s box office, PG-13 titles are only 14 percent of the market.

The MPAA says the changes to movie ratings will take affect, at a theater near you, on May 1.

Correction: The orinigal article misspelled the name of Brent Lang. The text has been corrected.

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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