Readers’ Services: What Do the Ratings Mean?

A guide to understanding the ratings assigned by the Ratings Board of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA)


Movie ratings are decided by a full-time Rating Board located in Los Angeles. There are 10-13 members of the Board who serve for periods of varying length. They work for the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA), which is funded by fees charged to producers/distributors for the rating of their films.


G movies contain nothing in theme, language, nudity and sex, violence, etc. that would be offensive to parents whose younger children view the film. It is important to note that the G rating is not a certificate of approval nor does it signify a childrenís film.

Some language may go beyond polite conversation but the words used are common everyday expressions. No stronger words are present in G-rated films. The violence is at a minimum. Nudity and sex scenes are not present, nor is there any drug use content.

PG movies should be examined by parents before they let their children attend. The label PG plainly states parents may consider some material unsuitable for their children, but leaves the parent to make the decision. Parents are warned against sending their children to PG-rated movies. The theme of a PG-rated film may itself call for parental guidance. There may be some profanity in these films. There may be some violence or brief nudity.

However, these elements are not considered so intense as to require that parents be strongly cautioned beyond the suggestion of parental guidance. There is no drug use content in a PG-rated film. The PG rating is an alert for examination of a film by parents before deciding on its viewing by their children. Parents should exercise parental responsibility.  The PG rating is intended to serve as a meaningful guide and as a warning.

PG-13 is a sterner warning to parents Parents are alerted to be very careful about the attendance of their under-teenage children. A PG-13 film is one which leaps beyond the boundaries of the PG rating in theme, violence, nudity, sensuality, language, or other contents, but does not quite fit within the restricted R category. Any drug use content will initially require at least a PG-13 rating. In effect, the PG-13 cautions parents with more stringency than usual to give special attention to this film before they allow their 12-year-olds and younger to attend. If nudity is sexually oriented, the film will generally not be found in the PG-13 category. If violence is too rough or persistent, the film goes into the R (restricted) rating. A film's single use of one of the harsher sexually derived words, though only as an expletive, shall initially require the Rating Board to issue that film at least a PG-13 rating. More than one such expletive must lead the Rating Board to issue a film an R rating, as must even one of these words used in a sexual context. These films can be rated less severely, however, if by a special vote, the Rating Board feels that a lesser rating would more responsibly reflect the opinion of American parents.

PG-13 places larger responsibilities on parents for their children. The voluntary rating system is not a surrogate parent, nor should it be. It cannot, and should not, insert itself in family decisions that only parents can make. Its purpose is to give pre-screened informational warnings, so that parents can form their own judgments. PG-13 is designed to make parental decisions easier for films between PG and R.

R rated movies definitely contain some adult material. Parents are strongly urged to find out more about this film before they allow their children to accompany them. An R-rated film may include strong language, violence, nudity, drug abuse, other elements, or a combination of the above.  Parents should take this advisory rating very seriously.

Most parents will consider these movies to be too adult for their children under 17. And no children will be admitted. Legally, an NC-17 rating does not necessarily mean obscene or pornographic.  Excessive violence, sex, aberrational behavior, drug abuse or other elements require an NC 17 ratting.  The MPAA rating board feels most parents would consider these elements too strong for viewing by their children.

At The Library....

We encourage viewers to look for the rating assigned by the MPAA.  Itís on the back of the case in the lower left corner for most feature films.  If the movie is rated R, the barcode is marked in yellow.  Minor children need parental/guardian permission before checking out movies with yellow barcodes. 

It is important to note that many of the DVDs in our collection are not rated by the MPAA.  Examples of un-rated DVDs are can be found in Foreign, Indie, TV shows and British productions.  

When checking out an un-rated DVD, we recommend library customers exercise caution and consider cultural differences which may allow for a more relaxed stance on elements such as language and nudity, for example.

Customers with questions about un-rated DVDs can learn about them at or by calling Media Arts at 883-3638.