Studios Pay to Have Movies Rated
By Chad Upton | Editor
I always find it funny when movies come out on video and they’re advertised as “unrated.”
The “unrated” designation seems to imply that the film is so outrageously sexual, horrific or crude that there’s no rating that could possibly classify how extreme it is. But, that’s not usually true.
While the unrated release may be more sexual, horrific or crude than the rated version, it also may not be. To me, it’s just like doing a math test, not handing it in and calling it “ungraded.” In either case, it doesn’t necessarily reflect the nature of the content — it just means that it didn’t get a stamp from somebody with elbow patches.
The movie rating process varies by country. In some places, such as Australia, movies are rated by the government. In other places, such as the United States, an independent organization handles ratings.
In the US, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) actually has a trademark on the ratings known as: G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17. That means those ratings cannot be used without the permission of the MPAA. That adds credibility to the rating system, but it also adds digits to their bottom line. You see, when a filmmaker or studio submits a film for rating, they pay $2,500 – $25,000 to have their film rated (based on cost of the film and the annual revenue of the studio).
The MPAA also has an agreement with the major studios: that all theatrical films will be submitted for rating. That’s why most movies that you see in the theater have a rating. It’s not a legal requirement, at least not in most places. In fact, it’s a business decision.
Even though it costs a lot of money to have a film rated, it can be well worth it. The rating that a film receives can dramatically impact the film’s success at the box office. For many films, the lower the rating, the wider the audience. But, in the case of movies that are targeted at older teenagers and adults, higher ratings may be more appealing. This is part of the phenomenon that contributes to the status of the “unrated” marker.
The rating a movie gets is so important that studios will often re-cut and resubmit a film for rating multiple times, until it receives the rating that they want. It’s all marketing, they know how they’re going to promote the film and the rating has a lot to do with it. Each time they resubmit a film, it costs $2,500.
The factors that contribute to ratings include: sexual content, violence, profanity, drug use and other material that may offend some audiences. The interesting part is that films released internationally are often re-cut for each country or cultural area. Sexual content in America generally pushes the rating up while the same content in France and Germany is more socially acceptable and does not necessarily increase the rating there. On the other hand, extremely violent films may be re-cut and toned down for those same markets where intense violence is less acceptable to ensure a lower rating.
The ratings board is made up of 9 people (mostly men), ranging in age from 44 to 61. More recently, the board has been accused of “ratings creep” — the idea that movie ratings are becoming more lenient over time. A Clockwork Orange originally received an X rating in 1971, reserved for films that are recommended for adults over the age of 18. But the X rating is not part of the MPAA rating system that we know today. A Clockwork Orange was later given an R rating, which suggests that viewers under the age of 17 by accompanied by an adult. Clearly, it got a much lower rating the second time around.
The marketing of “unrated” films suggests they are similar to old X rated films. If you want to see an unrated film, check out some recent releases: The Hangover, Get Him to the Greek and Hot Tub Time Machine.