By Hammad Zaidi | April 12, 2011

Believe it not, there are travesties in the world of entertainment greater than Pia Toscono getting kicked off of American Idol, and Tiger Woods continuing to solidify his recent reputation for mediocrity during the Masters Golf Championships at Augusta National.  One such travesty is currently happening to The King’s Speech, this year’s Academy Award winner for “Best Picture,” “Best Director,” “Best Actor,” and “Best Original Screenplay.” You see, the film’s distributor, also known as the sometimes evil but always brilliant Weinstein Company, recently cut out the 15 or so “f bombs” dropped by the King of England in the film, in order to reduce their current “R” rating to more sanitized “PG-13” rating for their recent April 1 re-release. Never mind the fact that The King’s Speech has already earned over $388 million worldwide. Furthermore, it’s made $137 million domestically, but only $2 million of $137 million was earned as a “PG-13” rating.

However, like it or not, history has proven that “R” rated films rarely achieve the same box office success as more gently rated films. Thus, in an effort to shed some light on how a film’s rating translates to its financial success, here is some interesting information that filmmakers should consider while they’re developing and producing their next film.

“PG-13” “PG” and “G” Ratings Always Outperform “R”
While it’s no surprise that “PG-13,” “PG,” and “G” rated films consistently out perform their “R” rated counterparts, it may be a bit eye opening to see how dominant the trend actually is.

For example, in 2010, only one “R” rated film broke into the top 20 domestic box office grosses. The film was Shutter Island, and its $128 million domestically was only good enough for #18 on the list. Conversely, Toy Story 3, a “G” rated film, topped the list with over $415 million in domestic box office grosses. Of course, Toy Story 3 enjoyed a much wider release than Shutter Island. It also benefitted from mass marketing, advertising campaigns and tie-ins that cost more than the entire budget of Shutter Island. But, as you can see from the list below, of the top 20 grossing films in 2010, nine were rated “PG-13,” nine more were rated “PG,” one was rated “G,” (the number #1 film, Toy Story 3) and one was rated “R” (Shutter Island). Thus, there is a direct relationship to ratings and box-office performance.

The following list is information found at www.the-numbers.com:


Movie Release Date Genre MPAA 2010 Gross Tickets Sold
1 Toy Story 3 6/18/2010 Adventure G $415,004,880 52,598,844
2 Avatar 12/18/2009 Action PG-13 $408,392,727 51,760,802
3 Alice in Wonderland 3/5/2010 Adventure PG $334,191,110 42,356,288
4 Iron Man 2 5/7/2010 Adventure PG-13 $312,433,331 39,598,648
5 The Twilight Saga: Eclipse 6/30/2010 Drama PG-13 $300,531,751 38,090,209
6 Inception 7/16/2010 Thriller/Suspense PG-13 $292,568,851 37,080,970
7 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I 11/19/2010 Adventure PG-13 $283,533,215 35,935,769
8 Despicable Me 7/9/2010 Comedy PG $251,203,225 31,838,178
9 Shrek Forever After 5/21/2010 Adventure PG $238,736,787 30,258,148
10 How to Train Your Dragon 3/26/2010 Comedy PG $217,581,231 27,576,835
11 The Karate Kid 6/11/2010 Adventure PG $176,591,618 22,381,701
12 Tangled 11/24/2010 Adventure PG $167,821,986 21,270,214
13 Clash of the Titans 4/2/2010 Action PG-13 $163,214,888 20,686,298
14 Grown Ups 6/25/201 Comedy PG-13 $162,001,186 20,532,470
15 Megamind 11/5/2010 Adventure PG $144,192,018 18,275,287
16 The Last Airbender 7/1/2010 Adventure PG $131,772,187 16,701,164
17 Tron: Legacy 12/17/2010 Drama PG $131,304,844 16,641,932
18 Shutter Island 2/19/2010 Thriller/Suspense R $128,012,934 16,224,706
19 The Other Guys 8/6/2010 Comedy PG-13 $119,219,978 15,110,263
20 Salt 7/23/2010 Thriller/Suspense PG-13 $118,311,368 14,995,104

“PG-13” and “PG” Command the Majority of Market Share
Even beyond the top 20 grossing films {of 2010}, “PG-13” and PG titles continue to dominate the overall box office, accounting for 71.75% of the total domestic box office. As for “R” rated films, they wrangled a respectable 23.26% of the domestic box office, but there were more rated “R” films released (188) than “PG-13” and “PG” films combined (179).

Here’s another list of information found at www.the-numbers.com, regarding the market share for each MPAA rating in 2010:

Market Share for Each MPAA Rating in 2010

Rank MPAA Rating
Gross Tickets
1 PG-13 114 $4,506,749,870 571,197,701 43.94%
2 PG 65 $2,852,537,341 361,538,321 27.81%
3 R 188 $2,385,575,717 302,354,34 23.26%
4 G 9 $509,249,849 64,543,708 4.96%
5 Not Rated 7 $3,238,204 410,419 .03%
6 NC-17 1 $291,607 36,959 .00%

MPAA Ratings Key Points
The Motion Picture Association of America requires all feature films, which were made commercially and are available for screening to a paid audience, to be submitted for an MPAA Rating, as long as a) those films are released by distributors who are “MPAA members” b) play theatrically for at least 7 consecutive days or c) are distributed for home use (i.e. DVD, V.O.D. etc).

Distributors who are not members of the “MPAA” can also submit their titles, but they are not required to accept the rating, or place it on or in their advertising.

The Classification and Ratings Board, (CARA) is the entity that actually rates all films that submit for an MPAA rating. Each member of this ratings board a) must be a parent and b) must not have any affiliation with the entertainment industry.

Filmmaker Alert: Remember this point, because the people responsible for delivering the rating for your film are not film industry professionals. Thus, film ratings are decided much like juries with no knowledge of the case decide lawsuits.

CARA will also rate any motion picture at any time, before or after it’s distributed or exhibited in the United States.

The Ratings’ Meanings At A Glance
The MPAA states the following about their ratings at www.MPAA.org.

G — General Audiences. All Ages Admitted. A G-rated motion picture contains nothing in theme, language, nudity, sex, violence or other matters that, in the view of the Rating Board, would offend parents whose younger children view the motion picture.

PG — Parental Guidance Suggested. Some Material May Not Be Suitable For Children. A PG-rated motion picture should be investigated by parents before they let their younger children attend. The PG rating indicates, in the view of the Rating Board, that parents may consider some material unsuitable for their children, and parents should make that decision.

PG-13 — Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13. A PG-13 rating is a sterner warning by the Rating Board to parents to determine whether their children under age 13 should view the motion picture, as some material might not be suited for them. A PG-13 motion picture may go beyond the PG rating in theme, violence, nudity, sensuality, language, adult activities or other elements, but does not reach the restricted R category.

Here are some more key elements of a PG-13 rating, as described by the MPAA:

Any drug use will initially require at least a PG-13 rating. More than brief nudity will require at least a PG-13 rating, but such nudity in a PG-13 rated motion picture generally will not be sexually oriented. There may be depictions of violence in a PG-13 movie, but generally not both realistic and extreme or persistent violence. A motion picture’s single use of one of the harsher sexually derived words, though only as an expletive, initially requires at least a PG-13 rating. More than one such expletive requires an R rating, as must even one of those words used in a sexual context.

R — Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian. An R-rated motion picture, in the view of the Rating Board, contains some adult material. An R-rated motion picture may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously. Children under 17 are not allowed to attend R-rated motion pictures unaccompanied by a parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 — No One 17 and Under Admitted. An NC-17 rated motion picture is one that, in the view of the Rating Board, most parents would consider patently too adult for their children 17 and under. No children will be admitted.

While I’m well aware of the fact that MPAA ratings may be the very last thing any filmmaker will worry about when developing, producing or completing their feature film, I’m also aware that information is power. Thus, filmmakers should be well aware of the pesky anthills that lay ahead, before those anthills become insurmountable mountains.

I hope everyone survives tax deadline week, I thank you again for lending me your eyes and I look forward to borrowing them again next week.

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