PG-13 Movies Have More Gun Violence Than R-Rated Films, Study Finds

PG-13 Movies Have More Gun Violence Than R-Rated Films, Study Finds

Gun violence in PG-13 movies has more than tripled since 1985

Heroes in big screen hits like “Skyfall” and “Iron Man 3” are more likely to be packing heat than they were three decades ago, according  to researchers at the Annenberg Public Policy Center and Ohio State University.

Gun violence in PG-13 movies has more than tripled since 1985, the study's authors write. In fact, last year  movies with that rating contained more gun violence than the top-grossing R-rated movies.  Since 2009, the amount of carnage in PG-13 films has been roughly equivalent to films that are rated R.

“It's disturbing that PG-13 movies are filled with so much gun violence,” Dan Romer, director of the Adolescent Communication Institute of the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) and a co-author of the study, said in a statement. “We know that movies teach children how adults behave, and they make gun use appear exciting and attractive.”

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PG-13 is the favored rating of studios, because it allows teenagers to buy tickets and can reach a wider audience than their R-rated brethren. Of the top ten films released in 2012, seven were rated PG-13.  The rating was first introduced in 1985 amidst protests about the amount of gore in PG-rated films like “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “Gremlins.”

Overall, the amount of violence in the highest grossing movies has more than doubled since 1950, which isn't exactly shocking, since censors were much stricter in the Eisenhower era than they are today. It took until the latter half of the 1960s, for films like “Bonnie & Clyde” and “The Wild Bunch” to weaken restrictions on the type of violent content that could be seen in movies.

To arrive at its conclusions, the study examined the 30 top-grossing movies each year from 1950 to 2012,  and found that 396 of the 420 movies studied since 1985, or 94 percent, had at least one, five-minute segment containing violence.

The study was published in the December issue of Pediatrics.

  • weetiger3

    It is for this reason that I asked the question, in my review of Captain Phillips, “why wasn't this movie rated R?”. Only about 13 min. of the film's 2 hrs 13 min running time is without guns, usually pointed at someone's head. Why is that okay in a PG film and yet one use of the dreaded “F-word” would have given the movie and automatic R?

    • The Dog-Biting Man

      “Why is that okay in a PG film and one use of the dreaded ‘F-word’ would have given the movie and automatic R?” Speaking of “the f word,” as mentioned from the MPAA: “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.” THE SOCIAL NETWORK was as rated PG-13 but it features two uses of “the f word.” X-MEN: FIRST CLASS and THE WOLVERINE were as rated PG-13, but Wolverine uses that word in a sexual context. And Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), as also, uses that word in a sexual context especially in the theatrical cut of LIMITLESS.

      • That Guy

        It's funny what a little bribery from a big studio can do to a ratings board.

  • ReDQLulz

    How can we ‘get by’ with only 300 million guns in America?
    Wayne LaPierre, the firearm-loving Frenchified foo’ with a tiny little heart of coal, says we need more, so rush right down to Wal-Mart and buy some guns. A local gunhugger will be happy to tell where you can purchase armor-piercing bullets.
    The NRA and the Funeral Home Operators Association of America will thank you.

  • hupto

    Can anyone remember a movie getting an NC-17 for violence? Nope. Always for sex. And even an R for only violence is rare; usually there's language involved as well. So THE KING'S SPEECH gets an R while the average splatterfest gets a PG-13. Our “values” have become totally ass-backwards.

    • jxr363

      Straw Dogs, Scarface, I saw the devil and Passion of the Christ all had to be recut or re-submitted. And “splatterfests” tend to get R ratings if blood does in fact splatters. (Captain Phillips being a notable exception) Explicit sexuality or violence tend to get R ratings and sensuality and less graphic violence tends to get pg-13. Having said that Europe's rating systems is far better than America's MPAA ratings system.

      • hupto

        You can't compare STRAW DOGS (1971) and SCARFACE (1983) to the system today; violence was much more of an issue in those days. And DEVIL and CHRIST actually went out unrated; though the latter was reissued in a cut “R” version (and promptly bombed), Gibson said he voluntarily made the cuts due to audience complaints about the gore, not because it might have gotten an NC-17.

        • Jeffrey

          You have it mixed up for “The Passion of the Christ”. It was first released with an R. “The Passion Recut” was later released unrated and, like you said, bombed.

          • hupto

            You are correct, but that merely strengthens my original comment that films almost never get an NC-17 solely for violence.

          • Leon

            Racist ass Mel Gibson feeds on the blood of babies. Passion more like the unnerved hate.

          • Lemony

            We get it, Leon, you don't like Mel Gibson. Thank you. Now start contributing to the actual conversation.

      • David J. Bondelevitch

        The NC-17 rating was not added until 1990. Neither Straw Dogs nor Scarface would ever have been NC-17. They would have been rated X, or more likely. released without a rating, limiting the release.

      • Leon

        Passion of the Christ had no guns. Also it was a terrible movie. Racist ass Mel Gibson

    • Jeffrey

      Actually, “Hatchet”, “Saw”, “High Tension”, “Frontier(s)”, and Sam Raimi's “The Evil Dead” are examples of films that got the NC-17 just for violence.

      • hupto

        I'll accept that, but as those were all micro-budget indies or foreign films, I'll amend my original statement to “no major studio film” ever got an NC-17 for only violence.

      • The Dog-Biting Man

        Speaking of ARMY OF DARKNESS, it is as pretty obvious of that film being as trimmed down in an attempt of getting PG-13 rating. Schucks, it gets an unexpected R mainly as the rating system's stupid act of revenge as done towards Sam Raimi who released EVIL DEAD 2 as unrated after that first sequel of the EVIL DEAD franchise originally got an unwanted X rating. And how can I tell, involving AOD? As also, it is as obvious of a graphic splash of witch blood not being as put into the theatrical cut AS an attempt of getting a lower rating. Bottom line: ARMY OF DARKNESS is as like an originally-X-to-supposedly-PG-13 sequel that is as well made than ROBOCOP 3 the R-to-PG-13 sequel. But I SERIOUSLY am not kidding with that line.

    • The Flobbit

      Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2 had no nudity, but were both NC-17.

  • jxr363

    This isnt surprising. Explicit violence warrants an R rating (filled with gore and dismemberment) because it focuses on scale and spectacle as a result of the rating's constraints. Its not disturbing that this is the case at all. Sexuality is measured similarly as well: A makeout scene gets a film a pg-13 rating while a more explicit sex scene gets the film an R rating. Example A Fast Five shoot-out/ car chase isnt as personal as a spoilers* slitting the throat of a mentally retarded teenager in Eastern Promises***. Thus, the former is friendlier to a wider audience than the latter.

  • Vince Yim

    The ratings to not accurately measure maturity level of the content when they completely remove it from its context, and when films are produced by major studios, there are going to be political reasons for assigning more commercially viable ratings, especially to films backed by major studios. (See “This Film is Not Rated” for more details, available on Netflix)

    The MPAA has long outlived its usefulness and should have been dismantled a long time ago. The only thing it's used for now is to cling to outdated business models, preserve the status quo, and keep the money within the hands of studio executives, as opposed to advance the cinematic art form by encouraging the development of new talent.

  • A.L. Hern

    It's not just that films are more violent than they were in 1950 (or 1960, or 1970), it's that they're more literal and prosaic. When the Motion Picture Production Code broke down for good in the late 1960s, freeing filmmakers to say and show whatever they liked, the cat-and-mouse game that screenwriters were forced to play with censors became a thing of the past. Unfortunately, that game resulted in better, cleverer writing that enlisted the audience in the storytelling process to a degree that doesn't exist now.

    If you want to know why a far, far greater proportion of films nowadays stink (yeah, they made stinkers during the Golden Age, too, but they were fewer and farther between, and even they were far less likely to be in deplorable taste and insult audiences’ intelligence), you need look no farther than the demise of the Production Code.

    Censorship is a terrible thing, but writers back then took a great deal of professional pride in outwitting those censors. What modern screenwriter can indulge in the schadenfreude of proving conclusively that a censor is exactly the kind of blue-nosed idiot everybody knows he is?

    As Margaret Mitchell put it so memorably, it's a civilization Gone with the Wind…

  • pbrstreetgang

    Films should not teach children ! Parents should

  • Stelio Kontos

    Censorship = fascism….responsible parents know what to show to their kids….This is what I find funny (and kind of frustrating) about you Americans is that although you scream about freedom of speech, these people basically run your lives….by the way, guns are for pussies….fight like a man, hunt like a warrior….

  • JoeS

    TOUCH a bare breast and you get an R. SHOOT or STAB a woman in her breast and it's a PG-13. And, mention twice the F-Word and you get a virtually automatic R.

    BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR got the equilvalent of a PG-13 in France.

    America, what a country!

  • NevertheSame

    The States should adopt the similar approach to that of the UK's ratings whereby nudity (which is natural) is not penalised with a higher rating but violence and threat is. The equivalent would be a 12A rating there.

    • Flashjordan

      Too much common sense there old boy, the thing is that our religious nutters don't have half the clout than their religious nutter do hence guns are good and nudity is bad!

  • liam quane

    They should have blood squibs in pg-13s. not to sound like a psycho but its more satisfying.

    captain america tfa, inception and the new bonds have them. why not the rest?

    • Flashjordan

      Then it would be a 15 and all the kiddies wouldn't be able to get in. Bloodless murder is just fine…

  • Leon

    Then can movie companies stop being lame now and start going back to making awesome rated R movies

  • MC

    Watch the Documentary THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED. It's in unflinching look at the MPAA. Ironically, the ratings board slapped this film with the dreaded NC-17…

    • MC

      One stand out in This Film Is Not Yet Rated is an interview
      with Kimberly Peirce. She stated that the MPAA originally gave Boy’s Don’t Cry
      an NC-17 rating and that the board had no issue of the bloodbath that ensued in
      the third act but had an issue a lesbian kiss that went on too long. It took
      trimming the tongue action that got the film an R rating instead of the
      original NC-17.

  • anne168


  • Matthew

    Wrong, the PG-13 rating first came around in 1984 with The Flamingo Kid and Red Dawn.

  • JPAR

    Soccer moms can buy a blackjack deck and DEAL WITH IT.

  • Rob Cypher

    The ratings system is corrupt and needs to be changed.