Websites allow viewers, parents to gauge whether films are appropriate for their children
Posted July 31, 2016
When 22-year-old Kelsey Kocherhans attended the PG-13 movie “Dinner for Shmucks” on a date, she was disgusted by the amount of the crude jokes and scenes that were in the film.
“It got super uncomfortable,” Kocherhans said. “It was super crude. They talked about nasty things. … It was visually gross, trying to be subtle about it but still there were gross images.”
Not knowing what the film was about beforehand, Kocherhans decided then to always look up a film before going, instead of relying on others' opinions.
“I don’t go off of what other people think I should watch. I figure out for myself if I should see it,” Kocherhans said. “Everybody has a different opinion. It’s good to just look it up for yourself and decide from there.”
According to the MPAA website, the Movie Picture Association of America has been in place in some form since 1922. After the introduction of PG-13 films in 1984, the rating system has been the same with G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17 movies. MPAA has been the official company for rating films since 1990, and although these ratings provide general guidelines, some viewers such as Kocherhans feel like they can be too flexible.
“I trust them to an extent, but I feel there are many PG-13 movies that could be R,” Kocherhans said. “Within each rating is such a wide range of how offensive it may be. But to an extent, they are helpful for at least a starting point to decide if a movie is going to be appropriate or not.”
To give individuals and families a better idea of what the film contains, many websites provide in-depth information for why a movie has its rating, each with its own reviewing style.
Salt Lake resident and mother of two Sarah Jamieson trusts movie review websites more than the rating system.
“I don’t think (the rating system) can really tell you what’s in the content,” Jamieson said. “A rating can’t really tell you whether or not it’s something I can go see.”
Because of this, Jamieson uses IMDB’s parental guide to see if the movie is appropriate or not. The parental guide gives short descriptions of scenes containing violence, gore, sex, nudity, profanity, fighting and intensity, and when alcohol, drugs and smoking appears.
Using data collected from IMDB's parental guide, Randal S. Olsen, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, said on his website that in 2013, 5 out of every 10 big-screen films with a PG rating or higher had some form of sex, 5 out of 10 had some form of violence and 2 out of 10 portrayed drug use. Additionally, 8 out of every 10 films in 2013 contained cursing, with 55 percent of all PG-13 movies receiving that MPAA rating for some form of language.
Reviews on IMDB.com are written by users who have an account with the website. Users are asked to keep opinions out and write of when the film shows potentially objectionable content.
“(Using IMDB,) I can always be prepared and can make the decision myself, versus just looking at a rating and … being surprised or disappointed when I get to the movie,” Jamieson said.
Common Sense Media, which critiques and reviews movies, books, television shows and video games, is another popular website used by parents.
“We want to give parents the information they need to manage their media decisions for their family,” said executive editor for reviews and ratings Betsy Bozdech.
Common Sense Media gives a brief summary of the plot, violence, sex and profanity within a review of the film. The review includes quality of the film rated on a one to five star scale and suggests an appropriate age for viewing.
“We rate and review movies from the perspective of child development and age appropriateness,” Bozdech said. “Based on a lot of the work we’ve done over the years with experts in child development, we’ve come to the understanding (what) typically at these ages kids are ready for … physically, cognitively, socially.”
The one to five star scale is provided by both parents and children. It is to help parents see if the movie is worth their time and money.
“We review it from the standard quality perspective too,” Bozdech said. “Something could be totally age appropriate for a 5-year-old and really a waste of time.”
Meanwhile, Kids-in-Mind.com gives detailed descriptions of scenes containing violence, gore, sex, nudity and profanity without disclosing an opinion of the film. Linda Pearson, lead critic for Kids-in-Mind, described the website as a “food labeling system” for films, giving people a simple way to learn exactly what the movie contains.
“We provide the information as simply as we can,” Pearson said. “Some of the reviews get pretty long … just by providing enough information so that (families) can determine if this is something that’ll be OK.”
Kids-in-Mind critics attend a press screening showing before movies are released and note what parents would want to be aware of before taking their family to a movie. According to Pearson, the critics keep their opinions out and focus on the facts of what occurs in the scenes. Themes and topics that may be sensitive to children (abuse, trauma and low self-esteem, etc.) and the overall message the film presents are also noted.
“We try to be sensitive to anything that would be considered troubling or objectionable, with our particular mindsets put on the back burner,” Pearson said.
Pearson said Kids-in-Mind provides a better judgment of the movie than the rating, especially when it comes to PG-13 films.
“We determined that the MPAA ratings were really not helpful anymore,” Pearson said. “There is a (wide range of) content that is allowed in PG-13 films. In that regard, we feel like our system is more informative and more useful.”
For many people, including Jamieson, these websites provide a way to bring family together and know that they will view appropriate entertainment.
"I’ve never had to go to a movie and have to be disappointed and leave (since using an online content reviewing tool)," Jamieson said. "It helps because it gives us a way to be able to not be surprised when we go, and we can enjoy things more."