Movies may be art and to tell stories, but as far as the funders and distributors are concerned, films need to make money and get the biggest possible audience. Achieving this may involve lying about a movie's content, showing all the best parts, or, with family movies, changing the rating.
Perception means a lot – R ratings tend to indicate something for adults (but not always). G ratings often indicate something for kids. In between are PG and PG-13 movies. So with a lot of otherwise perfectly clean, family-friendly movies, the word "damn" or "hell" (or both) might be added to the script, just to drop that dreaded G rating. At PG, the movie has a better shot at avoiding the "kid stuff" stigma that keeps teen or adult viewers away.
Adding a little swearing makes the film easy to edit for TV or airplane viewings without it interrupting the story. Sometimes stronger profanity is unnecessarily added, or the characters pay an irrelevant and fleeting visit to a strip club, or scenes are made more violent. Content is sometimes added to get an intentional PG-13 rating, or removed from a potential R-rated movie for the same reason. It's all about trying to get a certain audience to watch the film;
Ironically, the average G-rated film makes more money than the average R-rated film, but maybe only because G-ratings are rarer. In the UK, the practice is sometimes known as "fifteening" since the target was the BBFC 15 rating, though this faded with the advent of the 12 and 12A ratings.
Today in the U.S., it's nearly impossible to get a G rating on any live-action movie without some serious negotiation. It apparently is to reinforce the Animation Age Ghetto; the MPAA is more than happy to rate something as PG for "nothing offensive" because it's live action. Almost no live-action movies make it to theaters with a G rating anymore.
It wasn't always this way. Since 1968, when modern MPAA ratings began, the G rating has shifted and been significantly Flanderized. Originally, "G" ratings were for movies for a "General" audience, not for "Grandmas & Goo-goo-babies." The earliest G-rated films not only included violence, but sometimes even showed blood. Planet of the Apes, released the same year the MPAA ratings started, was rated G, but you saw Charlton Heston's bare butt and violence, and heard "damn dirty ape" and "God damn you all to hell!" As late as 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was rated G despite a couple of horrific deaths by Teleporter Accident.note The G-rated Gone with the Wind (which was made during The Hays Code era, long before the modern ratings system, but received a G rating upon rerelease in 1971) has the most famous use of the word "damn" in history. It also contains a lot of other distinctly non-G-rated things — barely-off-screen sex, open bloodshed, and a sea of dead bodies.
The change happened in the early 1980's, about after complaints from Moral Guardians about movies like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Gremlins and Poltergeist, all of which received PG ratings, and thus were seen by many young children who really shouldn't have. After this, the MPAA introduced the PG-13 rating, so movies that would've been PG under the old standard became PG-13, with the more "mature" G movies now becoming PG. Thus, the demographic for films that remained G became very young.note This happened shortly before VCR's took off. It turned out that the sort of film that could get a G rating after that is the sort that is usually more profitable direct to video.
Later attempts to content-rate other media in the United States used the by-now-obvious shortcomings of the MPAA system as an object lesson. When US television created its ratings in the late 90's, the "G is for Grandma" effect was mentioned specifically, and is almost certainly the motivation for the US TV rating system having both a TV-Y rating and a TV-G rating: TV-Y is "specifically for kids", and TV-G means "nothing offensive". Similarly, the ESRB ratings for video games, needing to account for both content and playability, have both the "E for Everyone" rating and others for younger age groups (some lower-end E10+ games suffer as well, albeit to a lesser extent). Even though the video game industry is no stranger to edginess for marketing's sake, this trope is probably least common in video games. That said, "E for Everyone" changed from its original name, "K-A for Kids to Adults", specifically because games sold better among older gamers when the rating didn't have "kid" in it.
See Rated M for Money, and for more information on the rating systems see Media Classifications.
This is NOT about movies that just happen to have a high rating. It is only about when something clearly unnecessary and unneeded is added to bump the rating higher, because without it the rating would be lower than what the company wants. Also note that it's not always certain what caused a movie to get (or not get) a certain rating, as outside of a few guidelines, the MPAA ratings are a black box.
Allegedly Titan A.E. was originally given a G rating so the producers, not wanting to offend their target demographic, older kids and teens, added a brief shower scene to bump it up to PG.
Sneakers is not a kids' movie, nor is it exactly "light, family-friendly fare", but it has very little violence and no sex. In order to prevent the movie from getting a G (or even a PG) rating, which would have been disastrous on several levels, the directors added foul language and some references to sexuality to bump it to PG-13, including a Precision F-Strike from none other than Sidney Poitier.
The film of Jane Austen's Emma added the word "bitch" (describing a female dog) to escape the G rating.
The film of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility was sneakier; the filmmakers there avoided the G rating by inserting some profanities into the background din of a ballroom scene.
According to Hollywood legend, Star Wars: A New Hope came back from the ratings board with a notice that it had fallen squarely between G and PG. The producers requested it be given the PG rating.
In an inversion of this trope, Terrence and Phillip were originally going to sing "Mother Fucker", which got the film an NC-17 rating. To make it rated R, the song was changed to "Uncle Fucker". Trey and Matt said the change made the song funnier.
Matt and Trey also said that the ping-pong ball scene was edited too in order to avoid the NC-17 rating. Originally, the woman actually was shooting ping-pong balls out of her vagina instead of just looking like it until we finished.
The infamous line "Oh shit, what are we gonna do now?" from the 1986 Transformers: The Movie was there to give it a PG rating (and "Open, dammit, open!" may have served that purpose too). This was reportedly in order to make sure that parents knew which toys to buy. Like Star Wars, this didn't work in the UK, where it got a U rating (though the line is missing from some DVD versions).
The Family Home Entertainment video release of 1986's The Transformers: The Movie included Ultra Magnus's "Open, dammit, open!", but lacked Spike's "Oh shit".
Oddly enough, despite the film including profanity to bump up the ratings, one of the songs in the soundtrack, NRG's "Instruments of Destruction," had some of the lines rerecorded to edit out comparatively mild words - "iron birds of foreplay" was changed to "iron birds of fortune," "violent seduction" to "violent eruption," and most bafflingly "iron tools of torture" to "iron tools of torment." Granted, the first two (particularly the first) could be argued to have been cut because they were of a sexual nature, but torture to torment is just... weird. In a Funny Moment, the band later rerecorded the song again with all the lyrics replaced with a loop of Spike's infamous line, as a protest to the changes they were forced to make.
The producers of Chariots of Fire felt that an utterance of the word "shit" in its dialogue would keep the film from a G rating.
In the UK, 15 is the most common rating for any film not specifically marketed as family viewing and (according to the IMDB) the most common rating overall.
This is true, of 100 films around 60% will get 15 and 12A rating, 10% will get 18, 10% will get a U and 20% will get PG. Even the word "cunt" alone doesn't justify an 18, as both Kick-Ass and Shaun of the Dead feature the word and only get a 15 (mentioned by Simon Pegg on the commentary who bemoaned "15 rating horror" and then got one).
American made films do occasionally suffer due to the differences in ratings between the UK and US. Because the US ratings go from 13 to 17, and the UK goes 12 to 15 to 18. While a some R or NC-17 rated films fall naturally into the 15 range, others get cut to force them into it, as it is deemed more profitable than 18. For example, the subway fight between Smith and Neo in The Matrix has the headbutts cut out of it in the UK version.
In the UK, the movie Spiderman has been mis-associated with an overhaul of the BBFC ratings system. A large number of parents thought its 12 rating (legally enforced) was too high, and they wanted their younger children to be able to see it, leading some local councils (who have the the final say on film certificates) to let the film be released as PG or PG-12. This coincided with the introduction of, and pretty much replacement in cinemas by, the 12A rating (still legally restricted to this age, and still labelled as just 12 for video, but adults may bring minors if they feel the film is appropriate).
The same situation had happened for Mrs. Doubtfire and resulted in that film being cut for PG.
Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, in order to achieve an "R" rating today, a motion picture must contain full frontal nudity, graphic violence, or an explicit reference to the sex act. Since this film has none of those, and since research has proven that R-rated films are by far the most popular with the moviegoing public, the producers of this motion picture have asked me to take this opportunity to say "Fuck you."
Every theatrical movie has to display the trademarked MPAA logo and its assigned Rating at some point during the film. Most choose to show this at the very end after the credits, and a few choose to show it at the very beginning prior to the studio's logo. Student Bodies showed it right after the above announcement in the middle of the film.
The fact that The Happening was M. Night Shyamalan's first R-rated film was a huge marketing point. Despite there being very little gore (plenty of off-camera violence and Gory Discretion Shots here) no sex or nudity, and to memory, two swear words: "pussy" and "bitch".
The movie of Stuart Little got a PG rating by having the villains occasionally say "damn" or "hell."
Inverted by Pokémon: The First Movie: it was rated G despite its strong violence and its disturbing themes and images. Ironically it was given a PG rating in Canada, which is generally more lenient about movie ratings.
Rock and Rule: It was animation, and sex, fantasy drugs and swearing made the company drop it like a hot potato, since it wasn't as risky as other films in its genre either; however, at the start of production, it was meant to be a kids' movie.
At one point in the movie Beetlejuice, Charles Deetz screams "shit" very loudly (but perhaps as an understatement considering the near death situation he had just experienced) and this noticeably spices up a dark yet mostly clean movie.
And just in case that went over your kids' heads, there's the brothel within said model.
The movie Billy Jack is rated PG even though there is a line in the film where one of the characters says, "What we have to show is that the whole world is fucked up?"
Billy Jack is from 1971, when a bit of harsh language or even nudity in a PG movie wasn't unheard of (there's even a brief flash of the title character's bare butt in the 1973 Tom Sawyer, a G rated movie).
Before PG-13, one F-word would get the film an R, no matter what context the word was used. However on some films, the MPAA did seem to allow one or more uses of the expletive in hard-PG films only after the producers appealed to overturn their original R-ratings (e.g., Sixteen Candles, The Right Stuff).
In an inversion, a minor controversy erupted over the religious-football movie Facing the Giants receiving a PG rating, as it was rumored that it was the result of the explicit Christian content (though more likely it was the football violence and themes concerning infertility).
The Score is a nice caper movie about a bunch of robbers. It would've earned a PG, maybe a PG-13, if not for the few dozen swearwords the characters used at every opportunity. It got an R.
The sole content descriptor for the movie of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is "brief mild language". This was an attempt to nudge the movie towards an older audience.
In the 2001 director's cut of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the rating was deliberately pushed up to PG. The new cut is still just barely PG. Paramount ignored this trope entirely with the Blu-Ray of the theatrical version, opting to place a "Not Rated" tag on the packaging. In the UK it was rated U.
Ocean's Eleven has two noticeably gratuitous F-bombs, contrasting the rest of the movie, which is squeaky-clean. Apparently it was added to secure a PG-13.
The fact that one of the F-bombs was one character's only line in English just made it a Funny Moment.
The Queen is a dialogue and mood driven character study, and got a PG-13 rating. No sex, no violence. But there's a lone f-word buried in the dialog so deeply it's easy to not even notice. Not that the movie really appeals to anyone under the age of 13. Similarly and for the same reason, it was rated 12 in the UK.
The King's Speech, a biopic about Prince Albert, the Duke of York; later King George VI, and his struggle with stuttering. It was rated R after two scenes that involved a Cluster F-Bomb. Other than that, there's no violence or sexual situations. Without the cluster f-bombs, or any of the other swear words briefly stated, this film could've been rated PG.
In the UK, this trope was actually inverted. Those scenes landed the film with a 15 rating, but the producers wanted a lower rating and eventually convinced the BBFC to give it a 12A (equivalent to PG-13; similar to the US, in the UK you're allowed one f-bomb for a 12A and any more than that makes it 15). The posters note that it contains "strong language in a speech therapy context". One suspects this was done to help the film appeal to the older audience that would likely make up a lot of the ticket sales.
Inverted in the US as well with the theatrical re-release that took out some of the profanities.
For much the same reasons as The Queen (i.e., a total lack of appeal to persons under 18 years old), one of the characters in Gosford Park gratuitously uses cluster F bombs on the phone to drive the rating up to an "R".
Inverted and lampshaded in "Ali G, Innit". In one sketch, Ali G explains that he's determined to get an '18' rating, so he says the word 'cunt'. This initially worked, but since it came out the language restrictions have been loosened such that that word can appear in something rated 15. Since this was the only thing that warranted an 18 for Ali G, Innit, it was promptly re-rated 15.
The Australian movie Playing Beatie Bow bears the PG label on the DVD cover. The reason? Abigail says "Oh, shit" towards the end. It even feels forced, as otherwise the movie is clean (and based on a YA novel to boot)
Tailsteak wrote a comic on the stinger to his hypothetical movie; said stinger consists of him in person saying a wall of swear words to boost the movie's rating up from PG to PG-13.
The tendency of rap music to do something similar was lampshaded in one episode of Bones, where Booth offers to charge a rapper with a crime-that would be dismissed in short order-to increase his record sales, as long as he cooperates.
Some sexually suggestive and drug-related jokes helped get the rating, as well.
Inverted by UHF, which would have been a PG-rated movie (for four utterances of "hell") if not for two scenes of comic bloody violence and a flying poodle scene that "Weird Al" Yankovic refused to cut, giving it a PG-13 rating. Al never felt that the film deserved the PG-13 even with those scenes.
Possibly gunning for a PG-13 rather than a PG, the Wachowski Brothers' Speed Racer film uses the word "shit" twice, notably by Speed himself in shouting "Get that weak shit off my track!" The film still only got a PG rating.
Were the World Mine is an incredibly clean cut queer interest film (even the simulated sex scenes are done so tastefully as to be perfectly clean). There are a few F-bombs scattered about the film to bump the rating up... Though it ended up being released unrated in the USA.
The Borrowers could have been G if not for one clear use of the word "damned".
Topsy Turvy would bore kids, but if you want to make it G, all you have to do is cut an optional scene with topless (and fleetingly bottomless) prostitutes.
Also, one character uses the word "fucking" which was not in general use as a swear word at the time. He immediately lampshades it by saying "Pardon my Anglo-Saxon."
It is amusing sometimes to see the content warning next to a ranking to see how they justify it. For instance, Batman Begins is rated 12 in Britain and contains 'moderate horror and violence'. The Dark Knight was attacked by some for being rated 12 as well, thanks to it seeming more brutal than it is.
The sixth Harry Potter film was rated "PG" after the two previous installments had merited "PG-13". In the UK, contrary to the trend seen so far on this page, it retained the same 12/12A rating as the fourth and fifth films. Despite the rating, it was arguably the most violent and frightening of any of the movies up to that point.
Macross Do You Remember Love featured some jarring scenes of detailed alien deaths, human decapitation and a naked Linn Minmay spinning in zero gravity. It was released in the US initially only as a heavily-edited version (under the name Clash of the Bionoids), but later a less-edited or unedited version was released (under the name Superdimensional Fortress Macross, and a running time of 115 minutes). The film was released uncut on VHS in the UK, with a PG rating.
Invictus would probably be PG for sports-related violence and a few curse words. A Precision F-Strike, used by the team captain as motivation, got it a PG-13.
Sweet 15, an indie movie about a Hispanic girl who is about to celebrate her 15th birthday and her family of illegal immigrants, would be completely clean except for one brief scene near the end; a cop walks up on a homeless kid loitering in an employees-only area and tells him to leave, responding to claims of illiteracy with "Then why don't you just get the hell out of here?". The movie probably wasn't even rated in the first place, making the gratuitous mild language just confusing.
Flubber had one instance of "damn" inserted just to earn the film a PG rating. Strangely enough, when the film aired on The Wonderful World Of Disney, it had the word seamlessly removed to bring it back down to TV-G.
The film The Astronauts Wife got an 18 rating in Ireland and the UK. Y'know why? Johnny Depp says "cunt". Once. There are a few "fucks" too, but there is no major violence or nudity that would warrant an "adults-only" rating otherwise.
The 1982 movie version of the musical Annie had two crooks say "You goddamned kid" to deliberately avoid being rated G.
The entire opening scene of Be Cool invokes and lampshades this phenomenon. While telling his friend about how stupid the MPAA system is, Chili says to him "Did you know you can only say fuck once? That's it. Or you get an R." That's the only time the word is uttered throughout the film - which received a solid PG-13.
Irony, given that the movie is a sequel to Get Shorty - which had more than 90 F-bombs dropped in it.
"Children of the Gods", the pilot episode of Stargate SG-1, has a scene that features a several minutes of full-frontal female nudity. This comes as a shocker to the audience, as another character was previously shown in similar circumstances, but the audience only sees her back above the waist.
Inversion: As noted, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, many films that would certainly get a PG or PG-13 today were rated G. (Examples include the gory Hammer Horror film Dracula Has Risen from the Gravenote the very first film to receive an MPAA rating, the first Airport movie, the aforementioned Planet of the Apes, and The Monkees' psychedelic Cult ClassicHead). One of these films, The Andromeda Strain, even carried this content warning on the original poster: "Rated G but may be too intense for younger children." However, since the MPAA rating system had just been created, the G rating didn't have the "kids only" stigma yet; it still meant "for general audiences".
Inversion: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was originally going to have Envy's line "Shut the fuck up, Julie" uncensored, and have Stephen saying "You know how I feel about girls cock-blocking the rock", but if they did have this, it would have landed the movie an R rating (plus, the movie had mentioning of gay sex, an orgasm scene, and one use of "cock" already, so the movie was close to getting an R rating as it was), thus the F-bomb was censored, and Stephen's line was censored by amp feedback.
Psychonauts features a few tiny uses of red blood (most noticeable example is when you step on the lungfish in Lungfishopolis, who will be laying in a big puddle of blood) and a few awkward usages of "ass," presumably to bump the game up to a T rating. Without them, there's very little in terms of objectionable content in the game to justify a rating higher than an "E" or "E10+", but the themes it deals with are heavy and/or creepy enough that marketing the game to kids wouldn't have really worked. They just needed to add things the ESRB would actually object to.
A racial slur briefly used in the movie of The Help is what mainly gives it a PG-13 rating, but like Stranger Than Fiction, the whole pie scene probably would've put it in between PG and PG-13, so the racial slur was probably added to push it over.
We Bought a Zoo had three uses of "shit", two uses of "asshole" and one use of "dick" (all by a 7-year old) in order to try and push the movie up to PG-13 for language, as other than grieving over the death of a mom, the movie is pretty clean. However, their efforts did not work and the movie still got a PG.
Aside from the occasional radar-dodging innuendo or heavy theme that kids wouldn't understand, the Updated Rereleases of Final FantasiesIthroughVI have almost entirely clean translations. Presumably for reasons pertaining to this trope, these translations also have several (very) occasional PG-level swear words - enough for the ESRB to complain about, but used sparingly enough to market the games towards general audiences.
Inverted in the case of the 2011 film Bully. The producers wanted a PG-13 rating so the documentary could be shown in schools and so that kids could go see it without requiring a parent present, but due to a single scene with multiple F-bombs it got rated R. This caused a huge uproar and a ton of complaints directed at the MPAA. Eventually they were forced to lower the number of F-bombs in that one scene to get the PG-13 rating.
Inverted in the case of The Hunger Games. The source material has some pretty graphic violence which was toned down for the film to avoid an R rating. This made it easier for the target audience, teens, to see the movie. The UK release was still edited down to get a 12A.
Inverted in the case of Rio. Early promotional material said it was rated PG. Fox responded by pushing the film's release back a week (with only three months to release, no less) and edited it down to G by reanimating a pivotal scene.
John Waters thought any chance for Hairspray's success was ruined when it got a PG rating and didn't have time to modify it to target his usual adult audience. Instead, the lighter approach made it a major success, although he has had issues with people mistaking his other movies for family fare without looking at the rating.
The shot of Sacha Baron Cohen's penis late in the film seems to have been the only reason why The Dictator was given an R rating as most of the film was clearly shot with a PG-13 in mind. The trailer even appeared with some PG rated films (such as The Three Stooges).
From 1991 to 2004, there existed a law where to make things easier for the BBFC, any relatively tame cinema ads would be rated U, while not all of them were that tame, and any material which would classify the ad as PG or up would instead give the ad a 15 rating. Any ad worthier of a different rating would be submitted as a regular film. This advert, for example, earned an 18 rating without ending up in the 'Film Advertisement' category.
A Crimestoppers ad earned both a U-rated release and an 18-rated release, which had teen cursing as opposed to the one which replaces such words with "mucking".
Related, a lot of independent movies seem to believe this. Kid-friendly independent movies are rather rare, causing the perception that a lot of indie flicks are either pretentiouswaffling, homages to grindhouse movies, or overwrought dramas that have all the sex and violence that mainstream movies won't allow.
Major aversion: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974 features extremely little visible blood or gore and no nudity, drug use or swearing. Director Tobe Hooper was actually aiming for a PG rating. The film was rated R nevertheless.
Inverted with Raiders of the Lost Ark, as the filmmakers had to add a wall of fire to slightly obscure Belloq in the scene where his head explodes, otherwise the film would've gotten an R rating.
The 1995 Casper film had some gratuitous language ("Damn", "What the hell?", "Bitch") inserted to give it a PG rating (though the premise of death and reincarnation would have done it)
Scream was originally rated NC-17 (though movies with this rating don't get advertised on TV), and was forced to undergo some minor cuts to get its target R-rating. Director Wes Craven learned from this experience, and inserted MORE violence than he actually wanted in Scream 2 so that after getting an NC-17, he could cut down all the unnecessary violence to the level he wanted, creating a sort of an illusion that the film was censored down to healthy R-rated material. Ironically, the explicit cut of that film still received an R-rating.
Prom Night (2008) was given a PG-13 rating to attract a younger teen audience, and thus, was almost completely devoid of any and all blood and gore, in contrast to the original Prom Night, which retains its R-rating to this day.
The live-action Scooby-Doo movie was originally planned to have a PG-13, and be more of a teen-oriented parody relying on humor fit for college students, such as jokes about Shaggy and Scooby Doo being stoners and Velma possibly being a lesbian). However, Warner Bros. felt that in order for a Scooby-Doo film to make money, it must be marketed to kids, and the film was heavily edited down to get a PG. The film is still the tribute/parody it set out to be, just with cleaner humor. On Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network airings, the allegedly cleaner moments were toned down further to make it a G-rating.
Inversion: Shadow the Hedgehog was going to get a Teen rating because it was going to have red blood and depict Maria being shot on-screen, but because Sega did not want a Sonic game to get a T rating, they had to change the blood colors, and end the flashback of Maria being shot as soon as we hear the gunshot.
My Dinner With Andre was not submitted to the MPAA at all, perhaps for this reason. There is very little in this movie that would place it past a PG rating, but at the same time it is a very philosophical, cerebral film only suitable for a mature audience.
The Santa Clause achieved a PG through some sprinkled profanities and thinly-veiled jokes about LSD and phone-sex hotlines by Tim Allen. When such dialogue is censored on TV airings in the United States, it gets a TV-G. Averted by the sequels which all have G-ratings.
The phone sex hotline bit was edited from the video and television versions after a child watching the film actually called one of the numbers and his parents complained to Disney about the reference.
Custom Robo for the Gamecube: aside from some periodic flirting by the resident womanizer character, and some robot-on-robot violence, there is absolutely nothing in the game that warrants a T rating. There IS, however, a massive amount of reading/text involved in the story, and several of the battles can get quite challenging, so presumably it would be frustrating for younger gamers to get through. Custom Robo Arena for the DS, however, only got an E10+ despite similar a setup.
Averted in the case of Haywire. Steven Soderbergh wanted a PG-13 rating and intended for the film's violence to have as little bloodshed and graphic shots as possible. However, the MPAA gave the film an R rating due to the violence's intensity. Soderbergh tried to appeal the rating but lost and the film went out with an R rating.
Inversion: the 1971 Elaine May / Walter Matthau film A New Leaf (which May co-wrote and has since disowned) was given a G rating, in spite of the fact that "damn" was used several times, "son of a bitch" twice, and there was a scene of one of Matthau's suitors about to take off her bikini top.
Sentai Filmworks definitely want to give the Gintama movie a high rating: the word "fuck" is used three times in the dub, as well as profanities like "shit" and "asshole", along with a few crude sex jokes. The sub (and the actual Gintama show) do not have this kind of language.
The Live-Action Adaptation of Garfield has one use of "damned", several scenes of slapstick, and the use of a shock collar on Odie in order to give the film a PG rating.
Beautifully lampshaded in Close Encounters of the Third Kind when Brad responds to his dad's offer to take them all to see Pinocchio, "Who wants to see some dumb movie rated G for kids?" CE3K has a lone "Shit!" which was probably inserted for exactly that reason.
The movie Girls Just Want to Have Fun is almost squeaky clean, save for the moment when Drew tricks a lady into letting him touch her breasts.
Inverted with RoboCop (1987), which was given an X rating 11 times before Paul Verhoeven finally toned down the violence and added enough lighthearted moments to get an R rating. Years later, cue fan outrage upon learning the reboot will be PG-13.
Also inverted with Scarface (1983), which was given an X rating three times. Director Brian De Palma convinced the MPAA to give his third cut an R rating after getting real narcotics officers to tell them the film was an accurate portrayal of the drug underworld - then he released the director's cut to theaters with that R rating because the studio heads didn't know the difference between his three submitted cuts.
If it weren't for Pink, Vijounne, and Immorta's boob/butt/crotch close-ups, a penis innuendo ("Compensating for something, Baby Blue?"), and swearing (all of which is bleeped except for "hell"), then The Wonderful 101 would've easily gotten an E or E10+ rating. But due to how hard the game is, and due to the mature themes the game deals with, the developers had to add in content that would keep the ESRB from rating it E or E10+.
This may, incidentally, be partially responsible for the game's failure at market. The bright colors, silly characters, and cartoonish setting would suggest it to be family-friendly, but the cursing and innuendo say otherwise, leaving a game that appeals to a very specific audience.
Star Trek: Generations. Commander Data says "Oh shit" as the Enterprise started its dive into a planet's atmosphere so it would avoid a G rating. It ended up rated PG.
The found-footage horror movie Lucky Bastard earned an NC-17 because the plot took place on the set of a porn film. During a Q&A following the film's NYC premiere, co-writer Lukas Kendall recalled how the MPAA offered to suggest cuts to qualify for an R rating - many of which were contextually ridiculous. (One example: a sex scene at the four-minute mark that, despite showing no genitalia, much less penetration, featured "skin on skin contact." An incredulous Kendall retorted "But that's what happens during sex!") By the time the film got to the seven-minute mark, the MPAA notes had grown so long that Kendall and film-making partner Robert Nathan threw up their hands in disgust and accepted the NC-17. They went on to write a stinging indictment of the rating and why it needed to be abolished.
Basically nothing in Knytt Underground would warrant anything higher than an E rating. It owes its M rating to the entire existence of the character Cilia, whose apparent first - and only - language is Cluster F-Bomb.
Parodied on the Saturday Night Live movie trailer parody The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders, a home invasion horror movie as done by Wes Anderson. Despite all the scenes of violence and gore, it's still rated "G".
Inverted in the case of The Conjuring. James Wan shot the film with a PG-13 rating in mind, and it shows, with very little in the way of profanity (one "shit" and a few "damns"), sexual content (a mild reference or two), and even gore (a couple of bloody scenes, but fairly restrained in comparison to someotherPG-13 ratedhorror). Yet, it was rated R, the official reason being "for sequences of disturbing violence and terror," but one of the film's producers said it was simply too scary for a PG-13. Didn't stop it from becoming a Sleeper Hit.