Useful Notes: Media Classifications
"I could have easily cut you to ribbons."
"Not with a TV-Y7 rating, you couldn't!"Ratings put in place by the local Media Watchdog to give consumers an idea of the content of a specific media product, often times encouraged by the producers of said media in order to avoid the alternative of a Censorship Bureau. The specific criteria for assigning are usually fairly secret, although the two biggies (sex and violence) are given different emphasis in different parts of the world, so one critique of the system is that sometimes the difference between two assignments is a single addition of a cuss word. Occasionally the rating system is so seemingly arbitrary that it's possible to wonder why one film got a '15' when another, more violent and with more sex and swearing, managed to be rated '12'. In some parts of the world the ratings are enforced, while in others they are merely suggestions. For example a British retailer can be fined for selling a DVD rated '18' to a 15 year-old, while in the United States it's up to each retailer or theatre to choose whether or not to maintain the age restrictions, with the exception of selling or showing porn to minors. (Of course, any retailer or theatre that significantly broke these guidelines would immediately suffer huge backlash from the public, assuming they weren't some rinky-dink shop in a back lot too small to be noticed.) Canada is a special case: provincial ratings are enforced by their respective governments, while the pan-Canadian rating is only for home video, consist of the average of all the provincial ratings and is not enforced. Some US states have attempted to introduce ratings backed with the force of law, most recently California banning sale of M-rated video games to minors; as of June 27, 2011 this has been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, so industry-run voluntary systems it is. The most prominent and well-known ratings system for video games is administered by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (or ESRB). The ESRB is a volunteer organization that was created in the mid-90s after Mortal Kombat and Night Trap raised concerns about the content of violent or "mature" video games. The ESRB must review everything — they see a full script, review all art assets, and even play through the game — before they give a final rating, and they'll sometimes revise that rating post-launch if circumstances warrant (such as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas getting raised from "Mature" to "Mature - Adults Only" in the wake of the Hot Coffee scandal). Not to be confused with Media Categories FAQ, which covers how trope pages are divided up by medium on This Very Wiki.
Pretty much every country in the world has variations on the following classifications for film, TV or both:
Not classified or exempt from classification:(In most places (with exceptions; see below), things like exercise and instructional videos go under this.)
- UK: E for Exempt. Used by many distributors on the packaging of non-fiction home video works, which don't require a certificate unless they contain material that would be unacceptable at a "PG" rating. It is therefore sometimes assumed to mean E for Educational. Not actually an official rating, but a widespread convention.
- Australia: E.
- Germany: "Ungeprüft".
- In the United States, ratings systems are voluntary. Theaters generally enforce the movie ratings and most networks go along with the TV ratings, but retail-only videos are routinely sold unrated with no problems. In fact, some theatrically-released movies have "unrated" video editions to imply that they are raunchier or more violent, when it may only mean a minute of footage was added and the producers didn't pay to get the new version rated.
- In the Philippines, news and current affairs programs are exempted. Those broadcast by the major TV networks, however, may attach a PG or SPG rating depending on the content of the news items contained therein.
Suitable for young children:
- UK: Uc (i.e. Universal: particularly suitable for children) – this rating was used for home video only and was discontinued in 2009, following reports that it was actively off-putting to children.
- US: TV-Y (television).
- Canada: C
- Quebec: G
- Germany: FSK0.
- Portugal: M/3
Suitable for everybody:
- UK: U (i.e. Universal).
- Australia: G.
- US: G (film); TV-G and TV-Y7 [both with and without the FV for fantasy violence sub-rating] (television).
- Japan: G.
- Philippines: G (General Patronage) (film and television).
- Hong Kong: Category I
- Ireland: GEN.
- Canada: C8+ and G.
- Quebec: G.
- New Zealand: G.
- Netherlands: AL.
- Portugal: Para todos os públicos. (For all the publics)
Still suitable for kids, but parents should watch just in case kids get scared or have questions:
- UK: PG (i.e. Parental Guidance).
- When the British ratings system was changed in the early 1980s, a lot of older stuff got chucked into this category, despite possibly not being suitable. Take, for example, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, which features a background striptease, getting the PG rating. It was originally rated an A; had it been released a few years later, it would probably have been rated AA, which would be a 15 certificate today. The standards for stuff getting cut full stop back then were set by some very arbitrary means — if it gave John Trevelyan (British Board of Film Classification head from 1958 to 1971) a boner or made him sick (no matter how slight), it was cut.
- US: PG and PG-13 (film); TV-PG (television).
- Japan: PG-12.
- Philippines: PG (Parental Guidance, Patnubay at Gabay) (film and television, the latter having the translated part).
- Hong Kong: Category II and IIa
- Australia: PG (and some M).
- Germany: FSK6.
- Ireland: PG.
- Canada: PG.
- Quebec: Some G-rated films are tagged as "not recommended for young children", the equivalent of this as Quebec lacks a PG rating.
- New Zealand: PG (film), PGR (television)
- Netherlands: 6 and 9.
- Portugal: M/6
People under X years of age [usually 12 to 15] need an adult:
- UK: 12A (12 Accompanied/Advisory, that is under-12s allowed in only if accompanied by an adult) — introduced in 2002 after a two-year trial period in Norwich, with The Bourne Identity the first to receive this rating. Still-playing '12' films already in cinemas at that point, such as Spider-Man, had their rating altered to the new designation. Almost all films receiving this certificate go on to receive a 12 (see below) for home-media release.
- US: PG-13 and R (film; 17 years of age); TV-14 (television).
- Japan: R15.
- Philippines: SPG (Strong Parental Guidance, Striktong Patnubay at Gabay) (television) — This rating emphasizes the gravitas of the TV show's possible descriptors (themes, language, violence, sex, horror, and drugs) that may affect children and is thus applicable to anyone under 18.
- Canada: 14+ and 18+.
- Quebec: 13+, 16+, and 18+.
- Hong Kong: Category IIb (first used with John Woo's A Better Tomorrow)
- Australia: MA15+.
- Ireland: 12A, 15A.
- New Zealand: M (film, 16 years and over); AO (television, 14 years and over)
- Netherlands: 12.
- Russia: 6+, 12+, 16+, 18+.
- Portugal: M/6, M/12, M/14
People between X and Y years of age need an adult(certain movies require that people be over a particular age (usually 15) or with an adult (anyone 17 or 18 years old and older). Often overlaps with the above.):
- Australia: MA15+.
- Canada: 18A.
- Germany: FSK12 (over 6, under 12)
- Portugal: M/14, M/16
- US: R (Film) and TV-MA (Television)
People under X years of age not permitted at all:
- US: NC-17 (film).
- The MPAA once used the X rating, but the letter quickly became associated with porn (especially since it wasn't trademarked); from 1973 most theaters had a de facto ban on showing X-rated movies. The NC-17 rating was introduced in 1990 in an attempt to sell serious movies that otherwise would have been labeled X, but since the box office failures of Showgirls and The Dreamers (both of which were rated NC-17 for pervasive sexual content, including extremely frequent and explicit nudity), NC-17 itself is rarely used. Most theaters are restricted from showing "adult" films in their lease agreements, making NC-17 box office poison. Generally, the producer of a film that receives an NC-17 either releases it unrated, challenges the rating, or edits it down to R to get it into theaters and releases the uncut version as an unrated DVD. However, this might be changing; the 2011 film Shame attempted to challenge the status quo, and the well-reviewed Matthew McConaughey film Killer Joe followed it in 2012.
- UK: 12, 15 and 18. The latter two replaced AA and X in 1982, while 12 was added in 1989. Retired from film in 2002 because of the 12A rating.
- The '12' certificate is now academic as it is used only on home media, whereas '12A' (see above) is used in the cinema. In practice, 12 and 15 are loosely enforced. There is little equivalent stigma to the NC-17 situation above attached to the 18 rating, though directors may well still make cuts to seek a 15 certificate and so a broader potential audience.
- Like its American equivalent PG-13, the '12' rating was originally introduced in the cinema due to two problems created by the former large gap between 'PG' and '15'. On one hand, there was worry about the levels of violence and horror in certain action-adventure movies marketed to a family audience (with particular problems being caused by Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doomnote and Gremlinsnote ). On the other hand, there were complaints from film companies and audiences about comedies and dramas aimed at teens being rated '15' due to moderate profanity and implied sexual references (in particular Stand by Me).
- Australia: R18+.
- Japan: R18.
- Hong Kong: Category III
- Canada: R and A.
- Quebec: 16+ and 18+.
- Ireland: 16 and 18.
- Germany: All FSK ratings except FSK0.
- New Zealand: R13, R15, R16 and R18.
- Netherlands: 16.
- (This and the 18+ PEGI rating are ones that can be enforced by law (however, the 18+ rating has no legal status; thereby every person 16 years (the highest age limit) and older is able purchases a game which contains the 18+ rating from PEGI.), the rest are "suggestions")
- Portugal: M/16
- Philippines: R-13, R-16, R-18.
People Y or over, to be shown or sold in licensed venues only and not to be made available by mail order:
- UK: R18 – applies to material that can only be shown at licensed adult cinemas or sold at licensed sex shops. Essentially applies only to porn - a very small number of arthouse movies containing hardcore unsimulated sex scenes have been passed at 18 after convincing the BBFC of their True Art nature. Some types of kinky sex are still completely banned due to fears that they would contravene the traditional "liable to deprave and corrupt" obscenity law or more recent laws against "extreme pornography" (essentially, material featuring strong rape role-play or acts of BDSM considered to risk serious injury or death).
- Germany: Indexed products – applies to games, books and magazines; can be ordered by special adult delivery.
- Portugal: M/18, P (for Pornography)
Not to be sold:
- UK: R (Rejected).
- Australia: RC (Refused Classification)
- Philippines: X
The MPAA also has special rating cards for theatrical film trailers. In most trailers, the cards have a green background and note that the trailer has been approved for "appropriate audiences" or (since 2013) "to accompany this feature." (Until 2009, they were approved for "all audiences.") So-called "red band" trailers, having a red background and an approval for "restricted audiences only," are prohibited from being shown before movies rated G, PG or PG-13. One episode of Freakazoid! had Jack Valentinote giving a lecture of the Motion Picture Association of America's rating system as an interstitial, using a process of elimination on an example family as he describes the appropriate ratings. This speech is reprinted here for convenience:
- "Now, if a family wants to see a movie and it's rated G, then everyone can go: Mom and Dad and Buffy and Jody and Grandma and Grandpa and even Sergeant Scruffy. If it's PG, then there might be something unsuitable for young or sensitive viewers, in which case Buffy will just have to stay home. Along with Grandma, who didn't wanna go to the movies anyway. Now if a movie's rated PG-13, it might have some material in there that Mommy and Daddy might not like some of the young kids to see, so Jody might just have to stay home. Now if the movie's rated R, then it's gonna contain some adult material. In which case Dad, who's got a lazy tummy, will probably wanna stay home. But if the movie's rated NC-17, that means that kids can't get in, only adults can get in. Mom doesn't wanna see adult movies, but Grandpa was in the army, and he's not bothered very much and so he decides to stay, along with Seargent Scruffy, who's just a dumb dog anyway."
Video game classificationsThese are similar and yet slightly different:
ESRB (USA, Canada, Mexico)
- Ages 3+ — eC (Early Childhood)
- Ages 6+ — E (Everyone); originally known as KA (Kids-Adults) until 1998
- Ages 10+ — E10+ (Everyone 10+)
- Ages 13+ — T (Teen)
- Ages 17+ — M (Mature)
- Ages 18+ — AO (Adults only)
- Ages 6+ — GA General Audiences
- Ages 13+ — MA-13 Mature (13+)
- Ages 17+ — MA-17 Mature (17+)
PEGI ("Pan-European Game Information", Europe except for Germany)
- Ages 3+ (4+ in Portugal)
- Ages 7+ (6+ in Portugal)
- Ages 12+ (used to be 11+ in Finland)
- Ages 16+ (formerly 15+ in Finland)
- Ages 18+
- Without age restrictions
- Restricted 6
- Restricted 12
- Restricted 16
- Restricted 18
- R18 - this is used when the content is not merely raunchy sex scenes or a few horrible murders, but for extreme violent mutilation and hardcore pornography films.
- FSK 0
- FSK 6
- FSK 12
- FSK 16
- FSK 18
- A (All Ages)
- B (Ages 12+)
- C (Ages 15+)
- D (Ages 17+)
- Z (Ages 18+)
- Free (All Ages)
- Ages 12+
- Ages 15+
- Ages 18+
Anime & MangaThanks to the Animation Age Ghetto, many English versions of manga have ratings on the back, although nobody really pays attention to them at all. The ratings usually go as follows:
- A: All Ages, with absolutely nothing offensive whatsoever except maybe one obscure Parental Bonus.
- Y: Youth, 7 and up. Chaste kissing and monster fights go under here.
- T: 13 and up. Innuendo and blood.
- OT: Older Teens, 16 and up. Stuffed with fanservice or gorn. Some books may be shrinkwrapped at this rating.
- M: Mature, either really gory or hentai, both (let's not think about that), other types of disturbing / heavy content, or gay relationships note . Shrinkwrapped and usually not in bookstores anyway, but the papers are all too eager to inform you that some ten-year-old could pick it up in the library. (Which isn't too far from the truth. If a younger reader tries to check out Ghost in the Shell or AKIRA, libraries can't do much beyond suggest that it's inappropriate; it's not their job to decide what your kids are allowed to read, and without direct instructions from the parents many libraries won't deny materials to patrons.)
PornNot actually rated per se, though producers may use multiple "X" labels to imply that their movie is even raunchier than an ordinary vanilla X (XXX or "Triple-X" seems to be the most common). "X" was originally an official MPAA film rating, but was since replaced by NC-17 because of the pornography markets. Long story short: When the MPAA instituted the original ratings back in 1968, they put all of the ratings under trademark, meaning that only the MPAA could legally administer them, except the X rating. The rationale was that producers of edgy content could self-apply the mark if they so chose. The only thing is that the MPAA was thinking of "edgy" being more Midnight Cowboy — to this day, the only X-rated film to win an Oscar note and less Debbie Does Dallas. The situation was so bad by the '70s that when Dawn of the Dead (1978) was produced, George A. Romero was told he'd have to cut it severely to gain an R rating, otherwise his only rating option would be "X", and it would just be a matter of the MPAA or himself applying it. Unwilling to cut the film, and not wanting it to be viewed as porn, he took a third option by releasing the film without a rating, instead running all advertising with a disclaimer that said that the film had no sexual content whatsoever, but that due to the Gorny nature of the horror scenes, nobody under 17 would be seated. To rectify this, the MPAA, in the early '90s, replaced the by now completely discredited "X" rating with "NC-17", which was trademarked, ensuring that only the MPAA could administer it. Not that it did any good.)
MexicoMexico legally has only four alphabetical ratings, but most theaters make up for it with a couple of unofficial classifications:
- AA: Unofficial, usually means ages 3+. Also known as A3.
- A: All ages.
- B: Teenagers and older.
- B15: Unofficial, usually means older teenagers, 15+.
- C: Adults only. Theaters start asking here for voting cards (the official ID in Mexico).
- D: Contains highly graphic material. Usually means some softcore or a lot of Gorn. Hostel was one of the few films to receive this profitable honor.
AustraliaIn Australia, films and video games have six main levels of ratings:
- E — Exempt from classification (documentary, sport, news)
- G — for all ages
- PG — Parental Guidance is Recommended to persons under 15 years old
- M — for Mature Audiences
- MA15+ (Restricted 15+) — for Mature Audiences (Rating skipped for video games in South Australia; thank Mr Rau, attorney +general)
- R18+ (Restricted 18+) — Adults only (Video Games rated this are banned in New South Wales)
- X18+ (Restricted 18+) — Porn (available only in Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory due to State Laws)
- RC (unofficial) — Refused Classification; as such, it is unlawful to sell, import and exhibit.
- G — for All ages
- PG — Parental Guidance is recommended to young persons
- M — for Mature Audiences (Watershed 20:30)
- MA15+ — for Mature Audiences (Watershed 21:00)
- AV15+ — for Programs with a lot of Violence (Watershed 21:30)
United States BishopsThe United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Catholic News Service has its own ratings system for films (detailed here). These are not binding on Catholics, and are widely unknown or ignored today, though the organization's more active precursor, the Legion of Decency, helped pressure the Hollywood studios into enforcing The Hays Code. The classifications are:
- A-I — general patronage
- A-II — adults and adolescents
- A-III — adults
- Lnote — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling
- O — morally offensive. The O rating replaced the former B ("morally objectionable in part for all") and C (condemned) ratings in 1978.
- B — ages 1-4 and preschool-level children, no violence, swearing, adult themes or ideas young children cannot comprehend. As anyone younger than five has no business being on Fanfiction.net in any way, and the majority of Fanfiction.net's stories involving preschool franchises and characters are very adult parodies which would scar any child for life, this rating was quickly phased out of the system entirely. Similar to the ESRB's equally unused EC rating.
- K — ages 5+, no violence, swearing or adult themes. Similar to G.
- K+ — ages 9+, mild violence or swearing and no adult themes. Similar to PG.
- T — ages 13+, violence, mild language or mild adult themes. Similar to PG-13.
- M — ages 16+, strong adult themes, language or violence. Similar to R. Filtered by default on Fanfiction.net searches, which leads to an inversion of the Rated M for Money effect where writers sometimes hesitate to give adult-oriented stories an M rating for fear of losing potential readers.
- MA — ages 18+, explicit adult themes. Similar to NC-17. Controversially not allowed on Fanfiction.Net, at least in theory; in practice the administration seems to turn a blind eye to M-rated lemons beyond a cosmetic purge occasionally when some group en masse complains about them to satisfy their concerns, usually the infamous "Critics United".
- Adult — R
- Adult+ — NC-17
- Adult++ — porn