The rating system, legally, is entirely voluntary; however, few producers outside the pornography niche decline to submit to the rating system due to potential effects on revenues (see NC-17, below), so the system has a de facto compulsory status in the industry.
The original movie ratings consisted of:
One of the unintended side effects of the rating system is that the G rating has been associated with children's films and is widely considered to be commercially bad for films targeted at adults. In a number of cases (such as the movie Sneakers[?]) directors have intentionally added profanity in order to avoid the G rating.
Confusion (many parents thought films rated "Mature" contained more adult content than those that were "Restricted") led to the introduction of the GP rating (General audiences - Parental guidance suggested) in 1969. This was later (1970) changed to PG (Parental Guidance suggested), and the age limit raised to 17, though children could still be allowed into theaters without being accompanied by an adult.
During the early 1980s, a number of PG-rated movies containing surprisingly violent content sparked off an overview of the ratings system. Two violent PG-rated movies affiliated with Steven Spielberg—Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins[?]—were the catalyst for the MPAA to modify the ratings system and introduce the PG-13 rating in 1984 (July 1). This rating still allows children under 17 to be admitted without a parent or guardian, but the rating does note that parents are "strongly cautioned" to be aware of potentially shocking violence or sexual content.
The first movie to officially be released with a PG-13 rating was 1984's Red Dawn. The new rating also sparked a wave of generally mediocre PG-13 "teen movies."
Many films which are rated "R" have been aimed at teenage audiences. In 2000, due to issues raised by United States Senator Joseph Lieberman (Democrat from Connecticut), the National Association of Theater Owners, the major trade association in the U.S., started strict enforcement of ID checks for "R" rated movies. Many of these films, such as Blair Witch Project 2[?], ended up as box-office failures.
The X rating was never officially trademarked by the MPAA, and it was usurped by the adult entertainment industry to the point where an X rating was universally seen as being equated with pornography. However, a few movies have been rated X for violence, including Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer[?]. A large number of newspapers and TV stations refused to place any ads for X-rated movies, a move that guaranteed box-office death for any movie labelled with the X rating. When a number of filmmakers chose to release their movies without an MPAA rating rather than let them be labelled X, the MPAA introduced the NC-17 (not for children 17 or under) rating in 1990 to differentiate MPAA-approved adult-oriented films from unapproved X-rated movies.
The first movie to be released with an NC-17 rating was Henry and June[?] in 1991. However, several large newspapers continue to refuse ads for NC-17 movies. While a number of movies have been released with the NC-17 rating, none of them have been large box-office hits, and NC-17 is still seen in many circles as being a guaranteed money loser.
The current MPAA movie ratings consist of:
The movie rating system has had a number of critics, including Roger Ebert, who argues that the system places too much emphasis on not showing sex while allowing the portrayal of massive amounts of gruesome violence. Moreover, he argues that the rating system is geared toward looking at trivial aspects of the movie (such as the number of times a profane word is used) rather than at the general theme of the movie (for example, does the movie realistically depict the consequences of sex and violence).