"Certainly an R rating is not as good for box office, no question about it," said Paul Dergarabedian, head of box office analytics firm Media by Numbers. "Last year, of the top 20 movies at the box office, 11 were PG-13. In 2006, out of the top 20 movies, 13 were PG-13. It's by far the most popular rating and it's the most profitable at the box office."
There is a certain kind of movie that reaps benefits from an R rating: The raunchy comedy, a la Judd Apatow's "Superbad" and "Knocked Up," which clinched the No. 1 and 2 spots at the box office, respectively, when they opened last summer.
"There's no question that for a certain segment of the audience, the R rating actually helps. These raunchy comedies that studios traditionally thought needed a PG-13 in order to get teenagers, now, they're doing well with the R rating," said Steve Zeitchik of The Hollywood Reporter. "But for an action adventure movie, the typical thinking is that you want to get all ages or as many age groups as possible. You're looking to rationalize a fairly high budget. You don't want to cut out anyone under 18."
So what are parents to do when movies that may well warrant an R rating score a PG-13? Independent movie rating services, like Kids-in-Mind.com, attempt to bridge the gap between the MPAA's cryptic system and what's actually being shown in theaters. Kids in Mind rates movies based on a 1-10 scale of severity in three categories: Sex and nudity, violence and gore, and profanity. This way, parents can find out about that pencil-jamming scene before their 8-year-old Batman fanatic develops lifelong nightmares.
"PG-13 today is really what R used to be 10 years ago," said Aris T. Christofides, editor of Critics Inc., parent company of Kids in Mind. "We allow parents to make their own decisions based on their own sensibilities and perspectives. We don't tell them what they should be thinking."
"The MPAA ratings are not really content-based," he added. "They're supposed to be, but they don't actually tell you what the movie contains. They just give you an age-based recommendation which is the opposite of what we do -- there's no magic age, like 13, where kids suddenly become mature and can watch a certain movie. That makes no sense."