Do MPAA Ratings Influence Which Movies You Want to See?

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I was going to write this up yesterday after Pamela McClintock at Variety began a recent article asking, “After two recent PG-13 outings, the latest Harry Potter film is back to PG territory — so is that good news for Warner Bros.?” However, I had my “Why Should Filmmakers Try to Make Good Movies?” editorial in the bag and it has generated plenty of good conversation making it look like holding this one for a day was a good idea.

I remember back on January 7 when I first reported the news Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince had been rated PG by the MPAA for scary images, some violence, language and mild sensuality, and the mild online stir the news caused. Harry Potter dedicated fansites were emailing me constantly asking if the news was true since I get MPAA ratings about a day before they are added to the MPAA’s official site. However, as we all now know the rating is indeed PG and McClintock wonders if this will be an issue citing the last two PG-13 installments as box-office improvements over Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which was the last of the PG-rated Potter films and the lowest grossing installment to date.

She also points out how a PG-13 rated film carries the perception a film is cool and slightly more grown-up, a perception studios expect will draw in teenagers whereas a PG rating may be viewed as too family friendly or juvenile.

With the growth of movie conversations across the Internet every aspect of a movie is looked at closely. I report weekly on the latest MPAA ratings every Wednesday (look for one later today by the way). Other sites focus on script reviews. Some focus on who will be scoring a film and each trailer released is looked at under a microscope across the board. MPAA ratings, to me, have always been fascinating, if not equally maddening. For example, I just got home from watching this week’s upcoming release Bruno and I’m not at all surprised it originally received an NC-17 rating and honestly am a little shocked they got away with what they did in this R-rated cut — but that’s about it — unless a film truly surprises me afterward I really don’t think much on the rating. Do you?

I can understand walking into a horror movie and seeing a PG-13 versus an R and then having certain expectations, and the same goes for a teen sex comedy, but the ratings for action and fantasy movies have never really concerned me that much. The Dark Knight got away with quite a bit and I also believe the Lord of the Rings trilogy bumped up against a possible R rating with the level of violence they displayed. However, when it comes to Harry Potter I have never thought any of the five previously released films did anything to deserve anything more than a PG. There isn’t any foul language outside of Ron occasionally saying “bloody hell,” any sexual aspect is limited to a kiss and the violence is all done with wands and sparks of light. Sure, some of the characters are a bit frightening and the photography has gotten much darker, but is it really warranted of a PG-13?

I have not read any of the early reviews and I am not seeing Half-Blood Prince until next Monday, but from what I understand this latest installment is just as dark as the previous two, which lives up to the extraordinarily dark trailers I have seen.

Personally I don’t think a PG rating will hurt the film whatsoever and I don’t think many people (other than those looking out of concern for their children) even look at the ratings unless it is in that horror/thriller or sex comedy genre I mentioned earlier. The only legitimate concern I have heard over these final three Potter films is the possibility the fact new books are no longer being written lessens the awareness. I don’t think it will have an effect, but it is a more sound argument in my mind than concern over the MPAA rating.

I’m curious, do any of you concern yourselves with film ratings beforehand and make decisions to a see a film based on them?