Social media is full of countless conversations about PG-13 versus R-rated horror films. Many diehards have an instant hate-on for PG13 films. The argument seems to be that you can’t really horrify someone if you are catering to a younger audience that you can’t bring yourself to properly traumatize. Many R rated films are also gory and violent, much to the delight of horror fans across the globe.
It’s the same argument for something like Deadpool. If you have to tone down the language to cater to an audience that is younger, it really does lose all of it’s charm. He is an established character with an established fanbase, and the studio proved that they could have a hit with an R-rated movie. The argument for studios to edit the content to lower the rating is all about putting the butts in the seats. Every time you up the rating to restrict certain ages, you are restricting the number of people that can see the film, and therefore stifling its success.
The difference between Deadpool and horror movies? My guess is that there are plenty of moms and dads out there who love superhero movies so much that they were willing to take their under 17 year old to go and see the film. In fact, I am willing to bet that the studio banked on the success of other Marvel films when predicting the number of people out there who would see the movie in the theater, not to mention their home video and digital sales following.
Horror, though? It is easy for a parent to laugh off an F-bomb when delivered with the charm of Ryan Reynolds in a violent yet comedic situation. But would it be so easy to laugh off an F-bomb when it’s being screamed to the heavens by some guy who just watched someone get melted in half by a sadistic killer? Somehow, I think not.
If you know what you are, and aren’t, looking for, ratings can be helpful. If you are a gore hound, the rating helps you determine if it will be gory enough for you. On the other hand, if you love scary movies but can’t stand the squirmy stuff, you may avoid films with the higher rating based on gore.
I’m here to tell you, though…in Canada, for the most part, it really doesn’t matter.
In Canada, our ratings system differs slightly than the one used in the United States. We have G and PG, but then our ratings veer off a little bit. We have a 14A rating, which is similar to PG-13: “Suitable for people 14 years of age or older. Those under 14 should view with an adult. No rental or purchase by those under 14. Parents cautioned. May contain violence, coarse language and/or sexually suggestive scenes.” Then there is our 18A, which is similar to R: “Suitable for people 18 years of age or older. Persons under 18 should view with an adult. No rental or purchase by those under 18. Parents strongly cautioned. Will likely contain: explicit violence; frequent coarse language; sexual activity; and/or horror.” R ratings in Canada are basically like NC-17 in the United States: “Restricted to 18 years and over. No rental or purchase by those under 18. Content not suitable for minors” (all ratings details included here can be found on the MPA-C website here).
How Canadian Movie Ratings Work
At the outset, it may seem that our rating are stricter than those in the US; our age restricted ratings actually start a year higher than the PG-13 and R rating of our neighbours to the South. However, there is definite evidence that the Canadian system is far more lenient. Ratings are not actually assigned to movie theaters by the Canadian government; that is actually done at a provincial level. The ratings on the Motion Picture Association – Canada makes it clear as mud: “Film ratings provide the public with the information they need to make informed viewing choices. Under Canadian law, film classification is a matter falling under provincial jurisdiction. The Motion Picture Association – Canada does not classify films in Canada.” (MPA-C) This means that in every province, a decision is made based on the individuality of each film, and it might not be the same as its neighbour. Then, when the DVD/Blu-Ray/Digital copy is released, the average of all of the provinces ratings are taken and applied to home content sales.
Deadpool is actually a classic example of this. Upon release, the province of Alberta rated the film 14A, on the grounds that it would be suitable for junior high school student and did not have any explicit sex, only language to contend with (CBC). As a side note, you can also get your learners driving permit at 14 and drink at 18 in Alberta.
Does This Make A Difference in Ratings?
There was celebration far and wide across the internet when it was announced that Stephen King’s It would be rated R. Fans rejoiced, and at least we had some confidence in the fact that we wouldn’t be getting content that was safe for TV (no disrespect to the miniseries, but this is a story that should not be watered down). Again, with an established fanbase, It did not disappoint at the box office.
Here in Canada, It was rated 14A. Kids in ninth grade were allowed to see It unattended here in the great white north. So for me, I usually don’t even look at the ratings. I mean, since I’m an adult I don’t have to anyway, but because so many films that are rated R in the States are rated 14A here, I find that it doesn’t drive any sort of decision making as to whether or not I’ll enjoy the movie.
There are plenty of examples of horror films that have walked the fine line of 14A in Canada and R in the United States. One of the most noticeable recent examples is Hereditary, which has been hailed as one of the scariest movies of all time. You got it! 14A in Canada.
Gory movies tend to still get saddled with the higher 18A rating; Halloween (2018), and Suspiria were both given the higher rating last year.
So Does Rating Really Matter?
To me, the nature of a horror movie is such that it is necessary to be at least PG-13. But I don’t see a point in crucifying a movie for being the lower rating before it even comes out. Sometimes PG-13 is a good thing; gore is not always the point of horror, or even the scary part. When’s the last time you watched some torture porn horror movie and genuinely cared about what happens to the characters? Jump scares, a hallmark of PG-13 horror, can also be used effectively. On the other hand, would Cabin in the Woods have been as fun without that wonderfully blood-soaked elevator bay scene?
In an ideal world, filmmakers would make the films that they wanted to make, and achieve the impact that they wanted to achieve, and the rating would come after. It would be of no consequence to the finished product. We know that this is sadly not the case, and filmmakers often need to work within the constraints of a desired rating. The bottom line is that every film is different, and every filmmaker’s vision is different.
The big thing that I want out of a film is that I get the feeling that I am getting the creator’s vision. If it feels like a hack job for a lower rating, it is easy to tell. I mean, it’s pretty hard to make A Nightmare on Elm Street PG-13. But, if a creator’s goal was to create a film that happens to be PG-13 and can deliver some decent scares and chilling content, what’s the harm? Excessive blood, guts, and language are not a pre-requisite for horror. They help, of course, but for me, hardcore content is not a necessity for a well-made horror film.
At the end of the day, movies that have content that drives the rating and not a rating that drives the content are the ones that turn heads. Next time, try the Canadian way and don’t even look at the rating before you go…you may be surprised at what you enjoy.