by Brandy Abalos


As children get older, they push to see movies with higher ratings. Some theaters even require proof of age with a valid ID before admitting people into movies with certain ratings. It’s important for parents and all moviegoers to understand what cinema ratings really mean. This will allow them to be fully prepared for the type of movie they’re about to see.

What Is the Range of Ratings for Movies?

The ratings of movies and their meanings have changed significantly over time. Initially, the movie industry fought back against rating codes, saying they were a form of censorship. By the late 1960s and 70s, there were only four rating codes: G (general audiences), M (mature audiences), R (restricted to people over the age of 16 unless accompanied by an adult), and X (no admittance to people under the age of 16). However, those rating codes changed over time, sometimes changing the rating code and sometimes increasing the age limitations.

Today, there are five movie ratings popularly used in theaters and one that is not “officially” used on the big screen. Those include G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17 and X (which is not shown in most theaters).


What Does Rated G Mean?

A rated G movie indicates that all ages are permitted to view it at a movie theater. “G” stands for “general audiences.” This is often used for family movies, cartoons, Disney movies, Pixar films and similar shows.


What Does Rated PG Mean?

Movies that are rated PG indicate that “parental guidance” is suggested. Some of the materials in the film may not be suitable for children. Many films made for families are also rated PG; however, they may contain some elements that contain deeper or more complex meaning that would have to be explained to younger children. PG movies may also include light cursing or questionable words and topics that are used in an appropriate context. The key to these movies is that parental guidance, or review, is suggested prior to showing them to children.


What Does Rated PG-13 Mean?

Parents are strongly cautioned regarding PG-13 shows. That means some material may be inappropriate for children under the age of 13. Although children under 13 may be allowed to see the movie, parents should be aware of the situation and review the film beforehand. Some theaters may prohibit children under the age of 13 from seeing these movies, but it can be difficult to enforce the rule because children aged 13 and under don’t always have IDs.


What Does Rated R Mean?

A rated R movie is restricted, and no one under the age of 17 may attend the viewing without a parent or adult guardian. Rated R movies often involve significant amounts of language and complex topics like sex and violence. Parents should be aware of their children attending these movies and accompany them when possible. Many theaters require a form of identification to enter a Rated R movie.


What Does Rated NC-17 Mean?

Movies that are rated NC-17 are suitable for adults only. No one under the age of 17 should be admitted. Technically, this rating level replaced Rated X films; however, many companies that sell risqué movies still use Rated X for certain types of movies.


What Does Rated X Mean?

Rated X movies typically include a significant amount of sex, violence, gore and other adult-themed topics. They are only suitable for adults. Children should not be allowed to view Rated X movies; however, it can be helpful to inform older teens about these types of movies, so they are not surprised when they see them for the first time.


How Are Movies Rated?

Movies, films, TV shows and other media are rated based on a series of characteristics, including violence, language, substances, nudity and sex.

Violence may be viewed at any rating level; however, it must be moderated at the lower levels like G and PG. Rated G films may only have a minimum level of violence that is not particularly gory. Realistic violence is typically reserved for PG-13 films, and if violence is intense or persistent, the film will likely be rated R or higher.

Language is a complex topic with movies. Most Rated G films do not contain curse words. They may include a small amount of language that goes beyond polite conversation. PG films may contain profanity, but sexually derived words are usually reserved for PG-13 and higher films. Expletive and sexual content are more likely to be seen in Rated R and higher movies.

Drug and alcohol use is typically restricted to PG-13 movies and above. There are a few examples of PG films with substance use, but they generally are older films. Smoking has also been prohibited in G and PG films in current times; however, older films may still contain those references.

Nudity is restricted to PG movies and above. However, where nudity is sexually oriented, the film must typically be Rated R or above. Partial nudity, often referring to above the waist, is more widely accepted in lower rating films. Any below-the-shoulder nudity, including male nudity, is strictly reserved for higher film ratings.

Sex is not typically acceptable in movies with lower ratings. In fact, sex scenes are specifically excluded from Rated G films. However, there is little guidance for sexual content for films above that level. This has created a complex presentation of sex scenes at various rating levels.


How to Find a Movie Rating

Most movies display their rating clearly in their advertisements. However, if you have questions about a rating for a movie, show, film or other media, you can search the movie title on This website provides the rating and reasons for the rating, allowing you to have a better idea of whether the movie is appropriate.