The PG-13 movie rating celebrates its 30th birthday this month. Until 1984, the Motion Picture Association of America rated films as G, PG, R or X. But that year a couple of gory scenes in PG-rated movies raised concerns.
Remember that human sacrifice in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? Or the monster-in-the-microwave scene from Gremlins? Coincidentally, both of those movies were produced or directed by Steven Spielberg, and maybe not-so-coincidentally, it was Spielberg who suggested it was time for a new rating in between PG and R.
These days PG-13 movies are lucrative for major studios, because they bring in both teens and adults. And that financial incentive is guiding a lot of creative decisions during production, says Scott Mendelson, who covers the film industry for Forbes.
"Hollywood is going for the PG-13 at all costs and as a result crafting films that really shouldn't be PG-13 in the first place and aren't what the PG-13 was intended for," Mendelson explains. "What you're seeing is a generation of kids that are seeing a lot more violent content in films than the generation of past."
Mendelson points to a study published in November 2013 that shows PG-13 movies today have more gun violence than ever — even more than today's R-rated movies.
But Joan Graves, who chairs the MPAA Classification and Ratings Administration, says most of that violence is stylized, often with special effects or sci-fi elements.
"Not to say that it isn't intense at times, but it's not the graphic, grisly stuff that ends up in R," Graves says.
Graves allows that PG-13 has changed over its 30 years, keeping pace with changing parental attitudes. She says MPAA surveys show that parents think they are getting good information about the content.
At end of the day, Graves says MPAA ratings aren't any kind of final judgment, they're just a guideline. And — in the words of PG-13 itself — parents are "strongly cautioned."