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The Student News Site of Marlborough School

The UltraViolet

The Student News Site of Marlborough School

The UltraViolet

To kill a mocking-book
To kill a mocking-book
February 21, 2024

The changing criteria of Hollywood’s R-rated movies

Staff+Illustrator+Channing+25
Channing ’25
Staff Illustrator Channing ’25

When “Jaws” came out in 1975, the violence enacted by an animatronic shark was the main reason it was qualified as an R-rated movie. There were 18 reported instances of violence according to IMDb, yet each instance consisted of either unrealistic prosthetics, evidently fake blood or an obviously robotic shark. By the time the first installment of “John Wick” entered the theaters in 2014, gory killings, corpses and realistic visual effects were hallmarks of the R-rated film. How are “Jaws” and “John Wick” both rated R films if they feature drastically different levels of violence?

Most R-rated movies from the past, especially those from the ‘70s, fell under the horror, thriller or crime category such as “The Exorcist” (1973), “The Godfather” (1972), “Alien” (1979) and “Scarface” (1983). The movies were categorized as R-rated because of the frightening scenes, the usage of profanity and the killings that typically occurred off-screen. Therefore, the industry was pumping out R-rated films that had a specific archetype: They were of the crime or horror genres and featured non-gory or a limited amount of violence for the most part.

Today, R-rated movies fall under a wider range of categories and often consist of an extensive amount of profanity along with very sexual and violent content. For example, while the explicit language in “The Exorcist” may have been crude for its time, the 13 times the “F-word” was used in the film pale in comparison to the 569 times the word was said in “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013). Additionally, some current R-rated films have been categorized as dramas or romances, such as “Love & Other Drugs” (2010) and “Fifty Shades of Grey” (2015), rather than being a classic R-rated film of the ‘70s with their typical genres.

The kickstarter of this evolution was the change in the rating system. The Classification and Rating Administration (CARA), composed of parents and run by the Motion Picture Association (MPA), has been controlling the ratings of most movies since its establishment in 1968. Before then, a series of restrictions known as the Hays Code prohibited most, if not all, of the graphic content seen today in R-rated movies.

“The Hays Code was this self-imposed industry set of guidelines for all the motion pictures that were released between 1934 and 1968,” Curator Chelsey O’Brien said in an article from the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. “The code prohibited profanity, suggestive nudity, graphic or realistic violence, sexual persuasions and rape.”

After 1968, the movie industry started to move away from its “Old Hollywood” movies like  “Gone with the Wind” (1939), “Wizard of Oz” (1939) and “Roman Holiday” (1953). Since then, R-rated movies have increased in their explicit content. For example, a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health in 2004 found increasing amounts of violent and sexually explicit content in recent movies rated R and lower. Overall, the study’s findings led researchers to suggest that movie raters have grown more lenient in their standards for rating films.

Developments in prosthetics and visual effects have also allowed movie creators to exhibit more realistic depictions of violent and sexual scenes, further increasing the explicit nature of modern films.

Returning to “John Wick,” gory action movies have become a trademark of Hollywood in the past decade as seen with movies like “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” (2003), “Deadpool” (2016) and “The Equalizer” (2014). Although they were considered R-rated, action movies in the past such as “First Blood” (1982), feature less graphic killings and seem mild compared to modern R-rated films.

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Channing ’25, Politics Editor
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