History will long remember the 2012 Academy Awards for the ceremony's dearth of R-rated films among its Best Picture nominees.
Consider: this year only one movie bearing an R rating — "The Descendants" — is among the nine motion pictures nominated for the most coveted Oscar.
To illustrate the unprecedented nature of this one-in-nine frequency, historical context is required. The PG-13 rating came into existence on July 1, 1984, making the 1986 Oscars the first time that a full calendar year of PG-13 films was eligible for consideration. Thus, even though the Academy Awards date to 1929, the apples-to-apples comparison of the Motion Picture Association of America's ratings for present-day Oscar nominees begins in 1986.
And since 1986, prior to this year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has nominated a single R-rated film for Best Picture only twice: 1996 ("Braveheart") and 2005 ("Sideways"). But in both of those instances the lone rated-R nominee constituted 20 percent of the Best Picture candidates because the Best Picture category included five nominees (new rules took effect in 2010 that now permit up to 10 Best Picture nominees every year).
Banner year for PG-13
With only one rated-R movie under consideration, it's no surprise that seven PG-13 films garnered Best Picture nominations in 2012: "The Artist," "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," "The Help," "Midnight in Paris," "Moneyball," "The Tree of Life" and "War Horse." (The PG-rated "Hugo" nabbed the ninth nomination for Best Picture.)
Additionally, movies with a PG-13 rating earned more than half of all the 2012 Oscar nominations. Counting only full-length films (the MPAA doesn't mete ratings to short movies), 45 motion pictures nabbed a total of 103 nominations — with 52 of those nominations going to the 18 movies labeled PG-13.
The four films that merited the most nominations were all rated either PG or PG-13: "Hugo" (PG), 11 nominations; "The Artist" (PG-13), 10 nominations; "Moneyball" (PG-13), six nominations; and "War Horse" (PG-13), six nominations.
Follow the money
The proliferation of Oscar nominations for PG and PG-13 films fits right in line with something the Deseret News reported in June: On average, movies with those ratings are more than twice as profitable as R-rated fare.
From 1995 to mid-2011, more R-rated movies were released in the U.S. (3,404) than PG and PG-13 films combined (2,844). Yet, the PG and PG-13 films together grossed more than double in box office receipts ($117 billion) than the R-rated motion pictures managed ($52.9 billion).
Some trivia-worthy facts from the annals of Oscar history pertaining to Best Picture nominations, unearthed during research for this article:
In 1986, "The Color Purple" became the first PG-13 film to ever earn a Best Picture nomination. (For those of you scoring at home, "The Color Purple" also made history with 11 Oscar nominations and zero Oscar wins — a dubious distinction duplicated only by 1977's "The Turning Point.")
"Babe" (1996) and "Toy Story 3" (2011) are the only G-rated films to receive a Best Picture nomination during the past 20 years.
The actor Brad Pitt headlines two films nominated for Best Picture in 2012: "Moneyball" and "The Tree of Life." This is far from new territory for Pitt, who has starred in several recent Best Picture nominees including "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (2009) and "Babel" (2007).
Trent Toone contributed reporting to this article.
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