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‘Avengers’ almost rated R? Happens all the time

Published: Thursday, March 20 2014 6:30 p.m. MDT

Richard Dreyfuss is an oceanographer trying to capture a killer shark in Steven Spielberg's "Jaws," which barely scraped by with its PG rating in 1975.

Universal Pictures

When the news broke last week that “The Avengers” was almost rated R, that it barely scraped by with its PG-13 rating two years ago after being compelled to twice tone down a violent moment, it was treated as a bit of a shock.

After all, Marvel’s movies have always carried PG-13 ratings and none seemed to cross the line … wherever that line may be.

Actually, the line was crossed long ago, and it’s been continually, albeit incrementally, pushed a smidge farther by certain movies ever since.

Kevin Feige, president of production at Marvel Studios, told Movies.com that for “The Avengers,” the trouble came with the scene in which Agent Coulson is killed. When the film was slapped with an R, the scene was edited, a few seconds trimmed, but again it came back with an R. So a few more seconds were trimmed, the board was finally pacified and “The Avengers” received its PG-13 rating.

To be honest, I’m a bit baffled as to why this is news. It happens all the time. A moviemaker is warned his film is going to receive an R rating, he trims some material and the movie is given a PG-13. And most of the time the average moviegoer could watch both versions back to back and never detect the difference.

Would it surprise you to learn that “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was threatened with an R? So was “Jaws.” And while we’re on Steven Spielberg movies, so was “Poltergeist.” And “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”

Of course, all of those movies came out before the PG-13 rating was in force, so it was PG vs. R back then. And in the 45 years since the development of the movie rating system, and especially in the 30 years since the creation of the PG-13, there have been dozens, if not hundreds, of other examples.

Some rating appeals are for movies so violent they have trouble getting an R, being bounced back to the studio with an X or NC-17. Then, after some trims that range from mere seconds to several minutes, they finally get their R ratings.

But since the PG-13 came between the PG and the R in 1984, it’s been the go-to rating for moviemakers that care about reaching a broader audience and studios that insist on it. In fact, many filmmakers today, especially those directing action pictures for major studios, have contracts that demand their films receive PG-13s, not Rs.

It’s not difficult to come up with examples of violent movies that carry PG-13 ratings but could easily be tipped into R territory, those that have high body counts or enough blood and guts to qualify, but which somehow receive PG-13s anyway.

Think: “Taken” and its sequel, the remake of “Red Dawn” or two more recent PG-13 remakes of R-rated originals, “Total Recall” and “RoboCop.”

“RoboCop” is a new film and it’s still in theaters, and other examples released this year (and it’s only March!) are “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” “I, Frankenstein,” “Ride Along” and “3 Days to Kill.”

Each of these films is extremely violent, but the PG-13 ratings were a given. Although how many, if any, had to go back and trim a few seconds has not been revealed.

In the case of Agent Coulson’s violent death in “The Avengers,” emotion may have also played a part.

The rating board never discusses specifics regarding ratings, of course. The general content description on posters and trailers is all you get. So this is purely speculation.

But despite the board members being told to evaluate their rating decisions solely on content, not story or character context, hey, they’re only human. So perhaps seeing one of the film’s most beloved characters being killed so violently contributed to their initial reactions.

If they had rated the movie after Coulson was resurrected a year later for the “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” TV series, maybe it wouldn’t have been such a problem.

Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." Website: www.hicksflicks.com

Email: hicks@deseretnews.com

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