G-rated films for older audiences have all but vanished

Published: Thursday, May 8 2014 3:10 p.m. MDT

Barbra Streisand made her film debut and won the best-actress Oscar for "Funny Girl," a G-rated movie released in 1968.

Columbia Pictures

Back in the day, G-rated movies were quite common. But with every passing year, and especially during the 21st century, we see fewer and fewer. And those we do see are cartoons or documentaries. A G-rated narrative film is rarer than a black-eyed tree frog.

Somewhere along the way, movie studios got the idea that adults wouldn’t go to a G-rated movie unless they were taking their kids. The G rating became aligned with children’s fare. Though it shouldn’t have.

But these days, even children’s fare is seldom rated G. The majority of animated features are now rated PG.

In 1968, the first year of the rating system’s existence, a new freedom had taken hold. The old production code was pretty much being ignored by every studio (except Disney). And if a director did go too far in terms of what he put on the screen, he might be coerced into pulling back a bit or into editing something out before his movie went into theaters. Although, in truth, by 1968, that wasn’t happening much anymore.

Hence, the creation of the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA) by the industry’s overseer, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). And since the first movies to carry these new labels from CARA came out late in the year — after having been in production for 10 to 12 months — many, if not all, were produced without anyone even realizing they would be rated.

As a result, several 1968 movies that carried G ratings were aimed squarely at adult audiences: “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Funny Girl,” “Planet of the Apes,” “The Odd Couple,” “The Green Berets,” “Ice Station Zebra,” among others. Even the very violent British production “Dracula Has Risen From the Grave” was rated G.

But 45 years later, it’s safe to say that none of those movies would receive the same rating today. “2001,” “Funny Girl” and “The Odd Couple” would likely be rated PG, and all of the others would doubtless carry PG-13s.

Bringing all of this up to date, so far in 2014 there have been two G-rated movies, the annual Disneynature Earth Day documentary “Bears” and the cartoon feature “Rio 2.” Of movies scheduled for the rest of the year that have already been rated, none has a G. (Although that could change, of course.)

Last year, there was only one G-rated movie during the entire year, the Pixar sequel “Monsters University.”

Going back over the past decade, the average number of G-rated movies released each year is less than a dozen. And to find a G-rated movie that is not a cartoon or a documentary and targets an adult audience, we have to go back to 2011, when a pair of faith films came out, “Seven Days in Utopia” and “The Mighty Macs.”

And even that’s rare now, since most faith films are getting PG ratings these days (think “Heaven Is For Real” and “God’s Not Dead”).

Outside of the faith genre, over the past decade other narrative G-rated movies have been mostly made for children or tweens: “Ramona and Beezus” (2010), “Hannah Montana: The Movie” (2009), “High School Musical 3: Senior Year” (2008), “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl” (2008), “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” (2007), “Charlotte’s Web” (2006), “Herbie: Fully Loaded” (2005) and “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement” (2004).

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