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).
The only other G-rated movies that might be designed for adult audiences — and there’s a lot of room for debate here — are the Disney comedy “College Road Trip” (2008); the third in Disney’s “Santa Clause” trilogy, “The Escape Clause” (2006); and the British import “Mr. Bean’s Holiday” (2007), all three of them very juvenile comedies.
So where are the G-rated movies with adult themes? For that matter, where are the PG-rated movies for adults?
Looking over the past decade of PG-rated films that are neither animated nor documentaries, those that are aimed at adults are, again, mostly faith films (to include such LDS-centric titles as “Inspired Guns” and “Ephraim’s Rescue,” and such Christmas-themed titles as “Black Nativity” and “A Miracle in Spanish Harlem”).
There are sometimes PG-rated films aimed at “families,” as opposed to strictly youngsters, but rarely are adults the primary target. An exception is 2011, a boom year, of sorts, when there were no less than three PG films for an older crowd: “Meek’s Cutoff” (2011), “The Big Year” (2011) and “We Bought a Zoo” And leaving out some coarse language might easily have earned each of them a G.
So the obvious question is, does every movie have to have some kind of potentially offensive content? Apparently so. Otherwise it’s not considered “adult.” (Although one could argue that a lot of the material that earns a PG or PG-13 is rather childish.)
Why has it changed so dramatically over the past 45 years as to what content moves a film out of the G column?
Anyone who has seen the original “Planet of the Apes” knows it contains profanity, nudity and a fair amount of violence. In fact, four of the five “Planet of the Apes” films in the first cycle, from 1968-73, were rated G. (Only the fourth in the series, “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes,” carried a PG.)
There were still G-rated adult films being made throughout the 1970s, from the World War II epic “Tora! Tora! Tora!” (1970) to Barbra Streisand’s screwball farce “What’s Up, Doc?” (1972) to the Inspector Clouseau sequel “Return of the Pink Panther” (1975) to “The Black Stallion” (1979) — and even the first big-screen “Star Trek” movie (1979).
Mind you, these are not pictures that suffered at the box office. In fact, all were enormously successful, many landing in the top 10 for their respective years. The G rating didn’t hold any of them back.
None of which is to suggest that filmmakers today shouldn’t have the freedom to make the movies they want or that CARA members should be giving out G ratings willy-nilly.
But it seems pretty obvious that the board is skittish about awarding G ratings and that moviemakers are equally skittish about creating clean movies for fear they will be ignored in theaters.
Really, though, if the upcoming “Star Wars” sequels or the next Marvel superhero movie or anything by Steven Spielberg were to carry G ratings, would the audience really stay away because of the rating?
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." Website: www.hicksflicks.com