It’s a fairly well known story at this point. In 1984, Steven Spielberg directed Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom while simultaneously producing Gremlins. Both movies received PG ratings. In both cases, parents came out quite unhappy, feeling that neither movie was really suitable for their children. The result was a brand new rating, set in between Parental Guidance and Restricted, PG-13. A rating designed to indicate that a movie might be acceptable for some minors, but not all.
It’s easy enough to look back at the history of movies prior to 1984 and find movies that probably would have been rated PG-13 if the rating had existed back then. What’s more interesting, however, is to look at the first few years of the rating and realize one thing: the MPAA had no idea what to do with it. Here are eight movies that could have (and should have) been rated PG-13 but for some reason got away with a simple PG.
When Who Framed Roger Rabbit was marketed, it was focused on kids. Hey everybody, here’s a movie that has all your favorite Disney characters, and all your favorite Looney Toons in the same movie. But what Roger Rabbit actually has is a lot of humor designed for adults. Jessica Rabbit is introduced as an object to be lusted over. The innuendo is barely veiled. Several toons smoke, drink, and swear (mildly). One toon is straight up murdered by Judge Doom in a vat of dip.
Most Non-PG Moment: It’s a tough call between the weasel shoving his hand between Jessica Rabbit’s breasts to discover the "booby trap" and Baby Herman’s statement that he has a "50 year old lust and a three year old dinky."
It’s easy enough to think of The Princess Bride as a movie for children. It's essentially a fairy tale, and the entire narrative is framed as a story being told to a child probably too young for a PG-13 movie. Still, there’s a lot of adult stuff going on here. The movie itself breaks away from an intense sequence with killer eels that would have likely frightened small children to reassure the boy on the screen (Fred Savage). Wesley gets killed and Inigo takes a knife to the gut, apparently killing him, too. Neither death ends up happening, but that's hardly the point. This movie is dark.
Most Non-PG Moment: Inigo starts bleeding all over the place after a pair of stab wounds, which he then returns to the six-fingered man, before running him through, killing him. Then Inigo calls him a son of a bitch for good measure.
Beetlejuice was a movie that got turned into a Saturday morning cartoon show, so surely there wasn’t anything here to be concerned about. Right? Well, while Beetlejuice had more than the normal cinematic allotment of Harry Belafonte dance numbers, there’s some fairly scary shit in this movie. Don’t tell me you weren’t the least bit bothered as a kid when the bannister railing turned into a giant snake with a Beetlejuice head.
Most Non-PG Moment: The aforementioned staircase scene is disturbing, but following that, we’re guessing there were a lot of questions for mom and dad when the ghost with the most excuses himself to Dante’s Inferno Room, which we’re still not convinced was just a strip club. Although it was certainly that.
Coming out the same year as the two movies that helped create PG-13 as a rating, (and one of only two movies that beat them both at the box office), the original Ghostbusters has a lot of intense and frightening scenes. From the ghost librarian that scares the hell out of the team, to the demons that chase down Rick Moranis and abduct Sigourney Weaver, there’s plenty here that may not be suitable for kids.
Most Non-PG Moment: During a dream sequence, Dan Aykroyd has visions of a female ghost who goes down on him. Kids, don’t ask mom what that scene was about. It will get very awkward, very quickly.
Willow is a movie about an evil witch hunting down a baby so she can kill it. While it doesn’t have a great deal of sexual innuendo or language, the movie does include Joanne Whatley threatening to cut Val Kilmer’s balls off. If she had, it likely wouldn’t have been bloody, but still.
Most Non-PG Moment: Pretty much the entire climax of Willow is dark and scary. Elora Danon is on the verge of being murdered in the scary witch’s chambers, and parts of the chamber come to life and chase Willow around the room. Eventually Bavmorda is killed when she's struck by lightning, which doesn’t help lighten things up.
Dead Poets Society
Never mind that Dead Poets Society is not really the kind of movie you would take your kids to in the first place. You probably shouldn’t. There’s a handful of items that might concern you as a parent depending on how strict you are. Underage kids smoke, drink, swear, and look at Playboy magazine, but it’s the end when this movie takes a sharp turn into child nightmare territory.
Most Non-PG Moment: Faced with never being able to pursue his passion of acting again, Neil decides to take the only way out of his father’s authoritarian rule that he knows how. He blows his brains out. You don’t actually see him do it. You don’t have to. The look on his mother’s face is enough.
As with Dead Poets Society, you probably aren’t going to be in a rush to show your small child Shakespeare. This is probably a good call. When Kenneth Branagh made his version in 1996 it was rated PG-13, and Mel Gibson’s version from six years earlier should have been too. Everybody dies in Hamlet and not in a pleasant way. Murder, suicide, stabbing, poisoning, it’s all there.
Most Non-PG Moment: You don’t have to understand the language to understand that at one point Hamlet climbs on top of his own mother while he chastises her and punctuates his admonishments with pelvic thrusts. Then they sort of make out for a minute. It is several different kinds of wrong.
Howard the Duck
Not only should small children not see Howard the Duck, in point of fact, nobody should ever watch Howard the Duck. However, we’re sure several unsuspecting parents thought that movie at the video store in 1986 with the anthropomorphic duck was harmless. Even if we discount the topless ducks at the beginning of the movie, alien Jeffrey Jones is truly disturbing, especially with extra long tongue that appears to be going after Lea Thompson at one point.
Most Non-PG Moment: Lea Thompson nearly has sex with an anthropomorphic duck. That’s a thing that happens in this movie.
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