Happy 25th Birthday, PG-13

Geek Culture

Twenty-five years ago today, a lot of twelve-year-olds were officially bummed. Jack Valenti, then president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), announced the creation of a new film rating: PG-13.

The eating of monkey brains was a big motivation for the PG-13 rating.The eating of monkey brains was a big motivation for the PG-13 rating.

Hearts, microwaves, and monkey brains were big motivators for the PG-13 rating in 1984.

The modern film ratings system was instituted in late 1968 after Valenti led the revision of the Production Code—a list of do’s and don’ts that had allowed the MPAA to censor movies since 1922. PG-13 is currently one of five ratings used by the the organization to inform audiences what kinds of content to expect.

The new rating was deemed necessary as tweener movies started increasing their screen violence, without quite rising to the levels of adult content that would garner an R rating—a death knell for summer blockbusters. Two movies, in particular, are considered most responsible: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins.

In the former, Indiana Jones leads Kate Capshaw and Ke Huy Quan around India and into an exotic feast of monkey brains. Throw in some heart-wrenching human sacrifice and occult, and some parents were saying, “I let my kids see what??” Gremlins was a popular teenage horror movie featuring adorable fluffy Mogwai that became sharp-toothed demons if their simple but impractical rules of care were violated. Inevitably, the original creature gets wet (causing him to multiply) and his clones snack after midnight (causing them to go evil). Next thing you know, the devil spawn are launching mean old ladies out of windows and our heroes are using microwaves as weapons.

The creators of those two movies responded to criticism from parents and critics with a suggestion for a new intermediate rating—PG-14. On July 1, 1984, after talking to others in the industry, Valenti announced the PG-13 rating, which required pre-teens to be accompanied by an adult. The World War III movie, Red Dawn—a Patrick Swayze vehicle about a Soviet invasion of Colorado—is considered the first movie a twelve-year-old might want to see to be saddled with the new label.

Current movies warranting the PG-13 rating include:

I was, um, more than twelve when all this first hit the fan. Admittedly, my life would be just a bit happier without seeing someone’s heart ripped out, especially after a main course of monkey brains. Same thing goes for Kate Capshaw screaming her way through the Himalayas.

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