Today’s MPAA Ratings Hold Little Value for Parents

Geek Culture

Ratings Are Broken – The Dark Knight as a Case Study

For an example of how important ratings can be and how poorly the MPAA’s CRA sometimes does its job, let’s take a closer look at a movie. In this case, let’s look at The Dark Knight.

Why The Dark Knight? Because it’s been out long enough that many people have seen it and if you’re a geek, there’s a higher probability that you’ve seen it repeatedly. What’s more, there was some controversy surrounding the movie’s content and rating when it was released. In fact, in other countries, The Dark Knight was prohibited for children under 16.

Common Sense Media's improved ratingsCommon Sense Media's improved ratings

Image courtesy of Common Sense Media, used with permission

When The Dark Knight was released in 2008, the MPAA gave the film a PG-13 rating for “intense sequences of violence and some menace.” That’s all of the information parents really had to go on. A parent might have also seen a preview or a movie and ascertained that Heath Ledger’s chilling portrayal of a homicidal Joker might foreshadow some pretty mature scenes.

If we dig a little deeper and review the Parents Guide for the movie at the Internet Movie Database, we can see that in addition to the violence, there is a scene of some people caught in a sexual situation, a decent dose of profanity, and a scary scene of drug use, among mature scenes not mentioned in the MPAA rating. These omissions are principal in the argument that MPAA ratings are outdated. They simply do not provide enough information.

The secondary argument and the one that is more subjective is that the ratings are inaccurate and there is too much inconsistency in how they are applied. While your kids might be mature enough to handle the violence and mature themes of The Dark Knight, you should be able to recognize that other kids of an equal age may not be. Before parents expose their kids to these stories, it would be helpful to have adequate information to make that decision. Information that’s already being compiled by various outlets.

A number of Web sites offer movie ratings for parents, supplying information that’s actionable for parents. Sites like Parent Previews, Kids-In-Mind, and Common Sense Media are all providing great information for parents, as is seen in each of their ratings for The Dark Knight.

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