Film classifications - what they mean

Film ratings help give you an idea of what a film may contain, whether it's bad language, sex, violence or even scary scenes

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  • With so many different programmes out there, how can you be sure that what your children may watch on film or TV is suitable for them?

    All films are rated before they're released by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC)

    If you're looking for more information as to what film ratings mean, our guide has the answer…

  • What does U stand for?

    A film with a ‘U’ certificate means it’s suitable for children aged 4 and older. The ‘U’ itself stands for Universal and the text underneath the ‘U’ rating states that it’s suitable for all, as this is the age that most children begin to remember things such as film and TV.

    Cinemas will let you into a ‘U’ with children under 4 – it’s up to you to decide when your toddler is capable of sitting through a movie.

    What sort of films have this rating?

    Films with a U rating range from films aimed at very young children such as Thomas the Tank Engine to family classics such as Dumbo, Mary Poppins and The Wizard of Oz. Often, ‘classic’ films (including Guys and Dolls, It’s a Wonderful Life and Star Wars) will have a U rating, although they are marketed as films for adults.

    What isn’t allowed in a U?

    If a film receives a U rating, it means that it won’t contain anything unsuitable, so swearing, sex and scary scenes are big no nos in a U film. There may be some scenes of violence, but these will not show any violence in detail.

  • What does PG stand for?

    Parental Guidance films, or films with a ‘PG’ rating are deemed to be suitable for anyone over the age of about 8 years. However, if a film is rated PG, it’s completely up to you as to whether or not your child should watch the film.

    What sort of films have this rating?

    A wide range of films hold a PG rating, particularly those aimed at a family audience. Many films seen as family favourites such as Back To The Future, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Superman are rated PG.

    What isn’t allowed in a PG?

    If a film is rated PG, some bad language, sex and scary scenes may be present, as may violence, but at all times the violence is restrained and not glamourised in any way.

  • What does 12A stand for?

    The 12A rating was introduced in the early Noughties to accompany cinema releases of major Hollywood movies that were too mature for a PG rating but parents still wanted their older children (9, 10 and 11 year olds) to see.

    Children younger than 12 years are able to attend 12A screenings but they must be accompanied by an adult (someone over 18) at all times.

    The 12A rating was introduced to take the space in British cinema that the PG-13 rating occupies in the USA.

    It should also be noted that although 12A films are available to see in the cinema, when released on DVD, a film will be re-classified as either a 12 or a 15 rated picture.

    What sort of films have this rating?

    Films that are given a 12A rating in the cinema tend to be major productions or ‘blockbusters’ such as The Dark Knight, Star Trek and Iron Man 2, which have older contexts such as violence or sex.

    What isn’t allowed in this film?

    In a 12A rated film, violence, sex and bad language are more likely to appear and, although they will be slightly less mild than in a PG rated film, they shouldn't glorify the behaviour of the characters in an inappropriate way. Or be shown in a way that encourages imitation.

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  • What does 12 stand for?

    A 12 rating is given to any film deemed to be suitable for those older than 12 years.

    It's now only used on DVD releases as most films aimed at a 'young teen' audience recieve a 12A rating.

  • What does 15 stand for?

    15 rated films are aimed at a ‘more mature’ audience, meaning specifically teenagers, and grown ups.

    What sort of films have this rating?

    Films that have a 15 rating include Psycho, Saving Private Ryan and When Harry Met Sally… Films that contain mature themes yet aren’t really graphic in their portrayal of sex, violence and bad language, although the may have what’s classified as ‘strong’ violence, nudity and hard drug use.

    What isn’t allowed in this film?

    The main difference between a 15 and an 18 rated film is the level of graphic or explicit detail shown, for example, if a film contains violence in a 15, a character may get hurt, but his injuries won’t be shown in graphic detail, compared to an 18 film.

  • What does it stand for?

    An 18 rated film is designed specifically for adults.

    What sort of films have this rating?

    Films with an 18 rating can range from violent horror films such as Saw, to thrillers like Seven or The Silence of the Lambs, dramas such as American Beauty or comedies such as Woody Allen’s Every Thing You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) and The Inbetweeners.

    What isn’t allowed in this film?

    Although 18 rated films can show graphic scenes of sex, violence and have lots of very bad language in too, if a film is judged by the BBFC to be too explicit, it will receive an R18 rating.

  • What does it stand for?

    R18 is a rating given to films which contain graphic or ‘hardcore’ scenes of sex. Usually the rating is reserved for adult movies and currently R18 films can only be sold in licensed specialist cinemas or sex shops.

    What sort of films have this rating?

    Films with an R18 rating tend to be pornographic in nature, and although most are only available in specialist shops, online retailers such as Amazon are also able to sell them.

    What isn’t allowed in this film?

    As R18 represents the most explicit rating that the BBFC can give, very little that is legal to watch is unable to be shown in a R18 rated film.


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