Everyone loves a family trip to the cinema or a home movie night but how can you be sure you're choosing a film that's appropriate for your child? The best guide is the age rating the film is given but what kind of content is allowed within each age rating – and are the age ratings the same at the cinema, on TV and on streaming platforms?


Here, we explain what each age rating is in the UK – according to British Board of Film Classification (see Who rates UK films and how often are ratings updated?, below) – and what sort of content is allowed within each rating. And we also explain the different film classification systems on popular US streaming platforms such as Disney+, Netflix, Paramount and Prime Video.

Here's how film age ratings work in the UK...

1. The U rating

universal film rating logo green triangle with U inside

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, but 4+ is recommended as this is the age that most children begin to remember things, such as film and TV.

Cinemas will let you into a U-rated film with children under 4: it’s up to you to decide when your child is capable of sitting through a movie and whether the content is appropriate for them. If a film is particularly suitable for preschool children, it's usually indicated in the blurb on film posters, TV listings or the back of a DVD.

What sort of films have a U rating?

Films with a U rating range from those aimed at very young children such as Thomas the Tank Engine, Winnie the Pooh and Finding Nemo to family classics such as Homeward Bound, The Lion King and The Wizard of Oz. Often, ‘classic’ films (including Guys and Dolls, It’s a Wonderful Life and some Star Wars films) will have a U rating, even though they are marketed as films for adults.

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What's allowed in a U film and what's not?

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. There may be some scenes of very mild violence, but these will not show any detail.

The following content criteria applies to U-rated films:

  • Dangerous behaviour: any potentially dangerous or anti-social behaviour will be clearly disapproved of in a U film; no emphasis on realistic or easily accessible weapons.
  • Discrimination: discriminatory language or behaviour is not allowed, unless disapproved of in the story.
  • Drugs: any reference to illegal drugs or drug misuse must be harmless or have a clear educational message suitable for young children.
  • Language: only infrequent use of very mild bad language.
  • Nudity: only occasional nudity of a non-sexual nature.
  • Sex: only very mild sexual behaviour such as kissing.
  • Threat and horror: any scary scenes should be mild, shouldn't induce anxiety in young children and should have reassuring outcomes.
  • Violence: very mild and in context (comedic or unrealistic for example).

2. The PG rating

PG parental guide film classification symbol yellow triangle

Films with a PG (Parental Guidance) 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 if your child watches the film or not, and children of any age may watch it unaccompanied by an adult. The main thing to consider is whether the content may upset younger or particularly sensitive children.

What sort of films have this rating?

A wide range of films hold a PG rating, particularly those aimed at a family audience such as Home Alone, Matilda the Musical, Paddington, Shrek and the first three Harry Potter movies.

What's allowed in a PG film and what's not?

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.

The following content criteria applies to PG rated films:

  • Dangerous behaviour: no detail or focus on dangerous or antisocial behaviour and no glamourisation of realistic or easily accessible weapons.
  • Discrimination: discriminatory language or behaviour is not acceptable unless clearly disapproved of or in an educational or historical context.
  • Drugs: references to illegal drugs must be harmless or have a suitable anti-drug message attached.
  • Language: occasional mild bad language is allowed.
  • Nudity: nudity is allowed but not in a sexual context.
  • Sex: mild references to sex and innuendo only.
  • Threat and horror: frightening sequences shouldn't be prolonged or intense.
  • Violence: mild or impactful violence only in a justified context.

What about children’s films on streaming platforms, like Disney+?

Some popular US streaming platforms, such as Paramount and Disney+, use a different film classification system to the UK one, even if you're watching in the UK.

Paramount uses a maturity level and content rating system starting with Young Kids (0 to 7+) and Older Kids (9+ and 12+) then moving on to Teens (15+) and Adults (18+).

Disney+ classifies content using age ranges including 0+ (suitable for all ages), 6+, 9+, 12+, 14+, 16+ and 18+.

Netflix. Every title available on the UK version of Netflix has been given the UK rating (U, PG, 12, 15 or 18)

Prime Video has also signed up to the UK's rating system, replacing its own rating system that it used previously.

Apple TV+, Britbox, BT TV, YouTube Movies and Sky Store. All use the UK ratings system

3. The 12A rating

12A film rating logo in an orange circle

The 12A rating was introduced in the early 2000s to accompany cinema releases of major Hollywood movies that were too grown-up for a PG rating but that parents still wanted their older children (9, 10 and 11 year olds) to see. It's roughly equivalent to the PG-13 rating in the US.

Children younger than 12 years are able to attend 12A screenings but they must be accompanied by an adult (someone over the age of 18) at all times and under 12s are not allowed to purchase or rent 12A rated content.

It should also be noted that although 12A films are available to see in the cinema, when they are released on a streaming platform, they will be re-classified as either a 12 or a 15 rating, depending on their content.

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 Spider-Man, Avatar, The Twilight Saga and The Dark Knight, which have older content such as violence or sex.

What's allowed in a 12A film and what's not?

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, the films shouldn't glorify the behaviour of the characters in an inappropriate way or be shown in a way that encourages imitation.

The following content criteria applies to 12A rated films:

  • Dangerous behaviour: no promotion or endorsement of dangerous or antisocial behaviour that children may copy and no glamorisation of realistic or easily accessible weapons.
  • Discrimination: discriminatory language or behaviour must not be endorsed
  • Drugs: misuse of drugs should be infrequent, not glamourised nor include detailed instruction.
  • Language: moderate bad language is allowed and there may be some strong bad language depending on context.
  • Nudity: nudity is allowed but must be brief and discreet when in a sexual context.
  • Sex: moderate sexual references and activity only.
  • Sexual violence and sexual threat: non-graphic verbal references to sexual violence are allowed, but stronger forms of sexual violence must be brief and negatively presented.
  • Threat and horror: moderate physical and psychological threat and horror sequences. Overall tone should not be disturbing.
  • Violence: moderate violence but not too detailed. Occasional gory moments are allowed depending on context.

4. The 12 rating

12 film age rating badge orange circle with number 12 in it

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

It's now only used on Video on Demand (VoD) and DVD releases as most cinema release films aimed at a young teen audience receive a 12A rating. The rating criteria for 12 rated films is the same as 12A (see above).

What if I don't know what the rating is?

If you don't know what the age rating is for a specific film you can check the content advice that should be clearly displayed on posters, packaging and listings. You can also find the rating on the BBFC website, which has an easy-to-use search function, or on the free app.

The BBFC also has a specific website for children called CBBFC, for children aged 8 yo 11, which allows them to explore and understand the different classifications themselves.

5. The 15 rating

15 film age classification badge pink circle with number 15 in it.

15-rated films are aimed at a more mature audience, meaning, specifically, teenagers and adults. No one younger than 15 is allowed to see a 15-rated film in the cinema or rent or buy any work that has been given this rating.

What sort of films have this rating?

Films that have a 15 rating include Psycho, Saving Private Ryan, Joker and Bridget Jones's Diary. 15-rated films usually contain mature themes yet aren't really graphic in their portrayal of sex, violence and bad language, although they may have what's classified as 'strong' violence, nudity and hard drug use.

What's allowed in a 15 film and what's not?

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 such graphic detail as they might be in 18-rated film.

The following content criteria applies to 15 rated films:

  • Dangerous behaviour: content should not dwell on detail of dangerous behaviour that could be copied. Depiction of easily accessible weapons depends on context, realism and setting.
  • Discrimination: there may be discriminatory themes but the work as a whole should not endorse them.
  • Drugs: drug-taking may feature but should not be promoted or encouraged.
  • Language: there may be strong bad language and very strong bad language at points, depending on context.
  • Nudity: nudity allowed in educational or non-sexual context. Sexual nudity allowed but not in strong detail.
  • Sex: sexual activity allowed but not in major detail. There may be strong verbal references to sex.
  • Sexual violence and sexual threat: there may be strong verbal references to sexual violence but any depiction won't be detailed or prolonged.
  • Threat and horror: there may be strong threat or horror but a focus on sadistic threat is not allowed.
  • Violence: may be strong but shouldn't focus on the infliction of pain or injury.

6. The 18 rating

18 rated film badge red circle with number 18 inside

An 18 rated film is designed specifically for adults over the age of 18.

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, crime comedies such as The Wolf of Wall Street and romantic dramas like Fifty Shades Darker 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's allowed in an 18 film and what's not?

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

7. The R18 rating

R18 film classification badge blue square with R18 inside

R18 is a rating given to films that contain graphic or hardcore scenes of sex. Currently, R18 films can only be sold in licensed specialist cinemas or licensed sex shops.

What sort of films have this rating?

Films with an R18 rating tend to include explicit depictions of consenting sex or fetish material involving adults and, although most are only available in specialist shops, online retailers such as Amazon are also able to sell them.

What's allowed in an R18 film and what's not?

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

Who rates UK films and how often are ratings updated?

All films and videos are rated before they're released by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). A film's age rating is decided by the BBFC's compliance officers and approved by a compliance manager, who consider issues such as bad language, dangerous behaviour, discrimination, drugs, horror, nudity, sex, and violence, as well as context, tone and how the material will affect a child's development and sense of wellbeing.

The latest updates to the BBFC's film classifications guidelines were published on 19 March 2024. The new guidelines mean that a higher rating than before may now be used for any films that include violence, especially if these scenes are intense or impactful. Any films with sex scenes and nudity are also more likely now to be categorised as 15 rather than 12, and bad language, especially terms with any sexual or misogynistic connotations will also be given a higher age rating.

The BBFC updates its classifcation guidelines for films every 4 to 5 years after an extensive consultation process involving over 10,000 people across the UK.

It's important to note that a film may have a different age rating on terrestrial television or a streaming service than on an old DVD because the BBFC may have changed the age rating since the DVD was originally released. 

Pics: Getty, BBFC


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