There is little difference between the vices shown in PG-13 and R-rated movies, according to a new study.
Researchers at the Annenberg Public Policy Center at University of Pennsylvania reviewed 390 popular movies released between 1985 and 2010 to count the number of times violent characters also engaged in behaviors like sex, drinking alcohol and smoking. They found that nearly 90 percent of the top-grossing movies from 1985-2010 (with ratings ranging from G to R) feature main characters acting violently, and in 77 percent of the movies those characters also engage in sexual behaviors, consume alcohol or smoke. There was very little statistical difference between PG-13 and R-rated films in terms of whether violent characters also engaged in other risky business.
More than half of the highest-grossing PG-13 movies over the past 25 years feature characters who act violently and drink and/or have sex — and the two acts usually occur within a five-minute segment, researchers say. The study cites films like Quantum of Solace and Mr. and Mrs. Smith as examples of PG-13 movies where characters strip and drink as the bullets fly.
Exposing teens to such behaviors is problematic, the study says, as “evidence shows that adolescents do engage in clusters of risk(y) behaviors. … Youth, particularly those with impulsive sensation-seeking tendencies, may be at elevated risk for unhealthy behaviors as a result of their media exposure to problematic content.”
This study comes only three weeks after a similar one was published by Annenberg that showed the amount of gun violence in PG-13 movies has more than tripled since 1985, and last year exceeded the amount of gun violence in top-grossing R-rated movies. The two studies imply that the ratings system established by the Motion Picture Association of America is flawed. “It seems like [the ratings system] is not necessarily doing the job it set out to do in terms of shielding youth from inappropriate content,” Amy Bleakley, the lead author of the study, told the Wrap.
Not all vices are proliferating on the big screen. Tobacco and alcohol use in movies has dropped significantly in films since the 1980s. Tobacco use by main characters occurred in 68 percent of the movies studied from 1985, but in just 21.4 percent in 2010. And when characters are shown smoking, it’s usually in R-rated films (57 percent compared to PG-13 films’ 30 percent). Alcohol use also dropped from 89.6 to 67.3 percent in that same time period.