Last weekend, the superhero action flick Thor: The Dark World smashed its competition at the box office and brought in a whopping $86.1 million. Thor—which includes several heart-pounding, intense fight scenes—has an MPAA rating of PG-13, which means the hero’s many young fans were allowed among the audiences. But if Thor was released in the ’80s, it might have earned an R rating, a new study suggests.
Today’s PG-13 movies are as violent or more violent than R-rated movies released in the 1980s, according to a new study published today in the journal Pediatrics. Conversely, ’80s movies like Terminator or Die Hard, which both garnered R ratings when they came out, would likely get PG-13 ratings today, researchers said.
Researchers from Ohio State and the University of Pennsylvania watched and analyzed 945 movies released from 1950 to 2012, all of the which were randomly chosen from the top 30 top-grossing films of each year. “Coders” counted the acts of violence, defined as “physical acts where the aggressor makes or attempts to make some physical contact with the intention of causing injury or death,” in each of the films.
Their findings? “When the PG-13 rating was introduced [in 1985], these films contained about as much gun violence as G and PG films,” the study says. “Since 2009, PG-13-rated films have contained as much or more violence as R-rated films.” Overall, violence in movies has more than doubled since 1950 and gun violence in PG-13 movies has more than tripled since 1985.
Study co-author Dan Romer told NBC News that the popular, R-rated gangster movie The Untouchables (1987) is a perfect example of this trend. “It had gun violence in it that was comparable to a lot of the movies we’re calling PG-13 in the last five years,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if The Untouchables today would get a PG-13.” The same goes for Beverly Hills Cop starring Eddie Murphy—it was an R-rated movie when it came out in 1984, but by today’s standards, it seems PG-13, Romer said.
The researchers also analyzed all three Die Hard movies. The first two, released in 1988 and 1990, both were rated R. But 2007′s Live Free or Die Hard, which was rated PG-13, had more gun violence than its prequels. The same pattern arose in the Terminator series, the study found.
According to the MPAA, a PG-13 movie “may go beyond the PG rating in theme, violence, nudity, sensuality, language, adult activities or other elements, but does not reach the restricted R category.” Themes that can earn a movie a PG-13 rating include “any drug use” and “more than brief nudity,” but these films can’t have “both realistic and extreme or persistent violence” or more than one harsh expletive.
Meanwhile, movies that include “adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, [and] drug abuse or other elements” merit an R-rating, the MPAA website says.
“There are exceptions, but in the top-grossing films, over 90 percent of them have some violence,” Romer told NBC News. “Violence is very good for Hollywood. And PG-13 is good for Hollywood, because it doesn’t restrict anyone from going into the theater.”
Do you think today’s violent PG-13 movies deserve R ratings? Let us know in the comments.
This story has been modified.