We always complain about it when a film is supposedly “watered down” and given a PG-13 rating when it so clearly was written and intended as an R. The end result is often sloppy and indicative of this studio-mandated change. To UK audiences, the difference might be harder to gauge, as we have our own ratings system, in which a 12A is considered “tame”. However, it’s important to remember that the two types of certification do not translate exactly, for an R-rated film can often end up as a 12A over here (see Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines), and PG-13s might sometimes translate to 15 (Disturbia).
It’s all part of the maddening and confusing process of film certification, but this article actually seeks to find films that were, within the scope of America’s oft-criticised MPAA – taken to task splendidly in Kirby Dick’s incendiary doc This Film Is Not Yet Rated - actually rated R when it wasn’t especially necessary. The MPAA have frequently been criticised for giving films which frankly depict difficult subjects in an unflinching manner (Boys Don’t Cry, Blue Valentine) NC-17 ratings, but it also frequently screws up the R rating, giving it to films which, in terms of tone and context, absolutely do not warrant it.
8. Prometheus (2012)
It’s perhaps an odd film to start with because so much fuss was made in the fan community about Prometheus being rated R in order that it could live up to the legacy of the first two Alien films. However, having watched the final product – and, unlike many, being utterly infatuated with it – the film doesn’t push that R button very hard at all, hence its 15-rating in the UK, though it still received an R from the MPAA. Consider the typical aspects that are challenged; the violence, while bloody, is not particularly frequent, and its fantastical cause is exaggerated and emphasised by the obviously supernatural nature of the events.
However, an LA Times article suggests that the main reason for the R rating was the third-act surgery scene in which Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw eventually aborts an alien fetus from her womb with the help of a machine. Studio executes at Fox reportedly wanted the scene done away with entirely – presumably cutting too close to the bone for the conservative sensibilities that govern the MPAA regarding abortion – but Scott vehemently refused given its place in the narrative and the challenging commitment to the scene given by Rapace. It’s somewhat ironic given that had Shaw not performed this procedure – which shows only an extremely clean incision – then the film would have ended in the beast exploding from her body in a gory mess, much more deserving of an R.
In other areas, the film has only one strong instance of language, and though sex is referenced, it is not explicitly shown at all.
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