As time marches on, the general public’s attitude has largely shifted. As such, a good age rating system (looking at you, MPAA) makes it a point to consult the public and adjust their guidelines accordingly.
The BBFC consults the public every four to five years on their current guidelines, taking advice from teenagers, parents, caregivers, and common film-goers to determine what needs to be changed to fit the current attitudes.
Historically, there are more films which have lowered in rating under new guidelines; however, on occasion, a film can still be bumped up in rating based on the public indicating that something in it was no longer suitable for the category it was in. Here are ten such examples of this.
When the anime film Akira was first classified by the BBFC in 1990 for cinema, it received a 12 rating. This is considered by many to be one of the most baffling BBFC decisions of all time considering the film’s graphic content. It also supports a theory that the director at the time, James Ferman, was abnormally lenient on animation. (There are plenty of examples from his time to back this up—The Plague Dogs and Princess Mononoke at PG, Watership Down at U…)
The film was rerated 15 for video release in 1991, likely because there was no 12 rating for video at the time.
When the film was submitted to the BBFC again for a cinema release in 2002 (and under a new BBFC director), it retained its 15 rating, with an insight reading “Contains some strong language, violence and sexual violence.” The film has a 15 to this day, with its shortened modern insight reading “strong language, bloody violence, sexual violence”. It’s going to be a quite a while (if ever) before it goes back down to the 12 rating it once had.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a classic family film; a clear-cut U…right? Well, it was until 2016.
Ever since its original submission in 1971, Bedknobs and Broomsticks had carried a U rating. It wasn’t until 2009 that its consumer advice changed from “Contains no material likely to offend or harm.” to “Contains mild language and threat.”, still retaining its U rating.
For a resubmission in 2016, and with new guidelines adjusted to be stricter on mild bad language at U, Bedknobs and Broomsticks received a PG for ‘mild bad language’. This is entirely because of the scene where Charlie, a young child, exclaims “Not bloody likely!” at a Nazi soldier.
Amazon.co.uk currently has a DVD and Blu-ray version available in-print, with only the Blu-ray version carrying a PG rating. (The Blu-ray also carries incorrect consumer advice clearly copypasted from the U-rated DVD.)
The Birth of a Nation (1915)
This historical Ku Klux Klan propaganda is one of the best examples as to how society has progressed, and how that progression has affected age ratings.
From its original release in 1915, the film received a U rating from the BBFC and maintained it upon rereleases in 1931 and 1952.
It wasn’t until 1994 that the film was submitted again, and this time under an entirely new climate for African-American people (laws against segregation weren’t passed in the UK until the 1960s). In a modern society, the BBFC felt that the film contained controversial portrayals of black people as mindless and violent and the Ku Klux Klan as heroes that had a strong potential to offend. However, also considering the historical context of the film, they decided to place it at the 15 category, recognizing older teenagers would be able to understand its historical context.
As of this writing, the film is streaming on Amazon Prime in the UK, and they for some reason have appointed their own 13+ rating rather than using the 15 from the BBFC.
Concert for George
Concert for George is a documentary about the tribute concert held for lead Beatles guitarist George Harrison in 2002. The film was originally seen by the BBFC for a theatrical release in 2003, and received a PG with the consumer advice of “Contains mild nudity and sexual innuendo.”
Upon George Harrison’s 75th birthday, the film was re-released into theaters in 2018. The resubmission of the film led to the BBFC reclassifying it as 12A, changing what they had previously referred to as “sexual innuendo” to “moderate sex references.”
This is likely due to a bit involving the Monty Python brothers, in which they performed the classic, innuendo-laden “Sit on My Face.” A quick look at the lyrics on Google will tell you that it’s not the type of thing the BBFC will pass as PG nowadays, no matter how wholesome the rest of the work is.
Who you gonna call? No children under 12 without adult accompaniment!
…It sounded catchier in my head.
This 80s classic had historically carried a PG certificate from the BBFC, with its last submission carrying the rating having been for a “picture-in-picture commentary” in 2009. However, in 2011 (and under new guidelines), the film was rerated for a theatrical re-release as 12A for “moderate sex references.”
This is entirely due to the scene in which Ray has a dream about receiving oral sex from a ghost – the visuals are discreet but indicate enough that the BBFC didn’t feel they were acceptable for a modern-day PG.
The home video situation for Ghostbusters can be quite confusing for a parent, as there are PG and 12-rated Blu-rays floating around, as well as a PG-rated DVD (unless you get the three-film collection, which is 12 on account of both the original and the 2016 remake).
The level of violence and gore contained in Jaws continues to shock American viewers who discover it carries a PG rating from the MPAA. There was also a period of time in which it carried a similar classification from the BBFC, though how long this period was may be longer than most people think.
When Jaws was first released in the UK, it carried an “A” certificate, which meant “Those aged 5 and older admitted, but not recommended for children under 14 years of age.” (Many formerly “A”-rated films are rated PG or even U today.)
The film was submitted for a video release in 1987, and, with entirely new certificates in place, received a PG rating. It retained the rating for resubmissions in 1993 and 2000; however, the 2000 DVD release also contained a gag reel which earned the DVD overall a 12 rating, and a 2005 DVD contained a storyboard comparison with “one use of strong language and moderate violence.” Therefore, Jaws has never been issued on DVD with a PG.
For a theatrical re-release in 2012, the film was reassessed by the BBFC and reclassified as 12A for “moderate threat and occasional gory moments.” It has yet to be rerated for home video as of this writing, meaning that, if a distributor really wanted to (and their print was identical to the version submitted in 2000), they could put out a Jaws DVD (without the gag reel or storyboard comparison) with a PG rating.
Leave No Trace
Leave No Trace is a very interesting case. The film was originally rated PG for “mild injury detail, drug references”, and made it through its entire theatrical run with that rating. However, on home video, it received a sudden rerating to 12 for “infrequent strong language, mild injury detail, drug references”.
This turned out to be a result of a brief shot of a character’s tattoos—if you make an effort to make them out, you can see that one of them reads “bad motherf**ker.” The BBFC clearly didn’t make this effort when the film was first classified but did for home video. (The release on home video also makes it more likely for viewers to rewind/pause and catch this.)
The word ‘motherf**ker’ is rarely allowed at a 12, but the BBFC likely felt that such a brief, easy-to-miss written instance was worthy of an exception.
Pixar’s Ratatouille is another example of a clear-cut U that’s been pushed up due to more recent changes of the BBFC guidelines. The film was originally rated in 2007 and was rated U with the insight of “Contains comic violence and one use of mild language.”
However, in 2014, the film was re-rated for a theatrical re-release, bumping it up to a PG under new guidelines for “comic violence, mild bad language”. (The long insight is identical to the one that was published for the original U-rated release.)
Similarly to Bedknobs and Broomsticks, it’s one line that got the film’s rating bumped up: a flippant use of ‘bloody’ from an irritated waiter.
Also similarly to Bedknobs and Broomsticks, the film has a U-rated DVD and PG-rated Blu-ray readily available on Amazon.co.uk. The Prime Video listing still carries a U.
The Road to El Dorado
Hey, I recognize this one! Yep, back in November, I included The Road to El Dorado in my list of U-rated films with surprisingly objectionable content.
The BBFC’s new guidelines went into effect on February 28th of this year, and it was the very next day that a new submission for The Road to El Dorado appeared with a PG rating for “mild bad language, threat, scary scenes”. This is likely due to the single use of the word ‘crappy’ more than anything. No mention of Chel on her knees for Tulio, though.
There Will Be Blood
Rarely do we hear about BBFC decisions being appealed (more often, the distributor will just pre-cut or cut for the rating they want). It’s even more rarely we hear about someone wanting a higher rating for their film. Unlike the other decisions on this list, this wasn’t the result of different guidelines – rather, it was a change of how the examiners applied the guidelines.
The BBFC originally rated Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood as 12A. However, before the film’s official release (some early reviews still list the film as 12A), the distributor asked the BBFC to reconsider their decision. Upon re-review, the film was changed to a 15 for “strong violence”.
If the film had stayed at the 12A category, it would definitely be one of the strongest 12As in history, largely due to the gruesome bludgeoning scene. It also likely wouldn’t have held the attention of the little kids who had been taken to a 12A to keep them quiet for a few hours.