Understanding Film Ratings: What They Mean and How to Choose the Right Movie for Your Family

What Does a Film Rating Mean in the UK?

Film ratings are vital for parents and can make or break the decision to watch a movie. They can be helpful for determining whether movies contain sex references, moderate swear words, crude or suggestive humor and short horror moments.

U – Appropriate for all ages.


Films, computer games and certain publications must be classified before they can be sold or viewed. The classification ratings help to guide consumers and protect children from unsuitable content. These categories range from U (suitable for all ages) to X (no one under 16 admitted without an adult). The ratings also have different levels of content warnings.

The U rating applies to films that are suitable for all ages and is typically applied to children’s movies. These movies are often positive in tone and focus on the difference between right and wrong. They may show dangerous behaviour but not in a way that children might copy it and there should be no bad language. The PG rating is an improvement on this, allowing some slightly more complex themes and mild bad language. However, it is important that parents are present with their children when watching a PG rated film. There are still some scenes that could be too frightening or disturbing for young children.


Film ratings are becoming increasingly important in the age of streaming and digital downloads, where it can be difficult to know what you are letting your children watch. Knowing what the different UK ratings mean can help you make informed decisions about your children’s viewing habits.

G films are suitable for all ages and typically have a positive tone. They should not contain swearing, sex or violence. Movies with a U rating are aimed at young children and may include cartoons and family classics such as Thomas the Tank Engine and Mary Poppins.

PG films are Parental Guidance suggested and may have mild bad language, sex or drug use. They might also introduce heavier topics such as bullying or death but with a gentle tone. They are suitable for those aged 12 and over but should be accompanied by an adult. This rating replaced the old A certificate in 1982. From 1950 to 1970 children under 16 were not allowed in cinemas with an H certificate.


Films with the rating R are restricted to adults only and may contain strong sex scenes, prolonged nudity, violence that includes dismemberment, simulated gambling, brief drug use and other elements that are not suitable for children. This rating also applies to films that have a very intense graphic and violent content that contains bloodshed, torture, depraved and aberrational behaviour, and extremely disturbing imagery.

Movie ratings have become increasingly important as we watch movies at the cinema and at home with devices like tablets and smartphones. This is especially true in the age of streaming and digital downloads, where you don’t have the option to turn off child mode or parental guidance settings. If you don’t have an idea of what the different ratings mean, it can be difficult to make the right choice for your family. Here are some tips to help you understand the different ratings. The BBFC has established a system of age-restricted classifications that include G (general audiences – all ages admitted), PG (parental guidance suggested) and R (restricted – no one under 17 admitted without an adult). The system is based on the principles of the European Convention on the Protection of Children.


NC-17 is the most controversial rating, but films with this rating have a cult following. It was created in 1990 to replace the disreputable X rating, but it has never caught on. Films with this rating deal with serious issues and often cross the line between candid exploration and outright exploitation. The film Showgirls, a movie about female strippers, is one of the most famous examples of this.

In Britain, most R rated movies get a BBFC 15 certificate, which means that under 17s are not allowed in without an adult. The ratings are similar to the American ones, but the British system doesn’t have the cultural problems that the US does. In fact, most R rated movies get a UK 15 certificate, but the censors may also decide to cut a movie down to an NC-17 rating. This is usually done to increase box office sales and make the movie more accessible. This often makes the movie less compelling, however.

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