The Difference Between PG-13 And R-Rated Violence

I have been visiting my hometown of Las Vegas for Thanksgiving break, and taking the opportunity to see as many movies as I can. Rexburg is pretty limited in the movies that they show, so I have enjoyed seeing some movies that I otherwise would not be able to. Tonight I saw the newest installment of The Hunger Games with my family. The movie was enjoyable but got me really thinking about violence in movies. Recently Cracked ran an article that mentioned how the difference between PG-13 and R-Rated violence was really whether or not the results were shown. I think this is a valid point to bring up, and something that we need to consider in our movie watching.

Let me just say that I do not shy away from violence in movies. Violence is a part of history and a part of many people’s lives. Movies exist to show us another aspect of life that we would not be able to experience otherwise. I have never been to war, I have not lived in history, I have not seen many violent things in my experience. But what a movie does is allow me to experience events that I would never want to experience in real life to help me better understand the world, human nature, or history. Violence has its place in movies.

What is frustrating though is how the MPAA views violence. We all know that the MPAA is incredibly corrupt and untrustworthy, but the way that they treat violence is especially troubling.


Take The Hunger Games: Mockingjay for an example. In that movie we got to see a hospital full of innocent civilians burnt to death, five people executed in public square, and two riot scenes were multiple civilians were machine-gunned by masked troops. I would put the amount of onscreen deaths at about 100. And these were pretty intense deaths. Watching people getting mowed down as they run across a bridge is pretty horrifying. But the movie only pulled a PG-13 rating.

Why is that?

The difference between the violence in The Hunger Games and the violence in some R-rated movies is that we never see the results. When people are shot, they just fall over and lay quietly dead. We do not see the bodies torn apart by bullets, or hear the anguished cries of the wounded, or see the grizzly aftermath of an execution. And because of that, violence gets sterilized and looses its meaning.

Violence in movies should be horrifying. People getting machine-gunned to death is nasty, it is cruel, and it is something that should never happen. I worry that as a society we are getting to used to PG-13 violence. We are constantly being bombarded with images of massive death and destruction and loosing any sense of what that would really be like. I thoroughly believe that we are not able to truly feel the emotional impact of a violent death if we do not see a realistic depiction of what the violence would actually do to a person.

To use a metaphor from Cracked, this way of displaying violence is like showing unfettered sexual intercourse in a movie without showing the aftereffects; the risk of STDs, unwanted pregnancy, etc.


Movies are visceral experiences, and the biggest impact is an emotional one. When we see multiple people gunned down in The Hunger Games we may logically understand that what happened was terrible, but it is hard for our brain to emotionally connect with it. We struggle to actually feel the effect of the violence when we do not see the effects of it.

Do I want more violence in movies? No, of course not. But when a movie chooses to use violence as means to entertain or teach the audience, I want them to show the real side effects of violent action. I want film makers to not sterilize the world. I want the movie going audiences to be horrified at the cost of warfare.

I am sick of seeing people treated like props in movies, to be gunned down to make an exciting scene. We need film makers who will be brave enough to teach the audience lessons about the terrible aspects of human violence.


Part of the problem is the MPAA. We have a real problem with the system when movies like Transformers, Man of Steel, The Hunger Games, The Dark Knight Rises and many others can get away with low ratings even though the movies contain large amounts of violence. I am truly concerned about the state of our society when hearing the F-word more than 2 times in a movie is more offensive than watching people get machine-gunned to death. The MPAA needs to reassess the way that it rates movies.

As a movie going audience, I am not saying that we need to avoid violent movies altogether. What I am advocating is a more open-minded view about violence in movies. Instead of just feeling comfortable hiding behind a PG-13 rating, we should be able to critically ask ourselves what a movie is trying to portray with its violence and whether we feel that it is doing a good job showing the results to warn us of the danger of violent action.

If we do this we will become better film-watchers and more discerning people.


4 responses to “The Difference Between PG-13 And R-Rated Violence

  1. Why did you write this? To use basic film terminology and to admit that you watched The Hunger Games movies? What baffles me is that you can get away with passing this as writing.

  2. You never fully brought your thought together. What exactly are you advocating for? Would you rather Hunger Games show the consequences of violence and thus earn an R rating? Would it be a more compelling story? Since you feel too much PG-13 violence has negative consequences to society’s feelings of violence, what is the solution? On the one hand, you do not advocate for more violence, but on the other you say too much unrealistic violence is bad. Should Hunger Games, a story meant for teens and preteens have less PG-13 violence in it?

    I am afraid I am not following your thought to the conclusion.

    • Yeah I realize that this is one of my weaker articles in terms of concluding. Here is what I was trying to say: PG-13 violence is harmful because it does not show the consequences of violence. It turns everything into a big video game. So either make PG-13 movies less violent or go all the way and risk a R rating in order to help people understand the consequences of violence. Hope that that makes sense.

  3. In the UK, The Hunger Games movies have 12A ratings, which mean that under-12s can go as long as they are accompanied by an adult. I went to see Mockingjay when it opened last weekend and personally, even though it doesn’t show the aftereffects of the violence, I think it’s too intense for under 12s.

    However, what baffles me is that movies can get away with more sexual content than is appropriate for a 12-year-old and still be given a 12A or PG-13 rating!

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