A motion picture rating system is designated to classify films with regard to suitability for audiences in terms of issues such as sex, violence, substance abuse, profanity, impudence or other types of mature content. A particular issued rating can be called a certification, classification, certificate or rating.
This is designed to help parents decide whether a movie is suitable for their children. Yet, the effectiveness of these designations is widely disputed. Also, in some jurisdictions a rating may impose on movie theaters the legal obligation of refusing the entrance of children or minors to the movie. Furthermore, where movie theaters do not have this legal obligation, they may enforce restrictions on their own. Ratings are often given in lieu of censorship. Movie theaters often have time restrictions on what time kids can come in with their parent.
In countries such as Australia, an official government censorship system decides on ratings; in other countries, such as the United States, it is done by industry committees with little, if any official government status. In most countries, however, films that are considered morally offensive have been censored, restricted, or banned. Even if the film rating system has no legal consequences, and a film has not explicitly been restricted or banned, there are usually laws forbidding certain films, or forbidding minors to view them.
The influence of specific factors in deciding a rating varies from country to country. For example, in countries such as the U.S., films with strong sexual content are often restricted to adult viewers, whereas in countries such as France and Germany, sexual content is viewed much more leniently. On the other hand, films with violent content are often subject in countries such as Germany and Finland to high ratings and even censorship, whereas countries such as the U.S. offer more lenient ratings to violent movies.
Other factors may or may not influence the classification process, such as being set within a non-fictional historical context, whether the film glorifies violence or drug use, whether said violence or drug use is carried out by the protagonist, with whom the viewer should empathize, or by the antagonist. In Germany, for example, films depicting explicit war violence in a real war context (such as the Second World War) are handled more leniently than films with purely fictional settings.
A film may be produced with a particular rating in mind. It may be re-edited if the desired rating is not obtained, especially to avoid a higher rating than intended. A film may also be re-edited to produce an alternate version for other countries.
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