A new study suggests parents cannot count on the current movie ratings system to determine how much violence is in a film.

According to the study, some PG films have more acts of violence than the average R film. In the May edition of the journal Pediatrics, Lucille Jenkins, MPH, and colleagues write that the movie ratings system "has failed to adhere to its definitions of the PG and PG-13 ratings, which state, 'horror and violence do not exceed moderate levels' and 'rough or persistent violence is absent,' respectively."

Most Movies Contain Violence

The researchers reviewed the 98 top-grossing PG, PG-13, and R films of 1994 and identified more than 2,000 violent acts. Every film but three was found to contain at least one act of violence, and more than a quarter of the violence in all ratings categories involved deadly force.

The average number of violent acts per film was 14 in the PG category, 20 in PG-13 and 32 in R. But six PG films had more violence than the PG-13 average and three had more violence than the R average. For example, the researchers identified 97 acts of violence in The Jungle Book (search), rated PG. In addition, the most violent films had a similar number of violent acts regardless of their rating.

A Call for New, Improved Movie Ratings System

The researchers say that the current movie ratings system is of little help in determining which films contain the most violence.

They say a new movie rating system should be created that determines the frequency and seriousness of the violent acts, the frequency and types of problematic language, the frequency and graphicness of sexual representations, etc.

Content Descriptors More Helpful

The current movie ratings system also offers "content descriptors" that specify the type of violence, language, and sexual content in every film it rates. The researchers say these descriptors provide a better indication of violent content than standard ratings.

"Our final recommendation is that the content descriptors be made clear and legible on all print advertisements and on all film, video, and DVD trailers, which would provide parents with meaningful descriptive ratings as well as the traditional age-based guidelines."

By Sherry Rauh, reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

SOURCES: Jenkins, L. Pediatrics, May, 2005; vol. 115: 512-517. News release, American Academy of Pediatrics.