Controversial Pass Lets Kids Into R-Rated Films

They’re not yet 17, but some young moviegoers are getting into R-rated films — with a controversial new pass card.

Springfield, Ill.-based GKC Theatres (search) has started distributing a photo ID card to teens 16 years old and younger so they can see R-rated titles without an adult. This parent-approved pass, which costs just $2 and allows kids to see every R-rated flick from “Kill Bill” to "Shakespeare In Love," has started a debate over convenience, parental responsibility and movie content.

Some parents see the card as an easy way to get around having to accompany their under-aged kids to R-rated movies, while others are disturbed that a theater chain would essentially circumvent the rules. Normally, people have to be 17 or accompanied by an adult to see an R-rated film.

“[It’s] less of a pain because I wouldn't have to go,” said Patricia O'Connor from Point Pleasant, N.J., who has three sons, two under the age of 17. “But I wouldn't want Shane (her 13-year-old) walking into just any R-rated movie because some of the material is very inappropriate."

O'Connor’s 16-year-old son Justin, on the other hand, sees the license to view as the next best thing to buttered popcorn and over-sized boxes of candy.

"I think it is a great idea because it is nothing new to me,” he said. “I see all of it on TV anyway, so I don't understand why my parents have to go with me to see it in a movie theatre."

The current movie rating system regulates films based on their level of profanity, violence, sexual content and drug use. Some critics have argued that the R-rating is too broad, pointing out that it includes everything from historical films such as "Troy" and "Schindler's List" to ultra-violent flicks like "Pulp Fiction.”

O'Connor said she’s been shocked at what makes it into an R-rated film. She recently rented “Monster,” the Oscar-winning Charlize Theron (search) movie about a prostitute who goes on a killing spree, and was taken aback by some explicit scenes. In this case, she said she was glad she was with her 13-year-old son while it was playing.

"First I told Shane to cover his eyes, but eventually I was like, 'Shane, get out of here!,'" O'Connor said. "I would not want him watching that on his own."

Jack Valenti (search), the longtime president and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (search), said R-cards take away too much parental control.

"All R-rated films are not alike,” he said. “It is the parents' responsibility to make specific judgments about R films — and wrong to give a blanket endorsement to all."

But according to James Whitman, the GKC theater chain's director of operations, there haven't been any complaints from people participating in the R-card program.

"From what I can tell, the people who have them like them and the parents are trying to use them responsibly," he said. "We're not being inundated with kids whose parents are giving them access to everything that comes on the screen."

So far GKC is the only theater network to offer the card, which Whitman said he came up with after parents complained that they wanted to let their kids see R-rated movies but didn't want to sit through the films themselves.

Currently the theater chain has issued about 700 R-cards — most in central Illinois — and plans to offer them throughout the 22-city chain by the end of the year.

The motion picture and theater owners associations are pressing GKC to abandon the program, but some parents think the cards are a good idea.

Joyce Needham, of Peoria, Ill., said she discusses every movie "before and after" her 16-year-old grandson uses his R-card. She said that whether kids have the card or not, they'll find a way to see what they want.

"I just think communication is the answer and trusting the child," Needham said. "If you can discuss what's going on in this world, you're better off than letting them find a way to do it on their own."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.