Since the PG-13 rating was introduced in the mid-80s, the movies carrying the rating have changed substantially. PG-13 used to indicate non-family flicks that weren't quite adult enough to deserve an R rating. Now, the rating is filled with movies made to appeal to young teens or movies that studios have censored down from an R rating to gain a wider audience.
With those changes has come a variety of tropes, not the least of which is gunplay. A new study published today in the journal Pediatrics has shown that modern PG-13 movies now have more than three times the gun violence of PG-13 movies in 1985.
"It's shocking how gun use has skyrocketed in movies that are often marketed directly at the teen audience," said Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and a communications and psychology professor at Ohio State University. "You have to wonder why we are seeing this surge in gun violence in PG-13 movies, when it isn't appearing in G, PG and R-rated films."
Bushman and his colleagues looked at 915 movies that were part of the 30 top-grossing movies from 1950 to 2012. They split the movies into five-minute segments and recorded instances of violence in the movies. Since the PG-13 rating was introduced, gun violence in PG-13 movies has steadily increased while gun violence in G, PG, and R-rated movies has stayed relatively constant. R-rated movies were shown to have an averagy of 1.54 five-minute segments of gun violence per hour.
The rise in PG-13 gunplay isn't necessarily related to the popularity of guns in U.S. teen culture. Instead, the study's authors believe that it could be related to the way R ratings are determined in the U.S., where sex or nudity is more likely to result in an R rating than violence.
"By the standards of the MPAA, PG-13 movies shouldn't have as much violence as R-rated movies, but they clearly do," said Bushman. "It appears sex scenes are more likely to result in an R rating than scenes of violence.
""Based on what researchers have found, it is not good for teens to be viewing this much gun violence in films."