The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), chiefly known as the beneficent agency responsible for rating films and fighting film piracy, has never exactly been popular among filmmakers, film critics, filmgoers or, basically anyone who enjoys film. Its rating system has been criticized as inconsistent, reactionary, pedantic, secretive, and irrelevant. Roger Ebert, among others, has repeatedly attacked the association’s tendency of “sidestepping ethical judgments by falling back on the technicalities of its guidelines.”
We will not debate the merit or accuracy of the MPAA’s ratings today. Rather, we will let them stand alone in their utterly insane and idiotic glory.
Since the early ‘90s, the gravely pious agency has not only determined a film’s rating (R, PG-13, G, etc.), but provided a short explanation of what caused it to earn its particular assignation. These MPAA descriptions are unintentionally funny for a variety of reasons.
For starters, there’s an almost schizophrenic discrepancy amongst them, as the MPAA seemingly never quite decided whether it wanted to make its descriptions of adult content exactingly specific or more broadly generalized. As a result, it sounds kind of ridiculous doing either. The ratings are funny when they are excessively detailed (i.e., 1995’s The Skateboard Kid II is “Rated PG for brief mild language and an adolescent punch in the nose”) and they are funny when they are cryptically vague (2010’s At Jesus’ Side is “Rated PG for some menace”).
For some reason, the MPAA also took basically the entire ‘90s to decide on some universal descriptors that could apply to a variety of situations. Whereas it now commonly refers to gross-out/sexual humor as “crude sexual content”, (i.e., Superbad’s “pervasive crude and sexual content”, Role Models’ “crude and sexual content”, etc.), for years, the MPAA was unsure of how to describe potentially offensive humor. As a result, we got the following ratings:
Dumb & Dumber (1994) - Rated PG-13 for off-color humor.
Wayne’s World 2 (1993) - Rated PG-13 for ribald humor.
Coneheads (1993) - Rated PG for comic nudity and some double entendre humor.
The Brady Bunch Movie (1995) - Rated PG-13 for racy innuendos.
Grumpier Old Men (1995) - Rated PG-13 for salty language and innuendos.
Addams Family Values (1993) - Rated PG-13 for macabre humor.
Similarly, before deciding that action films could usually just be described as “violent”, we were subjected to the following delightfully bizarre descriptors:
Knights (aka The Cyborg Killer) (1993) - Rated R for futuristic violence.
Ghost In the Machine (1993) - Rated R for high-tech horror violence.
Congo (1995) - Rated PG-13 for jungle adventure terror and action and brief strong language.
Ghost Brigade (1993) - Rated R for satanic war violence.
Deadly Target (1994) - Rated R for language and non-stop martial arts and gangster violence.
Batman Returns (1992) - Rated PG-13 for brooding, dark violence.
Fist of the North Star (1995) - Rated R for continuous brutal and gory violence, and for brief language.
Alien 3 (1992) - Rated R for monster violence, and for language.
Demolition Man (1993) - Rated R for non-stop action violence, and for strong language.
Mmmm…“action violence”; almost as good as “violence violence”.
Then there are the times when the MPAA gets all uncomfortable and judgy. Considering it has charged itself with safeguarding America’s moral compass, I suppose this is sort of unavoidable. The MPAA seems to think of itself as merely observing and documenting films, rather than judging and condemning them, explaining its role as simply providing relevant information for parents/theaters/etc. However, its objective self-view is hard to correlate with ratings like 1993’s Beethoven’s 2nd, which is “Rated PG for mild language and unsuitable teen behavior.”
My favorite aspect of the MPAA’s film descriptions is that, like any grave and ominous warning, they actually make me want to see the films in question far more than any multimillion-dollar advertising campaign ever could. Before compiling this list, I’d never heard of Dead Boyz Can’t Fly. Now? Thanks to the MPAA, it’s at the top of my Must See list. The MPAA’s moral indignation functions no differently than a “drug-free” PSA or your mom cautioning you not to spoil your appetite; by seeking to illuminate the hazards or immorality of a film, it only makes the dark allure more tempting.
Without further ado, below are the 30 most bizarrely funny MPAA movie ratings. Some films with similarly odd descriptions have been paired up for a double dose of absurdity.
30. In the Company of Men (1997) - Rated R for language and emotional abuse. (Honestly, if you’ve seen the film – this is pretty apt.)
29. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1992) - Rated PG for swashbuckling violence and mild language.
28. Class of Nuke ‘Em High Part II: Subhumanoid Meltdown (1991) - Rated R for scenes of nudity and sexuality, for comic horror violence and grossness. Also, Class of Nuke ‘Em High 3: The Good, the Bad and the Subhumanoid (1995) - Rated R for gross presentation of sex, language and gore. (“We don’t know how to make this any clearer, people. These films are just really gross, okay?”)
27. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) - Rated PG for quirky situations, action and mild language.
26. Alien Trespass (2009) - Rated PG for sci-fi action and brief historical smoking. (Literally no idea what this means. Was it out of a corncob pipe or something?)
25. A Family Thing (1995) - Rated PG-13 for some strong language, brief violence and a childbirth scene. (Personally, I find “childbirth scene” to be way more terrifying than when films are labeled with “brutal bloody violence.”)
24. Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009) - Rated PG-13 for action violence throughout and a crude comment. (It was pretty weird when Superman made a racial slur at Batman.)
23. The Simpsons Movie (2007) - Rated PG-13 for irreverent humor throughout. (That actually sums up 25 years of The Simpsons pretty accurately.)
22. Rollerball (2001) - Rated PG-13 for violence, extreme sports action, sensuality, language and some drug references.
21. Matilda (1996) - Rated PG for elements of exaggerated meanness and ridicule, and for some mild language.
20. Little Giants (1994) - Rated PG for kids’ rude language and pranks. (Pranks? PRANKS? NOOOOOOO!!!!!)
19. For the Moment (1996) - Rated PG-13 for sexual situations, language and a poignant death.
18. Mother’s Boys (1993) - Rated R for language and for a mother’s sociopathic behavior.
17. Donkey Punch (2008) - Rated R for a scene of strong sexual content involving an aberrant violent act, graphic nudity, violence, language and drug use. (Yes, they made a movie called Donkey Punch; yes, it’s about exactly what you think it’s about.)
16. Bats (1999) - Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of bat attacks, and brief language.
15. War of the Buttons (1994) - Rated PG for mischievous conflict, some mild language and bare bottoms. Similarly, Mr. Deeds (2002) - Rated PG-13 for language including sexual references, and some rear nudity.
14. The Dentist (1996) - Rated R for graphic violence including scenes of dental torture, sexuality and some language.
13. 3 Ninjas Knuckle Up (1995) - Rated PG-13 for non-stop ninja action.
12. To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995) - Rated PG-13 for subject matter involving men living in drag, a brief scene of spousal abuse and some language.
11. Jefferson In Paris (1995) - Rated PG-13 for mature theme, some images of violence and a bawdy puppet show.
10. King Leopold’s Ghost (2006) - Rated PG-13 for graphic and disturbing images, and descriptions of inhumanity.
9. Dead Alive (1993) - Rated R for an abundance of outrageous gore.
8. Dead Boyz Can’t Fly (1993) - Rated R for continuous frenzied violence and brutality, and for sexuality, drug use and strong language. (Easily my favorite movie title of all-time.)
7. The Indian In the Cupboard (1995) - Rated PG for mild language and brief video images of violence and sexy dancing. (Looks like somebody needs to dig up their VHS copy of The Indian In the Cupboard…)
6. Twister (1996) - Rated PG-13 for intense depiction of very bad weather.
5. Alien vs. Predator (2004) - Rated PG-13 for violence, language, horror images, slime and gore. (Slime??? LOL)
4. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation(1994) - Rated R for demented mayhem and torture, and for strong language.
3. Alice In Wonderland (2010) - Rated PG for fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, and for a smoking caterpillar.
2. Pink Flamingos (1997) - Rated NC-17 for a wide range of perversions in explicit detail. (“A Wide Range of Perversions in Explicit Detail” sounds like it should be one of Himself’s films in Infinite Jest.)
1. Team America World Police (2004) - Rated R for graphic crude and sexual humor, violent images and strong language—all involving puppets.