Media Reminder: If You Want to Avoid R-Rated Content, Why Do You Trust PG-13?

Many of us Latter-day Saints wish to avoid R-rated movies. We’ve had Church leaders wisely counsel us to avoid them. That’s a simple guideline to follow and I see no harm in eliminating such content from our lives. But many people mistakenly assume that a rating of PG-13 or PG means that the content is much less offensive than typical R-rated content. The truth is that the level of violence and sexuality in some PG-13 movies or even PG movies can be what traditionally would automatically bring an R-rating. Be warned that ratings can sometimes be meaningless. Do your homework first.

One resource to screen content is There you can read details about content in terms of language, violence, and sex. Movies today have become so degenerate that just reading the descriptions of the content can be pretty disturbing, so be warned. But you don’t have to read the details: they have an easy-to-see graphical indicator for each of these levels, going from 1 (minimal) to 10 (extreme). Here’s their scorecard for Beowulf (full unsavory review here):

A non-LDS movie reviewer in my local paper today points out that the content of Beowulf is clearly what most people would expect to be R-rated. He writes that when R-rated content in movies like Beowulf and Lord of the Rings (gruesome, persistent violence) gets away with only a PG-13 rating, the ratings become relatively meaningless. To me that means yes, I want my family to avoid R-rated movies, but we must also be increasingly cautious about all other movies as well. This is very old news, but worth repeating. I see too many parents who have no qualms about letting their kids see PG-13 movies. Mistake. And it’s not just the kids we should worry about. None of us adults can stay close to the Spirit of the Lord while taking in some of the offensive content that our Adversary has inspired. As part of the many standards and commandments the Lord has given for Christians, Christ warned of how serious a sin it is for a man to look on a woman in lust (Matt. 5:28), and we also read in the scriptures that to lust for a woman is to deny the faith (Doctrine & Covenants 42:23). Can you watch the salacious depictions of Hollywood without being affected? Gratuitous depictions of wanton violence doesn’t seem to be particularly godly, either.

Having been flamed for such comments in the past, let me jump ahead and save some of you some time: “What’s wrong with you? Are you so insecure about the human body that you get all uptight when it is presented on screen? Can’t you handle the reality of sex and violence?” OK, yes, I do have this hangup that makes me feel offended when women’s bodies are treated like playthings and when the private beauty of human intimacy is publicly degraded to a lurid tool for profit by shameless businessmen. And I am very uncomfortable about the human body – mine or anyone’s – when it is being hacked, sliced, burned, tortured, stabbed, and mangled, all for the profit of powerful corporations who prey on the worst within us.

But to their credit, mega-gore movies like Beowulf and the dismal Lord of the Rings series at least spare the viewer from depictions of ritualistic waterboarding and taser abuse. I guess they had to draw the line somewhere.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

28 thoughts on “Media Reminder: If You Want to Avoid R-Rated Content, Why Do You Trust PG-13?

  1. I love kids-in-mind, I always read their description before we go to the movies, even if the movie is rated G it’s amazing to me the kind of violence that can show up randomly.

  2. The recent changes ‘Blogger’ has made are really annoying. I just lost my post because they are trying to force me to use my Blogger account which I don’t use anymore. How nice that they don’t want to allow those of us who use other blogs to link with our name.

    I’m not going to retype what I said… but thanks for the link.

  3. Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for the links to those sites. As someone who lives in the UK, I can’t say I’m all that informed of the US process of censorship. What did catch my eye was your comment, “As part of the many standards and commandments the Lord has given for Christians, Christ warned of how serious a sin it is for a man to look on a woman in lust (Matt. 5:28), and we also read in the scriptures that to lust for a woman is to deny the faith (Doctrine & Covenants 42:23).

    I’m familiar of the passage in Matthew 5, but I was not aware that Jesus made cutting off limbs and gouging out eyes as part of standard practice in Christianity =P I jest, of course…(I do understand the seriousness of what Jesus was talking about with regard to the effect of sin in our lives…)

    What interests me, is the latter half of the above quote when you referred to the Doctrines & Covenants 42:23? So, according to LDS doctrine, every time LDS members lust after a woman, they deny their faith? I don’t know what the implications of are upon the individual LDS’ faith, but does it mean then that they are ex-communicated? Or something to that effect? What does it mean when D&C (42:23) says, and I quote from what you have said, “…is to deny their faith”?

  4. I strongly agree that filth in movies should be avoided and recognize the damaging effects of inappropriate content in movies.

    However, I have had a long-standing rant about subjecting ourselves to the rating of a film. The word “rated” is a verb in the passive voice. Passive voice is well a known trick to take take attention away from the subject, or the actor, of the verb. The verb is “to rate”. The movie was “rated”. So who is the subject? Who rated it R? Can I rate movies? Can you? Who’s rating is legitimate? The standard usage of “R-rated” implies the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), a largely politically rooted corporate organization with plenty of agendas on its plate.

    While there is an obscure President Benson quote in which he mentions “R-rated” films as a no-no, you will not find any authoritative church statement in any Conference talk or pamphlet produced in the last decade that encourages members to peg their moral compasses on the MPAA’s whims.

    The reasoning for this is evident when the global scale of the church is taken into account. “R-rated” , no matter well you translate it, is simply meaningless to those outside the confines of the US and its culture. How about foreign films? The MPAA hasn’t slapped a letter on them…. What to do? The bottom line is, trusting the MPAA to make our choices is part of forfeiting the gifts that God has given us.

    Next time you get into a R-rated movie discussion acknowledge the MPAA’s rating, maybe see what the Canadian system rated it. What do you rate it? What does God rate it? The answers to all those questions might be strikingly different.

    I fear the Mormon folk-doctrine about R-rated movies has a far reaching negative effect on the Church, and Jeff here has pointed out one articulation of that.

    I think the 13th Article of faith is a great guideline to follow in our making entertainment selections. I will grant that it much more practical to glance at a letter in the corner of box than it is to quickly assess a film’s beauty and praiseworthiness, but still, there is an great danger in somehow assuming that the MPAA’s assessment is final and authoritative.

  5. Good comments, aha. I look at it this way – if a movie is rated R, I won’t consider it because it almost certainly violates my standards. Why sift through garbage in search of good? Life is too short for that.

  6. Interesting post. What content in the Lord of the Rings would you consider to not be appropriate material?


  7. Dear Anon / SB,

    Sorcery, witchcraft, wizardry darkness, murder, theft, war – do you want me to continue?

    There is no evidence or parallelism to Jesus as our Saviour in any way.

    Can I please get all readers to Jeff’s excellent reminder here, to please seriously consider the personal responsibility and application for Philippians 4:7-9

    ” 7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
    8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
    9 Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you. “

    If you can personally successfully measure “lord of the rings”, “beowolf”, “harry potter”, “spiderman”, “pirates of the caribbean” or any other child targetted hollywood blockbuster movies together with the Bible verses above, then you have done very well in contorting logic. If you want to consider any books in the same light, then the same applies.

    I fully agree with Jeff on this topic and I would like to maybe ask him to consider a link between the “torturing” post that he made some time earlier and some of these movies targetting our children. Could there be a hidden agenda by hollywood (under the control of some really sick and evil people) to de-sensitise the next generation into accepting this kind of violence and bloodshed as a necessary way of life?

    For Mel Gibson to get his ‘gospel’ message across in his Passion movie, look at the violence and cruelty that he felt had to be depicted, rather than the rest of the inspiring message that WAS the life and ministry of Jesus. Does this content of Death sit well in the stomach of a true Christian ? Do we need to watch it for so long to understand the Bible account ? Why didn’t Mel spend just as long on the Resurrection and Ascension that is more vital a message for our salvation ?


  8. Good comments as usual, Jeff.

    The rating system is far from perfect. I have no criticism of those who adhere to a no-R rule, although it amazes me how many people seem to think that since R is bad, everything else is OK. In fact, I find many PG-13 films more offensive. Sometimes it’s better to see sin for what it is rather than using double entendres and that sort of thing to hide its nature.

    That said, there are few R films I’d recommend, but not many. My favorite is probably 2002’s “Changing Lanes,” which (I kid you not) has the Atonement as its central theme. It is one of the most uplifting films I’ve seen. But those are a rarity. Too many films of all ratings view humans as expendable, and that I find offensive.

    One other site I’d recommend, if you can handle the sometimes off-the-wall Protestant fundamentalism, is Christian Spotlight on Entertainment. They point out some of the things that might be of special interest to Christians, such as sexual attitudes and misuse of God’s name.

  9. We’ve had the onslaught of thrillers, then we had ‘slashers’ on the menu, followed by the emergence of outright horror.

    Not content with this, our young are now being targetted with such occult inspired harry potter series and next to come the totally atheistic and demonic ‘the golden compass’ where the film’s objective is killing God!

    Where will it all end and when will Christianity raise it’s voice and say “No – enough is enough” ?

  10. Sorcery, witchcraft, wizardry darkness, murder, theft, war – do you want me to continue?

    Wait, I’ve lost track. Were we talking about Lord of the Rings, or the scriptures?

  11. RWW,

    If you can receive the same message from Lord of the Rings as you can from the lessons in scripture regarding “sorcery, witchcraft, wizardry, darkness, murder, theft, war ” then you carry on……

    I have actually watched the first in the Lord of the Rings saga. I wasn’t impressed, I didn’t see the global attraction and I won’t be watching the remaining two movies.

    I left you the ‘scripture’ in Philippians to use as the yardstick against any visually stimulising media – I can only guess from your sarcasm that you preferred to ignore it.

    Your individual choice granted- as ever was before.


  12. What I don’t understand is this. The Church says no Rated R movies. And it’s pretty obvious…most of the time, why. But, the thing is, how does this apply in other countries? As an example, I have been to Guatemala several times and there are no ratings on the movies. Many of the members there, watch what we consider rated R flicks, because they don’t understand what this rated R means. I have tried to explain that we try to avoid movies or media with content that isn’t appropriate for the Holy Ghost to stick around, but maybe I am not persuasive enough.

    On a funny note, I was managing a movie theatre a couple of years ago, and two older women came in to see a comedy, which title escapes me, about a French knight and his sidekick that get thrust into the future by sorcery where they get to hang out with Christina Applegate. The two ladies left the movie and told me that they were appalled that the movie was depicting sorcery and magic and how anti-Christian it was. When they asked me what else was showing, I told them that on the other side we had all Rated R flicks with violence, drugs, sex, profanity etc, and they told me, no joke, that they were adults and those things didn’t bother them and went to that side to watch one of those movies. Too funny.

  13. Teranno, I’m really sorry that we hit it off rather poorly early on with issues over some other topics. Your comments, though we often disagree, have been helpful and insightful, and I look forward to having more of your insights shared. And I appreciate your Bible scholarship.

  14. If you can receive the same message from Lord of the Rings as you can from the lessons in scripture regarding “sorcery, witchcraft, wizardry, darkness, murder, theft, war ” then you carry on…

    Since the films portray all of the above in an unmistakably bad light, I suppose I will carry on, with your blessing.

  15. Dear Jeff,

    Many thanks for your apology and understanding.

    I also apologise for the early conflicts. Yours is the very first blog that I had left comments and I guess that I jumped in with two size 20 feet !!!

    I never meant to cause any distress or conflict and although we do differ on doctrine, some of your Biblical and secular posts have been quite brilliant (not always agreed with – but still brilliant in that it gets a discussion going)!

    If I have caused any of your readers to be upset in any way over my comments then I apologise openly to them too. I now always try to think from a Biblical viewpoint and ask the Holy Spirit for His divine guidance in my thinking and words.

    There is not an ounce of animosity or hatred in my bones against any other individual on this planet, and maybe that also has not been made clear in some of the early comments.

    I look forward to the new posts that you write and also to reading your added wisdom to the comments on this one.

    May God continue to richly bless you and your family as you endeavour in His will for your lives.


  16. Dear RWW,

    RWW said “Since the films portray all of the above in an unmistakably bad light, I suppose I will carry on, with your blessing.”

    Please do not misunderstand.

    Your blessing is not from me. Your blessing of the same freedom of choice that has been granted to all mankind comes directly from the God of Peace (Philippians 4:9).

    Would you be happy to invite the God of Peace (as a person) into your home, to sit down and watch these movies with you? Maybe over a beer or 10 and some hard drugs ?

    Well the surprise is that He is with you watching, all the time. Does he like what He is witnessing…. ?


  17. …Beer and hard drugs? You’re unbelievable.

    Anyway, yes, if Jesus were here I’d watch Lord of the Rings with him, if he hadn’t already seen it, which I assume he basically has.

  18. Dear RWW,

    The beer and the hard drugs were to prove a point on the equivalent level of psychological damage that these films can have on your subconscious mind. It is quite believable in fact!! Everything that you see is stored in your brain in memory throughout your life. You will only use a small fraction of the total capacity of the true potential fo your brain. Why fill whatever you use with mind numbing acts of violence that someone has dreamt up as an audio visual stimulant ?

    I have been where you are now, trying to defend these ‘escape from mundane reality movies’ for a long time. I have finally seen that they serve no purpose in the true Christian’s lifestyle. I can see no Holiness or Gospel message there. The Gospel message was also heavily shrouded with lengthy violent peripheries in the ‘Passion’ movie. Enjoyment – I don’t think so. Watching my Saviour beaten, tortured and crucified for 2 hours or so in Aramaic, for art’s sake – no thanks ! Give me the resurrection and the ascension and I would be more inclined to pay attention.

    Spend the same time in giving to others who are not so fortunate as yourself and witness the true essence of the Gospel in the gratitude that you will see with your own eyes.

    I very much doubt that Jesus has taken the time to see Lord of the Rings, as He is more concerned with the reasons why you are watching it. Can the Holy Spirit reside with such evil content ? Jesus is more likely to be heard saying “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do”.


  19. R-Rated Films I would watch with Christ Present.

    The Patriot
    Not only did I and my two Lds friends feel the spirit as we watched this film in theaters but it convinced both of them of their responsibility to vote which neither was going to do until they saw the film.

    The Passion
    Violence is only dehumanizing when its glorified, this film like the one above does not glorify the violence, it shows it for what it is and why we should avoid it. That and he’s already experienced it let alone seen it.

    Shows the danger of pride and again presents violence as a negative thing.

    The Bible/Book of Mormon
    If either of these were depicted at all accurately even keeping gore to minimum, and using insinuation for sexual situations would still undoubtedly be Rated-R.

    There are many other movies that are rated R that I would watch with the lord minus some gratuitous thing. Schindlers List to name one and Saving Private Ryan to name another. In short of the R-Movies I have chosen to view only a very small minority of them would make me uncomfortable or lose the spirit. This is in contrast to the majority of PG and PG13 films making me uncomfortable not just because of the content but how it’s presented. So I agree with you that we can’t just assume PG-13 and PG are fine and good I wholeheartedly disagree with the idea that it’s not worth trying to find the many Gems that are rated R.
    “If there is anything virtuous lovely or of good report or praiseworthy we “seek” after these things”
    Seeking is searching high and low to try to find something that fits the criterion of what we are seeking. Most movies it is obvious from a preview whether it fits that criterion and I an R-Rated movie looks like it will fit all of the following it should be supported, just like the PG movie that obviously does not fit the criterion should not be viewed.

    Oh also like someone else mentioned the only time they have referred specifically to the R-Rating on the pulpit have been talks to the youth. Note any youth under 17 who view an R-rating are not only possibly viewing bad content but are breaking the law. Just my two cents.

  20. Jeff, great post, I think its wise to find out as much as you can about a movie before making the choice to watch it, regardless of its rating. The link you provided is another valuable tool in guiding our decision to choose the right. As has been stated by other commenters, too often members assume that just because a film isn’t rated R, that it is ok to watch, which really couldn’t be further from the truth. Avoid R rated films is a good guideline, but it’s only a starting point, not the finish line. Ultimately, we will be judged based on the choices we make, and somehow I think that when we stand at judgment it would sound awfully pathetic trying to justify watching bad movies because they were only rated PG-13.

    Zera, I agree with you that there are some R-rated films that can be spiritually uplifting. Of the three on your list that I have seen, Schindler’s List is the only one that I can honestly say I felt the spirit throughout. Not everyone who watches it does. I saw this film with my high school, and there were student in the theater that laughed at various scenes. For them it might have been better to have avoided the film.

    And incidentally, the MPPA ratings are not law. They are completely voluntary, and as such up to the individual theaters to enforce.

  21. Hi Marcus,

    Thanks for your comment. For the most part I agree with you.

    There are certain movies that can be used to highlight certain aspects of Christianity, but unfortunately they are shrouded with elements of pure evil too.

    For example in days gone by in a powerful war drama, one may have witnessed someone brandishing a rifle menacingly, heard a gunshot and then seen the chosen victim dramatically slump to the ground or be filmed already on the ground.

    In the movie Schindler’s List, at one point in the movie, the viewer almost lives the life of the German officer pointing his rifle randomly at the citizens of the concentration camp, lining up the sights and then pulling the trigger.

    As Christians, does this sit well with us in the name of entertainment? Is it necessary for us to witness simulated ‘live action killing’, moreso than it was depicted in yesteryear? Is the kick for the movie maker, the actors or for the viewer? What are we taking educationally from these kinds of scenes ?

    And what about the students that you were watching with who could laugh? Is this the intended message of the movie. Is this really how low human beings have descended in depravity ? Are they one step from interaction of this kind of simulated modern-day life behaviour as a threat to our society? Whilst still remote – it certainly is a possibility.

    This is why we could be more vigilent in setting our standards as followers of Jesus, far higher than those proposed by the censorship boards around the world.


  22. I really enjoyed reading your article. I found this as an informative and interesting post, so i think it is very useful and knowledgeable. I would like to thank you for the effort you have made in writing this article.

  23. Although This is super old, I came across it and wanted to mention that film is an art form and though most of what we see is entertainment, much of it is an expression of reality and of the human condition. Film often shows things as they are and what the implications of our decisions are. The world, and the human condition, is not pretty. But even the un-pretty parts are what make us human. Everyone can experience this on different levels and most people have different thresholds as to how comfortable they feel experiencing this mode of art. But calling out people for their threshold being higher than yours is, indeed, unproductive and somewhat Pharisaical.

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