PG-13 Movies Giving Violence Too Big of a Shot



Imagine you are going to see that new action movie with your kid brother or sister. The movie is rated PG-13, and you both are so excited to finally watch a film together. But as the movie gets going, you realize that it is filled with nothing but blood, guns, and explosions, and your little sibling looks a bit overwhelmed. The level of violence resembles that of the R-rated film your parents went to see. Is it really okay for your sibling to be watching this, even though it’s PG-13?

It turns out that recent PG-13 films actually contain more violence than R-rated movies. A 2013 news report in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which was in response to the Sandy Hook shooting, showed that the gunplay has tripled in the PG-13 rating since 1985, while violence in R-rated movies declined. According to the report’s co-author, “The MPAA website clearly says that R-rated films contain more violence. But PG-13 films now contain significantly more violence than R-rated films.” The Motion Picture Assn. of America, MPAA, did not comment on this, however.

Six health organizations, including American Medical Association, support the finding that being exposed to violent media increases aggression, especially in kids. This goes hand in hand with “the weapons effect,” or the well-researched theory that seeing weapons escalates hostile behavior. In movies, teens and children not only witness the weapons effect, but also see characters using the guns. The Pediatrics report said, “The presence of guns in films also provides youth with scripts on how to use guns. In addition, children no longer need to go to movie theaters to see films; they are readily available on the Internet or cable. Thus, children much younger than 13 years can easily view films that contain ample gun violence.” In other words, these vicious films are actually teaching teens and kids how to use various weapons. After all, not only has violence in PG-13 movies risen in recent years, but so have school shootings.

Some may argue that violence has always been around in American movies and does not affect aggressive behavior in kids. According to, from the 1930s-1970s there were only 51 school-related shootings, most of which were between adults or were suicides. But, from the 1980s-2010s, during which the PG-13 rating was established and the Pediatrics study showed that violence was increasing, there were a whopping 120. This time, the majority of the shootings were by teens and kids 18 and under. Therefore, as the movies get more violent, so do the younger viewers.

On a more personal level, I think extremely violent films with a profuse amount of guns and explosions can scare and slightly traumatize younger audiences as well. For instance, I was 11 years-old when I first saw “The Dark Knight” with my parents. If you have seen the movie, you know that gunplay and bombs are a significant part of the movie. I came out of the theater overwhelmed and wide-eyed at the overflowing violence, even though it was a good movie. That night, I could still hear the explosions in my dreams, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience.

Overall, the MPAA should be more careful with rating PG-13 movies, especially since studies have shown that they contain more violence than R-rated films. The amount of violence and gunplay can have a negative effect on youth by increasing aggression, a possible contributor to the increase in school shootings. So before you take a younger sibling to see a possibly-violent PG-13 movie, take a look at some of the movie reviews to make sure it isn’t overly intense.