MPAA Embraces More Informative Ratings With ‘Check The Box’

The Motion Pictures Association of America wants you to know not just what rating a film receives, but why it received it. And they're working harder to keep you informed.

Chris Dodd, chairman of the MPAA, spoke Tuesday at CinemaCon, the annual convention of the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO), and he announced that the MPAA would be launching a new campaign called "Check The Box" to make audiences more aware of the content in movies before they buy a ticket.

The MPAA is the organization responsible for America's movie rating system. While ratings featured in movie trailers, posters, and display ads already feature a box that summarizes the criteria that determined the movie's rating, Dodd said the "Check The Box" campaign will make these descriptions more prominent, and they'll also release a series of public service announcements encouraging parents to be more aware of the reasons a film received a certain rating and not just look to the rating itself.

"Throughout its existence, the goal of the rating system has never changed: to inform parents and allow them to make their own decisions, considering their children’s sensibilities and unique sensitivities," Dodd said. "In 1990, we took a significant step to advance that goal, introducing rating descriptors for every film that is rated PG or higher, giving parents a snapshot of the content in each movie that leads to its rating."

Dodd went on to say the "Check The Box" program "focuses on these descriptors, giving parents the information they need to navigate the rating system and movies coming to their theaters."

NATO chairman John Fithian joined Dodd at the podium and pledged his support for "Check The Box." "These changes make the rating and advertising process more transparent and user-friendly for parents and we are happy to support that endeavor," Fithian said.

"Check The Box" comes in the wake of a campaign by Vice President Joseph Biden to look to the causes of gun violence in America in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut school shootings. Dodd and Fithian were among the entertainment industry figures who met with Biden, and it's believed that "Check The Box" was created to address concerns about violence in films seen by youngsters. A public service announcement released by the MPAA points out that two films rated PG-13 may have received the classification for very different reasons – one for "Intense Sci-Fi Action," the other for "Crude Humor and Sensuality" (personified in the ad by one man in a superhero costume and another wearing a shabby suit and Mardi Gras beads).

Fithian also spoke out on behalf of theater owners, saying that NATO takes ratings enforcement seriously and have been working harder to make the system work.

"A few weeks ago, the Federal Trade Commission released a report on its most recent undercover shopper survey with movie theaters, scoring their highest since these surveys began over a decade ago," Fithian said. "More than 3 in 4 underage teens were denied access to R-rated movies by ticket-sellers and ushers. This is a marked improvement in enforcement and a sign of the movie theater industry’s ongoing commitment to America’s parents."