What Deadpool teaches us about ratings

Ever since New Year’s eve, my 15 year old daughter has been encouraging me to write about the movie ratings system. I didn’t feel any urgency, but now with the release of Deadpool I think it gives us, as parents, something to talk about.

What happened New Year’s eve? The kids and I each picked out funny movies we though the other would enjoy. My pick was The Birdcage with a Robin Williams, who’s always a favorite actor around our house.

We were shocked to compare the actual content of the movie to the R rating it was given. Except for one scene where a drag queen adjusts his underwear and a tender kiss between two men, the movie only contained a few swear words. How did this justify an R rating? All we could think was that, at the time, the portrayal of gay relationships justified the rating.  We were shocked and began to wonder how accurate the ratings system for movies is for parents in order to make an educated decision on whether or not our kids should see a movie.


With the release of Deadpool and it’s well deserved R rating, featuring  strong violence and language throughout, sexual content and graphic nudity, more parents are frustrated by the amount of sex and violence in movies. Especially with it’s “Marvel” tag which implies a more kid-friendly movie than Deadpool provides.

Comic book movies are a particular area of criticism because of their attraction to young audiences. When my family and I attended the Denver Comic Con there were many many Deadpool costumes and many on children 14 and under.

Furthermore, the difference in subject matter between “The Birdcage” and “Deadpool” further highlights the changes in the ratings systems throughout the years.


A study of 1,906 feature films between 1992 and 2003 found more violence and sex in PG movies (”Parental guidance suggested”) and more of those elements and profanity in PG-13 movies (”Parents strongly cautioned”). It also found more sex and profanity in R-rated movies (”Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian”) than a decade ago.


”When you look at the average, today’s PG-13 movies are approaching what the R movies looked like in 1992,” said Kimberly Thompson, associate professor of risk analysis and decision science at Harvard’s School of Public Health, who was a co-author of the study. ”Today’s PG is approaching what PG-13 looked like a decade ago.”.

So what is a parent to do?  My go-to website for picking movies is IMDB (Internet Movie Database) – I love their “parents” section. It includes lists of offensive (even if only to some) material and “gotchas” that might make movies a no go for your household. It goes to show that one parents “R” rating may not merit that reaction from another.

This article, from “Bounding into comics”, puts the weight on parents to decide about Deadpool and accurately points out that “Deadpool”, the printed comic, has never been for kids. Should art be sacrificed for a parents desire to make their kids happy?

Others argue that all the hype around the Avengers and Captain America make this movie so attractive that it’s irresponsible of movie producers to release such a movie with, not only an R rating, but all the sex and violence to make it worthy of the rating.

For parents new to the comic book world, did you know that comics themselves are rated? Using a similar rating system to the movies, they also have a system. However, Marvel and DC are slightly different, they both have an “explicit content” – “Deadpool” has always fallen into this range.

Here are the specific ratings you’ll find on a Marvel comic:

  • All Ages. These comics area rated by default, meaning they don’t have any rating at all on the cover. That signals the content has been judged appropriate for children, teens, and adults alike.
  • A Appropriate for age 9 and up. These are typically the flagship comics from Marvel, such as Fantastic Four or Amazing Spider-Man. Books with this rating will be typically absent of profanity or adult content, but will be full of action and might include words that many younger children won’t understand (i.e. “invulnerable”).
  • T+ Suggested for Teens and Up. Comics with this rating are comparable to a PG-13 movie rating. According to Bill Rosemann of Marvel Comics, “In these titles you can generally find the violence and language turned up a notch. Recommended for our teen and adult readers.” These are books like Punisher, Elektra, and Marvel Knights.
  • Parental Advisory. Comics with this rating are intended for adults only, and could contain profanity, partial nudity, and graphic violence. Consider this the “R” rating you’d see on a comparable movie.
  • Max: Explicit Content. Basically the NC-17 of comics.

DC Comics:

  • E – Everyone. Cartoon violence and comic mischief at best. Typically suitable for children (or for the young at heart!).
  • T – Teen. This is DC Comics’ version of a PG-13 rating, and will likely include action-style violence and mild profanity.
  • T+ – Teen Plus. A unique rating that falls somewhere in between “T” and “Mature.” Typically targeting readers ages 16 and up, these books will likely contain some profanity and suggestive themes, but no nudity.
  • Mature. Intended for readers 18 and older. May contain nudity, intense violence, extensive profanity, and sexual themes.

So the question becomes, do we sacrifice artistic expression for ratings or is this something that’s just subjective. For our household, we use the IMDB parents section liberally and avoid anything this violent at a young age, my son may be disappointed, but it gives him something to look forward to when he turns 18!


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