There are four components that make up the MPAA film rating system: Violence, Language, Drug Use, and Sexual Content. In order for a film to be issued a R rating, it only needs to qualify in one of these four components, so a film that contains more than one use of the word “fuck,” for example, will most likely automatically garner an R rating, even if it doesn’t contain any graphic violence, illegal drug use, or explicit sexuality.
As one might imagine, this cut-and-dry method of rating films sometimes results in films that might not deserve the potentially box-office killing R rating getting slapped with the label, anyway. And oftentimes, these films contain messages and themes that could be beneficial to a younger audience than the 17-year-old age limit that comes along with the Restricted rating.
The following are eleven films that were rated R by the MPAA that teenagers under the age of 17 should see, anyway. It should be noted that teens should always consult with their parents before watching R-rated films, because some of these entries do indeed earn their ratings. As such, viewer discretion is advised.
All film rating information is from FilmRatings.com.
12 Years a Slave (2013) – Directed by Steve McQueen
Rated R for: “violence/cruelty, some nudity, and brief sexuality.”
Why Teens Should See It Anyway: While “12 Years a Slave” undoubtedly earns it’s R rating thanks to some pretty graphic and brutal depictions of human depravity and suffering, the 2013 Best Picture winner is also one of the most unflinching and honest depictions of slavery ever committed to film. Learning about the darkest period of American history via textbooks doesn’t really give students context into exactly how terrible and completely dehumanising the slave trade really was. “12 Years a Slave” can therefore act as an important complement to in-class studies, giving teens a visual representation of the suffering endured by over half a million black slaves through the years during which slavery was legal in the United States.
Boyhood (2014) – Directed by Richard Linklater
Rated R for: “language including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use.”
Why Teens Should See It Anyway: One of the more egregious entries on this list, the MPAA’s R rating of “Boyhood” is so controversial that the IFC Center in New York City has been admitting high school aged patrons since the film’s premiere in July. It’s not hard to see why: Apart from some foul language and some minor instances of marijuana use, there’s really no reason why “Boyhood” should have been assigned its R rating. Even worse is the fact that this is exactly the type of film that teens should be seeing. It’s an honest, subtle, beautiful depiction of growing up that acts as both a nostalgia vehicle and a reassurance for the future for young audiences. If there was ever a film that teens and their parents should watch together, it’s “Boyhood.”
Dazed and Confused (1993) – Directed by Richard Linklater
Rated R for: “pervasive, continuous teen drug and alcohol use and very strong language.”
Why Teens Should See It Anyway: The “stoner movie” that has almost nothing to do with marijuana, “Dazed and Confused” arguably earns its R rating more than “Boyhood,” but it’s still a coming-of-age film with a message that young viewers can take to heart. The themes of taking control of one’s own life and always looking toward the future that run throughout the film are ones that should resonate with most high-school students, making “Dazed and Confused” one of the most enduring coming-of-age films of the 1990s.
Do the Right Thing (1989) – Directed by Spike Lee
Rated R for: Rating information not provided.
Why Teens Should See It Anyway: Perhaps the greatest film about racism ever made, “Do the Right Thing” is most notable because it refuses to takes sides. The differing philosophies of Civil Rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr. (non-violence and civil disobedience) and Malcolm X (radicalism and, if necessary, violent means) are presented in equal light, resulting in a morally ambiguous climax that forces the audience to confront its own views on the extremely divisive issue of racial politics in the United States. For young viewers, the film adds a new depth to the social and political implications of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and demonstrates that while MLK and Malcolm X may have “won,” the fight is still far from over.
Elephant (2003) – Directed by Gus Van Sant
Rated R for: “disturbing violent content, language, brief sexuality, and drug use – all involving teens.”
Why Teens Should See It Anyway: Mass violence is unfortunately an issue that affects every single student in the United States. With every new school shooting comes lock-down drills and preparation classes that teach kids what to do in case the unthinkable happens. But how many high school students are taught about the things that could drive a mentally-unstable teenager to gun down his or her own classmates? “Elephant” explores the psyche of the school shooter, and ponders several different potential causes for such violent and psychopathic behavior. The results are harrowing and bleak, but ultimately offer a different view of something that every teenager in this country has been taught to fear.
Good Will Hunting (1997) – Directed by Gus Van Sant
Rated R for: “strong language, including some sex-related dialogue.”
Why Teens Should See It Anyway: “Good Will Hunting” is one of those films that probably could have gotten away with a PG-13 rating if it weren’t for the dreaded “one use of the word ‘fuck'” rule that the MPAA has adopted in determining whether language alone can qualify a film for an R rating. Really, there’s nothing in the film that would be deemed alarmingly inappropriate for teenagers, and the poignant and powerful message of confronting one’s past and leaving it behind them is one from which viewers of all ages can benefit.
The King’s Speech (2010) – Directed by Tom Hooper
Rated R for: “some language.”
Why Teens Should See It Anyway: By far the worst offense by the MPAA on this list, “The King’s Speech” “earned” its R rating for one scene, in which Colin Firth mutters the word “fuck” over and over again, thus breaking the aforementioned “one use” rule. A PG-13 cut of the film exists, in which all but one use of the word is removed, but there’s absolutely no reason in the world why teens shouldn’t see the original cut. The fact that the MPAA is restricting young people from seeing a film about one of the most inspiring true-life stories in world history should be reason enough to protest the organisation’s archaic rating system.
Schindler’s List (1993) – Directed by Steven Spielberg
Rated R for: “language, some sexuality, and actuality violence.”
Why Teens Should See It Anyway: Any teens who are reading this article are absolutely implored to consult with their parents before watching “Schindler’s List” by themselves, because it truly is an incredibly brutal film that very well may not be appropriate for many young viewers. However, the film is included here because it’s arguably the most culturally significant depiction of the Holocaust in any medium. Nothing about this film is toned-down or candy-coated, making it an emotionally raw film experience that may not be an easy watch, but one that will stick with young viewers for the rest of their lives.
Stand By Me (1986) – Directed by Rob Reiner
Rated R for: Rating information not provided.
Why Teens Should See It Anyway: “Stand By Me” is perhaps the quintessential American coming-of-age film, and therefore is almost required viewing for high school students, despite its R rating. The film is one of the only “teen movies” of the 1980s to treat its subjects not as kids with silly and trivial problems, but as young adults grappling with serious issues that could affect the rest of their lives. Perhaps most younger teens don’t confront such weighty subjects as their own mortality, child abuse, small town social politics, or deeply-seeded family issues, but for those that do, “Stand By Me” is a potentially life-changing film that cannot be missed.
The Thin Red Line (1998) – Directed by Terrence Malick
Rated R for: “realistic war violence and language.”
Why Teens Should See It Anyway: There are many war films that are considered acceptable for teens to watch despite their R ratings, because violence is to be expected in these types of films. Some war films are even shown in high school Social Studies classes. So what sets “The Thin Red Line” apart from the crowd? Not only is it arguably one of the greatest war films ever, but it’s also not really a “war film” at all: It’s an anti-war film, one which looks at war as the horrible and often senseless act that it is. In a myriad of pro-American films that often glamourise war, “The Thin Red Line” stands out as a beacon that suggests that it doesn’t have to be this way – or if it does, that we have to remember that there are victims on both sides of the front lines.
Trainspotting (1996) – Directed by Danny Boyle
Rated R for: “graphic heroin use and resulting depravity, strong language, sex, nudity, and some violence.”
Why Teens Should See It Anyway: More than most of the films on this list, “Trainspotting” definitely earns its R rating. Not only does it qualify under all four of the MPAA’s rating components, but there are a couple of truly disturbing sequences in this film that are not at all for the faint of heart. With that being said, “Trainspotting” is still a worthwhile endeavor for teenagers because of its unflinching depiction of the effects that heroin addiction and subsequent withdrawal can have on the human body and psyche. While not an “anti-drug” film, per se, the film takes a very graphic approach in portraying the depravity of heroin use, and thus could act as a deterrent for young viewers without shoving the message down their throats.Continue Reading Issue #21