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What’s the difference between a PG and an M-rated movie? And can your kids watch the new Wonka film?


Rebecca on Dec. 22, 2023

This blog contains parental guidance and is recommended for mature readers.

Our ratings system has some quirks and limitations when it comes to age ratings for entertainment designed for children through to teenagers. So how do you navigate deciding what they can watch based on age?

As a parent of two young children, I’m often fielding requests from them to watch films and shows that they hear about in the school yard, or see advertising for when we’re out and about. It’s easy to say no when it’s a restricted title (R13, R16, R18 etc) and they understand that they’re not old enough for those. But when it comes to content that is rated either PG-level or M-level then I have to pause and assess. I know for my nearly nine-year-old that PG-rated entertainment is going to be totally fine.

For my four-year-old I know M-rated films aren’t for him, but when it’s PG, it’s a case-by-case basis, as I know some things really scare him. Ghosts and spiders are hot topics in our household at the moment, so content warnings are really helpful alongside reviews and parent guides. A content warning for ‘scary scenes’ might mean I need to watch it before he does.

The latest Wonka film based on the Roald Dahl character is rated PG: Parental guidance recommended, and we’ve written a breakdown of the content worth considering for your little ones. I found Wonka was totally fine for him at this age and development level, and at the same time was lots of fun for the nine-year-old, and entertaining for us parents too. By contrast the Barbie movie, which I wrote about earlier in the year, would not have been age-appropriate for my youngest, and that is also rated PG.

When it comes to M-ratings, it starts to get harder and harder to judge whether I should allow Master Nine-Year-Old to see a movie, whether that’s at the cinema or streamed at home at this age. We’ve previously watched classic Godzilla movies with him, which are fun to revisit with their old skool special effects. But I know that the latest Godzilla movie, Godzilla Minus One, is rated M: Violence and that I will need to see first before taking him along. Modern special effects, clever cinematography and sweeping soundtracks could make Godzilla’s destruction all too real and upsetting for a young person whose brain is still developing.

M-rated titles are actually rated as “suitable for mature audiences 16 years and over”. M-rated films are likely to have content warnings alongside the label. But they are still unrestricted and parents and guardians can decide whether their children can view them.

A comic book film can be many different shades of M. For example, The Batman was called in by the Chief Censor when it was rated M, and the classification changed to R13 with content warnings for violence, cruelty and offensive language. And an animation inspired by a beloved children’s cartoon might seem on the face of it to be ‘made for kids’, but is actually for adults who were kids in the 80s (see Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, rated M: Violence). One of these films is going to be okay for my nine year old, and the other is going to be completely traumatic. And I don’t want to create the wrong kind of lasting memories for my child when they’re going to the movies.

We often provide ratings breakdowns of recent releases to help parents with even more information if they’re trying to decide whether a title is right for them and their whānau. Recent examples include The Boy and the Heron, rated PG: Violence and coarse language, and The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, rated M: Drug use and violence. These can be found in the Find a Rating section of our website.

It’s important to note that our ratings system is about informing viewers so they can make the decision whether to watch something or give it a miss. And content warnings provide additional information about the difficult stuff. Always read the label.

Further reading

What the M?! (blog)

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