The 12A Rating Means Nothing


Obviously everybody knows that a film rated ‘12’ suggests that it should not be watched by anyone under that age. The rating known as ‘12A’ was introduced in Britain around eight or nine years ago, supposedly to allow children more freedom to watch more movies at the cinema when accompanied by an adult. But I think most people could spot the actual motive behind the introduction of that rating; to give a wider audience to films that previously would not been shown to younger children, and hence make more money. Of late the rating of 12A has come to mean pretty much nothing; either those who make these guidelines are out for higher revenues or they have very warped views of what is appropriate family viewing.

A case in point is the recent release of The Woman In Black, starring Harry Potter himself (Daniel Radcliffe). The film is essentially a horror story about the ghost of dead woman haunting a giant Victorian mansion, wantonly killing other people’s children because of the loss of her own. Does that sound like something you would have wanted to see when you were twelve? I don’t claim to be a hardened veteran of the horror genre, but I found it pretty scary, and I was borderline offended by the complete misjudgement of the 12A rating it was given. The motive is again clear; Daniel Radcliffe is the wizard hero of most of the nation’s pre teens, so all of them will presumably flock to see him again. But when the film he stars in is a rather haunting horror movie such as this, Radcliffe’s main audience is cut out, along with most of the potential revenue. So it was given 12A to keep the producers well in pocket, for some reason assuming that the presence of an adult will make The Woman In Blackany less frightening.

By Fernando de Sousa, via Wikimedia Commons

It doesn’t stop there either. The less recently released Contagion, starring Matt Damon, is the story of a very realistic disease wiping out half the world’s population. The problem with this movie is that, unlike other virus based apocalypse movies, it has no infected zombies running around or clouds of deadly gas, but instead it focuses on people coughing and spluttering as if they had the common cold. The difference being that they don’t recover from the cold a day later; they die. What is a twelve year old going to think about someone coughing on a bus after seeing that film? Not only this but there is one scene in which the top of a woman’s head is cut off for medical examination. You see everything. Its brutally realistic depiction of a worldwide pandemic makes for harrowing viewing, even for adults, meaning its low age rating is nothing but completely irresponsible marketing.

The ever popular Hunger Games is another suspect in this kind of mislabelling. Despite it being a 12A the premise is essentially about young people attempting to kill each other. It even shows one scene in which a twelve year olds neck is being very vividly broken. In what world is this appropriate for children? It’s even worse when you consider that 12A means that those even younger than twelve can watch the film if accompanied by an adult. As a rating it basically means anybody can watch the film, regardless of its content. It makes more money that way.

With this kind of exposure it is no wonder that people say Britain’s children are violent ne’er-do-wells. The only thing I wonder is would those who assign the ratings allow their children to watch these films?

  • Harry Parkhill

    Although I agree that some of these films are perhaps a little too much for some 12 year olds (and under). I have to disagree with he bulk of your article, the BBFC assigns ratings on uncut versions of films and in the cases of some of the films you mention the distributor asked what cuts needed to be made in order to achieve the lower ratings. Then they provide a checklist of what sortof things need to be done. In the case of the woman in black, the scary bits were actually darkened to lessen the effect.
    The whole point of a 12A isn’t to just “allow” anyone under 12 to see the film, it is designed so parents have a choice. If you think you would have been too scared at 11 to watch these films then your parents would probably have known about it, on the flip side, I have been watching 18 rated films since I was in primary school and they’ve never really bothered me. Everyone has different tolerances and the 12A is there to reflect that.