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BBFC Film Age Ratings
What is film age ratings and why are they used?
• In order to protect children from unsuitable and even harmful content in films and videos and to give consumers information they might
need about a particular film or video before deciding whether or not to view it, the BBFC examines and age rates films and videos before
they are released. This independent scrutiny prior to release ensures the highest possible level of protection and empowerment.
• They watch films and videos all the way through and award an age rating and insight to each one. They reach an age rating by applying
the standards and criteria contained in their Classification Guidelines.
• Typically, two examiners view a film for theatrical release. In most cases a Senior Examiner will confirm the examiners’ recommendation.
But if the Examiners are in any doubt or fail to agree, or if important policy issues are involved, the work may be seen by other members
of the Board up to, and including, the Director and Presidential team. Occasionally they need to take specialist advice about the legal
acceptability of film content or its potential for harm.
• The same process exists for DVDs and Blu-rays though generally these are seen by one Examiner. However, opinions from other
Examiners may be required for more difficult works.
• They look at issues such as discrimination, drugs, horror, dangerous and easily imitable behaviour, language, nudity, sex, and violence
when making decisions. The theme of the work is also an important consideration. They also consider context, the tone and likely impact
of a work on the potential audience.
• The release format of a work has an impact on classification. Their decisions on the age rating of DVDs and Blu-rays can occasionally be
stricter than at the cinema because there is a higher risk of underage viewing in the home and a greater potential for watching scenes
out of context.
• What does U mean?
The U symbol stands for Universal. A U film should be suitable for audiences aged four years and over. However, it is impossible to predict what
might upset a particular child, especially at this lower end of the category range.
• Will there be any bad language in a U film?
At U they only allow infrequent use of very mild bad language (e.g. ‘damn’ and ‘hell’).
• Might U works contain any sexual behaviour?
Characters may be seen kissing or cuddling and there may be references to sexual behaviour. However, there will be no overt focus on sexual
behaviour, language or innuendo. Sex and sex references are treated the same irrespective of sexuality so there could be mild or undetailed
references at U.
• Is violence or threat permitted in a U film?
Violence will generally be very mild. A U film may include brief fight scenes or moments where characters are placed in danger. However,
moments of emotional stress or threat will be quickly resolved and the outcome will be reassuring. There may be brief scary scenes and
moments where the characters are placed in danger. As with violence, however, these scenes will be balanced by reassuring elements, such as
comic interludes or music. ‘Baddie’ characters may carry or use weapons, but there will be no emphasis on these. Child or ‘hero’ characters are
unlikely to use any kind of weapon.
• What about behaviour which children might copy?
Potentially dangerous or anti-social behaviour which young children may copy, must be clearly disapproved of.
• What sorts of films are usually passed at U?
A U film can explore a wide rang of themes, as long as the treatment is appropriate for a young audience. This doesn’t mean that all films rated
U are children’s films. A children’s work at U will generally contain positive messages about loyalty, honesty and friendship, particularly amongst
children. The film or video may well have a happy ending for the child and the overall tone should be one of reassurance. U films are unlikely to
contain discriminatory language or behaviour unless it is clearly disapproved of.
• Will there be references to drugs?
At U there will not normally be references to illegal drugs or drugs misuse unless there is a very clear anti-drugs or educational message which
will be understood by a younger audience. Drugs references which are unlikely to register with young children and are brief or passing may
occasionally be passed at U.
• What does PG mean?
PG stands for Parental Guidance. This means a film is suitable for general viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children. A PG
film should not unsettle a child aged around eight or older. Parents should consider whether the content may upset younger, or more sensitive,
children.
• Are all PG films made for younger audiences?
No. Some films are given a PG certificate but have not been made with a young audience in mind. A recent example of a film mostly enjoyed by
grown ups but passed PG would be Saving Mr. Banks. However, the certificate means that any issues in the work are appropriate for the majority
of this age group and nothing should upset a child of eight or over.
• What sort of themes are passed at PG?
A PG film will not contain any theme which is inappropriate for a child. PG works can explore challenging issues such as bullying, bereavement or
racism.
• Will there be bad language, violence or threat in a PG film?
There may be mild bad language in a PG film, but the context and delivery are always important. For example, if the language is used aggressively
or if there is a great deal of bad language, a work may be passed at a higher category. Violence will usually be mild. There should be no detail of
violence in a PG work, so while there might be some blood, they would not see how the injury was inflicted in strong detail. As far as threat and
horror goes, they allow some frightening sequences as long as they are not prolonged or intense.
What about behaviour children might copy?
In a PG work, potentially dangerous or antisocial behaviour which young children are likely to copy, will not be condoned or seen to go
unchallenged, especially if it comes across as safe or fun. Smoking and drinking will not be promoted or glamorised and if child characters are
seen smoking or drinking, there should be a clear message that this is bad. If drugs are mentioned or seen, a PG work should either represent
them in an innocuous manner or emphasise that they are harmful.
• Will there be any drugs in a PG?
There might be innocuous or passing references to illegal drugs or drugs misuse in a PG work, although there should be no strong focus on this. In
addition drug references may be permissible if there is a clear anti-drugs or educational message likely to be understood by children eight or over.
What does the 12A symbol mean?
Films classified 12A and video works classified 12 contain material that is not generally suitable for children aged under 12. No one younger than
12 may see a 12A film in a cinema unless accompanied by an adult. Adults planning to take a child under 12 to view a 12A film should consider
whether the film is suitable for that child.
What's the difference between 12A and 12?
The 12A requires an adult to accompany any child under 12 seeing a 12A film at the cinema. Accompanied viewing cannot be enforced in the
home, so the 12 certificate remains for DVD/Blu-ray, rather than the 12A. The 12 is also a simpler system for retailers. It means they cannot sell or
rent the item unless the customer is over the age of 12. There isn’t a lower age limit for a 12A. However, the BBFC considers the content of 12A
rated films to be suitable for children aged 12 and over, and they would not recommend taking very young children to see them. Works classified
at these categories may upset children under 12 or contain material which many parents will find unsuitable for them. The overall tone of a film
or video, and the way it makes the audience feel may affect the classification. For example, a work which has a very dark or unsettling tone which
could disturb the audience would be less likely to be passed 12A even if the individual issues in the film were considered acceptable under the
BBFC Guidelines. Similarly, if a work is particularly positive or reassuring this may stop it being pushed up a category from 12A to 15.
Will there be uses of strong language, discrimination, violence, drugs and imitable behaviour in a 12A or 12 work?
The BBFC's Guidelines state that strong language may be passed at 12 or 12A, depending on the manner in which it is used, who is using the
language, its frequency and any special contextual justification. Aggressive uses of strong language may result in a film or DVD being placed at the
15 category. There is some allowance for puns on strong language at this category. Any discriminatory language or behaviour will not be endorsed
by the work as a whole. Aggressive discriminatory language (for example homophobic or racist terms) is unlikely to be passed at 12A or 12 unless
it is clearly condemn. At 12A, moderate violence is allowed but it should not dwell on detail. There should be no emphasis on injuries or blood,
but occasional gory moments may be permitted if they can be justified by their context. Action sequences and weapons may be present at 12A or
12, and there may be long fight scenes or similar. Weapons which might be easily accessible to 12 year olds should not be glamorised in 12A and
12 works. Sexual violence, may only be implied or briefly and discreetly indicated at 12A and 12. Such scenes must also have a strong contextual
justification. Dangerous behaviour may be present in 12A or 12 works but will not dwell on detail which could be copied or present those
activities in a manner that children are likely to copy. Anti-social behaviour should not be endorsed. There may be infrequent sight of drugs
misuse in a 12A or a 12 but the portrayal should not be glamorised or provide instructional detail.
.
• What does the 15 symbol mean?
No-one under 15 is allowed to see a 15 film at the cinema or buy/rent a 15 rated video. 15 rated works are not suitable for children under 15
years of age. No theme is prohibited, provided the treatment is appropriate for 15 year olds.
• What might I see in a 15 rated film or video?
strong violence, frequent strong language. Portrayals of sexual activity, strong verbal references to sex, sexual nudity, brief scenes of sexual
violence or verbal references to sexual violence, discriminatory language or behaviour, drug taking.
• How much strong language is allowed in a 15?
There could potentially be a great deal. At 15 there is no upper limit on the number of uses of strong language (e.g. ‘f***’). Occasionally there
may be uses of the strongest terms, depending on the manner in which they are used, who is using the language, its frequency and any special
contextual justification. However, continued or aggressive use will not normally be passed 15.
• What about discriminatory or offensive terms?
There may be racist, homophobic or other discriminatory language, and the work could explore themes relating to this. However, at 15 the work
as a whole must not endorse discriminatory language or behaviour.
• How much sex and nudity is allowed at 15?
At 15 sexual activity can be portrayed, but usually without strong detail. Some sex scenes can be quite long at this category. Though nudity may
be allowed in a sexual context there will usually be no strong detail. There are no constraints on nudity in a non-sexual or educational context.
There can be strong references to sex and sexual behaviour, but especially strong or crude references are unlikely to be acceptable unless justified
by context. Sex and sex references are treated the same irrespective of sexuality
• Can there be strong violence?
Yes, at 15 violence may be strong. It should not dwell on the infliction of pain or injury, however, and the strongest gory images are unlikely to be
acceptable. Strong sadistic violence is also unlikely to be acceptable.
• Can you see drugs in a 15 rated film or video?
• At 15 drug taking may be shown but the work as a whole must not promote or encourage drug misuse (for example, through instructional
detail). The misuse of easily accessible and highly dangerous substances like aerosols or solvents is unlikely to be acceptable at 15.
• What about dangerous behaviour or things teens might copy?
• We consider the risk of potential harm to impressionable teenagers. For example, dangerous behaviour such as hanging, suicide and self-
harming should not dwell on detail which could be copied. Whether the depiction of easily accessible weapons is acceptable will depend on
factors such as realism, context and setting
• What does the 18 symbol mean?
Films rated 18 are for adults. No-one under 18 is allowed to see an 18 film at the cinema or buy / rent an
18 rated video. No 18 rated works are suitable for children.
• Are there any limits on what sort of theme a work can have at 18?
No theme is prohibited at 18. Adults are free to choose their own entertainment provided the material is
not illegal or potentially harmful, so it is possible some themes tackled at 18 may be offensive even to
some adult viewers.
• What sort of issues might I find in an 18 film or video?
18 works are for adults and can contain strong issues such as:
very strong violence, frequent strong language and / or very strong language, strong portrayals of sexual
activity, scenes of sexual violence, strong horror, strong blood and gore, real sex (in some circumstances),
discriminatory language and behaviour
• How much strong language can there be in an 18?
There is no limit on the number of uses of strong or even very strong language which can be passed at 18.
Uses could be aggressive, directed, frequent or accompanied by strong violence.
• Are discriminatory terms used?
There may be racist, homophobic or other discriminatory language at 18, and the work could explore
themes relating to discrimination.
Though a work as a whole must not be in breach of any relevant legislation, it is possible for
discriminatory language or themes to be the main focus of the work, and for main characters to engage in
discriminatory behaviour.

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Film age ratings

  • 1. BBFC Film Age Ratings
  • 2. What is film age ratings and why are they used? • In order to protect children from unsuitable and even harmful content in films and videos and to give consumers information they might need about a particular film or video before deciding whether or not to view it, the BBFC examines and age rates films and videos before they are released. This independent scrutiny prior to release ensures the highest possible level of protection and empowerment. • They watch films and videos all the way through and award an age rating and insight to each one. They reach an age rating by applying the standards and criteria contained in their Classification Guidelines. • Typically, two examiners view a film for theatrical release. In most cases a Senior Examiner will confirm the examiners’ recommendation. But if the Examiners are in any doubt or fail to agree, or if important policy issues are involved, the work may be seen by other members of the Board up to, and including, the Director and Presidential team. Occasionally they need to take specialist advice about the legal acceptability of film content or its potential for harm. • The same process exists for DVDs and Blu-rays though generally these are seen by one Examiner. However, opinions from other Examiners may be required for more difficult works. • They look at issues such as discrimination, drugs, horror, dangerous and easily imitable behaviour, language, nudity, sex, and violence when making decisions. The theme of the work is also an important consideration. They also consider context, the tone and likely impact of a work on the potential audience. • The release format of a work has an impact on classification. Their decisions on the age rating of DVDs and Blu-rays can occasionally be stricter than at the cinema because there is a higher risk of underage viewing in the home and a greater potential for watching scenes out of context.
  • 3. • What does U mean? The U symbol stands for Universal. A U film should be suitable for audiences aged four years and over. However, it is impossible to predict what might upset a particular child, especially at this lower end of the category range. • Will there be any bad language in a U film? At U they only allow infrequent use of very mild bad language (e.g. ‘damn’ and ‘hell’). • Might U works contain any sexual behaviour? Characters may be seen kissing or cuddling and there may be references to sexual behaviour. However, there will be no overt focus on sexual behaviour, language or innuendo. Sex and sex references are treated the same irrespective of sexuality so there could be mild or undetailed references at U. • Is violence or threat permitted in a U film? Violence will generally be very mild. A U film may include brief fight scenes or moments where characters are placed in danger. However, moments of emotional stress or threat will be quickly resolved and the outcome will be reassuring. There may be brief scary scenes and moments where the characters are placed in danger. As with violence, however, these scenes will be balanced by reassuring elements, such as comic interludes or music. ‘Baddie’ characters may carry or use weapons, but there will be no emphasis on these. Child or ‘hero’ characters are unlikely to use any kind of weapon. • What about behaviour which children might copy? Potentially dangerous or anti-social behaviour which young children may copy, must be clearly disapproved of. • What sorts of films are usually passed at U? A U film can explore a wide rang of themes, as long as the treatment is appropriate for a young audience. This doesn’t mean that all films rated U are children’s films. A children’s work at U will generally contain positive messages about loyalty, honesty and friendship, particularly amongst children. The film or video may well have a happy ending for the child and the overall tone should be one of reassurance. U films are unlikely to contain discriminatory language or behaviour unless it is clearly disapproved of. • Will there be references to drugs? At U there will not normally be references to illegal drugs or drugs misuse unless there is a very clear anti-drugs or educational message which will be understood by a younger audience. Drugs references which are unlikely to register with young children and are brief or passing may occasionally be passed at U.
  • 4. • What does PG mean? PG stands for Parental Guidance. This means a film is suitable for general viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children. A PG film should not unsettle a child aged around eight or older. Parents should consider whether the content may upset younger, or more sensitive, children. • Are all PG films made for younger audiences? No. Some films are given a PG certificate but have not been made with a young audience in mind. A recent example of a film mostly enjoyed by grown ups but passed PG would be Saving Mr. Banks. However, the certificate means that any issues in the work are appropriate for the majority of this age group and nothing should upset a child of eight or over. • What sort of themes are passed at PG? A PG film will not contain any theme which is inappropriate for a child. PG works can explore challenging issues such as bullying, bereavement or racism. • Will there be bad language, violence or threat in a PG film? There may be mild bad language in a PG film, but the context and delivery are always important. For example, if the language is used aggressively or if there is a great deal of bad language, a work may be passed at a higher category. Violence will usually be mild. There should be no detail of violence in a PG work, so while there might be some blood, they would not see how the injury was inflicted in strong detail. As far as threat and horror goes, they allow some frightening sequences as long as they are not prolonged or intense. What about behaviour children might copy? In a PG work, potentially dangerous or antisocial behaviour which young children are likely to copy, will not be condoned or seen to go unchallenged, especially if it comes across as safe or fun. Smoking and drinking will not be promoted or glamorised and if child characters are seen smoking or drinking, there should be a clear message that this is bad. If drugs are mentioned or seen, a PG work should either represent them in an innocuous manner or emphasise that they are harmful. • Will there be any drugs in a PG? There might be innocuous or passing references to illegal drugs or drugs misuse in a PG work, although there should be no strong focus on this. In addition drug references may be permissible if there is a clear anti-drugs or educational message likely to be understood by children eight or over.
  • 5. What does the 12A symbol mean? Films classified 12A and video works classified 12 contain material that is not generally suitable for children aged under 12. No one younger than 12 may see a 12A film in a cinema unless accompanied by an adult. Adults planning to take a child under 12 to view a 12A film should consider whether the film is suitable for that child. What's the difference between 12A and 12? The 12A requires an adult to accompany any child under 12 seeing a 12A film at the cinema. Accompanied viewing cannot be enforced in the home, so the 12 certificate remains for DVD/Blu-ray, rather than the 12A. The 12 is also a simpler system for retailers. It means they cannot sell or rent the item unless the customer is over the age of 12. There isn’t a lower age limit for a 12A. However, the BBFC considers the content of 12A rated films to be suitable for children aged 12 and over, and they would not recommend taking very young children to see them. Works classified at these categories may upset children under 12 or contain material which many parents will find unsuitable for them. The overall tone of a film or video, and the way it makes the audience feel may affect the classification. For example, a work which has a very dark or unsettling tone which could disturb the audience would be less likely to be passed 12A even if the individual issues in the film were considered acceptable under the BBFC Guidelines. Similarly, if a work is particularly positive or reassuring this may stop it being pushed up a category from 12A to 15. Will there be uses of strong language, discrimination, violence, drugs and imitable behaviour in a 12A or 12 work? The BBFC's Guidelines state that strong language may be passed at 12 or 12A, depending on the manner in which it is used, who is using the language, its frequency and any special contextual justification. Aggressive uses of strong language may result in a film or DVD being placed at the 15 category. There is some allowance for puns on strong language at this category. Any discriminatory language or behaviour will not be endorsed by the work as a whole. Aggressive discriminatory language (for example homophobic or racist terms) is unlikely to be passed at 12A or 12 unless it is clearly condemn. At 12A, moderate violence is allowed but it should not dwell on detail. There should be no emphasis on injuries or blood, but occasional gory moments may be permitted if they can be justified by their context. Action sequences and weapons may be present at 12A or 12, and there may be long fight scenes or similar. Weapons which might be easily accessible to 12 year olds should not be glamorised in 12A and 12 works. Sexual violence, may only be implied or briefly and discreetly indicated at 12A and 12. Such scenes must also have a strong contextual justification. Dangerous behaviour may be present in 12A or 12 works but will not dwell on detail which could be copied or present those activities in a manner that children are likely to copy. Anti-social behaviour should not be endorsed. There may be infrequent sight of drugs misuse in a 12A or a 12 but the portrayal should not be glamorised or provide instructional detail. .
  • 6. • What does the 15 symbol mean? No-one under 15 is allowed to see a 15 film at the cinema or buy/rent a 15 rated video. 15 rated works are not suitable for children under 15 years of age. No theme is prohibited, provided the treatment is appropriate for 15 year olds. • What might I see in a 15 rated film or video? strong violence, frequent strong language. Portrayals of sexual activity, strong verbal references to sex, sexual nudity, brief scenes of sexual violence or verbal references to sexual violence, discriminatory language or behaviour, drug taking. • How much strong language is allowed in a 15? There could potentially be a great deal. At 15 there is no upper limit on the number of uses of strong language (e.g. ‘f***’). Occasionally there may be uses of the strongest terms, depending on the manner in which they are used, who is using the language, its frequency and any special contextual justification. However, continued or aggressive use will not normally be passed 15. • What about discriminatory or offensive terms? There may be racist, homophobic or other discriminatory language, and the work could explore themes relating to this. However, at 15 the work as a whole must not endorse discriminatory language or behaviour. • How much sex and nudity is allowed at 15? At 15 sexual activity can be portrayed, but usually without strong detail. Some sex scenes can be quite long at this category. Though nudity may be allowed in a sexual context there will usually be no strong detail. There are no constraints on nudity in a non-sexual or educational context. There can be strong references to sex and sexual behaviour, but especially strong or crude references are unlikely to be acceptable unless justified by context. Sex and sex references are treated the same irrespective of sexuality • Can there be strong violence? Yes, at 15 violence may be strong. It should not dwell on the infliction of pain or injury, however, and the strongest gory images are unlikely to be acceptable. Strong sadistic violence is also unlikely to be acceptable. • Can you see drugs in a 15 rated film or video? • At 15 drug taking may be shown but the work as a whole must not promote or encourage drug misuse (for example, through instructional detail). The misuse of easily accessible and highly dangerous substances like aerosols or solvents is unlikely to be acceptable at 15. • What about dangerous behaviour or things teens might copy? • We consider the risk of potential harm to impressionable teenagers. For example, dangerous behaviour such as hanging, suicide and self- harming should not dwell on detail which could be copied. Whether the depiction of easily accessible weapons is acceptable will depend on factors such as realism, context and setting
  • 7. • What does the 18 symbol mean? Films rated 18 are for adults. No-one under 18 is allowed to see an 18 film at the cinema or buy / rent an 18 rated video. No 18 rated works are suitable for children. • Are there any limits on what sort of theme a work can have at 18? No theme is prohibited at 18. Adults are free to choose their own entertainment provided the material is not illegal or potentially harmful, so it is possible some themes tackled at 18 may be offensive even to some adult viewers. • What sort of issues might I find in an 18 film or video? 18 works are for adults and can contain strong issues such as: very strong violence, frequent strong language and / or very strong language, strong portrayals of sexual activity, scenes of sexual violence, strong horror, strong blood and gore, real sex (in some circumstances), discriminatory language and behaviour • How much strong language can there be in an 18? There is no limit on the number of uses of strong or even very strong language which can be passed at 18. Uses could be aggressive, directed, frequent or accompanied by strong violence. • Are discriminatory terms used? There may be racist, homophobic or other discriminatory language at 18, and the work could explore themes relating to discrimination. Though a work as a whole must not be in breach of any relevant legislation, it is possible for discriminatory language or themes to be the main focus of the work, and for main characters to engage in discriminatory behaviour.