How Indiana Jones Finally Forced Hollywood to Create the PG-13 Rating

Analyzing the top news stories across the web
April 25 2014 2:55 PM

How Indiana Jones Finally Forced Hollywood to Create the PG-13 Rating

Indiana Jones statue.
Indiana Jones' legacy is vast.

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures/Lucasfilm Ltd. Production​

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

This summer marks the 30th anniversary of the popular second installment of the Indiana Jones series, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Advertisement

However, a more important anniversary is what Temple of Doom helped to usher in—the creation of the PG-13 rating, a box-office sweet spot that would shape film production.

Here’s how the rating came to be.

A Darker Dr. Jones

Of all the films in the Indiana Jones series, there’s no doubt that 1984’s PG-rated Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is the darkest.

As producer George Lucas explained to Empire, “Part of it was I was going through a divorce, Steven had just broken up, and we were not in a good mood. It ended up darker than we thought it would be. Once we got out of our bad moods ... we kind of looked at it and went, ‘Mmmmm, we certainly took it to the extreme.’”

Those extremes—which included an incredibly violent human-sacrifice scene—outraged parents who brought their children to the PG-rated film. Still, the darker installment was massively popular and brought in $179 million in the U.S. alone.

“Everybody was screaming, screaming, screaming that it should have had an R-rating, and I didn’t agree,” director Steven Spielberg told the Associated Press in 2004.

But with no rating in between PG and R, Spielberg would come up with a compromise that would change movies and the rating system forever.

A New Rating

“Let’s call it PG-13 or PG-14,” Spielberg told the head of the MPAA, Jack Valenti, about the new rating in 1984.

Up until 1984, there had been only four ratings that a film could receive: G, PG, R, and X (which would later become NC-17).

Films like Temple of Doom, which were too mature for PG audiences but not mature enough for the R rating, would find themselves in limbo.

Spielberg found this “netherworld” rating unfair to both filmmakers and audiences. So, according to a 2008 interview with Vanity Fair, Spielberg says he came up with a new rating that would bridge the gap:

“I remember calling Jack Valenti [then the president of the Motion Picture Association of America] and suggesting to him that we need a rating between R and PG, because so many films were falling into a netherworld, you know, of unfairness. Unfair that certain kids were exposed to Jaws, but also unfair that certain films were restricted, that kids who were 13, 14, 15 should be allowed to see. I suggested, ‘Let’s call it PG-13 or PG-14, depending on how you want to design the slide rule,’ and Jack came back to me and said, ‘We’ve determined that PG-13 would be the right age for that temperature of movie.’ So I’ve always been very proud that I had something to do with that rating.”

On Aug. 10, 1984, only three months after parents were outraged over the release of PG-rated Temple of DoomRed Dawn, a drama starring Patrick Swayze, became the first film to be released with the PG-13 rating.

The Popularity and Profitability of PG-13

Without Temple of Doom we may not have one of most important movie ratings in Hollywood today.

Over the next 30 years, the PG-13 rating would become one of the most popular and profitable ratings in the film industry. Six of the top 10 highest-grossing domestic films of all time are rated PG-13. The highest-grossing film ever, 2009’s PG-13-rated Avatar, raked in $760 million at the domestic box office, while the highest-grossing R-rated film, 2004’s The Passion of the Christ, took in a comparatively low $370 million.

With its ability to be both safe and threatening while still reaching a mass audience, the rating has become a great marketing tool for most major studios.

“In a way it’s better to get a PG-13 than a PG for certain movies,” Spielberg told the AP. “It turns a lot of young people off. They think it’s going to be too below their radar and they tend to want to say, ‘Well, PG-13 might have a little bit of hot sauce on it.’”

Frank Pallotta is an entertainment reporter for Business Insider.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 PM Inking the Deal Why tattoo parlors are a great small-business bet.
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?