How exactly we assign ratings and what they mean


Note: Many of the explanations contained below can also be found in an expanded discussion format in other pages within our help section. Here they are provided in summary form for your convenience.

What does "scatological" mean? "Religious profanities"?
Ah, we actually get this question a lot, so don't be perturbed if you've been perplexed. We fully appreciate your predicament. But we have to be careful not to spell out each word since that would mean spelling out profanities ourselves. So we do try to write as clinically as possible and we try to avoid spelling out words that are considered obscene or profane by using euphemisms: Briefly, scatological terms are words that have to do with feces and urine, like "sh*t," "bullsh*t" and "p*ss"; mild obscenities are exclamations like "damn" and "hell"; anatomical terms are words like "*ss," "*sshole," "d*ck" and "d*ckhead"; religious profanities are things like "God d*mn"; and religious exclamations are "God!" and "Jesus!" Please see our Profanity Glossary for a complete explanation.

How do you assign the numerical ratings?
Our ratings reflect objective categories of potentially objectionable material. Unlike the MPAA, we do not assign a single, age-specific rating. Instead we assign each film three distinct, category-specific ratings: one for SEX & NUDITY, one for VIOLENCE & GORE and one for PROFANITY. Each rating is on a scale of zero to ten, depending on quantity (more F-words, for instance, will mean a higher PROFANITY rating, and so on) as well as context (especially when it comes to the categories of sex, nudity, violence and gore, since they are not as easily quantifiable as profanity). Hence, two movies which have received the same rating -- let's say a 9 in VIOLENCE & GORE -- will not necessarily contain an equal amount of violence; they are only similar in the level of violence they contain. Plus, like most numerical rating systems, the numbers are inherently approximations (think of them as plus-or-minus-one). Only the detailed descriptions we provide with each review will give you the proper context.

How is your rating system different from the MPAA's?
Apart from assigning three ratings, there are two major differences between our systems: First, we explain in detail why a film rates high or low on a specific category, and we include instances of SUBSTANCE USE, a list of DISCUSSION TOPICS (topics which may elicit questions from kids) and MESSAGES (what values the film is conveying). Second, we do not make age-specific recommendations. Since our system is based on objective standards, not the viewer's age, we allow you, as a concerned adult, to determine whether a movie is appropriate for yourself or your children according to your own criteria. For instance, our assessment of a film like Glengarry Glen Ross is very different when compared to our assessment of Pulp Fiction despite the fact that the MPAA awarded both an R. "Glengarry Glen Ross" got its MPAA R rating for very heavy profanity while "Pulp Fiction" got its R rating for extreme violence, sexual situations as well as heavy profanity. If you don't mind profanity then "Glengarry Glen Ross" would be OK to watch since it contains no sex, nudity or violence. So, while both films were awarded the same rating by the MPAA, their content is totally different. Again it's up to you.

Are your ratings and the MPAA's comparable?
Usually there is a high degree of correlation between our ratings and the MPAA's rating. As we mentioned above, the big difference is that our ratings are more meaningful since they analyze content without making recommendations.

Do you condemn films with high ratings?
Absolutely not. Unlike other services that attempt to rate films for parents and other concerned adults, we're not connected to any religious or political group. And we are absolutely not in the business of condemning films. In fact, as regular filmgoers we're perfectly aware that there are a lot of films which may not be suitable for children but which are more enjoyable and edifying than many G and PG films. Our agenda is simple: We consider ourselves consumer reporters, reporting on the most consumed entertainment product on the planet. Our reviews are basically a list of ingredients, similar to what you find on food item labels. To carry the analogy to its ludicrous conclusion, we let you know how much fat a film contains, but we're not going to tell you not to consume it. We offer no nutritional advice; besides, many people like fat. We simply enable you to make an informed decision.

Who determines what's "potentially objectionable"?
Any set of standards is of course relative -- some would argue even arbitrary -- but we do need standards nevertheless. Hence in order to determine what constitutes "potentially objectionable material" we depend on what most people in the United States and Western Europe consider erotic, violent and profane. To put it in rather pompous sociological terms, we follow the general standards of contemporary western civilization.

Are your assessments objective, as you state?
If by "objective" you mean impartial, then yes. We do not have any affiliation with Hollywood or any film studio and thus we're excruciatingly unbiased. While the MPAA is doing a good job most of the time, we have found that its close relationship with the filmmaking industry has produced some questionable ratings, especially when it comes to films by powerful directors or producers (for instance, we thought that Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park and its sequel The Lost World: Jurassic Park were too violent for a PG-13 rating). Now, if you mean "objective" as in detached, we're not. We can't be. While we strive to be scrupulously fair, and we list all objectionable scenes in exhaustive detail, we do have to make subjective assessments for every film. For instance, a scene of innocent frontal nudity (as in Waking Ned Devine) is not the same as a scene of erotic frontal nudity (as in Showgirls or Color of Night or other sexually explicit thrillers). Our well-trained reviewers know how to put a scene in its proper context.

Has your rating method been the same since 1992?
For the most part the ratings have been consistent, and our format is the same. However, our approach has not been as consistent as we would have liked it to be. The problem is that we've been around for a very long time (Kids-In-Mind started publishing in 1992). We've been constantly fiddling around trying to improve our approach since our inception -- and we have no intention of ever stopping. The result is that several of our older reviews follow a different style. For instance, we did not list scenes in as much detail as we do now. Also, until recently our plot descriptions were cursory at best and often we did not include the names of actors. We are in the process of re-editing older reviews to comply with our current approach -- until we make another change and we have to start all over again.

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