Movies that were rated R for very strange reasons

Founded in 1922, the Motion Picture Association of America is responsible for assigning ratings to every film that hits theaters. Over the years, the organization has gotten a reputation for being inconsistent, hypocritical, and puritanical, especially with films it has rated R. Here are a few movies the MPAA restricted for strange reasons.

Stand By Me (1986)

This drama about four adolescent boys in 1950s Oregon who embark on an adventure to see a dead body has become a modern classic and staple of cable television. Based on a Stephen King novella and directed by Rob Reiner, Stand By Me features breakout performances from its young cast, including Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O'Connell. The coming-of-age film full of kids also occasionally has some adult language; you know, the kind kids often use as soon as their parents leave the room. This handful of F words earned the otherwise youth-friendly movie an R-rating from the MPAA, as the organization strictly adhered to codes rather than analyzed the overall content of the film. 

Columbia Pictures tried to get the screenwriters to eliminate some of the language to obtain a PG rating, but they balked at the suggestion. Raynold Gideon told Yahoo, "Norman Lear said to us, 'Don't change a thing. If my life has meant anything, it's to keep artistic excellence the way it is; we don't try to compromise because of ratings.' Also, we felt that an R would make people go, 'Oh my God, I have to see that movie!'" And people did see it. Despite the R rating, Stand By Me managed a respectable $52 million at the box office. We may not have friends like the ones we had when we were 12, but these four friends have stuck with us for over 30 years.

Love Is Strange (2014)

Acclaimed by critics upon its release, Love Is Strange focuses on an older gay couple, Ben and George, who get married after 39 years of partnership. When George is fired from his Catholic school teaching job after the archdiocese learns of the same-sex wedding, the couple face financial and emotional hardships. The mild but affecting drama earned four Independent Spirit Award nominations and also a controversial R-rating for "language." 

While Love is Strange has some cursing, it's hard to figure out why a film often labeled "delicate" in reviews would receive the same rating as two ultra-violent movies that opened the same weekend: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For and Jersey Shore Massacre. Many critics accused the MPAA of hypocrisy and homophobia. "No matter how discreet and clothed its depictions, Love Is Strange is apparently just too gay for a PG-13," Michael Phillips wrote in the Chicago Tribune. "There isn't another way to read the MPAA's actions." Love is strange, truth is stranger than fiction, and MPAA ratings are even stranger.

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

You might not think chess is particularly sexy or controversial, but you probably haven't played chess with Faye Dunaway. This stylish heist flick starring Dunaway and Steve McQueen earned an R solely for a lengthy, memorable scene featuring a game of chess. Both characters are fully clothed and neither speaks, but during one move, Dunaway's character handles a chess piece (a bishop, of course) in a subtly sexual manner for a whole five seconds. As the tension builds, the two finally kiss passionately. Yikes! 

The film isn't particularly violent nor does it contain any bad language that would earn a film more than a PG rating. In fact, some critics were even left bored by the film. So it seems a little silly, especially by today's standards, that a game of "chess with sex," as director Norman Jewison called it, between two very pretty people would warrant the same rating reserved for films with far more overt romps. Checkmate, MPAA.

The Conjuring (2013)

R ratings often hinder box office returns, and many studios push hard for PG-13 ratings that typically bring in millions more. Horror is a particularly profitable genre with a hugely loyal fan base. Combine the two things, and you're likely to rake in the cash unless the MPAA hits you with an R. After scaring audiences with his Insidious franchise, horror maestro James Wan set out to make a "true life" haunted house flick set in the 1970s about Ed and Lorraine Warren, the paranormal investigators who worked on the infamous Amityville case. The Perrons seek out the Warrens after weird things start happening in their New England farmhouse. 

Despite no language, nudity, or gore, The Conjuring still received an R because, in the MPAA's words, "it's just so scary. There are no specific scenes or tone you could take out to get it PG-13." Wan said he was aiming for a PG-13 rating, but he didn't seem to mind receiving an R, even though a lot of internet critics took the MPAA to task for it. The Conjuring whipped up a whopping $318 million worldwide. The R rating and the reasoning for it might have even given it a boost, honestly.

Boyhood (2014)

In 2002, director Richard Linklater started production on an untitled film he called the "life project" in his hometown of Austin, Texas. There was no script, only a vague outline. He wanted to tell the story of a boy growing up from first grade through high school graduation, but he didn't know how to film it. Then he had an idea: film a little bit each year for 12 years. The resulting movie, Boyhood, became a critical darling and a cinematic feat. As the boy ages before the audience's eyes from 6 to 19, he experiences the highs and lows of growing up, falling in love, and finding himself just like any kid. But teens couldn't easily go see Boyhood because the MPAA slapped an R on the film for "teen drug and alcohol use," aka the very stuff teens are experiencing themselves. At least one theater decided to ignore the MPAA. The IFC Center in New York City, which is owned by Boyhood's distributor IFC Films, announced it would admit younger patrons at the theater's discretion. Its website said "the film is appropriate viewing for mature adolescents." Now that's a grown-up response, MPAA.

The Good Son (1993)

There was no bigger child star in the early '90s than Macaulay Culkin. After the mega-success Home Alone, Culkin's father, who was his manager at the time, had gotten wind of a new psychological thriller about a disturbed child penned by acclaimed writer Ian McEwan. The Good Son had been languishing in development for some time with various actors and directors attached to the project but had yet to get off the ground. Culkin's father pushed for Macaulay to star in the film as part of a lucrative deal to make Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Fox agreed, and Culkin was cast as the evil lead, forcing McEwan to completely rewrite the script before being let go from the project altogether. What could have been a creepy film comes off unintentionally campy because of Culkin's presence, yet the MPAA still gave The Good Son an R rating for "acts of violence and terror involving a disturbed child." Nearly all the violence happens offscreen, but given just how big of a star Culkin was at the time, perhaps the MPAA awarded the film its restricted rating simply to keep fellow kids from seeing their Home Alone hero go psycho.

Don't Think Twice (2016)

The MPAA's ratings often highlight inconsistencies in the organization's criteria for censoring content for younger viewers. There's no better example of that than Don't Think Twice, a bittersweet indie comedy from comedian Mike Birbiglia. The film focuses on a group of improv comedians whose relationships with each other begin fracturing after one member of the group is hired at an SNL-like TV sketch show and becomes famous. The backstage look at how comedy sausage is made received glowing reviews … and an R rating from the MPAA. Birbiglia was rightly upset, tweeting, "Suicide Squad has machine gun killings and bombings and got a PG-13 rating. Don't Think Twice gets an R because adults smoke pot. Confusing?" Indeed the hyper-violent Suicide Squad was released the same weekend as the indie comedy, but somehow the MPAA felt Birbiglia's film was more offensive despite having only one F-word (which is permissible in PG-13 films) and adults smoking pot and having offscreen consensual sex. It's cool for kids to watch comic book antiheroes bash people bloody with baseball bats, though.

Almost Famous (2000)

On the surface, Almost Famous is a film about rock-and-roll in the 1970s, but Cameron Crowe's nostalgic look at his adolescent years as a writer for Rolling Stone is really a bittersweet coming-of-age drama with the music industry as its backdrop. After growing up in a strict household with a loving if overbearing mother, naive 15-year-old William Miller tries to navigate a freewheeling adult world he's not entirely prepared for as he tours with rock band Stillwater. There's obviously sex, drugs, and profanity present throughout the film, which is why it earned an R rating despite its fairly tame depiction of said things. 

This particular R rating brought Roger Ebert to pen an infamously scathing critique of the MPAA and its moral inconsistencies. Ebert argued the film shouldn't be rated R because "the film applies values to its content." William himself never drinks or does drugs, doesn't have the pottymouth of his hero/mentor Lester Bangs, and his "deflowering" happens offscreen. He's an observer; "the Enemy," as one member of Stillwater labels him when he finds out William is a rock journalist. As Penny Lane says, William is "too sweet for rock and roll." As Ebert asked in his review of the film, "Why did they give an R rating to a movie perfect for teenagers?"

The King's Speech (2010)

Colin Firth won an Oscar for his performance as King George VI, the stammering monarch who forges a special friendship with Lionel Logue, an Australian-born speech therapist played by Geoffrey Rush. When his brother, Edward, abdicates the throne in order to marry divorcee Wallis Simpson, George is forced to take his place as King, putting even greater pressure on him to overcome his fears about public speaking. Bertie, as he's known to family and close friends, and Lionel try various methods and exercises to eliminate the stammer to no avail until they discover one NSFW technique that provides a breakthrough. 

In one very funny scene, Lionel has Bertie yell the F-word repeatedly in order to overcome his mental blocks, which was enough to earn the otherwise tame and incredibly inspiring film an R-rating, annoying director Tom Hooper. "How many films can claim to use swearing for its therapeutic effect?" he asked the LA Times. Once the film won best picture at the Oscars, the Weinstein Company decided to release a PG-13 version with the curses muted to make it more family-friendly, which led to a new round of questions about the MPAA's ratings system. When even a king's speech is censored, maybe it's time for the MPAA to abdicate its moral throne.

The Scooby-Doo Movie (2002)

The 1970s cartoon Scooby-Doo may be about a gang of "meddling kids" who solve mysteries with an incomprehensible talking dog, but the 2002 live-action film adaptation nearly was for adults-only. In a lengthy Facebook post celebrating the 15th anniversary of the film, screenwriter and future Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn revealed the original cut of Scooby-Doo received an R-rating. "Yes, the rumors are true. … The female stars' cleavage was CGI'd away so as not to offend." But apparently, it wasn't just the cleavage the MPAA objected to. Gunn added that he originally aimed the film at adults and that the MPAA thought a certain line "referred to oral sex." Ruh roh. Ultimately, the final cut received a more family-friendly PG rating but fairly harsh reviews. Maybe the edgier version would have been a more delicious Scooby Snack to audiences.