"I created the problem and I also supplied the solution," Spielberg told the Associated Press in 2004. "I invented the rating." Temple of Doom was released May 23, 1984, and horrified parents immediately began complaining that the PG rating was too lax, citing the heart-ripping-out scene in particular. (I'd have cited Kate Capshaw's performance, but I guess that's more "irritating" than "horrifying.") Gremlins, with its microwaved monsters and general bloody mayhem, opened two weeks later, and the uproar grew louder. I remember my aunt, who took my cousin and me to see it (we were 9), saying she thought Stripe's melting at the end was too gross for a PG movie. We just thought it was awesome.
To parents, both films seemed too graphic to be rated PG. Logically, that meant they should have been rated R instead, as that was the only other choice. But they'd be kind of tame compared to other R-rated movies, especially considering the content was aimed at teenagers. Somehow neither rating seemed right.
And so Spielberg came to the rescue. He suggested something like PG-14 to MPAA president (and founder of the rating system) Jack Valenti, who consulted with theater owners and parents and determined that 13 would be a better cutoff. Things moved quickly, too. Gremlins had hit theaters on June 8; the first film to be released with the PG-13 rating, Red Dawn, opened on Aug. 10, playing in multiplexes next to the two films that had inspired its rating.
Looking back, it's amazing that it took the MPAA as long as it did to come up with something between PG and R. It's not like Temple of Doom was the first film whose content fell somewhere in the middle. All the President's Men, released in 1976, had about a dozen F-bombs but got away with a PG rating -- on appeal -- simply because, well, it didn't seem R-worthy. (The swearing wasn't sexual in nature, and the film had no other adult content.) Seems like that should have prompted a discussion right there.
It also seems a little odd that Spielberg -- a brilliant filmmaker but not usually known as an envelope-pusher -- would be the one to inspire audiences to demand something new. Hollywood is certainly glad he did, though. The PG-13 rating meant that studios were free to horse around a little more without getting an R rating, to be a little more realistic or gritty without sacrificing the almighty teen movie dollar. Today, PG-13 movies are easily the most lucrative, representing 10 of the top 20 films of 2008 and 12 of the top 20 films of all time.
So this summer, raise a glass, say an F-word or two (or three, if you think you can get away with it), and toast the PG-13 rating. May it live forever, and may it always be as arbitrarily enforced and haphazardly applied as all the other ratings!