Shutterstock / Aaron Amat
According to a study that researchers conducted at the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, there are a startling number of PG-13 rated movies where the characters engage in violent behavior, then smoke and drink right after.
The Wrap, which ran down the report, made note that, "more than half of the highest grossing PG-13 movies over the past 25 years featured characters acting violently while also drinking, engaging in sexual behavior or smoking. The post-aggressive pleasure seeking usually happened within a five-minute segment, researchers found."
Vocal critics of the MPAA, which awards movies their respective ratings, have always claimed that stylistic loopholes actually allow PG-13 ratings to be more harmful, allowing instances of graphic violence (sans blood) but condemning the mere mention of sexuality. This is an idea explored in Kirby Dick's documentary "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" (itself threatened with an NC-17), and an idea that this new research reinforces.
As The Wrap says, "The implication is that the ratings system established by the Motion Picture Association of America to give parents a tool for figuring out what films are appropriate for children is flawed. Bolstering that argument is another recent study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, which found that gun violence in PG-13 movies has more than tripled since 1985 and that movies with that rating contained more gun violence than the top-grossing R-rated movies in 2012."
Of course, PG-13 is the golden classification as far as the studios are concerned, allowing for a little edge and grit but family-friendly enough to usher in wide audiences. So far there hasn't been a single $1 billion-grossing R-rated movie, with almost all of them ("The Avengers," "Iron Man 3," "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," "Avatar") occupying that PG-13 sweet spot. So, either the MPAA needs to have a new classification or the entire system needs an overhaul (probably the latter). Maybe the overwhelming amount of research will eventually force their hand.