Thirty years ago today, the Motion Picture Association of America introduced the world to the PG-13 rating. In the grand scheme of movies, three decades isn’t exactly a long time ago, but up until 1984, the middle ground between PG and R caused some serious headaches for filmmakers and audiences.
That summer, Steven Spielberg famously suggested a new rating to then MPAA president Jack Valenti. The director had come under fire from shocked audience members when “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” which Spielberg directed, and “Gremlins,” which he produced, contained violence many considered too graphic for a PG rating. In a 2008 interview with Vanity Fair, Spielberg explained his frustration of pre-PG-13 moviemaking at the time.
“So many films were falling into a netherworld, you know, of unfairness,” he said. “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.”
Looking back on the two films that drove Spielberg to suggest the creation of a new rating, it’s clear that something had to be done. All these years later, “Temple of Doom” and “Gremlins” maintains statuses as films that had profound effects on many childhoods, for better or worse.
For children of the ’80s, the human sacrifice scene from “Temple of Doom” stands out as a particularly traumatizing moment in the light-hearted (poor word choice?) adventures of Indiana Jones. Watching the scene back, the dated special effects lessen the gruesomeness of the scene, but today, it would be difficult for a PG-13 film to pull off the same shot.
Like the title creatures themselves, Joe Dante’s “Gremlins” certainly had a dark side. Consider this infamous scene, where three gremlins meet very violent ends.
And just to put all of this into perspective, when “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “Gremlins” hit theaters in May and June of 1984, respectively, they bore the same MPAA rating as “Frozen.”
That comparison makes me think we’re lucky Disney didn’t make that movie in 1983. At least now we don’t have to explain why Elsa rips Prince Hans’ bleeding heart out of his chest and freezes it in her hand.