CARA Chairwoman Joan Graves Explains the History and Meaning of the Rating System

Today’s voluntary movie rating system is aimed at giving parents the information they need to decide whether a film is appropriate for their family.

The current rating system emerged in 1968, when MPAA chairman Jack Valenti replaced the earlier moral censorship guidelines, known as the Hays Code, with a revolutionary new parent-focused rating system. While the Hays Code authorized a movie for distribution based on whether it was deemed “moral” according to an exhaustive list of rules, the current movie rating system was born out of the simple notion that the movie industry wouldn’t approve or disapprove what audiences should see, but instead would focus on “freeing the screen” and educating parents to help them make movie-going decisions for their family. The current Classification & Ratings Administration (CARA), with a rating board made up of an independent group of parents, gives advance cautionary warnings to families about a movie’s content. CARA’s mission is to afford parents the tools they need to make informed decisions about what their children watch.

These ratings equip parents with comprehensive and easy to digest resources. In addition to letter ratings, CARA provides brief descriptions of the specifics behind a movie’s rating. These descriptors apply to every movie rated G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17, identifying the content in the movie that raised it to that rating level. Moreover, modifiers and unique language applied to each descriptor are intended to give an even more complete picture about what parents can expect their children to see when they go to a particular movie.

Furthermore, to ensure the rating system reflects the current sentiment of parents, CARA’s system is constantly evolving. As American parents’ sensitivities change, so too does the rating system. Elements such as violence, language, drug use, and sexuality are continually re-evaluated through surveys and focus groups to mirror contemporary concern and to better assist parents in making the right family viewing choices.

The introduction of the PG-13 rating in 1984 expanded the scope of the rating system. Not intended to be tied to any specific age, the rating is a stronger note of caution suggesting to parents to further investigate the content of the motion picture before allowing their children to see it.

Through these changes, CARA’s mission remains the same: to inform parents about the content of the many great movies released every year. In doing so, they hope to provide parents with a useful social service, while allowing filmmakers to connect meaningfully with appropriate audiences.

To learn more, please visit