When Ratings Didn’t Matter, or How The Andromeda Strain Got A “G” Rating

I recently watched the adaptation of Michael Crichton’s 70’s bestseller, The Andromeda Strain directed by the great Robert Wise (The Haunting, The Day the Earth Stood Still). The movie was alright, I gave it a 12/17, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. What I AM here to talk about is the fact that the film is Rated G for General Audiences.

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Now first, let me give you a quick plot synopsis: a group of doctors and scientists are taken to a small New Mexico town where all of the inhabitants died instantly after a satellite carrying a virus from another galaxy infects them. While there, the scientists investigate the dead people (some of whom are having their eyes eaten by birds) and discover that the corpses have dried blood that pours out like sand. So sets forth a scientific investigation into what the alien virus is and how it kills so fast… all while the president is threatening to nuke all of New Mexico to stop the spread of the virus. If that’s not the plot of a G-Rated film then I don’t know what is! Why would a kid want Rapunzel or Winnie the Pooh when they can have corpse eye-munching birds and sand blood pouring from a slit wrist?!?

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Damn your eyes… Too late!

In the film there is not one but THREE scenes of nudity (one is particularly shocking in that it is a dead, topless hippy woman). Also, there are many, many scenes of violence and general mayhem. Not that any of them are any more violent or shocking than the newest C.S.I. episode, but this film was actually marketed to families and children.

This made me think about other 70’s films that had scenes that would never even be in a PG-13 movie today. The 1976 film, Logan’s Run, has several scenes with a fully nude Jenny Agutter (known mostly for her role in An American Werewolf in London) that would guarantee it an R Rating today but it was PG. Philip Kaufman’s brilliant sequel/remake Invasion of the Body Snatcher has extremely horrific scenes of alien clones growing and then having their heads graphically bashed in (not to mention a topless chase scene at the end) and that one was PG too. Then there is the original Planet of the Apes with several scenes of a nude Charlton Heston (and two other beefcake astronauts) and apes torturing humans that was rated G. These films also deal with situations and themes that are definitely not for kids and not just because they are too adult, but also because kids would never understand them!

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This is just one of the disturbing scenes in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It gave Dusty nightmares too!

I understand that the ratings system was still a fairly new thing (first going in effect in 1967) and there were only four ratings: G (general audiences), PG (parental guidance), R (restricted) and X (explicit), but the fact that these films were marketed toward children is simply insane. Now, I’m not a conservative creep saying kids can’t handle these things, but it’s just so strange when comparing it to the present day. The ratings are so strict that no movie can use “fuck” more than twice without gaining an R rating ( and both uses must be non-sexual) and VERY few films have nudity without being rated R (I know everyone is thinking ” but wait, wait pal, what about Titanic?”). When it comes to violence, if blood is shown, it usually gains an R. For example, The Dark Knight Rises was able to have as many people as they wanted getting shot, as long as no blood was shown.

I don’t really know what to think about this, it was just something strange I was thinking about while watching Andromeda Strain. What do you guys think? Can you think of other G or PG rated flicks that contained nudity, extreme violence or obscene language?

12 thoughts on “When Ratings Didn’t Matter, or How The Andromeda Strain Got A “G” Rating

  1. Great thought-provoking post! I’ll probably not get any sleep tonight because I’ll be trying to think of other oddly-rated movies. The only one that comes to mind is Return of the Jedi. It was only rated PG and I’m pretty sure those Ewoks were completely nude the whole time! You’re right about that dog in Body Snatchers, it was scary weird! That’s what they call Disturbing Mask-Dog.

  2. Always found the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory disturbing. Although never shown, the fate of all those kids seems fairly grim.
    Not to mention, Charlie and his gramps almost get cut to smithereens.

  3. Have you seen “This Film Is Not Yet Rated”? I’m pretty sure every film student has to watch it. It’s basically an exploration of this exact, very strange indeed, question. How did things change so much? It’s a great movie, and I highly suggest you check it out if you’re curious about ratings, and then be sure to note that it itself is rated NC-17, mostly because they show graphic parts from so many different movies. Pretty crazy.

    • Hey Paul,

      Thanks for the recommendation–I actually just watched that on topdocumentaryfilms.com based on your recommendation. You’re right, it’s pretty baffling how the system (doesn’) work!

      We should start our own ratings board on Cinematic Attic.

    • That’s a good point, although it seems a lot of parents approach the “G” rating as being appropriate for the whole family, and thus kids. I guess they don’t have a rating that’s specifically for kids?

  4. “Airplane!” and “Poltergeist” come to mind as similarly questionable PG ratings in the early 1980s. Those films were rated by “placed” MPAA voters, basically studio employees. Note those two releases coincide with the Reagan administration’s reversal of a 1945 court ruling that prohibited studio ownership of theater chains.

    When the studio system potentially controlled exhibition, they manipulated the MPAA as a private alliance of film studios under the guise of public service. The PG made more money than an R rating. This absurd cycle of studio under-rating stopped in 1984 with “Temple of Doom,” with Paramount backing Spielberg’s “cinema hot sauce”– the PG-13, the most popular MPAA rating ever sense,

  5. I’ve never seen The Andromeda Strain, so I can’t give my opinion on that film. But, as others have mentioned before, Jaws and Poltergeist (and, of course, the first two Indiana Jones movies) are given PG ratings and contain extreme violence and resulting gore. Those movies deserve to be rated R as they are too much for even a PG-13 rating, much less a PG rating.

    I have no issue with nudity in films as long as they aren’t sexually-oriented or obscene. In fact, if I could rate films, non-sexual nudity would be allowed in G rated films. While most people can’t seem to separate nudity from sex, there is a such thing as non-sexual nudity. Why else are there nudist resorts that, for the most part, are family-friendly?

    Also, I would add a couple of ratings and change one of the existing ratings to the system.

    G
    PG
    PG-13
    PG-15*
    R
    NC-17
    NO-18*

    *PG-15 and NO-18* are the new ratings I’d add and they would stand for “Parents Extremely Cautioned” and “No One Under 18 Admitted”, respectfully. With this, NC-17 would go back to its original meaning and stand for “No Children Under 17 Admitted”.

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