Skip to main content

Gun Violence Continues to Increase in PG-13 Movies

It’s generally less graphic than that in R-rated films. But does that really make it less problematic?

By Tom Jacobs


(Photo: Warner Bros. Entertainment)

Movies rated PG-13 are getting more and more popular — and more and more likely to feature firearm-related violence.

That’s the disturbing message from a newly published study, which reports PG-13 films are more likely to contain depictions of gun violence than their R-rated counterparts.

“Movie-going families are now undergoing an experiment in which children of any age can enter a theater to watch a PG-13 film in which the protagonists gain power, settle conflicts, and kill or be killed by lethal weapons,” a research team from the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center writes in the journal Pediatrics.

The research team, led by Daniel Romer, first noted four years ago that the amount of gun violence in PG-13 movies had exceeded the level in R-rated films. In this update — in which they examined the top 30-grossing films of a given year, and noted the number of five-minute film segments that contained gun violence — they report the trend has continued through 2015.

“The amount of gun violence in PG-13 rated movies continues to exceed that in movies rated R, and does so even more clearly than in 2012,” they write.

Two other clear trends emerge from the research. PG-13 films continue to rise in popularity; more than half of the 30 top-grossing films of 2013–15 were given that rating. And the amount of gun violence has increased significantly in such films since the rating was introduced in 1985, from one incident per hour that year, to 2.63 in 2015.

“What increasingly differentiates the instances of gun violence in PG-13 films from those rated R is not only the higher frequency in the PG-13 category,” the researchers write, “but also the film’s erasure of the consequences (such as blood and suffering), and greater likelihood that the violence will be perpetrated by or on coming-book inspired heroes and antiheroes.”

In other words, the violence in PG-13 films is often “extensive but largely bloodless,” they write. The Motion Picture Association of America, which issues the ratings, clearly believes that this sort of violence “produces less problematic effects than filmic gun death accompanied by blood and perpetrated by realistic characters.”

The researchers question that assumption, and suggest more research should be done to determine the psychological impact of such comic-book-style violence on young minds.