Kids at the Movies

Once again, James Lileks has hit the nail on the head.

Today’s column wasn’t his usual light-hearted message board in ink. Today’s column dealt with a three-year-old girl whose parents took her to a Twin Cities movie theater to see Hannibal. Mr. Lileks and some friends were in the audience, and one of them asked the parents if they thought this was truly age-appropriate material. This netted an incredulous look from the parents and a “none of your business” from the girl’s mother. The friend’s wife complained to the theater manager, who told her that his hands were tied; that if the girl’s parents wanted to buy tickets, he had to sell them. To me, this sounds like a cop-out on the manager’s part; an avoidance of conflict at the little girl’s expense.

Which brings me to the question at hand. Do movie theaters have an obligation to prevent children from seeing movies that are obviously inappropriate for children?

I’d love to know what y’all think.


If it is rated NC-17, the do have an obligation to prevent children from seeing it.

R has a very clear definition, though - nobody under 17 without a parent or guardian. The kid had her parents with her, so it was legit, just as when I saw someone bring their toddler to ‘Saving Private Ryan’.

Are movie ratings enforced by law? Suppose I open my own theater, and I decide that the MPAA’s morals are outdated - I let kids into movies with sexual content, but not violence. Or maybe I ignore the ratings altogether, and anyone with $7.50 can see any show. Am I subject to some kind of penalty?

If not, I don’t think the theater has an obligation to refuse anyone service.

Well, when I went to see Hannibal last weekend, I saw at least a dozen eight or nine year old kids with their parents. The same thing happened when I saw Scary Movie. I have to wonder if these parents actually know what they’re getting their kids into with these films. However, the MPAA ratings are purely voluntary and have no legal standing. Now, it’s most likely illegal to show pornography to children, but R rated films don’t qualify.

Movie ratings are not enforced by law. They are voluntary. Theaters generally have policies in line with the ratings guidelines, but selling a ticket to an R-rated movie to a seven year old is not a crime.

That said, no, the theaters are not obligated to refuse tickets to minors with their parents. The ratings guidelines are there precisely for the parents, so they can decide what is appropriate for their children. I probably would not allow a seven year old child to see an R-rated movie, but my parents often bought me tickets to them when I was 14 or 15, because they knew I was mature enough.

Many theaters will enact stricter policies to appease parents who can’t control their own children, but I don’t think any would outright refuse to sell a ticket to someone who’s parents were there.

In that case, the manager from the OP definitely did nothing wrong. Yeah, his answer was a cop-out… he should have said “We’re in the business of showing movies, not telling parents how to raise their kids.”

(If ratings were enforced, however, there might be a justification: little Johnny goes over to his friend’s house, the friend’s dad takes both kids to see Hannibal, Johnny’s parents find out and sue the theater.)

I disapprove of theaters checking ages in the first place. If you can’t trust your kids to pick an acceptable movie, or to handle a bad one, why are you letting them roam freely at the theater?

First off the MPAA has no force of law.

In NYC it is a law that no children under 5 are allowed into R rated films that start after 5:30. This is to avoid crying babies.

A theatre manager has no right to tell people how to raise their kids. If the kid is making a disturbence in the theatre (like talking loudly or running around) then the theatre manager has the duty to stop them and protect the other patrons from the annoyance. However the fact that the kid is just there does not qualify as a disturbence.
Side rant

The rateings system totally sucks. It is meaningless and does not help consumers make informed decisions on what to watch.

End side rant

In Chi a local columnist wrote that the theater had a sign saying no kids under 6 would be permitted to see Hannibal after 6 p.m. His take was that it was unfortunate that there are such lousy parents out there that such a sign would be necessary. I agree. This is not the sort of thing that makes me feel good about how the future generations are being raised.

Regarding the OP, currently there is no legal obligation I am aware of to require that theater owners deny admission of accompanied kids to R movies. I am not sure, however, that there shouldn’t be a moral obligation that they take reasonable steps to display their wares responsibly. Does the analogy of porn magazines hold up? Is it a “bad thing” that the local convenience store keeps them behind the counter, or in brown paper wrappers? Would you wish a sex shop to openn up next door to a preschool, with explicit displays in the window?

And as for the parents who take a small child to see most R movies, they should be horsewhipped.

(In some cases, I acknowledge the rating provides insufficient info. For example, I recently rented Saving Grace which was rented R. It had no profanity, no explicit sex, and only one very brief episode of nudity. I can only imagine the rating was due to the subject matter, pot cultivation. But I do not believe the same could be said for Hannibal. To the contrary, the explicit acts were a primary element in the marketing campaign. And I believe Scary Movie was rated PG. Personally, I would prefer that my kids see a film about pot cultivation, but that is my preference and they are my kids.)

IMO, the ratings system rarely, if ever, tells people anything about the appropriateness of a movie that isn’t highly obvious from the commercials.

No they don’t have any obligation to do so. Whew, that was easy. I went to see Pulp Fiction and someone decided to bring their 4 or 5 year old little girl to watch. I don’t think all movies are appropriate for children just because they may have a guardian with them. On the other hand I was 6 when I saw Poltergeist so who am I to critique?


I don’t know about that. Maybe in the case of Hannibal, yeah, but take the aforementioned Scary Movie. It was rated R. Judging from the trailers, it would appear to be a wacky, Airplane!-style spoof of horror films with some ribald sex and drug content for the teen crowd. Would you garner from the trailers that your teens would be seeing a woman’s breast implant ripped out with a butcher knife, a person stabbed in the head with an erect penis, or a girl pinned to a ceiling by a gusher of semen? I don’t think so. That goes a little beyond “ribald.”

I don’t think theaters have an obligation to keep kids out of R movies, but I think they have a right to refuse service, like all businesses, as long as they aren’t breaking Federal anti-discrimination laws. And the MPAA is out of control on the ratings thing. The PG-13 rating is being applied to movies with more and more adult content, while R is being applied to movies with content that is clearly for adults only. (As Ebert said in his Hannibal review, “If a man slicing his own face off and feeding it to dogs doesn’t get an NC-17 for violence, nothing will.”)

I guess if they’re such idiots that they think taking a young child to a film like Hannibla is a good idea, there’s not much the theatres can do. I once overheard a ticket seller explaining the plot of something, maybe “The Cell,” to a parent wanting to take a bunch of young kids in, and was told to “take my money and f*** off, I already know what it’s about.” Since the rating system is voluntary and not legally binding, the theatres can only do so much. I did notice, about the time the “South Park” movie came out, that several theatre chains in my area did away with the child prices, which reduced the number of small kids being taken to inappropriate films.

What I object to is parents who take their kids to any movie, whatever the rating, and proceed to let them run wild and disturb others, or the morons we got stuck next to who wouldn’t take their smelly newborn out to change its diaper because they “didn’t want to miss anything.” This decision was reached after 10 minutes on debate, and it wasn’t whispered or quietly done. As it was the opening and sold-out weekend of “Jurrassic Park,” moving elsewhere wasn’t an option. We tried to complain, but someone tried to move into our seats, and we were told the manager was on vacation.

I know the MPAA ratings aren’t laws and don’t have the force of laws. However, my personal stance is that yes, the theaters do have at least some ethical obligation to enforce them, especially for movies that are known to be particularly graphic, as Hannibal is. IIRC, the movie theater at the Mall of America, which I attend most often, has a policy of not selling children’s-price tickets to R rated movies. If you really want to take Junior to see Hannibal, you’re going to have to cough up the nine bucks for him, too.

For the record, I have not seen Hannibal, and most likely will not do so, because of the violence. However, I did see Scary Movie and while I found it to be inappropriate for younger kids, it wasn’t all that gruesome, and most of that was what I would describe as cartoonish violence. And it was intended to be a spoof of other horror movies. It still isn’t a movie I’d allow or encourage any young child to see.



But they are enforcing the MPAA ratings. R just means that no one under 17 is admitted without a parent or guardian. What if I wanted to take my 12 year old to see Saving Grace, Stand by Me, or Braveheart? That said I do agree with others that the MPAA are outdated and nearly useless. Stand By Me and Friday the 13th are both rated R and I don’t think they are anywhere near the same when it comes to content.


I thought you guys might want to know that Hannibal has been given a stricter rating in Australia. It’s now “R” (which is the equivalent to “NC-17” in America, I think).

I was looking forward to seeing it - I’m only a month or so off eighteen, too. Oh well. :frowning: At least the new rating will cut down on pre-teens and toddlers being taken to see it.

Kids need to develop thick skin. The sooner the better.

Why do so many people want to give parenting responsibilities to uninvolved parties? Are you going to let the theater managers tell you what to feed your kids and when to put them to bed?

I think the blame here (as others have said) lies with a meaningless movie rating system that doesn’t really tell you what to expect in the contents of a movie. But you can’t have theater managers stopping parents at the door and saying “I’m sorry ma’am, but this film contains nudity. I don’t think little Julie should be watching it.” Depending on the manager you could get things like “This film contains references to creationism. Do you really want to feed that kind of information to your impressionable little ones?” Geh…

I watched plenty of “inappropriate movies” growing up, but Mom and Dad raised me well, so I always knew the difference. I wish folks would stop blaming the results of bad parenting on the media.

Kayeby said:

Didn’t I see another Australian poster say somewhere that R was the same in Australia as in the U.S…at least in the sense that with a guardian, children of at least some particular age could get in? (And don’t you love my precice referencing style?)

I agree that the theatre is an uninvolved party. But I think we need to expect just a little bit more from parents. Did anyone go to Hannibal not expecting to see gore and scenes too intense for young children? When you see the parents with young kids at the movies, do they hurry the kids out when the unexpected adult-themed entertainment comes on the screen? They don’t, right? It’s because they don’t care.

The problem does not lie with the theatre, nor with MPAA ratings system. It’s not the theatres business to tell someone how to raise their kids, as Kyomara points out. It has nothing to do with the MPAA, because even if they listed the precise number and desciptions of the depictions of sex and violence in a given film, these morons would still bring their under age children to the show.

Kyomara, I don’t think it’s so much that its the way you’re characterizing, but that, in addition to what spooje says, theater owners should feel safe in making judgement calls. After all, for every well-adjusted child being raised by intelligent parents, there are going to be parents who take their kids to see the new cartoon, South Park, then spend a half-hour afterward screaming at the theater manager about the adult content.

I don’t think an owner should feel he or she is at all in the wrong by simply saying, in advance, “I’m not allowing ticket sales to people with children for this movie.” The parents are always free to take their children to see the movie at another theater. I think it’s kind of tangential to the main point, which appears to be that most parents who take their kids to see movies like Hannibal are probably pretty irresponsible, but I think it’s legitimate nonetheless.

In Australia,

M15+ = Recommended for mature audiences fifteen years and older.

MA15+ = Persons under fifteen years must be accompanied by an adult. (18 years or over)

R18+ = Restricted to eighteen year olds or over.

Can’t get into clubs, can’t get into Hannibal, can’t buy alcohol. ::kicks dirt:: It sucks being seventeen.