I love movies. A lot. But what I don’t love is the extraneous sex and gore often thrown in, in base attempts to appeal to the masses.
We, a peculiar people, are not the masses, which means a lot of times this doesn’t appeal to us, and we get stuck in sticky situations. It’s easy to turn off the TV or close out of Netflix when you’re at home watching something on your own. But what about when you’re with other people? What about when you’ve paid 10 bucks to go to the theater? Do you cover your eyes? Walk out? Or laugh along?
I often find myself wishing I could know exactly what was going to be in a movie I’m thinking about seeing as far as questionable content is concerned. Some things I would rather not see at all, some I would watch with my best friend but not my parents, and some are only a problem when very little children are around.
But how am I to know? There is actually a wealth of resources on the web to help screen your movie choices for you. Since I recently watched The Help in theaters when some family members came to visit, I decided to use the movie as a method of comparison on some of the top sites I found.
Common Sense Media (commonsensemedia.org)
This site has a great balance of features when it comes to movie content review sites. Using ratings on a scale of 1 to 5, it evaluates positive messages; positive role models; violence; sex; language; consumerism; and drinking, drugs, and smoking. Each rating has a paragraph explaining the rating it received, as well as an overall “What parents need to know” introductory paragraph. I love the age ratings: They have a chart starting at age 2 and continuing to 17: red means they shouldn’t see it, green means it should be a good fit, and yellow means it depends on the kid. The Help was acceptable to any kid age 12 and up, according to this site, while 10-year-olds fell in the yellow category. One of the best features is that it brings up questions that you may want to discuss with your children after the movie.
Kids in Mind (kids-in-mind.com)
This site does not have the breadth of Common Sense Media, using a scale of 1 to 10 to rate questionable material in only three categories: sex & nudity, violence & gore, and profanity. But if you want to know exactly what to expect, this site is the place to go. It details an extremely comprehensive list of all the instances of such content in each category. You can be sure nothing will be missed as it catches all the fine details: Point number seven in the list of 21 instances of violence in The Help says that “A woman has a bloody cut on her swollen eyebrow and another woman implies that she knows that a man had harmed her; the woman winces in pain as the other woman cleans her wound.”
Deseret News Family Media Guide (deseretnews.com/familymedia)
This site, in its beta stage, uses content descriptions and 1 to 10 scales from Kids in Mind, but it has a couple interesting and unique features. The most interesting is the "What do you think this movie should be rated?" feature, which allows you to see how viewers would rate the movie (and, in turn, how the 1 to 10 scales match up with viewers' sensitivity). Most movies are on par with the MPAA's rating, but you'll ocassionally come across a movie that viewers think was rated too leniently. There's also a "worth your time" scale, which isn't super novel, but is still helpful for recommendations. For our example, most people think The Help is accurately rated as PG-13, skewing toward PG, and it has a 94% "worth your time" rating.
Movie Mom (blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom)
Originally Nell Minow started the “Movie Mom” column on Yahoo! movies, and my family used her reviews all the time to decide if we would go see a movie (or we would even call home from the video store—when those still existed—to have someone check the site before we rented one). The age ratings always seem pretty on target to me: while The Help was acceptable for middle school students according to Movie Mom, some other PG-13 movies were only for “mature high school students.” She addresses the same basic categories as many other sites but also writes a full review of the movie that incorporates those issues, something many other similar sites lack. At the end, she covers family discussion topics and suggestions for similar movies if you like the one you’re currently reading about. Unfortunately, the site is extremely hard to navigate, so it may take some work to find the review of the specific movie you’re looking for if it’s not recent enough to already be on the home page.
Parent Previews (parentpreviews.com)
This site ties with Common Sense Media for the best overall balance of breadth and depth, in my opinion. Each movie is signed an overall grade (just like in school), as well as a grade in four classes: violence, sexual content, language, and drugs/alcohol. You can click through the tabs to see an overview of the film, detailed review, content review (elaborating on the ratings for questionable content), a “talk it over” section with discussion questions, suggestions for other films to watch, reader comments, video trailers/clips, and even ratings in other locations (The Help is PG-13 in the U.S. but only PG in Canada; in Quebec it’s just G).
How do you decide which movies to watch? Do you have other websites you use? Let us know in the comments below.
Kaela Worthen is the associate editor at LDS Living. A self-titled “ultimate grammar nerd,” she also battles serious addictions to news and food websites and a compulsion to dance to the radio while driving.