Higher ratings for violent scenes among film classification guideline changes

Violent on-screen scenes may be classified more cautiously in the future as research shows it has become an increasing concern for UK audiences, according to the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC).

The BBFC has published new classification guidelines reflecting shifts in public opinion towards violence, drug use, sex and use of language, following a public consultation involving 12,000 people across the UK.

The research found people are more concerned about depictions of violence on-screen in content across all age ratings, with audiences expressing unease over distressing or disturbing forms of violence depicted in some scenes.

Sexual violence remains the largest area of concern for UK audiences, as it was in 2019 when research was last conducted.

The BBFC said a more cautious approach to classifying sex scenes was also to be expected, because research participants were concerned by the “level of sexual detail, nudity and the duration of the sex scenes” rated 12A/12 under the 2019 guidelines.

“Similar content is now more likely to be rated 15,” it said.

“However, the research also indicates that audiences are happy for classification to be more lenient towards some sex references at the 15/18 borderline, especially in comic contexts.”

Children watching films on devices in the back of a car
81% of audiences said they wanted a consistent age rating system across cinema, physical media and video-on-demand and streaming services (BBFC/PA)

It will “continue to highlight suicide and self-harm in its content advice”, as research showed audiences want to be warned of this type of content.

The research also showed audiences are more accepting of cannabis misuse “so long as it is not detailed, glamorised or frequent”, so the BBFC said it will be taking a “less restrictive” approach in the future, while maintaining its current standards on other drugs.

Meanwhile, 81% of audiences said they wanted a consistent age rating system across cinema, physical media and video-on-demand and streaming services.

BBFC president Natasha Kaplinsky
BBFC president Natasha Kaplinsky said the guidelines were shaped by viewer feedback (BBFC/PA)

“Since we last asked people across the country what they thought about our standards, society has changed, and opinions have followed – it’s fascinating how this vast body of new research reflects this.

“This is the first classification guidelines update I have overseen as president.

“Not only am I proud and thrilled to launch these findings, but as someone who has always looked to the BBFC for guidance for myself and my family, seeing first-hand the level of dedication and insight that went into this process has been eye-opening and inspiring.

“Without a doubt, we are truly shaped by you.”

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