7 R-Rated Movies That Are OK for Teens

Sometimes R goes too far, especially when worthwhile themes and messages outweigh iffy content. By Betsy Bozdech
7 R-Rated Movies That Are OK for Teens

Movies get R ratings from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) for all kinds of reasons: "strong sexual content/nudity," "disturbing violence and terror," "some drug use," and so on. In many cases, we couldn't agree more that R-rated movies aren't age-appropriate for younger teens (the MPAA's guidelines require anyone under 17 to be accompanied to R movies by a parent or another adult).

But sometimes, the R goes too far -- most often when it comes to strong language. It's well-known that more than one use of "f--k" almost automatically pushes a movie into R territory, but there are lots of movies with salty vocabulary that still have truly worthwhile messages for teens. Same goes for intense themes and even non-gratuitous sex and violence. By the time kids are in their later teens, they're cognitively ready for a lot more than when they were younger, especially if they can talk to their parents about what they're seeing.

So instead of just assuming that an R rating means that something is a no-go for your teen, check out both the MPAA's rating reason and our even more detailed reviews. In the meantime, consider one of these for your next parent-teen movie night.

Movie: Billy Elliott
Rated R for: Language (An edited version was released on DVD with a PG-13 rating.)
Common Sense rating: On for 14+
Why it's OK for teens: Aspiring ballet dancer Billy's world isn't a soft or an easy one; characters swear constantly, and family members can be cruel, insulting, and neglectful toward each other. But ultimately this is an uplifting, heartwarming story about a boy who follows his dream.

Movie: The Breakfast Club
Rated R for: N/A (The movie was released before rating reasons were given.)
Common Sense rating: Pause for 14+
Why it's OK for teens: It may be an iconic '80s movie, but this John Hughes-directed classic still resonates with teens today due to its honest look at cliques and the social pressures of high school. The teen characters swear, smoke pot, and talk about everything from suicide to emotional abuse. It's intense, but it all rings true.

Movie: Bully
Rated R for: Language (The studio officially released the movie as Unrated but later made some small edits to earn a PG-13 for "intense thematic material, disturbing content, and some strong language -- all involving kids.")
Common Sense rating: Pause for 13+
Why it's OK for teens: Although it's often heartbreaking and deals with tough issues such as suicide, this no-holds-barred documentary addresses an incredibly important, timely topic -- bullying -- in a frank, relatable way that's age-appropriate for teens and relevant for middle schoolers if an adult is present to guide discussion. The language is strong, yes, but these are the facts of life for teens.

Movie: The King's Speech
Rated R for: Language (An edited version was re-released with a PG-13 rating.)
Common Sense rating: On for 14+
Why it's OK for teens: This inspiring fact-based period drama about England's King George VI has a few scenes with strong language -- particularly one F-word-laced outburst by the frustrated king himself -- but it's the empowering messages about triumphing over your fears that will stick with teens.

Movie: Once
Rated R for: Language
Common Sense rating: On for 13+
Why it's OK for teens: Yes, this sweet musical romance has lots of swearing (particularly "f--k"), but the language fits the streetwise characters (plus their accents are so thick that the four-letter words aren't always audible/obvious). Besides, the positive messages about love and emotional connection outweigh any iffiness.

Movie: Pride
Rated R for: Language and brief sexual content
Common Sense rating: On for 15+
Why it's OK for teens: In addition to the admittedly strong language, things do get a little racy in this fact-based story about a group of British gay and lesbian activists who supported striking mineworkers in the 1980s; there's innuendo, kissing, and jokes about a sex toy. But in the end, it's a charming, unforgettable story of friendship, acceptance, and standing together.

Movie: Stand by Me
Rated R for: N/A (The movie was released before rating reasons were given.)
Common Sense rating: Pause for 13+
Why it's OK for teens: Rob Reiner's classic coming-of-age tale (based on a Stephen King novella) can get extremely crass, and it all centers on looking for a dead body, but the friendship among the four main characters is wonderfully authentic. It's a funny, nostalgic look at the end of innocence.

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About Betsy Bozdech

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Betsy's experiences working in online parenting and entertainment content were the perfect preparation for her role as Common Sense's executive editor of ratings and reviews. After earning bachelor's and master's... Read more
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Comments (4)

Adult written by Jonathan M.

What about Rain Man? There are a few F words, and one brief nudity scene, but even with that I could see this movie being PG-13.
Teen, 13 years old written by katherinejane

I feel like The Lost Boys should be on here. besides some gory scenes with blood, it is clear looking and doesn't even look real, it really was fine. its a great movie also.
Parent of a 13 and 15 year old written by Katy L

I saw "Begin Again" with my 15-year old daughter three times this summer, and she downloaded a bunch of the music onto her phone. The only thing giving this sweet movie with very positive family values is language. We both loved it! http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1980929/

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