Why do theaters show trailers for movies rated for older audiences?

Trailers for R-rated movies used to be prohibited from playing before younger audiences. But over time those rules relaxed. In 2015, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) was able to successfully argue to Congress that many R-rated movies are suitable for a certain percentage of PG-13 audiences.

That may be true, but the MPAA has a way of getting around even that restriction: Some movies are not rated until their final edits are submitted, but the trailers are created way beforehand. If the movie studio believes that the movie might get a PG-13 rating, then that movie trailer can play before younger audiences. And if the movie eventually goes on to receive an R rating? Oh, well.

Kids also can see plenty of R-rated movie trailers in other venues. Whereas R-rated trailers on TV are restricted to later-evening shows, kids can see pretty much anything they want on YouTube and other video services -- including the more explicit "red-band trailers."

Kids in the PG and PG-13 age range are particularly vulnerable to this kind of exposure, especially as PG-13 movies have become more violent.

If you find that you and your kid are a captive audience to an R-rated trailer, seize the opportunity to have a media-literacy moment. Ask him what he thinks about the trailer and why he thinks movie studios get away with this type of marketing (answer: money).

To avoid the iffy trailers and other advertising that plays before the movie starts, you can plan to get to the theater later, complain to the theater owner, or wait for the movie to come out on DVD or a streaming-video service. 

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Comments

Parent of a 10 and 13 year old written by Kimberly A.

I am disappointed that the MPA would allow for PG-13 & R rated trailers to be viewed for younger audiences. As parents, we always read Common Sense Media & Plugged In movie reviews. We pick age appropriate movies,and do our best to be well informed of the content. It is wrong that we now have to worry about the previews. I think more parents need to complain to theater, to make a change.
Adult written by katyhome

I took my family for the movie "War for the Planet of the Apes" yesterday at Regal Cinemas. The movie is rated PG-13. We were shown trailer of Atomic Blonde (an R-rated movie). I had a young child with me and there were several young audience at the showing. The trailer had sexually explicit content that is very inappropriate for young children. It was disgusting as a parent to experience that situation with my child. After we came home last night, my child could not get sleep because of what was shown at the theater. It is really disgraceful to show these trailers in a PG-13 movie.
Parent of a 10 year old written by michelle s.

I took my almost-11yo to Wonder Woman this week and was shocked that Frank Theatres showed previews for Atomic Blond (heavy sexual content), It Comes at Night (horror, and the preview itself was rated R), and 43 Meters Down (PG-13 movie but the trailer was terrifying.) I wrote them to complain and they confirmed exactly what the article above reports. Here's their response, because I figure others will want to read this too: Hello Michelle, Thank you for reaching out to us with your concerns. We are sorry to hear about your experience. Our standard policy is to include previews for PG-13 films (and films not yet rated with "Green Band" trailers) in our PG-13 movies. "47 Meters Down" has an MPAA rating of PG-13, and was thus promoted during the previews. That said, "It Comes at Night" is an R-rated film that should not have been shown in front of "Wonder Woman," and we will be taking care of that promptly. At the time of the film's release, "Atomic Blonde" had not received its official MPAA rating and was thus attached to preview in front of "Wonder Woman." We will be pulling this trailer from "Wonder Woman." We will be pulling this trailer from "Wonder Woman" as well now that it has been rated R. We are truly apologetic for your family's experience and hope you give us another chance at providing a more enjoyable experience for families in the future. Warm regards, Frank Entertainment
Kid, 10 years old

Very recently, I went to see beauty and beast. Before the movie was a trailer for fifty shades darker! I mean, what!?!?
Adult written by Kathleen M.

When we took our two girls (ages 6 and 4) to see the 1:30pm Beauty and Beast show on Saturday, March 18th, we were excited to see the show so we arrived early, around 1:10-1:15pm and got seats without a problem. Yet, I was horrified as the trailers began to roll. All of trailers were for PG-13 films--Pirates of the Caribbean, Wonder Woman, and Transformers. Honestly, I would love to see these films myself, but since the previews were filled with guns, explosions, fighting, alien attacks, loud crushing metal and fire, I looked over at my husband and for a moment, our faces were both in shock and horrified. I thought, "Are we in the wrong theater?" Had we mistakenly walked into see Kong:Skull Island? Nope. Completely inappropriate PG-13 previews during a PG-Rated Film. Eventually, Beauty and the Beast came on the screen and it was magical. Loved it. Five stars. Yet....as I watched my 6-year old hide underneath her Princess Poppy hat during the Previews, I was quite disturbed and saddened. So, in light of what happened, I thought I would reach out to see if there were any policies against playing violent, inappropriate PG-13 previews/trailers at a PG-film. The feedback from this forum was helpful and I wonder if other parents have encountered the same issue. Any other stories you can provide is much appreciated for qualitative data so I can contact my Congressmen about changing this horrific policy. Thank you.
Teen, 13 years old written by RandomBoi2004

Its because the R-rated film trailer would make the parent or adult to want to go with there 17 year olds like for example In TV Land I saw a Sauage Party commercal in my TV but its OK no strong profanity or nudity and sex
Teen, 14 years old written by Lhopen

They showed the trailer for Sausage party in front of Central Intelligence. They also showed the trailer for Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates in front of Independence day.
Teen, 14 years old written by Morgan_Horse

It doesn't concern me as at age 13 my parents let me start watching rated R movies.. Some rated R movies aren't even that bad, like The Matrix (1999).. Deadpool, however, is another story.
Teen, 13 years old written by AJ905

I know exactly what you mean. They showed the trailer for 22 Jump Street in front of The Amazing Spider Man 2. And it's not just the trailers, it's also some of the advertisements! For example, before Captain America: The Winter Soldier, they showed a very suggestive music video with lots of iffy content. Also in Guardians of The Galaxy, they showed so many previews for R-rated movies that it almost made me think we accidently got put into an R-rated film.
Teen, 14 years old written by Buffy Rules

I saw a preview for The Revenant (MPAA rated it R, Australia rated it MA15+) in front of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (MPAA rated it PG-13, Australia rated it M). Strange. Oh, and 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (MPAA: R, Australia: MA15+) in front of Daddy's Home (MPAA: PG-13, Australia: PG).