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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.