Can We Talk About Trailers For R-Rated Movies Being Shown At PG-13 Films?

by Annie Reneau
Tyler Olson / Shutterstock

My husband and mom recently took our almost-13-year-old daughter to see Wonder Woman in the theater, along with some other friends who took their kids, ages 10 to 15, with them.

These are all kids who have seen most of the Marvel and DC superhero movies and are familiar with a certain level of on-screen violence and sexual innuendo. While there tends to be a lot of hand-to-hand combat and fantasy violence in those kinds of films, the gore level is generally kept quite low, and there doesn’t tend to be a whole lot of graphic sexuality shown. So we were totally comfortable with our 12-year-old going to see the PG-13 Wonder Woman without prescreening it.

The movie itself delivered just fine on all of those fronts. The previews, however, were another story.

My husband and mom came home and described the trailer for the R-rated Atomic Blonde, starring Charlize Theron, that played before the film. Neither of them are particularly prudish, but they said it was a lot for the kids to be seeing. They were uncomfortable with the gory and realistic violence (a man gets shot in the head and blood spurts out the other side, among other scenes) and the passionate sex scenes, both of which dominated the trailer with an obvious “let’s sell this movie with sex and violence” intent.

After the movie, my mom said something to the movie theater manager who responded that they match trailers to movies based on genre. Atomic Blonde is an “action movie,” they said, which is why it got included with Wonder Woman. But content-wise and age-appropriate-wise, it definitely didn’t fit with the PG-13 superhero movie genre.

I watched both the red-band trailer (for mature audiences) and the green-band trailer (for “appropriate” audiences, meaning okay for a PG-13 audience), and I honestly didn’t see a whole lot of difference. They were right — it was a lot for kids to see. It especially wasn’t appropriate for a PG-13 superhero movie matinee which theaters know will have a younger-leaning audience.

In researching this issue to see if it was a unique experience, I found comments from lots of parents complaining about similar inappropriate trailers at movies they took their kids to. One mom said that there was a trailer for Fifty Shades Darker at their Beauty and the Beast showing. I assume that must’ve been a mistake, but still. It’s not uncommon for movie trailers to be the most iffy part of taking your kids to a family movie.

One can make the argument that kids see all kinds of inappropriate content these days, but that doesn’t change the fact that when you’re sitting in a crowded theater in front of a big screen, you should be able to expect that what your kid is going to see is appropriate for the age-rating of the movie you’ve gone to watch. It also doesn’t change the common-sense assumption that kids younger than 13 are going to the theater to see a movie like Wonder Woman, especially in the middle of the afternoon. It’s not a big leap to recognize that a graphically violent and sexual R-rated film might not be the best choice to preview during that film.

Of course, movie ratings themselves are incredibly subjective and not always reliable. I remember being baffled that The King’s Speech was rated R, simply because of a couple of scenes in which the stuttering king says “fuck” a few too many times to make the PG-13 cut. We watched that movie with our 10-year-old and had no qualms about it. And we’ve seen even a few PG movies that were a bit scary or disturbing for our kids at that age. PG-13 films in particular vary a lot in content, so parents do need to preview as necessary.

But a trailer for a graphic R-rated movie that has nothing to offer teens or tweens should not be shown at a PG-13 superhero movie, period. If movie theaters know kids are going to be there, and it’s a reasonable movie to expect them to be attending, they should use some discretion and wisdom and save those graphic trailers for an appropriate audience.