Film fans complain after 'Flash Gordon', 'Star Wars' and 'Rocky' all get stricter age ratings

Brian Blessed and Sam J Jones in Flash Gordon. (Studiocanal)
Brian Blessed and Sam J Jones in Flash Gordon. (Studiocanal)

The re-classification of 1980s Flash Gordon from a PG to a 12A by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) prompted the most complaints of 2020, the ratings board has revealed.

Classic films including Rocky, Flash Gordon and Star Wars: Episode IV - The Empire Strikes Back all received tighter ratings classifications in 2020 due to changing tastes.

The body’s annual report for 2020 explained why the movies had been uprated, with many moving from Parental Guidance (PG) to 12A.

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The former rating says a film should not unsettle a child aged around eight or older while the latter recommends no child under 12 should watch without being accompanied by an adult.

Of the 93 complaints the board received last year, 27 were regarding 1980 space opera film Flash Gordon.

Sam J. Jones and Max Von Sydow in Flash Gordon (Credit: Universal)
Sam J. Jones and Max Von Sydow in Flash Gordon. (Universal)

The movie’s 40th anniversary re-release was reclassified up to 12A in June due to the inclusion of “discriminatory stereotypes,” the BBFC report said.

Flash Gordon’s main villain, Ming the Merciless, was of East Asian appearance but played by Swedish-French actor Max von Sydow. It adds that most of the complaints they received came in December after they released a podcast explaining the ratings change, saying "the majority of complaints stated that current real-world stereotypes should not be applied to this film".

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Also uprated was 1976 boxing classic Rocky, which was moved from a PG rating on video to a 12A for the 2020 theatrical re-release.

The BBFC said its reclassification was due to “moderate violence, mouthed strong language and domestic abuse”.

American actors Sylvester Stallone (L) and Carl Weathers grip hands and smile together during a press conference in a still from the film, 'Rocky,' directed by John G. Avildsen, 1976. (Photo by United Artists/Courtesy of Getty Images)
Sylvester Stallone and Carl Weathers in a still from the film, Rocky, directed by John G. Avildsen, 1976. (United Artists/Courtesy of Getty Images)

The extended edition of The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring was moved up to a 12A for its “moderate fantasy violence and threat,” the BBFC said, bringing it in line with the other two films in the trilogy.

The Elephant Man, the 1980 drama starring Sir Anthony Hopkins and Sir John Hurt, became 12A for “moderate threat, upsetting scenes and injury detail”.

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Star Wars: Episode IV - The Empire Strikes Back was also re-released and was classified PG for “moderate violence and mild threat”. It had been a U film, meaning it was suitable for all ages.

Darth Vader implores Luke to turn to the Dark Side of the Force. (Lucasfilm)
Darth Vader implores Luke to turn to the Dark Side of the Force. (Lucasfilm)

However, not all re-classifications resulted in stricter ratings.

The 1984 sports drama The Karate Kid was a PG with cuts for its original theatrical release and a 15 uncut on video since then.

The BBFC now deems it suitable for 12A uncut, for “moderate violence and drug references”.

And The Fast And The Furious, the first film in the blockbuster franchise, was rated 15 upon its release in 2001 but is now a 12A for “infrequent strong language, moderate violence and sex references”.

The report said 17 people complained about the PG rating for Matteo Garrone's live action Pinocchio.

Pinocchio (Credit: Archimede Films)
Pinocchio (Archimede Films)

Most felt the rating was not high enough, according to the BBFC.

The BBFC stood by the rating and said the film balances its darker moments with “comic interludes and a reassuring outcome”.

It added: “As such, these moments are not strong enough for a 12A rating and the film is classified PG.”

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And there were nine complaints about Netflix’s controversial film Cuties, which attracted legal action in Texas over its alleged “lewd” depiction of children.

Cuties follows an 11-year-old Senegalese girl living in Paris who rebels against her conservative family’s traditions when she becomes fascinated with a “free-spirited dance crew”.

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One complaint focused on the poster art shown before the release of the film while the rest were about the film itself, the BBFC said.

All complained about the sexualisation of children in the film. However, the BBFC described Cuties as a “mature and thought-provoking coming of age drama that shows the influence that aspects of sexualisation in popular culture can have on young people”.

The BBFC said it was suitable for a 15 rating.

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