Compared to TV or adverts, films don’t get many complaints. But when the public do object to what they see on the big screen, they complain to the British Board of Film Classification (or BBFC).
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The job of the BBFC, who celebrate their centenary this year, is give each film a rating, from a ‘U’ to an ‘18’. When a complaint comes in, quite often it’s because punters reckon the rating is wrong.
You’d expect ultra-violent action flicks, or super-gory horrors to cause the most consternation, but this is not always the case. We had a look through the BBFC’s last ten annual reports (that was a fun afternoon) to find some of the most complained about films of the decade.
The film: 'The Lovely Bones' (2010)
Number of complaints: 24
Why? Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the novel about a murdered girl was a “shocking and upsetting experience” for many, according to the BBFC. Complainers thought the ‘12A’ rating was too low, and the BBFC admitted it was almost a ‘15’. The most complained about film of 2010.
The film:'Shrek 2' (2004)
Number of complaints: 32
Why? Apparently every complaint was about the use of the word ‘bloody’ in a ‘U’ rated film. Who says swearing has become acceptable?
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The film: 'Jo Bole So Nihaal' (2005)
Number of complaints: 41
Why? The title of this Indian film means "Whoever utters shall be fulfilled” – a traditional Sikh greeting. Some sectors of the Sikh community found this offensive and when the film was shown in India, there were bomb attacks on a cinema in New Delhi. The BBFC reckoned no offence was intended by the title.
The film: '9 Songs' (2004)
Number of complaints: 48
Why? Arthouse drama or porn? Opinions were divided on Michael Winterbottom’s ultra-graphic 2004 film. It was passed uncut at ‘18’ and the BBFC got plenty of complaints, though they reckon this was “clearly [part of] a coordinated campaign, with people reacting to what they had read, rather than what they had seen.” They decided the film's content was a “very marked difference from porn works”.
The film: 'Spider-Man' (2002)
Number of complaints: 51
Why? Apparently one of these complaints was signed by a whole primary school class – who objected because they COULD NOT see the film. It was a ‘12’ rather than an unrestricted ‘PG’. Soon after this the ‘12A’ rating was introduced – meaning under-12s could see a film if accompanied by an adult.
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The film: 'Beowulf' (2007)
Number of complaints: 53
Why? This ‘12A’ animation got the most complaints in 2007. Some reckoned the violence, horror and sexual references were unsuitable for the rating, with Angelina Jolie’s (digitally-created) nudity especially objectionable. Teenage boys disagreed.
The film: 'Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines' (2003)
Number of complaints: 54
Why? Another controversial ‘12A’. The BBFC reckoned those who complained based their comments on their memories of the first two ‘Terminator’ flicks (rated ’18’ and ‘15’). This time around the violence was more “in a James Bond vein”.
The film: 'War of the Worlds' (2005)
Number of complaints: 65
Why? Spielberg’s alien invasion flick was another victim of tabloid hysteria, according to the BBFC, with most complaints “responding to what they had read in the press”. Suitable for young teens, but not young kids was their verdict.
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The film: 'The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring' (2001)
Number of complaints: 66
Why? Many thought this ‘PG’-rated film was too scary for youngsters, though the BBFC thought most of these complaints were from people who didn’t actually have children. They also got letters from parents grateful they COULD bring their offspring to see it.
The film: 'Casino Royale' (2006)
Number of complaints: 82
Why? Loads of mail for Daniel Craig’s first ‘Bond’ outing, with many complaining it should’ve been a ‘15’ because of the violence and nudity. The BBFC report also mentions a letter objecting to Craig’s casting as 007 and demanding the return of Sean Connery. “Casting is definitely one area the Board has no control over,” they wrote.
The film: 'Closer' (2004)
Number of complaints: 93
Why? Not a shocker this one. Mike Nichol’s dark relationship drama – rated ‘15’ – got more than 90 letters because of its shocking sexually explicit language.
The film: 'The Dark Knight' (2008)
Number of complaints: 364
Why? According to their reports this is the most complained about film of the decade – and by a huge margin. It got 42 per cent of all letters in 2008, in part, say the BBFC, because of a tabloid campaign over its ‘12A’ rating. We asked them why this particular film was so controversial.
The BBFC told Yahoo! Movies: “It was probably the dark tone of the film that surprised some people, especially given that the preceding set of ‘Batman’ films had become relatively light-hearted. ‘The Dark Knight’ is a world away from ‘Batman and Robin’, not to mention the 60s TV series. However, you actually see far less in ‘The Dark Knight’ than some people thought they did and the film is pretty restrained in visual terms. We also took account of the fact that it's ultimately a rather fantastical superhero story and that Batman is a well-known quantity, with all the previous films being passed at the ‘12’ or ‘12A’ level, even if the darkening of tone wrong-footed some viewers.”
They added: “It may not be coincidental that most of the complaints were received in the same week that The Daily Mail ran their three day ‘campaign’ against the decision. Once media interest ceased, the complaints significantly declined although the film continued to be screened nationwide.”
The BBFC also pointed out that they ran a consultation the following year with members of the public and 69 per cent agreed with their decision to award the ‘12A’ rating.
Have you ever complained about a film? Do you think movie ratings are spot on? Let us know your thoughts below.