The most controversial 12A films

Success of The Hunger Games reignites debate over controversial BBFC rating

‘The Hunger Games’ is the next billion dollar teen franchise, after it made more than ‘Twilight’ in its first weekend in the US.

The question is though, with scenes of kids (some as young as 10) slaughtering each other with spears, throwing knives and - at one point - killer bees, should youngsters even be allowed to watch it?

[Related feature: Why 'The Hunger Games' was so successful]
[Related video: Hunger Games stars reveal their secret talents]

‘The Hunger Games’ is rated 12A by the British Board of Film Classification, and the success of the film has once again ignited the debate over this most controversial of movie certificates.

Kill zone... Jennifer Lawrence in the controversial 'Hunger Games'

According to the BBFC, 12A means children younger than 12 must be accompanied by an adult to buy a ticket. At one point ‘Games’ was set to be a 15 before the studio nixed seven seconds of particularly gory footage.

Despite the cuts, some parents have complained about the rating on Mumsnet, saying that “it was really stretching the 12 rating” with one child becoming “so distressed” that they had to leave the cinema. Another said that “some death scenes are quite shocking” claiming that “you see a lot of dead faces and it's very realistic”.

There will always be complaints over film ratings, but after looking through the BBFC’s archives, the vast majority are reserved for 12A films that were felt to be grown-up for the age bracket.

Sam Raimi’s first ‘Spider-Man’ movie kicked off the whole ‘12A certificate’ saga back in 2002 when it was released with the stricter 12 rating (i.e. no-one under 12 was allowed in). This meant that much of its target audience (pre-teen comic fans) couldn’t see the film, with a whole school class writing to the BBFC to moan.

Too violent... Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man

The complaints, surely accompanied by commercial pressure from studio Sony, eventually saw the creation of the softer 12A certificate, with ‘Spider-Man’ reclassified.

12A (or lower) became the certificate every blockbuster needed to be successful. It gave filmmakers scope to show a reasonable amount of sex and especially violence, but still ensured anyone, no matter how young, could feasibly buy a ticket. Studios were quids in.

Exhibit A was ‘The Bourne Identity’ - the first flick to get a 12A on its theatrical release. It featured a scene where Matt Damon’s forgetful CIA killer stabs an assassin with a biro before breaking his arms and legs... and neck. It paved the way for slightly more violent and adult films to be consumed by family audiences.

License to kill (but not offend)... Daniel Craig in Casino RoyaleOne of the most high profile examples that followed was Bond flick ‘Casino Royale’, with the BBFC receiving 82 complaints over the violence and a few sexually suggestive scenes (though some just didn’t like Daniel Craig apparently). Many parents told them it should’ve been a 15.

Another 12A movie that sailed close to the shores of a 15 was ‘Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines’ - which got the most complaints in 2003 (54). The BBFC reckoned those who wrote in were influenced by  the first two ‘Terminator’ flicks (rated 18 and 15 respectively), but it’s still a film about psychotic killer robots, albeit with a Village People gag this time around.

Tom Cruise vehicle ‘War of the Worlds’ got a whopping 65 complaints thanks to scenes of ‘sustained menace, threat and moderate horror’. The BBFC reckoned the film was the victim of a tabloid campaign, but in the end hoped the furore helped “reinforce the message that 12A is a signal of general suitability only for 12s and over”.

It’s harder to get nudity into 12A films, but the makers of animation ‘Beowulf’ managed it in 2007 thanks to Angelina Jolie’s digitally created naked bottom. Predictably some parents were not impressed and the film got 53 angry letters.

The debate over the 12A rating was undeniably fiercest however in 2007 after the release of ‘The Dark Knight’. As we’ve already reported, the Batman sequel is the most complained about movie of the last decade in Britain, with 364 complaints.

Serious complaints... Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight

The unremittingly bleak tone, use of knives and that bit where the joker makes the pencil ‘disappear’ pushed ‘The Dark Knight’ right to the edge of the 12A certificate. If not over entirely.

The (comparatively) huge number of complaints forced a period of introspection from the BBFC, who ran an internal consultation to see if they got ‘The Dark Knight’ rating right. They reckon 69 per cent of the public agreed, but many would still question if very young kids should be allowed to watch the film, even if they had mum and dad with them.

Do you think the 12A rating works? Have you seen ‘The Hunger Games’ and think it’s too violent? Let us know your thoughts below...