Ratings refresher: MPAA's Check the Box


Since 1990, the Motion Picture Association of America has strived to make its movie ratings more useful to parents by describing the specific elements of a film that resulted in its rating as PG, PG-13, R or NC-17. At CinemaCon, the MPAA launched a new initiative to give those ratings descriptors a higher profile.

The campaign, known as “Check the Box,” makes the rating block in ads and posters more prominent and easier to read. It’s being accompanied by new educational materials including posters and a clever new public-service announcement shown in theatres across the country.

The humorous PSA has various characters representing the different ratings traveling together on a bus: A sultry NC-17 woman flirts with a PG-13 slacker; an R-rated soldier is contrasted with a PG-13 superhero. At the bus stop, the slacker heads off in the direction of “crude humor and sensuality” while the superhero takes the “intense sci-fi action” route. The 15-second spot emphasizes that not all similarly rated movies are alike. For some parents, “crude humor” may be more objectionable than intense action; for others, the reverse applies. The new campaign is all about “helping parents make smarter decisions,” MPAA chairman and CEO Chris Dodd declared at CinemaCon. After all, “different families have different goals.”

Anything that lets parents make more informed decisions about the movies their children are seeing is good for families and good for the motion picture business. We applaud the MPAA’s renewed effort to communicate their findings to the moviegoing public.

Walmart Connects with Warner
Going to the movies today has changed drastically from the experience of only five years ago. The digital revolution is partially responsible. New technology permits more flexibility in programming movies and allows for alternative content. Attendees are skewing much older, lobbies of theatres are more digitally interactive, more people are booking online, and there have been major changes in cinema sound.

Digital advertising, onscreen advertising and promotions on the Internet are also a sign of the times and affect the moviegoing experience. One very unusual promotional partnership was announced recently between Walmart retailers and Warner Bros. Pictures: Customers at Walmart stores in the United States will be able to buy tickets to early screenings of Warner’s new Superman reboot, Man of Steel.

Warner Bros. is putting aside about one million tickets. The promotion is designed to help put bodies in seats the first week the movie opens. The studio is counting on extensive in-store advertising, along with lots of buzz on social media. Meanwhile, Walmart is hoping to get more shoppers coming to the world’s largest retailer.

In addition to creating a lot of energy at Walmart stores, the partnership creates tremendous exposure for the film. Walmart shoppers will be able to buy up to four tickets per visit, choosing between traditional and 3D viewing for a local screening on June 13 prior to the nationwide opening on June 14.

This is a great promotional idea for a studio: The cost is very low, but the upside potential for exposure is enormous. If you apply this to another scenario, it becomes a bit scary, however. What if a studio decides to do a sell-through at Walmart’s 3,718 stores and is able to sell 1,000 DVDs at each location? They’d see a potential one-day take of $100 million, certainly nothing to sneeze at. Let’s hope this scenario never sees the light of day.

Canada’s Movie Legacy
For the upcoming ShowCanada edition of Film Journal International, the editors took some time to ponder Canada’s contribution to motion picture history and to current attractions at the multiplex. What we discovered is that Canada’s role is enormous.

Did you know that one of the movie’s very first superstars was Canadian? That would be Mary Pickford, the beloved star of silent films whose heyday lasted from 1912 to 1929. Canada also brought us the first “king of comedy,” Mack Sennett, who created the famed Keystone Kops and produced Charlie Chaplin’s first comedy shorts. Walter Huston, patriarch of the family dynasty that includes his director son John, granddaughter Anjelica and grandson Jack, was born in Toronto.

Today, a Canadian rules the box office: James Cameron, director of the number one and number two highest-grossing films of all time, Avatar and Titanic. Canadians’ contribution to modern movie comedy is indispensable, numbering such box-office draws as Jim Carrey, Dan Aykroyd, Mike Myers, Seth Rogen and Michael J. Fox. And the land up north has also brought us some of our brightest young stars, including Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, Ryan Reynolds, Ellen Page and Michael Cera.

What would the movies be without the home of the maple leaf? O Canada, the film world owes you a big debt.