The British Board of Film Classification was actually the world's first organization to establish a rating system for movies, more than a hundred years ago.

Changes were made to the rating system over the years, including adding a minimum age limit of 16 to some films.

1970-1982

These were the first changes made to the BBFC certificates after the Motion Picture Association of America established its own rating system.

  • U - Universal; suitable for children (equivalent to "G"). This was one of the two original ratings since the beginning of time.
    • All films classified as "U" are usually either rated G or PG by the MPAA.
  • A - Advisory; no children under 5 admitted, not recommended for children under 14 (similar to "PG")
    • Most films classified as "A" were usually rated GP/PG by the MPAA during these years.
    • The last G rated film classified as "A" was Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, when it was released on July 13, 1975.
    • Originally, the A rating meant that children must be accompanied by an adult.
  • AA - No children under 14 admitted (similar to "R")
    • Most films classified as "AA" were usually rated PG or R by the MPAA, except in the U.S., the minimum age limit is higher by three years.
  • - No one under 18 admitted (equivalent to "X")
    • Most films classified as "X" were usually rated R by the MPAA.
    • The last PG rated American film classified as "X" in the UK was Harlequin, which was released in 1979.

1982-1989

Two years before the PG-13 rating was introduced in the United States, the British film certificates were revised.

  • - Universal; suitable for all
    • Some to most "U" films may recommend caution if viewed by young children. Equivalent to the U.S. "G" rating.
  • PG - Parental Guidance; some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
    • Equivalent to the MPAA's PG rating, and from 1984 to 1994, also similar to the PG-13 rating, until the BBFC introduced their "12" rating.
    • Most films originally rated "A" were given this rating.
    • Tootsie was one of the first films classified "PG" in the UK when it was released on April 28, 1983.
    • Dune was the first PG-13 rated film classified "PG" in the UK when it was released on December 14, 1984.
    • Films rated "PG" are mainly targeted at older children and teenagers. Movies that are not recommended for young children and caution is used if viewed by older children, are normally never rated any higher than PG.
  • 15 - No children under 15 admitted
    • Similar to the U.S. "R" rating, except those aged 15 and 16 being accompanied by a parent or adult guardian is now optional, but anyone under 15 will not be admitted whatsoever.
    • Most films originally rated "AA" were given this rating, while a few others were rated PG.
    • Red Dawn, America's first PG-13 rated film ever, was classified as "15" when it was released in 1984.
    • Films rated "15" are usually intended for adults and therefore not recommended for children of any age, including teenagers, but admittance is still open to anyone at least 15 years old.
    • My Science Project (1985) was the Walt Disney Company's first film to get this rating. However, it is only rated PG in the U.S. In addition, any PG-13 rated films released in the 1980s from Touchstone Pictures all got this rating.
  • 18 - No one under 18 admitted
    • Equivalent to the U.S. "NC-17" rating, despite the fact that most films classified as "18" are actually rated R.
    • Some films originally rated "X" were given this rating, while others were rated "15".
    • Ruthless People (1986) was the Walt Disney Company's first film to (originally) get this rating. It then got re-rated "15" in 2002.
    • The last known PG-13 rated film classified "18" in the UK is The Quest, which was released in 1996.
    • The very first NC-17 rated film, Henry & June, which was also released in 1990, was classified as "18".

1989-2002

  • 12 - No children under 12 admitted
    • The first film given this rating was Batman. It was then re-classified "15" when released on VHS in 1990, like most other films.
    • Memphis Belle (1990) was the first film edited for a PG rating for home video release in 1991.
    • Flirting (1991) was the first R rated film given a "12" rating before it was re-classified "15" for home video.
    • The average "12"-rated film is normally not recommended for children (under 13) and caution is used if viewed by teenagers. Of course, since caution is used while being viewed by all teenagers, that means the whole age group would have to be allowed admittance to seeing the film.

The "12" rating was introduced in August 1989. However, it wasn't introduced yet on home video. Thus, most films rated "12" in cinemas were often re-rated "15" when released on video, although the PG-13 rating was more of a second equivalent to the BBFC's PG rating back then. The "12" rating eventually debuted on video in July 1994.

Films released before 1994 that were rated PG in the UK and PG-13 in the U.S. included Mr. Destiny (1990), Edward Scissorhands (1990), The Man in the Moon (1991) and Jurassic Park (1993).

2002-present

As of 2002, the rating system is as follows:

BBFC U.gif Universal - Suitable for all.
BBFC PG.gif Parental Guideance - Some scenes may be unsuitable for young children.
BBFC 12A.gif 12 Advisory - Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult. Only used in cinema releases.
BBFC 12.gif 12 - Not for rental or sale to children under 12. Only used in home video releases.
BBFC 15.gif 15 - No one under 15 can view the film.
BBFC 18.gif 18 - No one under 18 can view the film.

Like in many other countries, classification ratings are determined by the following:

  • Theme
  • Nudity/Sex
  • Violence
  • Language
  • Horror
  • Drugs
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