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Ontario Film Authority

News & Resources

About the American System

Films and trailers are classified in the United States by the Rating Board of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), located in Los Angeles. This industry-sponsored Rating Board consists of 8 to 13 members who serve for varying periods of time. There are no special qualifications for Board membership except for having a shared parenthood experience, an intelligent maturity, and an ability to put themselves in the role of most American parents. The Board is funded through fees charged to producers and distributors for the ratings of their films.

The MPAA Rating Board members, like those of the Ontario Film Review Board, do not classify movies on personal judgements of quality. Their judgements are based on specific guidelines in areas including theme, violence, language, nudity, sexuality, drug use, and others. Like the OFRB, they consider the film in its entirety, and take context into account in classification decisions.

The first main area of difference between the Ontario classification system and the American is that the OFRB is a government body established by statute that requires distributors to submit their films for classification. In the United States, the rating system is a voluntary one that is administered by the movie industry through the MPAA.

Distributors belonging to the MPAA voluntarily agree to submit their films for review and classification, but those not belonging to the MPAA are free to distribute films without a classification. Theatre owners and film and video retailers are free to show, sell, or rent movies that are either classified or unclassified. Unlike Ontario, there is no legal requirement that films be classified prior to distribution or exhibition.

A second area of difference is with the Restricted classifications. In Ontario, no one under 18 years can attend the exhibition of a Restricted movie. In the U.S., while their NC-17 rating restricts admittance to persons 18 years or older, anyone under the age of 17 years can go into a Restricted movie as long as he or she is accompanied by an adult. This is similar to Ontario’s 18A classification.

A third area of difference is with the two appeal processes. In Ontario, appeals are handled by a panel of OFRB board members who have not previously seen the film in question. This appeal panel is the final arbiter. The appeal is requested by the film's distributor, orally or in writing, outlining why he or she is unsatisfied with the decision of the original panel. In the United States, appeals are decided by industry representatives who sit on the MPAA Ratings Appeal Board. This appeal board is the final arbiter of the rating of a particular film.