Which MPAA rating earns the most money?

3 February '14 2 Comments on Which MPAA rating earns the most money?

Last week I looked at the top 100 films for each of the past 20 years, and whether they were adaptations or original screenplays. That post sparked a flurry of follow-up questions, with many people wanting to know more stats about those 2,000 films. A common question was about film ratings.

MPAALast year I looked at the rating system in the UK (“Raters Gonna Rate“) so this post is exclusively about the American rating system. In America films are voluntarily rated by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), although few unrated films are released in major cinemas.

In summary:

  • 41% of releases are PG-13 but they make up 47% of the box office
  • In 1995 PG-13 films took 31% of the Box Office whereas by 2012 that figure had grown to 60%.
  • 95% of Dark Comedies and 80% of Horrors are rated R
  • As budgets rise, the ratings get milder
  • Almost all of the ‘Not Rated’ films were documentaries

PG-13 Rules

Almost half of all money handed over at the cinema box office is on films rated PG-13. NC-17 films made up just 0.1% of releases in the top 100 films of each year, and took just 0.02% of the box office gross.

The Rise of PG-13

In 1995 PG-13 films took 31% of the Box Office gross whereas by 2012 that figure had grown to 60%.


We can see that certain genres have an inherent audience in mind. for example, Adventure films are aimed at children and families, hence why two thirds are either ‘G or PG’. Whereas, the genre ‘Black Comedy’ suggests dark themes, leading to an almost universal ‘R’ rating.

Across all genres 1% were Not Rated, however almost all of these were documentaries.

Bigger budgets mean broader audiences

Four out of five films on my list have published budgets so I cross-checked budget range by MPAA ratings. Unsurprisingly, bigger films seek milder ratings in order to maximise the potential number of cinema-goers.

N.B. I took off NC-17 from this chart for readability. The only instance where NC-17 appeared was 0.3% of films budgets between $30 million and $50 million.


Once a film is rated by the MPAA they include a few words of guidance so cinema-goers and parents can know what to expect from the film. I took these notes and looked at the most common words.


To compile these statistics I built a list of the 100 highest-grossing films in America for each year between 1994 and 2013 inclusive. You can see the analysis of where the screenplays for these movies came from here.

Which MPAA rating earns the most money?



  1. The highest-grossing musical on this list — and one of very few R-rated musicals ever made — A Star Is Born somehow pulled in more than $215 million despite never being the top movie at the box office for any weekend of its run. Director Bradley Cooper and his co-star, Lady Gaga, combined for incredible chemistry in this story about a self-destructive musician and his protege. In addition to making serious cash, A Star Is Born was one of 2018 s most acclaimed movies, eventually winning an Oscar.

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