The BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) rating system is a classification system used to help parents make choices about what their children can watch.
It has been in use since 1912 and was adopted by the UK cinemas in 1922. It is used by most cinemas, broadcasters, and video game retailers in the UK, as well as viewers around the world.
What Is The BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) Ratings System?
The ratings are designed to give parents an idea of whether a film or video game is suitable for children of different ages.
The BBFC also provides advice for parents about how to respond to content that may be unsuitable for younger children.
The Current British Film Certificates
Let’s look at the current British Film Certificates:
Uc BBFC Rating
The Uc BBFC rating is an official age rating category assigned to films by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) in the United Kingdom.
It was introduced in 1999 to provide a uniform rating system for all films that are released in the UK. Before this, only films rated by the BBFC could be released on video.
The new scheme allowed films that had not been classified by the BBFC to get a Uc rating, which means “Universal” or “unclassified”.
The Uc rating is given when a film has not been submitted for a rating by its distributor, for example because it contains no explicit sex or violence.
U BBFC Rating
The BBFC U rating is intended for everyone ages 3 years old and above. This means that all content within this category is suitable for universal viewing by any member of the public.
PG BBFC Rating
PG – Parental Guidance Suggested – The film or programme may contain mild bad language or references to sex or drug use; however there are no detailed descriptions of these things that would scare young children.
12 BBFC Rating
Films with a 12 rating may have some mild violence, sex or drug use and will be suitable for young teenagers.
12A BBFC Rating
12A films are suitable for children aged 12 and over, but not younger. To watch a 12A film, you must be accompanied by an adult aged 18 or over.
15 BBFC Rating
15 is a rating given to films that are considered to be unsuitable for viewing by persons below the age of 15 years.
The 15 certificate is used for moderate horror, drug use, bad language, violence, and sex references.
18 BBFC Rating
This is the rating given to a film that contains material unsuitable for viewing by people under the age of 18.
These films may contain one or more of the following:
- Sexually explicit, crude, or abusive language,
- Violence and/or horror,
- Drug misuse, smoking, and drinking
R18 BBFC Rating
This is a rating specifically designed for pornographic material that can only be sold in licensed sex shops.
History Of British Film Certificates
Classifications currently in use are Uc, U, PG, 12, 12A, 15, 18 and R18, but quite a few more have been featured on film posters throughout the last century. In chronological order, this is a complete list of official BBFC classifications:
U (1912-present) – This stood for ‘Universal’ and denoted that a film was suitable for everyone.
A (1912-1982) – This stood for ‘Adult’, and denoted that the film might contain material unsuitable for children. From 1923 to 1970 children were required to be accompanied by adults. The A certificate was replaced by the PG certificate in 1982.
H (1932-1951) – This stood for ‘Horror’, and was largely restricted to that genre. It was advisory, but many local authorities used it as an excuse to ban children under sixteen. It was replaced by the X certificate in 1951.
X (1951-1982) – This was the first BBFC certificate that explicitly excluded people under a certain age limit, in this case sixteen. The limit was raised to eighteen in 1970, and the X certificate was replaced by the 18 certificate in 1982.
AA (1970-1982) – This excluded people under the age of fourteen. It was replaced by the 15 certificate in 1982.
PG (1982-present) – Replacing the old A certificate, this stood for ‘Parental Guidance’. Although anyone could be admitted, PG certificate films contained an implicit warning that the film might contain material unsuitable for children.
15 (1982-present) – This replaced the old AA certificate, raising the age limit to 15 in the process.
18 (1982-present) – This replaced the old X certificate, barring people under eighteen.
R18 (1982-present) – This classification was exclusively intended for videos that could only be sold in licensed sex shops.
Uc (1985-present) – This denotes video releases deemed particularly suitable for pre-school children.
12 (1989-present) – Introduced for cinema films in 1989 and video releases in 1994, this covers films that, while containing material deemed unsuitable for children, were nonetheless considered appropriate for 12-year-olds and upwards.
12A (2002-present) – Introduced for cinema films, this replaced the theatrical 12 certificate and permitted children under twelve to see the films provided they were accompanied by a responsible adult.
What Is Classification By The BBFC?
The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) is an independent, private, not-for-profit body whose primary responsibility is to classify films and videos under the Video Recordings Act 1984.
The BBFC was established in 1912 by film companies who wanted to introduce uniformity into the industry.
It was set up in response to public concern about sex, violence and horror in films.
The BBFC has always been a voluntary system of self regulation that has relied upon the support of government, producers, distributors and retailers throughout its history.
The majority of cinemas have always chosen to admit only those films which have been passed by the BBFC.
The BBFC’s aim is to help protect children from inappropriate material, but it also considers issues such as potential harm or offence caused by:
- bad language,
- encouragement of drug misuse, and
- discrimination against any section of society.
The BBFC Classification Process
The BBFC classifies all content released in UK cinemas, DVDs, Blu-rays, and video on demand services.
The Board also helps to classify content for the cinema release in Northern Ireland, as well as for DVD/Blu-ray release in both countries.
When a studio wants to release a film in cinemas or on DVD/Blu-ray, they send a copy of the film to the BBFC along with information about its content and how it should be classified.
The BBFC watches the film and decides whether it’s suitable for children of different ages and gives it an age rating (PG, 12A, etc.).
The BBFC then works with the filmmakers to make sure they understand the decisions and advice if necessary.
Once they’ve reached agreement on the final cut of the film and its rating, they then decide whether any changes need to be made before it is released into cinemas or onto DVD/Blu-ray in the UK. This process is known as ‘cuts’ or ‘cuts advice’.
BBFC Controversies Over The Years
The BBFC has been controversial since its inception. The main issue has always been the use of censorship to control what people can and cannot see.
There have been times when this has been a necessary evil, such as during World War II when Britain was under attack from Nazi Germany.
In more recent years, however, the BBFC has started to become more lenient with its censorship policy.
This has led to some controversy in itself. Here are some of the most controversial moments in the history of BBFC censoring.
The Horror Years
In 1936, the BBFC passed The Bride of Frankenstein uncut at U certificate (suitable for children). It also passed Dracula (1931) uncut at U certificate.
It was only in 1938 that they decided to ban horror films altogether due to their concerns over their effects on children’s minds.
This ban lasted until 1954 when they passed Dracula (1958) at AA (suitable only for adults). The first horror film they passed after this was The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957) at A level (suitable only for adults).
They got back into horror films in 1965 with the release of Hammer’s Curse Of The Werewolf, which was given an X certificate
Over the years, the organization has been criticized for its approach to certain films, with censors often coming under fire for their decisions on what is suitable viewing for audiences.
Here are some of the most controversial cases:
- The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009) – 18 certificate
- The Human Centipede II (2011) – 18 certificate
- I Spit On Your Grave 2 (2013) – passed uncut at 18
In its early years it was criticized for being too conservative and refusing to allow films like Battleship Potemkin, The Battleship Potemkin, which contained scenes of rioting, to be shown in Britain.
In 1981 the BBFC caused controversy by issuing a certificate for The Evil Dead (1981), which contained graphic violence including some scenes where characters are graphically dismembered with a chainsaw which weren’t included in the original version submitted for classification.
The following year Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) was released with one scene removed after it had already been screened at cinemas.
In 1999 the film version of South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut caused uproar when it was originally given an 18 certificate before being reduced to 15 on appeal by distributors Universal Pictures UK Ltd.
It had a monopoly on film censorship until the 1980s when it began to lose some of this power after growing complaints about what some saw as overly harsh decisions over the years regarding certain films such as Freaks (1932) and Last House on the Left (1972).
BBFC Responsibilities and Powers
The BBFC has two main responsibilities:
1. To classify films and video works, and decide what age rating they should receive.
2. To advise on any questions of taste and decency that may be raised by the public.
The BBFC also has certain powers to ensure compliance with the law, including:
1. The power to issue public warnings about potentially harmful content (for example, under-age sex or violence).
2. The power to require cuts for theatrical release or for video works in order to achieve a given classification category or age rating.
1. BBFC and Editing
Films are given a classification by examining the content of a film and giving it a rating that suits the audience. This can be anything from U (suitable for all ages) to 18 (not suitable for anyone under 18).
The BBFC uses the following guidelines when classifying films:
Sex and Nudity
There are no specific rules about sex or nudity in films, but if there is strong sex or nudity then we will usually advise that you cut these scenes before submitting your film for certification.
The rule of thumb is whether a scene passes the ‘test’ – does it show something that would be acceptable on television? If so, then it probably should not be cut from your film. However,
The BBFC does not expect any film to pass this test – it is there as guidance only.
There are no specific rules about violence in films, but if there is strong violence then we will usually advise that you cut these scenes before submitting your film for certification.
Again, the rule of thumb is whether a scene passes the ‘test’ – does it show something that would be acceptable on television? If so, then it probably
2. BBFC and Cinema
The BBFC has a legal duty to classify every film shown in cinemas in Britain..
The BBFC’s main concerns are:
1. Whether the work is harmful to adults or children
2. Whether it contains potentially offensive language
3. Whether it contains sex and violence that might be unsuitable for children
The classification certificate issued by the BBFC is seen as a mark of quality by the public, so we work hard to ensure that our decisions are fair, consistent and transparent.
3. BBFC and Video releases
The BBFC are responsible for classifying videos and DVDs in the UK.
As with cinema releases, they provide information about the different types of film classification, as well as guidance on how to get your own film or video classified.
4. BBFC and Video games
The BBFC is also the UK’s independent video game ratings body. They apply their published classification Guidelines to video games; we don’t classify them.
The BBFC is regulated by Ofcom under the Broadcasting Act 1996 and the Video Recordings Act 1984 – the same legislation that regulates television and radio broadcasts in the UK.
Video games have been rated by the BBFC since 1994.
5. BBFC and Mobile operators
The UK’s BBFC has been working with mobile operators to help them develop age verification solutions that comply with the Digital Economy Act.
The BBFC has a role in helping mobile operators develop and implement age verification solutions for their customers.
This is because the UK’s new Digital Economy Act requires ISPs and mobile operators to block access to pornographic websites that fail to use robust age verification.
The BBFC has issued guidance on how they can achieve this while ensuring that children are not denied access to legitimate sites.
The BBFC can only advise on technical solutions and cannot be held responsible or liable for any content or services provided by third parties, including mobile operators who choose to use our advice in their own systems.
6. BBFC and Websites
The BBFC is an independent body and they have no control over the content of websites.
However, they do work closely with a number of other bodies who share concerns about protecting children from inappropriate material online.
They strongly encourage any website that hosts adult content to use age verification so that people are not able to access it without first verifying their age.
This means that if you are under 18, you will be blocked from accessing the website in question.
BBFC Attitudes To Censorship
The BBFC’s main role is to issue age ratings that help parents make informed decisions about what their children can see at the cinema or on DVD/Blu-ray.
They also provide advice to adults about what they can watch.
Their work has led to significant changes in public attitudes towards censorship, as well as influenced international developments in film classification systems.
The BBFC was instrumental in securing the first ever cinema censorship legislation in Britain – the Cinematograph Act 1909 – which introduced a system of licensing cinemas and regulating their content.
The BBFC will classify films that show images that are considered inappropriate for children and young people, including those that show:
- violence to human beings or animals,
- sexual violence,
- sexual activity involving non-consensual acts (including rape),
- injury or death caused by weapons (including guns, knives, and other sharp instruments),
- the infliction of pain or torture,
- drug misuse,
- scenes that might encourage an interest in illegal drugs and their effects,
- the use of tobacco products,
- graphic depictions of self-harm, and/or
- strong language.
Relaxation Of The BBFC
There has been considerable relaxation since 1999. The relaxation of guidelines has also made pornography widely available to adult audiences through the R18 rating.
There are also examples of films with stronger sexual content, some including real images of sexual intercourse, being approved at ’18’ level.
Modern examples include the passing of Irreversible, 9 Songs, Antichrist, and numerous other films uncut for cinema and video viewing.
Despite this trend towards liberalization, anti-censorship campaigners are still critical of the BBFC.
It has attracted criticism from conservative press, in particular the Daily Mail, on the grounds that the release of sexually explicit and violent films was corrupting the nation.
The newspaper’s most famous clash with the BBFC came in 1997 when the board released the David Cronenberg film Crash without cuts.
The following day, the Daily Mail led with the banner headline “Censor’s Yes To Depraved Sex Film.”
What Is British Board of Film Classification Ratings System – Wrapping Up
As we’ve covered, the British Board of Film Classification, or BBFC for short, is a non-profit organization that classifies films in the UK.
The BBFC was established in 1912 by the film industry and has been operating ever since.
The BBFC’s main purpose is to classify films based on their suitability for different age groups. They also advise on any law changes or new regulations regarding film classification.
The BBFC also provide information to help parents make informed decisions about what they can watch at home with their children.
1. To classify films and videos under the Video Recordings Act 1984 and the Cinematograph Act 1909, which specify a minimum age for viewing.
2. To advise on public performances of cinema and videos to ensure that they do not include any material likely to harm young or impressionable viewers.
3. To provide advice on the suitability of certifying films for a classification that can be used as a defense against prosecution under legislation governing the possession of obscene materials.
We hope you’ve found this guide to the BBFC useful. Let us know if you have any questions in the comments section below the article.