13 Going On 30: The Most Quintessential PG-13 Movies

(Universal Pictures)
Tuesday, July 01, 2014
Back in 1984, a young film director by the name of Steven Spielberg was having trouble finding a suitable rating for his latest blockbuster, "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom." The film was much more gruesome than your standard PG rated fare, but not nearly violent enough to justify an R rating. Spielberg was frustrated that no middle ground existed for flicks like "Temple of Doom," which inspired his and former MPAA President Jack Valenti's idea for a PG-13 rating. The rating was enacted on July 1st, 1984, and Hollywood has been thriving ever since.

Throughout the years, the PG-13 label has become synonymous with box office success, with nine out of ten highest grossing films of all time holding the label. For action flicks, it allows more daring stunts and scenes to be capture. For comedies, you can throw in a few more grotesque fart jokes and F-bombs without worry. And getting a drama to be PG-13 rated will give that built in audience that filmmakers are craving for. PG-13 is the Hollywood unifier, the middle ground where art and action intersect, and audiences are the ones to reap the benefit.

In honor of the rating going on 30 years strong, here are the best PG-13 movies of all time.

13. The Sixth Sense (1999)

His name has become a running joke by now, but director M. Night Shya malan's brooding and brilliant terror and psychological saga truly captured the world by storm in 1999. With one of the most memorable movie twists of the late 20th century, "The Sixth Sense" utilized its PG-13 rating to push the boundaries of creepy, nearly-trauamatic terror that could be shown on screen. Haley Joel Osment's character may see dead people, but "The Sixth Sense" was seeing nothing but dollars.

12. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)

The rowdy and often offensive sequel to "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" carried on the great PG-13 comedy tradition of sparking a huge debate whether the film should have been rated R or not. The nudity in the film wasn't really any that moviegoers would have wanted to see (unless Mike Myers wearing a 300 pound fat suit is your thing.) But "Powers" capitalized on its rating publicity, proving its risky double-entendres to be a box office home run. Yeah baby!

11. Philadelphia (1993)

As the AIDS epidemic was crippling the world in the late 80's and early 90's, Jonathan Demme's brilliant "Philadelphia" served as a summary of all the AIDS paranoia and homophobia that shrouded that time. Tom Hanks gave his first Oscar winning performance as wrongfully-terminated lawyer Andrew Beckett, and Denzel Washington gives a solid turn too as the reluctant and homophobic lawyer Joe Miller. "Philadelphia" was R-rated quality drama at a PG-13 price. It proved that you don't need excessive nudity or gory violence to win audiences, just a taut and masterful story of an important social issue will appeal to audiences, no matter what side of the 13 year old line they're on.

10. Inception (2010)

Audiences originally thought this Christopher Nolan flick was just his in-between Batman movies. But after diving a little further, we all learned that "Inception" was a moviegoers dream come true. Brilliant special effects and a thought-provoking premise that still raises discussions years after its release, "Inception" was the quintessential PG-13 movie of the new decade. Smart but still sexy, fun but still innovative, "Inception" was never going to get caught in box office limbo.

9. The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988)

The first essential PG-13 comedy, it's almost as if "The Naked Gun" interviewed 13 year olds directly to see what they found funny. Leslie Nielsen is brilliant as Frank Drebin, a hapless, oblivious detective tasked with saving Queen Elizabeth II from an assassination plot. "The Naked Gun" was farcical and its jokes were nearly eye-roll inducing. But hot damn if this comical police caper wasn't a hit with audiences.

8. Dances with Wolves (1990)

There was a saying in the late 80's/early 90's that if you get Kevin Costner to star in your movie, huge profits will come. But Costner's first directorial effort "Dances with Wolves" was both a commercial and critical hit, snatching a Best Picture win and Best Director Oscar for Costner. "Dances With Wolves" wasn't the first PG-13 movie to win the Academy's top prize (that honor goes to 1987's majestic but financially unsuccessful "The Last Emperor,") but it was the perfect message that PG-13 films could still be high quality and profitable hits, too.

7. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

"Pirates" is just one of those movies where it all came together. A memorable and funny protagonist. A mystical and enticing aquatic landscape. Lost treasure, forbidden love, cursed zombies. All benchmarks of a classic PG-13 blockbuster.

6. The Avengers (2012)

Critics were initially skeptical that having too many ego-centric heroes on screen at once may oversaturate the picture. But director Joss Whedon found perfect on-screen balance of his comic book characters, creating a clever and visually stunning film in the process. It's still up in the air whether "The Avengers: Age of Ultron" will deliver in 2015. But seeing how its predecessor did, we have no doubt that the Marvel movie factory will put out one hulk of a flick.

5. The Dark Knight (2008)

There was already a lot of hype in place for Christopher Nolan's highly anticipated sequel to "Batman Begins." But after the tragic passing of Heath Ledger in 2008, everyone was following "The Dark Knight's" signal to the cineplex. Harrowing and intelligent with top notch commentary on the George W. Bush presidency, "The Dark Knight" was the first true great comic book movie, proving that even graphic novel characters can display some real human emotional intensity on screen.

4. Million Dollar Baby (2004)

By the new millennium, Clint Eastwood had nearly completed his transition from iconic actor to masterful director, with his Oscar-winning "Unforgiven" and "Mystic River." But Clint's best directing venture was "Million Dollar Baby," a heartbreaking story of a young female boxer and her grouchy but determined trainer. You might think that this was an R rated flick just because of how high quality it is. But Eastwood proves that phenomenal cinema storytelling can exist in any rating.


3. Titanic (1997)

"Draw me like one of your French girls," is one of the most quoted lines from James Cameron's aquatic epic. But "Titanic" miraculously steered clear of a potential ratings windfall with that whole naked drawing scene. All the better for him and us, because "Titanic" would hold the title of highest grossing film for 12 years until the release of his blue alien saga "Avatar" in 2009. Whether you think it's a cinematic masterpiece or just a trite, overdrawn love story written on top of a true historical event, moviegoers have found they'll never let go of "Titanic."

2. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)

It's over three hours long, but audiences were willing to wait days just to get a glimpse of Peter Jackson's conclusion to his highly regarded "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. "Return of the King" upped the ante even further with more sweeping battles and New Zealand landscapes, culminating in easily the best installment of the franchise.

1. Jurassic Park (1993)

With "Temple of Doom" inspiring the PG-13 rating in the first place, it's only appropriate that Steven Spielberg's prehistoric FX extravaganza "Jurassic Park" take the cake for best PG-13 movie. It is quintessentially what you think of when the term PG-13 comes to mind: a T-Rex chomping a lawyer in half is too gruesome for PG, but still too lite fare for R. Intelligent enough for adults, but still action-packed enough for kids. It's a blockbuster of the highest order and a constant resurgence in many families movie nights.
The dinos were actually only on screen for a total of 15 minutes throughout the whole thing, but they've lived on in audiences' memory instead of becoming fossilized. Spielberg is the king of PG-13, and "Jurassic Park" is his rating's magnum opus.

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