“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” was the highest grossing film of 2013, and rightly so. It’s a brilliant adaptation of a blockbuster novel and a great movie. But like its predecessor, “Catching Fire” found itself at the center of a controversy involving the broken MPAA ratings system.
Many found it ridiculous that “Philomena,” a violence-free film starring Judi Dench, was given an “R” rating because of two F-words, while “Catching Fire,” a film that is non-stop violence in its second half and features executions and torture in its first, was rated “PG-13.”
The official rating lists “intense sequences of violence and action” as the primary reason for its “PG-13” assignation, while “Philomena” (which appealed and was eventually given a PG-13), was rated “R” for “some strong language, thematic elements and sexual references.” While this does illustrate the bizarre way the MPAA assigns ratings, it made me wonder why the most celebrated Young Adult fiction from recent years is so adult.
I’m not arguing that teen readers need to be sheltered from violence, sexuality, or strong language. I found the Hunger Games books to be compelling reads that asked important questions (and resulted in some awesome movies). But it’s hard to argue that two films about teens murdering each other for the enjoyment of the masses — and that don’t shirk away from said slayings — don’t warrant an “R” rating.
The problem for film producers is that they’re marketing to young adults, and it doesn’t matter how popular an actor or series is, “R” ratings always reduce grosses. In the case of the Hunger Games, the books are just as violent as the movies, and it may be this intense violence that helped them become worldwide hits among all ages and demographics. Other successful young adult series with popular adaptations, like Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl, regularly blur the lines between young and just plain adult in both formats, engaging with increasingly mature themes in their younger, teenaged settings. So when does young adult fiction become adult fiction that just stars the young?
Blog post written by Lee Henry, one of our Associate Editors. Find him on Twitter.