General questions about the BBFC and film ratings
How can a performance awarded a 12A As Live certificate, later be classified at a higher category for further screenings at the cinema or for DVD/Blu-ray?
Why do you show BBFCinsight on the black card before a film begins when it can sometimes contain spoilers?
How are BBFC standards for adult sex works and R18 works used in the regulation of pornography available online?
WARNING some of the issues discussed here may not be suitable for website visitors under the age of 18.
Schools and Education
There's loads of information for schools, students and those interested in media studies and film history in our Education section.
Questions about Examiners
Questions about the 12A rating
General questions about the BBFC and film ratings
Films for cinema release are normally rated by at least two Examiners using the BBFC’s published Guidelines. In most cases the decision is ratified by a Senior Examiner, but if the Examiners are in any doubt or a film sits right on the border between two categories, or if important policy issues are involved, the work may be seen by other members of the BBFC up to, and including, the Chief Executive and Presidential team.
Occasionally we need specialist advice about the legal acceptability of film content or its potential for harm.
DVDs are normally seen by one Examiner, particularly when they are viewing the DVD version of a cinema film which has already been age rated. However, opinions from other Examiners may be required for more difficult works.
Examiners look at issues such as discrimination, drugs, horror, imitable behaviour, language, nudity, sex, sexual violence, theme and violence when making decisions. They also consider context, the tone and impact of a work (how it makes the audience feel) and even the release format (for example, as DVDs, Blu-rays and videos for download are watched in the home, there is a higher risk of under-age viewing).
The BBFC is an independent body which was originally established by the film industry in 1912. Local Authorities were made responsible for what was shown in cinemas and from early on accepted the decisions of the BBFC. There are obvious benefits to both Local Authorities and the film industry in having a central but independent body bring consistency to the age rating process and accept responsibility for decisions.
Local Authorities remain legally responsible for what is shown in cinemas under the Licensing Act 2003 and can still overrule the decisions of the BBFC. This does not happen very often. Local Authorities add an important element of local democracy into the classification process.
In 1985 the BBFC became the statutory authority for age rating videos under the Video Recordings Act 1984.
We welcome all feedback, whether it’s positive or negative. Please let us have your views by email or in writing to: Chief Executive’s Office at 3 Soho Square, London W1D 3HD. You can also tweet to us at @BBFC.
We endeavour to reply to all enquiries.
The Video Recordings Act 1984 (VRA) makes it illegal to supply any video or DVD within the UK which has not been age rated by the BBFC. There are some exceptions to this (for example, educational works or works predominantly concerned with sport, religion and music) but all feature films and TV programmes must be age rated.
Although it is not a customs offence to import an unclassified video or DVD it must be for your personal use only and the content must not breach the UK law (for example, The Obscene Publications Acts 1959 and 1964, Protection of Children Act 1978).
You may therefore purchase unclassified videos or DVDs whilst abroad, provided they contain no illegal material and are solely for personal use.
The U age rating is given to films and DVDs that are likely to be suitable for anyone over the age of four years old. The Uc category no longer exists.
The Uc category was a special age rating for DVD, and signalled that content was especially suitable for pre-school children in terms of story, content and presentation.
Older DVDs may still carry a Uc symbol. There should be nothing in a Uc video or DVD to upset the youngest children, although it is always important to remember that the very young are sometimes unpredictable is the way they react to what they see on the screen, and that parents or carers should always be at hand.
All works that are particularly suitable for pre-school children are now classified U. They carry BBFCinsight which explains they are appropriate for that very young audience. The standard BBFCinsight for these DVDs reads ‘Particularly suitable for pre-school children’.
You can find more details of what might be featured in a U work here.
We publish details of classified works on our website and via our twitter feed. You can see a list of recent decisions here. Please note that works can sometimes be sent to us only a few days before release so details may only appear on our website shortly before a film is released in either the cinema or a DVD in the shops.
Rarely, films and DVDs are not classified by us. This sometimes applies to cinema films that feature in film festivals or similar events. The local council where the event is being held is legally allowed to give permission for the film to be shown without a rating.
In the case of DVDs, distributors are able to claim exemption for works which are designed to inform, educate or instruct and/or are concerned with sport, religion or music. Please see the next question for further details.
The E symbol on video packaging indicates that the distributor believes the work to be exempt from a BBFC age rating. Under the Video Recordings Act 1984, a video is an exempted work if it is designed to inform, educate or instruct or is concerned with sport, religion or music. However, if such a work depicts certain content, for example human sexual activity or gross violence to any significant extent it will need a BBFC age rating.
The E symbol is not an official symbol and does not have any legal standing. Nor is it a requirement that it should appear on video cassettes, unlike the BBFC age rating symbols.
The BBFC does not examine exempted works and does not decide whether or not a work is exempt.
Many are. Although streaming and downloading of films is not yet regulated by law, working with the major video distributors and platforms, we have developed a scheme for platforms offering downloads and streaming video to use BBFC age ratings and BBFCinsight. This is designed to help you make informed decisions about what you and your family watch.
You’ll find some top tips and information for ensuring cyber safety at home, and details of how to report anything you find that looks suspicious, at The Industry Trust's website. You can also visit the Childnet UK website for more advice.
Trailers are age rated as an individual title in its own right. Often we rate a trailer months before the film it's advertising has arrived at the BBFC or been rated, sometimes even before the film has been finished. Examiners note the different issues (for example, sex, violence, language) and the theme and tone of the trailer before making a recommendation.
Age rating decisions may be more restrictive with regard to trailers and advertisements. This is because difficult content in such short works may have a greater impact on an unprepared audience.
A film trailer or advertisement can be shown alongside a feature film as long as it has not been rated higher than the age rating given to that feature. This is still the case if the film trailer is for a feature which has received a rating higher than the film it is being shown alongside.
If you believe a trailer has been wrongly shown before a cinema feature, please contact the cinema manager.
Please contact the individual cinema who will be able to advise you on their admission policy.
The BBFC is committed to a policy of equality. So scenes and sex references are afforded the same treatment whatever the sexual orientation of those taking part. So whether sex involves heterosexual or homosexual individuals, the same age rating standards are applied.
The BBFC Chief Executive and the BBFC President's signatures are seen on the certificate which is projected before a film. This is an official document and each card is unique, carrying the film's registration number and the age rating it has been given.
Films are often rated several times by the BBFC in different versions - 2D, 3D, IMAX etc. Older films may have also been rated many times over the years.
A search for a title on the BBFC website will return a page that gives an overview of the film and it's current classification. The individual rating decisions for each version of the film submitted to the BBFC are collated under "Related works". As cuts will often only apply to a specific release of a title, the details of any cuts are available for each decision under "Related works".
However, where a film is known to have at least one decision with cuts information, the summary page will display the following text at the top of the page.
CUT VERSIONS One or more versions of this work have been cut. Cuts are detailed for each respective version found under "Related works".
From 30 July 2012, and with a few exceptions, the responsibility for age rating video games falls to the Video Standards Council (VSC), applying the PEGI system. The BBFC will continue to age rate all games featuring strong pornographic (R18-level) content and ancillary games attached to a wider, primarily linear submission.
The BBFC will also continue to age rate all non-game linear content on a game disc, such as trailers and featurettes.
Video games eligible for age rating by the BBFC are considered under the same Guidelines as films or DVDs.
Film summaries or synopses are provided alongside art work and trailers by MyMovies and do not represent the views of the BBFC. These film summaries are used to ensure BBFC film summaries do not reveal additional information not included in the wider marketing of the film. Where the BBFC might need to include spoilers, for example as part of the BBFCinsight for a film, this is clearly marked with 'The following text may contain spoilers'.
We reviewed BBFCinsight as part of the Guidelines Consultation carried out during 2013. Short BBFCinsight is helpful to parents, but has a limited number of characters. To allow us to include more detail we decided to cease using the word 'contains'.
'As Live' events include content other than traditional cinema films such as stage or sporting events which are projected in cinemas. The As Live certificate is a temporary certificate for content we haven't examined and is valid for 7 days after the live performance only. The As Live rating is awarded based upon information provided by the company organising the event, including details of any restrictions applying to children attending the live event, ie children under [x years] not admitted. If a recording of the same performance is then submitted for classification, it may receive a higher or lower classification when it is examined.
Ever since we began offering BBFCinsight, we have sought to achieve a balance between giving consumers the information they need to make informed viewing decisions and avoiding giving away plot spoilers. By and large, we have achieved this. However, the issue of spoilers has arisen on occasion since 2013 when we began publishing short form BBFCinsight on the black card immediately prior to the screening of a film. Before that, it wasn't really a problem. Even now, it is only rarely that people seem to be unhappy with BBFCinsight being published on black cards immediately prior to a film.
We have some sympathy with these complaints and we have successfully tested a method for addressing them in a pragmatic way, without compromising the need to inform the public about a film’s content. Following our six month trial, we will continue to implement a new policy for short form BBFCinsight, whereby we make a judgement as to whether short form BBFCinsight really does have to include a potential plot spoiler and if it must, consider whether it can be withheld from the black card immediately prior to the film. The short BBFCinsight will remain available on the BBFC website and app.
How are BBFC standards for adult sex works and R18 works used in the regulation of pornography available online? WARNING some of the issues discussed here may not be suitable for website visitors under the age of 18.
On 1 December 2014, the Communications Act 2003 was amended. The regulation of R18 pornographic content available on demand in the UK will henceforth be subject to the same standards as those applied to pornography on DVD by the British Board of Film Classification.
The Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014 amended the Communications Act 2003 setting out statutory obligations for media distributors of on-demand content. These changes are designed to bring online services that provide R18 works into line with standards set for DVDs/videos under the Video Recordings Act 1984, and to ensure that such material is made available in a manner which means people under the age of 18 will not normally see or hear it. The R18 category is a special and legally-restricted classification primarily for explicit works of consenting sex, or strong fetish material involving adults.
While some non-pornographic films may contain material which raises issues comparable with those which might be found in sex works, and which may also be subject to cuts - such as scenes of sexual violence - there is no direct cross over between the standards for sex works and those applied to non-pornographic films.
Underpinning the BBFC Guidelines is a specific requirement of the Video Recordings Act to have special regard to any harm that may be caused to potential viewers, or, through their behaviour, to society. This means that, before classifying a work, the BBFC may cut certain acts in pornographic works where imitation or the influencing of attitudes is a particular concern. Breath restriction is one such example. It would be wrong to assume that the BBFC consequently cuts all sight of people sitting across other people’s faces. But the BBFC will cut sight of clear and deliberate restriction of a person’s ability to breathe during sexual play. Breath restriction for the purposes of sexual enjoyment can result in death. Given such a clear and well documented risk of harm, passing such breath play in a sex work would be contrary to the BBFC’s designated responsibility.
The BBFC also intervenes where material risks prosecution under UK law. This includes prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act 1959. Indeed, the BBFC’s designation under the Video Recordings Act requires that it not pass any content in breach of UK law. We regularly consult both the Crown Prosecution Service and the Metropolitan Police to understand and keep up to date with the types of content which are subject to prosecution and conviction. Consequently, we may not classify any material which may be subject to prosecution. Among other activities, this includes any repeated focus on urination during sex and urination over any other person, including any act which cannot be distinguished from urination on the basis of the onscreen evidence alone.
It has recently been suggested that the introduction of the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations will lead to several acts now being banned from UK on-demand services, including spanking and verbal abuse. Much of this information is inaccurate, some of it is wrong. In judging material which may or may not be allowed under BBFC Guidelines it is often unhelpful to speak hypothetically and in generalisations when specifics of context and potential harm in a given situation are among the considerations which really matter. The Audiovisual Media Services Regulations will ensure that UK on-demand content is consistent with legally available pornography off-line, benefiting from the application of UK law and the expert legal and medical advice which informs BBFC decisions.
Schools and Education
There's loads of information for schools, students and those interested in media studies and film history in our Education section.
Yes. We frequently give talks to adult groups explaining how we age rate films and what resources are available to parents, teachers and other carers. Talks are illustrated with clips from films and can be tailored to specific topics to suit your wishes, for example issues in children's films or violence in movies. Please contact us for more details.
The age rating decision indicates that the DVD contains material that we believe is unsuitable for children younger than the age specified. Many schools have their own policies about what age rated materials teachers are allowed to show in class.
However, there are some cases where a school might plan to show the DVD or Blu-ray of a film in a specific educational context where it is properly discussed, presented and mediated by a teaching professional. For example, some AS and A2 Media or Film Studies exam syllabuses include 18 rated films.
We recommend that teachers seek parental consent before showing such material prior to showing it, obtain approval of the Head Teacher and Governors and monitor the reactions of pupils to ensure they are able to understand the material in this particular context.
The Video Recordings Act (VRA) defines the supply of DVDs as ‘supply in any manner, whether or not for reward, and therefore, includes supply by way of sale, letting on hire, exchange or loan’ [Section 1(4)]. It is therefore clear that hiring out video works in a library is covered by the Act. There is no concession to ‘educational’ communities such as schools.
Whenever possible we will attempt to accommodate requests for interviews with Examiners. We ask that you use our website first to make sure the information you seek isn’t already available, for example in our podcasts, case studies or education section. We also ask that you have a clear list of questions in advance.
Examiners can usually do interviews by email. Occasionally it is possible to record or film an interview with an examiner or a member of the education team, again we ask you to come fully prepared and to recognise that BBFC staff are professionals with a job to do and that the BBFC offices are a place of work. It is important to make sure you are punctual and prepared, your technical equipment is ready to use and that you have your questions formulated.
Please submit questions before the interview to give Examiners time to prepare answers. Examiners are keen to answer questions about works and about the process and history of age ratingss. Occasionally students send their essay questions to us. The BBFC will not write assignments for students. To request an interview with an Examiner please contact us.
There is a great deal of information available on this site in our Education Resources section and several podcasts in which Examiners and other members of staff discuss age ratings in depth. It is also worth checking our video conferencing page.
The BBFC website has an education section designed and maintained by its education team. You’ll find guides for students and teachers, Case Studies on famous films, news articles and other materials. We have a dedicated website for younger children, CBBFC.
Yes. The BBFC has over 60,000 historic records of classification decisions made since 1 January 1913. Early films are noted in Film Registers and paper files date from around the late 1950s onwards. We make files for works over twenty years old available for research purposes.
If you would like to view any of the BBFC’s records you can apply to do so here. Please include a list of the film titles you would like to research and their release dates.
Questions about Examiners
Examiners come from a wide variety of backgrounds. They tend to be graduates but this is not always the case. To be an Examiner, you do not need specific qualifications, however experience in relevant areas such as media regulation, law and child development is important. A broad knowledge of film is required, as well as an ability to grasp age rating issues such as violence, imitable behaviour, sexual portrayal and drugs.
The current examining team includes academics, journalists, researchers, media and marketing professionals and several people who have worked in film and television. Like most BBFC employees, they have a strong knowledge of contemporary and historical film and a passion for the film and video industries.
Recruitment is through advertisement in the national press as well as our vacancies page.
The job of an examiner is a full-time post. We receive months of intensive in-house training before we start as proper examiners. Some examining duties are carried out by Compliance Officers, who also work on a range of tasks to support the BBFC's voluntary, best practice regulation of online video content, including data handling tasks.
Examiners view material and write reports and BBFCinsight for up to 7 hours a day, but there is not really a typical day as what we watch completely depends on what is submitted by distributors. Our work is allocated randomly so we could be viewing anything from the latest blockbuster to episodes of 1960s or 1970s TV series due for DVD release on an online platform.
Once we have finished watching the day’s viewing we will discuss the age rating, re-watch contentious moments, read up on similar works and write reports explaining how and why we made our age-rating recommendations. We will also write BBFCinsight, a concise line of information which gives the public a clear idea of the reason a work has received a particular rating. For cinema films BBFCinsight is also written with a longer explanation of the decision, and published on the BBFC website and on our free App, available for iPhone and Android devices.
That depends on the material. Cinema films, video games, contentious works and some adult material is viewed in pairs - all other works are viewed alone. However, many works are viewed more than once internally, with additional teams or more senior members of staff viewing works before a decision is reached. For example some controversial material that requires a second viewing might be seen by three Examiners and representatives of senior management and the policy department.
Usually a team will agree on the age rating because we base all our age rating decisions on the BBFC’s Guidelines, but if we do not, the work is sent to another examining team. If they still disagree, works are brought to the weekly examining meeting for further discussion or sent to the BBFC’s Chief Executive or Presidential team. Really contentious works, like former 'Video Nasties', or cinema releases right on the border between two age ratings and likely to provoke comment, will often be seen again even if the first team agrees a decision.
All individual Examiners have things they find difficult to watch, and this can be affected by a huge number of variables such as what is happening in an Examiner's personal life, or even what he or she has watched earlier that day or that week. Some of the strongest material we watch is what we call 'extreme reality' products, which are works that show things like real life death, injury or torture.
Yes. Pornography accounts for less than 10 per cent of what Examiners watch, but it can be challenging, particularly when it is aggressive, violent or abusive. The BBFC is very strict with material that is in contravention of the law so we cut elements like references to underage and abusive sex; depictions of abusive or illegal content such as material which is likely to be prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act 1959.
The BBFC receives submissions in many different languages, from Afghan Pashtu to Yoruba. When a film or DVD is received in a language that is not spoken by one of the Examiners, we use outside interpreters to help us. However, because of the high number of submissions in certain languages, the BBFC attempts to maintain a reasonable level of linguistic skills in-house, mostly French, German and some Asian languages, such as Hindi, Urdu, Cantonese and Mandarin.
In the case of South Asian films (which, in 2008, constituted approximately 20 per cent of our film submissions), the BBFC tries to meet the specific sensibilities of South Asian audiences by ensuring that every Bollywood film age rated is seen by at least one Examiner with a thorough understanding of South Asian culture and cinema. This is to achieve, not merely language interpretation, but also to assess receptivity of the audiences the film is intended for. Additionally, all Examiners are trained in the history and issues specific to South Asian cinema.
Yes! Naturally there are days when an Examiner or any other employees at the BBFC who watch films all the time do not fancy it, but most people still love going to the cinema and watching DVDs. It is the best way of keeping up to date with recent decisions and audience responses to films.
My enjoyment of a 12A film was spoiled by very young children in the cinema. Who should I complain to?
Please contact the cinema itself. Cinema managers have the power to refuse entry to anyone whom they reasonably consider to be disruptive and we would strongly recommend that anyone whose enjoyment of a film is spoiled by noisy or disruptive young children should make their views known to cinema managers or staff.
Usually the main reason for the difference is the other content of the DVD extras, or because they contain additional footage, added to the film itself. Occasionally, if there is a specific harm risk, we will give a higher rating to a DVD because of the greater likelihood of underage viewing in the home.
Why is there no 15A rating like the 12A rating?
The 12A certificate was introduced because there was a strong and widespread feeling amongst parents that some children under 12 were equipped to deal with films rated 12. There is also research to show that at this age group mental and emotional development amongst children matures at varying rates.
After extensive public consultation and research the 12A was introduced to allow parents to assess whether a 12A film is suitable for their particular child. To help adults make this decision, we provide BBFCinsight for all films.
At present there has been little public feedback from parents in favour of a 15A rating. At the 15 rating film content is stronger in terms of: Strong violence; frequent strong language; portrayals of sexual activity; strong verbal references to sex; sexual nudity; brief scenes of sexual violence or verbal references to sexual violence; discriminatory language or behaviour; and drug taking. These are all elements that parents tell us is not acceptable for children aged around 12.
Research has found that at the 15 rating, parents are still concerned that children are at a vulnerable age and there were varying views about how ‘adult’ a teenager is at 15. There were also concerns about teenage violence in particular and a strong desire to protect this age group from glamorised knife crime. Taking this into account it is unlikely that parents would feel inclined to allow a 12, 13 or 14 year old to see a 15 rated film.
It has long been a BBFC guiding principle that works should be allowed to reach the widest appropriate audience. Producing films is very costly and companies are often aiming to achieve a particular age rating to help maximise their profit at the box office and cover their production and other costs. The lower and advisory age ratings of U, PG and 12A can attract a larger audience than the restrictive 15 and 18 age ratings, so sometimes a film distributor will want to achieve a lower age rating. However sometimes they want a higher age rating, for example some horror films prefer an 18 age rating to a 15 age rating, as it tells the audience about the strength of the content in the film.
Why does the BBFC offer an advice service? Do other classification boards around the world do this?
The BBFC has been providing age-rating advice to film makers and film distributors on how to achieve their preferred category for almost 100 years. Advice viewings and script readings have always been common, what has changed is that today we are more open about which films were advised on and what changes were advised.
Film classification bodies in other countries offer the same services to varying degrees, although not all of them provide this information to the public.
The BBFC Classification Guidelines are published on the website and most major film companies are very aware of the standards at 12A and 15. If we were to refuse to offer advice on how to achieve a particular rating, there would be nothing to stop companies cutting their films themselves. There is clearly a risk that films would be pre-cut more than is actually necessary in the absence of expert advice. BBFC advice aims to suggest the minimum cuts necessary for the desired age rating and we aim to ensure the cuts advised are specific, targeted and interfere as little as possible with the narrative of the film.
It’s important to understand that some films are already pre cut for a category in another country, such as a PG-13 in the USA, when they are submitted to the BBFC. International standards vary and the PG-13 and 12A standards are not identical, so sometimes further cuts are required to a film pre-cut for a PG-13 rated film. This sometimes creates more difficulty in retaining the narrative of the film.
Why are some films released uncut and at a higher rating in other countries, but then cut for a lower age rating in the UK?
In some cases a film distributor is content to accept a higher age rating in one country than in another country and the standards at the various age ratings differ between countries. For example, nineteen PG-13 films were passed 15 in the UK in 2014, rather than at 12A which is perceived as the UK equivalent of PG-13. These films are:
DUMB AND DUMBER TO
THE GREEN PRINCE
NO GOOD DEED
TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT
THE VATICAN TAPES
THE WOMAN IN BLACK: ANGEL OF DEATH
Sometimes a company chooses to release a different version of their film on DVD or sometimes they release two versions, one that is identical to the version shown in cinemas and another that is ‘uncut’ or a ‘Directors’ cut’. It would be wrong in principle for the BBFC to interfere with distribution decisions.
The BBFC does not have enforcement role once a DVD is in the home, but under the terms of the Video Recording Act under which the BBFC age rates DVDs in the UK, we must be aware of the likelihood of underage viewing. In some cases a film might be cut if it is very likely that younger children will try to see it on DVD.
The 12A requires an adult to accompany any child under 12 seeing a 12A film at the cinema. This is enforced by cinema staff and a cinema may lose its license if adult accompaniment is not enforced for children under 12 admitted to a 12A film. Accompanied viewing cannot be enforced in the home, so the 12 certificate remains for DVD/Blu-ray, rather than the 12A. The 12 is also a simpler system for retailers. It means they cannot sell or rent the item unless the customer is over the age of 12.
In 2013 our Guidelines research found that 75% of the British public understand that a film rated 12A is generally suitable for children aged 12 and over, but a younger child may see the film if accompanied by an adult. This video reminds parents to check the BBFCinsight for every 12A film before they take a child to see it.