British Board of Film Classification

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What does the 18 symbol mean?

Films rated 18 are for adults. No-one under 18 is allowed to see an 18 film at the cinema or buy / rent an 18 rated video. No 18 rated works are suitable for children.

Are there any limits on what sort of theme a work can have at 18?

No theme is prohibited at 18. Adults are free to choose their own entertainment provided the material is not illegal or potentially harmful, so it is possible some themes tackled at 18 may be offensive even to some adult viewers.

What sort of issues might I find in an 18 film or video?

18 works are for adults and can contain strong issues such as:

  •   very strong violence
  •   frequent strong language (e.g. 'f***') and / or very strong language (e.g. ‘c***’)
  •   strong portrayals of sexual activity
  •   scenes of sexual violence
  •   strong horror
  •   strong blood and gore
  •   real sex (in some circumstances)
  •   discriminatory language and behaviour

How much strong language can there be in an 18?

There is no limit on the number of uses of strong (e.g. 'f***') or even very strong language (e.g. ‘c***’) which can be passed at 18. Uses could be aggressive, directed, frequent or accompanied by strong violence.

What about discriminatory terms?

There may be racist, homophobic or other discriminatory language at 18, and the work could explore themes relating to discrimination.

Though a work as a whole must not be in breach of any relevant legislation, it is possible for discriminatory language or themes to be the main focus of the work, and for main characters to engage in discriminatory behaviour.

How much sex and nudity is allowed at 18?

There can be strong and detailed portrayals of sex at 18, including full nudity. There are no constraints on nudity in a non-sexual or educational context.

Very strong, crude and explicit sex references are permitted at 18.

An 18 film or video might also contain depictions of real sex, as long as the film or video is not a sex work.

What are sex works?

Sex works are works whose primary purpose is sexual arousal or stimulation. Sex works containing only material which may be simulated are generally passed 18. Those containing clear images of real sex, strong fetish material, sexually explicit animated images, or other very strong sexual images will be confined to the R18 category. Material which is unacceptable in a sex work at R18 is also unacceptable in a sex work at 18.

What about sex education films?

Where sex material genuinely seeks to inform and educate in matters such as human sexuality or safer sex and health, explicit images of sexual activity may be permitted.

Can there be strong violence?

Yes, at 18 violence can be strong and be portrayed with strong detail. There may even be dwelling on the infliction of pain or injury, or scenes of strong sadistic or sexual violence.

The strongest gory images are permitted at this category.

What about horror films?

At 18, horror films may contain very strong horror, gore or sustained threat.

Can you see drugs in an 18?

Yes. At 18 drug taking may be shown but the work as a whole must not promote or encourage drug misuse.

What about dangerous behaviour or things teens or other viewers might copy?

Though 18 films and videos may cover difficult and strong subjects and themes, harm is still a consideration. Very dangerous or criminal behaviour (for example, behaviour which if copied poses a credible harm risk) may be cut.

If adults can watch what they want, what might be cut from an 18 work?

In line with the consistent findings of the BBFC’s public consultations and The Human Rights Act 1998, the BBFC will not normally override the principle that adults should be free to choose their own entertainment.

However, cuts are occasionally made to 18 rated films and DVDs. Intervention is most likely in the following areas:

  •   where the material is in breach of the criminal law, or has been created through the commission of a criminal offence
  •   where material or treatment appears to us to risks harm to individuals or, through their behaviour, to society – for example, any detailed portrayal of violent or dangerous acts, or of illegal drug use, which may cause harm to public health or morals. This may include portrayals of sexual violence which might, for example, make rape look appealing, reinforce the suggestion that victims enjoy sexual violence or which invite viewer complicity in sexual violence
  •   where there are more explicit images of sexual activity which cannot be justified by context. Such images may be appropriate in R18 works and, in ‘sex works’, would normally be confined to that category.

In the case of video works, which may be more accessible to younger viewers, intervention may be more frequent than for cinema films.

How can I find out more about a specific 18 film?

Please check the BBFCinsight for the film or video you are thinking of watching. You may find BBFCinsight on this website or on our free App as well as on film posters, DVD and Blu-ray packaging, and on some listings. You will also find it attached to some film and video content which is available to download. It provides comprehensive information on exactly why a film or video has been given a particular category. All the issues are discussed in detail and parents in particular can use this information to make informed decisions when choosing viewing material for their children.

A guide to BBFCinsight is available here.

For the full text of the BBFC Guidelines at 18 please download the document below.

When searching the film database, details of 18 rated sex works will only appear if you 'enable adult content' using the advanced search option.

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