Frequently Asked Questions
Here you'll find a set of general FAQs covering the film classification process, how and when to contact the BBFC and general advice about BBFC services.
Films for cinema release are usually viewed by at least two of our Compliance Officers. They recommend an age rating using the published BBFC Classification Guidelines and in most cases, their recommendation is approved by the Compliance Manager or the Head of Compliance.
If Compliance Officers are in any doubt, if a film is on the borderline between two categories, or if important policy issues are involved, it may be seen by other members of the BBFC, up to and including the Chief Executive, the President and Vice Presidents. Occasionally, we may also call for specialist advice about the legal acceptability of film content or its potential for harm.
DVDs and video on demand (VoD) films and series are normally seen by one Compliance Officer, particularly when they are viewing the DVD or VoD version of a cinema film that has already been classified. But opinions from other Compliance Officers may be required for more difficult content.
Compliance Officers look at issues such as bad language, dangerous behaviour, discrimination, drugs, nudity, sex, violence and sexual violence when making decisions. They also consider context, tone and impact - how it makes the audience feel - and even the release format - for example, as DVDs, Blu-rays and VoD content is watched at home, there is a higher risk of under-age viewing.
The BBFC is independent, non-governmental and not-for-profit. It was established in 1912 by the film industry when local authorities started to impose their own, widely varying censorship standards on films. At that time, it was known as; the British Board of Film Censors
Come the 1980s, Parliament passed the Video Recordings Act 1984 (VRA), which stipulated that subject to certain exemptions, video recordings offered for sale or hire in the UK must be classified by an authority designated by the Secretary of State.
Our name was changed to the British Board of Film Classification, and in 1985, the President and Vice Presidents of the BBFC were tasked with classifying videos under the VRA, applying the new test of suitability for viewing in the home.
We welcome all feedback, whether it’s positive or negative. Please let us have your views by email - email@example.com or in writing to: Chief Executive’s Office at 3 Soho Square, London W1D 3HD. You can also tweet to us at @BBFC. We reply to all enquiries and publish a summary of feedback in our annual report.
The Video Recordings Act 1984 (VRA) makes it illegal to supply any video, DVD or BluRay in the UK which is not classified by the BBFC. There are some exceptions to this - for example, educational content or content predominantly about sport, religion and music that does not go beyond PG Guidelines - but all feature films and TV programmes must be classified.
Although it is not a customs offence to import an unclassified video, DVD or BluRay, 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, and the Protection of Children Act 1978.
The U age rating is given to films, DVDs and video on demand (VoD) content that is likely to be suitable for anyone over the age of four.
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. But this rating is no longer in use.
Older DVDs may still carry a Uc symbol and there should be nothing in a Uc video or DVD to upset the youngest children. You can find more details of what might be featured in content with a U rating here.
We publish details of classified works on our website and via our twitter feed. You can see a list of recent decisions here. Sometimes content is sent to us only a few days before release, so details may only appear on our website shortly before a film is released in the cinema, on DVD or on video on demand services.
Not all our records before the 1940s are computerised but we are in the process of adding records for titles classified from the 1910s to 1940s to our database.
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 authority where the event is being held is legally able to give permission for the film to be shown without a BBFC age rating.
In the case of DVDs, distributors are able to claim exemption for content that would not be given a 12 age rating or higher, provided it is designed to inform, educate or instruct, or concerns sport, religion or music. Please see the next question for further details.
The E symbol is not a BBFC age rating, but indicates that the distributor believes the content to be exempt from classification. Under the Video Recordings Act 1984 (VRA), a video is exempt if it is designed to inform, educate or instruct, or is about sport, religion or music. However, if the content would be rated 12 or higher, it will need a BBFC age rating.
The E symbol is not an official age rating and does not have any legal standing. Nor is it a requirement that it should appear on packaging, unlike BBFC age rating symbols.
The BBFC does not view exempt content and does not decide whether the content is exempt.
Now, as well as classifying films released in UK cinemas and on DVD and Blu-ray, we’re providing age-ratings for video on demand (VoD) and music videos online.
Although the streaming and downloading of films is not regulated by law, we work with the major video distributors and VoD platforms to offer them a service where they can use BBFC age ratings and content advice. This is designed to help you make informed decisions about what you and your family watch
A trailer is classified as an individual title in its own right, often before we know what age rating the film being advertised will be given.
Not all films rated U, PG or 12A are aimed just at children and we recognise that older cinema-goers may be interested in upcoming films that appeal to them. Because of this, a film trailer or advertisement can be shown alongside a feature film, so long as the trailer doesn’t carry an age rating higher than that of the film
The BBFC knows that cinema goers have no say about which trailers they are shown. So age rating decisions can be more restrictive for trailers. This is because difficult content in such a short format may have a greater impact on an unprepared audience.
If you believe a trailer has been wrongly shown before a cinema feature, please contact the cinema manager.
You should contact the individual cinema, which will be able to advise you on its admissions policy.
The BBFC is committed to a policy of equality. So scenes and sexual references are given the same treatment whatever the sexual orientation of those taking part, and whether this involves heterosexual or homosexual people, the same age rating standards are applied.
The BBFC’s Chief Executive’s and its President's signatures are seen on the certificate shown before a film. This is an official document and each card is unique, carrying the film's registration number and age rating.
Films are often classified several times by the BBFC in different versions - 2D, 3D, IMAX et cetera – and older films may be classified many times over the years.
If you search for a title on the BBFC website, it will show you a page that gives an overview of the film and its current age rating. Specific age rating decisions for each version of the film are listed under Related Works.
When a film has been cut by the BBFC, this text will appear at the top of the summary page: ‘CUT VERSIONS One or more versions of this work have been cut. Details of cuts for each version can be found under Related Works’.
From 30 July 2012 and with a few exceptions, the responsibility for classifying video games lies with the Video Standards Council Rating Board (VSC), applying the PEGI system.
The BBFC will continue to classify all games featuring strong pornographic (R18-level) content, ancillary games attached to narrative film or video submissions, and all non-game narrative content on a game disc, such as trailers and featurettes.
Video games eligible for a BBFC age rating are considered under the same Guidelines as films or DVDs.
Film summaries or synopses are written by our Compliance Officers. In our film summaries, we try not reveal additional information not included in the wider marketing of the film. Where we may need to include spoilers, for example as part of the content advice for a film, this is clearly marked with: 'The following text may contain spoilers'.
We reviewed our content advice as part of our Guidelines Consultation in 2013. Our content advice is helpful to parents, but has a limited number of characters given the amount of space on DVD and Blu-Ray packaging. To allow us to include more detail, we decided to stop using the word 'contains'.
'As Live' events include content other than conventional films, such as stage or sporting events projected in cinemas. The As Live certificate is a temporary certificate for content we haven't viewed and is valid for seven days after the live performance only. An As Live age rating is awarded based upon information provided by the company organising the event, including details of any restrictions applying to children’s attendance. If a recording of the same performance is then submitted, it may be classified with a higher or lower age rating.
With content advice, we try to achieve a balance between giving people the information they need to make informed decisions and avoiding spoilers. By and large, we achieve this. But the issue has arisen occasionally since 2013, when we began publishing short content advice on the black card shown prior to the screening of a film. Before that, it wasn't really a problem, and even now, it’s only rarely that people tell us they are unhappy about this.
We have some sympathy with these complaints and after successfully testing a way to address them, we now have a policy of making a judgement about whether short content advice really does need 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. When this is the case, the short content advice continues to be available on the BBFC website and app.
WARNING some of the issues discussed here may not be suitable for website visitors under the age of 18.
The R18 category is a special and legally-restricted age rating primarily for explicit works of consenting sex or strong fetish material involving adults.
The Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014 require R18 level pornographic content available on video on demand services hosted in the UK to be subject to the same standards as those we apply to pornography on DVD under the Video Recordings Act 1984 (VRA).
Under the VRA, there is a requirement to have special regard to any harm that may be caused to potential viewers or through their behaviour, to society. As a result, we may cut certain acts in pornographic works where harm from imitation or the influencing of harmful behaviour is a particular concern.
We will also intervene where there is a risk of prosecution under UK law, including prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act 1959.
We consult both the Crown Prosecution Service and the Metropolitan Police to understand the types of content which are likely to be subject to prosecution.
The Audiovisual Media Services Regulations will ensure that UK on-demand content is consistent with legally available pornography offline, benefiting from the application of UK law and the expert legal and medical advice which informs BBFC decisions.
Yes. We frequently give talks to adult groups explaining how we classify 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 – for instance, issues around content for children or violence in films. 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 and many schools have their own policies about what age rated materials teachers may show in class.
But we accept that there are some instances where a school might plan to show a DVD or Blu-ray of a film in a specific educational context, where it can be 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, get approval from the head teacher and governors, and monitor the reactions of pupils to make sure that they are able to understand the material in this particular context.
Section 1(4) of the Video Recordings Act 1984 (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’. So it’s clear that hiring out DVDs in a library is covered by the Act. There is no concession to educational communities.
Whenever possible, we try to accommodate requests for interviews with Compliance Officers. We ask that you use our website first to make sure the information you’re looking for isn’t already available - for example in our podcasts, case studies or Education Resources – and also that you send a clear list of questions to us in advance to allow us time to prepare answers.
Compliance Officers will usually do interviews by email. Occasionally, it’s possible to record or film an interview, when again, we would ask you to come fully prepared and recognise that BBFC staff are professionals with a job to do and that our offices are a place of work. It’s important to make sure that you are punctual, that your technical equipment is ready to use and that you have your questions already formulated.
We are keen to answer questions about specific films or content, and about the process and history of age ratings. Now and again, students send their essay questions to us, but the BBFC does not write assignments for students.
Yes. We have over 60,000 historic records of age rating 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 content over 20 years old available for research purposes.
If you would like to view any of our records, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a list of the film titles you would like to research and their release dates.
Our Compliance Officers come from a wide variety of backgrounds. They tend to be graduates, but this is not always the case. No specific qualifications are required, however experience in relevant areas such as media regulation, law or child development is important.
Like most BBFC employees, they have a strong knowledge of contemporary and historical film and a passion for the film and video industries, as well as an ability to grasp age rating issues such as drugs, dangerous behaviour, and the portrayal of sex and violence.
Recruitment is through advertisements the national press, as well as the Work For Us page of this website.
The job is a full-time post and people receive months of intensive in-house training before starting as fully fledged Compliance Officers. They examine film, DVD, video on demand (VoD) and other online content, and also work on a range of tasks to support best practice in regulating online content and handling data.
Compliance Officers view material, write reports and contents advice for up to seven hours a day, but there is not really a typical working day, since what they watch completely depends on what is submitted by distributors. Work is allocated randomly, so officers could be viewing anything from the latest blockbuster to episodes of 1960s or 1970s TV series due for release on DVD or video on demand (VoD).
Once they have finished the day’s viewing, they’ll discuss age ratings, review contentious moments, read up on similar works, and write reports explaining how and why they made their age-rating recommendations. For contents advice, they write concise lines of information to give people a clear idea of the reason a work has received a particular age rating, together with a longer explanation published on the BBFC website and our app available for iPhone and Android devices.
This depends on the content involved. Cinema films are normally viewed by pairs of Compliance Officers. All other content is viewed alone. Some content may be viewed again by more senior members of staff before a decision is reached.
Usually a team will agree on the age rating because the officers base their recommendations on the BBFC’s Classification Guidelines. But if we don’t, the content is referred to senior staff, including the Compliance Manager, the Head of Compliance and the Chief Executive. If they feel the film raises novel policy issues or is likely to be controversial, then it may also be seen by the President or Vice Presidents.
Individual Compliance Officers inevitably see content that they find difficult to watch and this can be influenced by a great number of things, such as what is happening in someone'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 content’, which shows things like real life death, injury or torture.
Yes. Pornography accounts for less than 10% of what Compliance Officers watch, but it can be challenging, particularly when it is aggressive, violent or abusive. The BBFC is very strict with material that breaches UK law. So we cut elements like references to underage and abusive sex, and depictions of abusive or illegal content that is likely to be prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act 1959.
The BBFC receives submissions in many different languages, from Pashtu to Yoruba. When an unsubtitled film or DVD is received in a language that is not spoken by one of our Compliance Officers, we may use outside interpreters to help us. But because of the high number of submissions in certain languages - mostly Hindi and Punjabi - we aim to maintain a reasonable level of linguistic skills in-house.
In the case of South Asian films, the BBFC tries to meet the specific sensibilities of South Asian audiences by making sure that every film we give an age rating to is seen by at least one member of staff with a thorough understanding of South Asian culture and cinema. This is to achieve not only good language interpretation, but also to assess the receptivity of the audiences the film is intended for.
Yes, they do! Naturally there are days when employees at the BBFC who watch films all the time may not feel like it, but most people still love going to the cinema, watching DVDs and video on demand (VoD) as much, if not more than anyone else. Besides, it’s the best way of keeping up to date with recent decisions and audience responses.
You will need to contact the cinema itself. Cinema managers have the power to refuse entry to anyone they reasonably consider to be disruptive and we 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 this is other content, such as DVD extras or additional footage, added to the film itself. Occasionally, if there is a specific harm risk, we will give a higher age rating to a DVD because of the greater likelihood of underage viewing in the home.
12A was introduced because there was a widespread feeling among parents that some children under 12 are equipped to deal with films with a 12 age rating if they are accompanied by a responsible adult. There is also research to show that in this age group mental and emotional development matures at varying rates.
After extensive public consultation and research, 12A was introduced to allow parents to assess whether a 12A film is suitable for their children. To help adults make this decision, we provide content advice for all films.
At the moment, there is little public feedback from parents in favour of a 15A age rating. The content of films with a 15 age rating is stronger in terms of discriminatory language and behaviour, drug taking, sex and violence, and these are all elements that parents tell us are not acceptable for children aged around 12.
One of our guiding principles is that films 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. In other cases, they may want a higher age rating - for example, for horror films some distributors prefer an 18 to a 15, because it gives the audience an idea of the strength of content in the film.
If the BBFC refused to suggest cuts, it is likely distributors would make their own cuts and remove more material than necessary.
The BBFC has been providing advice to film makers and distributors on how to achieve their preferred age rating 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 have been 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.
Our Classification Guidelines are published on our website and most major film companies are very aware of the standards at 12A and 15. If we refused 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 to ensure that cuts advised are specific, targeted and interfere as little as possible with the narrative of the film.
In cases where the changes required would be extensive and complex we may decline to suggest cuts.
It’s important to understand that some films are already pre-cut for a category in another country when they’re submitted to us, like a PG-13 from the USA. International standards vary and the PG-13 and 12A standards are not identical. So sometimes further cuts are required.
In some cases, a film distributor is happy to accept a higher age rating in one country than in another. This may be because the equivalent overseas rating is purely advisory or allows younger children to be taken along. For example, the R rating in the US allows under 17s to see a film with a parent or guardian.
Standards at the various age ratings differ between countries. For instance, nineteen PG-13 films were passed 15 in the UK in 2014, rather than at 12A, which is perceived to be the UK equivalent of PG-13.
Sometimes a company chooses to release a different version of their film on DVD or release two versions, one that is identical to the version shown in cinemas and another that is ‘uncut’ or a ‘director’s cut’. It would be wrong in principle for us to interfere with these distribution decisions.
The BBFC does not have an enforcement role once a DVD is in the home, but by the terms of the Video Recordings Act 1984 (VRA), under which the BBFC classifies 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 and it contains potentially harmful content.
As you know, 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. Accompanied viewing cannot be enforced in the home, so the 12 age rating remains for DVD, Blu-ray and video on demand (VoD), rather than 12A. The 12 age rating is also simpler for retailers, because it makes it clear that they can’t sell or rent the film unless the customer is aged 12 or over.