The BBFC received Jurassic Park for classification in May 1993. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the adventure that was ‘65 million years in the making’ was an interesting classification case thanks to the intensity and impact of the dinosaur attacks.
At the time, the Compliance Officers who viewed the film made a clear recommendation for a PG certificate. One argued that the film was part of a long dynasty of ‘monster movies’, such as King Kong and The Lost World, but that Jurassic Park’s “chase scenes are long and realistic and there is a quality of Alien about some of them.”
The film contains numerous scenes of threat towards the two child characters, Lex and Tim, most notably in the first attack from the tyrannosaurus rex and the extended velociraptor chase in the third act. However, the Compliance Officers recognised a key mitigating factor in how the characters were portrayed, with: “one of the children being resourceful when the other is scared, one pointing out the excitement at a time when the other is fearful”. These onscreen reassurances and the balance they provide were crucial aspects in making the classification decision.
While the Compliance Officers were assured of their PG recommendation, given the potential for the film to unduly frighten children with the intensity of the film’s threat and horror-like scenes, the BBFC arranged a test screening for an audience of 200 children, aged 8 to 11, in June 1993. The children were invited from five schools both in and outside London, with the intention of surveying their views of the film and whether it would be appropriately rated at PG or should be classified 12 instead.
A report of the event describes the reaction of most of the audience as one of “cheerful terror” rather than “genuine anguish”. A questionnaire given out after the screening revealed that there was some degree of anxiety for several members of the young audience – 37% did not feel certain that the children in the film would be alright – but overall 96% said that they enjoyed the film “a lot”, including all of the 8 year olds. Just one child ticked “not at all”.
Given a choice of phrases to describe their experience of the film – “too frightening for me” or “good and scary” – only 13% of the children said “too frightening” and 82% chose “good and scary”. The BBFC therefore had to choose a rating that would not deny the 82% the opportunity to enjoy the dino-thrills. A 12 or 15 could not accommodate that, as those certificates would prohibit the admittance of anybody under those ages (in 1993, the 12A rating did not exist). The BBFC opted to award a PG certificate, but with a warning attached: “contains sequences which may be particularly disturbing to younger children or those of a sensitive disposition”.
Jurassic Park was rated PG for its video release the following year, and was one of the first titles to carry ‘consumer advice notes’ – which we now call ‘content advice’.
Since the early 1990s, BBFC classification standards have evolved as the result of widespread consultations, in which we speak to thousands of people from across the UK to ascertain what we can permit at each category level. Our research has shown that people are uncomfortable with extended scenes of threat and horror, especially towards children, being passed at PG. Such content is now more likely to be classified 12A, as with recent entries in the Jurassic Park franchise, namely the Jurassic World trilogy.
In 2023, Jurassic Park was resubmitted to the BBFC for a new cinema release to celebrate the film’s 30th anniversary. Whenever an older film is resubmitted to the BBFC, we assess it against our current Classification Guidelines. Under current standards, Jurassic Park is no longer containable at PG, due in part to the extended scenes of threat in which humans are terrorised by dinosaurs and attempt to escape from hazardous situations. These sequences feature a heightened emphasis on personalised threat, with some also featuring moments of violence resulting in bloody injuries and, in one sequence, sight of a severed arm after a dinosaur attack. In August 2023, we reclassified Jurassic Park to 12A for moderate threat, violence, and bloody images.