How films get classified


This is how it works in detail

The BBFC’s classifying decisions are reached by consensus, with the Chief Executive, the President and the two Vice-Presidents taking final responsibility.

Our Compliance Officers watch a combination of films, DVDs, and online content during each working day. 

They usually view DVDs on their own, which we call ‘solo viewing’. Content suitable for solo viewing includes episodes from TV series or programmes aimed at young children that have already been broadcast on TV. 

Films for cinema release are classified by teams of two. Controversial or extreme content is also seen by teams - and often by more than one team - to get a range of opinion.

The experience, the language and the issues

Compliance Officers usually watch films for cinema release in the BBFC's own cinema, so they can experience the effect that imagery, editing, sound levels and special effects will have on a cinema audience. They view DVDs on plasma screens in our viewing rooms to recreate the 'home viewing' experience.

Many films and DVDs are submitted in foreign languages – very often in Hindi and other South Asian languages When there are no subtitles and the content is in a language not spoken by any of the team, Compliance Officers will work with an interpreter.

With all the content they watch, they note details of the general theme or context – plot, characters and the outline of individual scenes – along with the timings of key moments, the type of shots and camera angles, bad language, drug references, sex and violence, and so on.

Reporting and the relationship with distributors

Compliance Officers’ reports include a brief synopsis of the work, details of the issues, and an argument in support of the recommended age rating. Most recommendations are straightforward and are based on the published BBFC Classification Guidelines, which are regularly updated.

Distributors can ask for a specific age rating and while this won’t determine the final decision, the Compliance Officer or team will consider it and make a judgement. If appropriate, cuts may be suggested to meet the age rating asked for, then it’s up to the distributor to choose – a higher age rating or cuts.

Making sure we get it right

If a Compliance Officer is unsure about anything or if the content seems to fall between two age ratings, it will be referred to the Compliance Manager or Head of Compliance. 

Difficult or controversial content can also be referred to the weekly Compliance Officers’ meeting, where it can be debated more widely. Then if there’s still a lack of certainty, it will be referred to senior management.

Should content be found to be illegal or unacceptable under the published BBFC Guidelines, Compliance Officers will draw up a list of cuts which will be sent to the distributor. If the content as a whole is unacceptable, it can be rejected, but this happens only rarely. 

The Chief Executive, the President and the Vice Presidents of the BBFC will be consulted on difficult content, especially if it might be refused an age rating or it raises serious policy issues.