Many moments in the lighthearted movies of yesteryear would not be approved by the MPAA in 2021. Join us as we examine several inappropriate moments in family movies (elements of extreme violence, overt sexuality, or otherwise serious themes) that are rated G, PG, or PG-13.
The next time you stumble upon these R-rated moments in PG movies on a casual Saturday, make sure you don't forget these more risque items. Some of these scenes (primarily the merciless or morbid ones) represent the most affecting highlights of their respective films, precisely because they push the envelope beyond what's comfortable. Other scenes (primarily the "intimate" ones) represent creative choices that would perhaps be reconsidered for modern tastes if made today.
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Another ostensible children's movie, another suicide that artfully (and heartbreakingly) introduces the topic to children. As bookish real-world preteen protagonist Bastian (Barret Oliver) narrates, we watch the teen hero of The NeverEnding Story, Atreyu (Noah Hathaway), and his noble steed Artax navigate the treacherous bog known as the Swamp of Sadness.
"Everyone knew that whoever let the sadness overtake him would sink into the swamp," Bastian reads. Though a protective necklace, the Auryn, keeps Atreyu from falling prey to the Swamp of Sadness himself, Artax opts to give in to his darkest depressive impulses and stops moving forward.
As the horse begins to sink, a sobbing Atreyu implores Artax to resist the encroaching feelings. "Please, you’re letting the sadness of the swamps get to you," he pleads. "You have to try. You have to care. For me. You’re my friend. I love you." But it's no use, and beneath a swelling synth soundtrack from Klaus Doldinger and Giorgio Moroder, Artax perishes.
The incredibly poignant passing of poor Artax deeply affected many a young millennial - and for good reason. The moment remains deeply effective decades later and probably should not be watched by wee ones without a post-movie conversation with grown-ups.
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While residing in the quiet suburban Cuesta Verde community, home of the poltergeist-plagued Freeling family, parapsychologist Dr. Marty Casey (Martin Casella) heads to the kitchen for a late-night meal. He grabs a raw steak and sets it down on the kitchen counter, turning away to grab a pan. Turning back, he observes the steak sliding, of its own accord, across the countertop. Suddenly, it bursts open, displaying layers upon layers of gooey meat viscera before sprouting maggots.
Dr. Casey sprints to a nearby bathroom to rinse his face and calm down. Noticing what appears to be a scab, he picks at it. Suddenly, he can't stop picking, and he starts pulling skin and muscle from his face while the unnerving Jerry Goldsmith score escalates. Though it turns out this was a pair of hallucinations induced by the Freeling's resident ghost, the awesomely bloody effect doesn't cease to disturb, even four decades later. Even in 1982, this scene almost netted the PG-rated Poltergeist an R certification from the MPAA.
- Photo: Columbia Pictures
During one of the movie's many montages synergistically tied in to the chart-topping Ray Parker Jr. title song, the Ghostbusters are asleep in their shared bedroom. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) dreams that he is decked out in mid-19th century garb in the bed of a military base turned tourist attraction called Fort Detmerring (never named in the film). Here, he finds himself in the throes of a sensual encounter with a gorgeous ghostly apparition (Kym Herrin). She hovers above him in a milky mist, then disappears into thin air - after which, she proceeds to unbuckle Ray's belt, unzip his pants, and... well, you know.
This clip was part of a legendary deleted scene that was removed from the film, but clearly, the horn dogs manning the edit bay decided that at least one component of that sequence deserved to remain in the movie. This kind of fare went right over the heads of the many, many grade-schoolers who made this horror-comedy the biggest domestic box-office hit of 1984 - and was sure to make their parents chortle. All told, this was a relatively innocuous moment - but would also never be included in a PG movie today.
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This significantly darker prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark is infamous for being so disturbing to family audiences that it helped bring about the creation of that most lucrative of MPAA ratings, PG-13. Loaded with child servitude, monkey brain-eating, and general terrifying cult mischief, the PG-rated Temple of Doom makes the cut here for its signature R-rated moment. Archaeologist/adventurer Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), his travel buddy Short Round (Ke Huy Quan), and nightclub singer Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw, the future Mrs. Steven Spielberg), are spying on the malicious Thuggee cult while on an adventure in northern India. They witness a ritualistic sacrifice to appease the cult's goddess Kali, quarterbacked by Thuggee priest Mola Ram (Amrish Puri). Their sacrifice (Nizwar Karanj) is strapped to a sacrificial mechanism, and a chanting Mola Ram removes his still-beating heart as he screams before lowering him into a pit of lava. As the target perishes, his heart sets aflame in Mola Ram's hands. It's a riveting, grisly scene - there's absolutely no way this moment would even make the cut for a PG-13 flick today (unless it happened off-camera).
It is perhaps no surprise that several of the creative minds responsible for Temple of Doom pop up elsewhere on this list, as director Steven Spielberg, executive producer and co-writer George Lucas, and Lucas's fellow scribes Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz have proven themselves no strangers to pushing the envelope when it comes to darker family fare.