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G-rated movies may officially be a thing of the past
Snoopy gets a hug from Charlie Brown in "The Peanuts Movie," which was one of only three G-rated movies to receive nationwide theatrical distribution last year. The other two were documentaries. - photo by Chris Hicks
Once upon a time, Hollywood made movies for adults, movies about human behavior with stories that appealed to a broad audience and with which a wide range of moviegoers could identify.

And they made these movies without all the R-rated excesses that filmmakers today seem to feel is so necessary. And yet, for some reason, audiences still embraced them.

True, in the early days, some of what resulted was rather silly. People were shot but didnt bleed or even get a tear in the fabric of their clothing. Fistfights left no bruises, and no matter how rough it got, the participants could still get up and seem unruffled in the next scene. And often the faces of stunt doubles were so visible that the audience could easily see that the star had disappeared and been replaced by someone else.

Yet fear and tension and suspense could build, and in the best films, there was action that kept audience members on the edge of their seats.

Those old movies were also clever in the way they conveyed sensuality without the use of graphic sex or nudity. People fell in love but didnt fall into bed before their first date was over, and when sex did take place, it was alluded to rather than demonstrated. When people took showers, we only saw them from the shoulders up.

And if someone became angry, profanity was muted or another word was used or it was simply avoided.

In those days, audiences filled in the rest with their imaginations. After all, a movie is a larger-than-life, literal medium. By its very nature, everything is over the top, so why put everything on display or spell everything out?

But these days, of course, moviemakers can show anything and everything, so they do. Its actually a bit lazy.

And more often than not, if you see a major-studio logo in front of a movie about people, it was picked up by the studio for distribution but was likely not financed by that studio.

Such films are left to independent filmmakers. And very often, these films are rated R for violence or language or sex, and therefore automatically reduce their audience rather than trying to reach out to the masses.

Today, even PG-13 movies often look as though they should be rated R.

PGs are relegated to faith films and cartoons.

And the G well, we all knew it was coming the G is finally on its last legs.

Hollywood was in the business of making movies with a wide reach from the late 1930s forward, but even after R-rated movie content began making inroads in the 1970s, major studios were still making cleaner films and did so into the 1980s and 90s.

But in the 21st century, something has changed.

In the 1960s and especially during the 70s, critics and pundits applauded that movies were finally growing up, that adult themes had at last given way to adult content, resulting in bloody, sometimes gory, violence; coarse language, including more frequent use of words that were spoken only sparingly at first; and graphic sex, complete nudity, drug abuse and other touchy subject matter that in earlier decades could not be explicit or even specific.

Im not convinced this was progress across the board. Lets face it, for every The Godfather or Chinatown or Network or One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, we also saw dozens of sleazy thrillers, sleazier sex comedies and even sleazier horror movies of little or no worth.

And as a result, everyone was trying to top everyone else, including legitimate filmmakers and major studios.

You know how it goes: Once the door is open, anyone and everyone can walk in, and then they feel the need to do something to get noticed.

But interestingly, the 70s also brought a lot of adult movies that were rated PG (the PG-13 would arrive in the next decade), such as Patton, Kramer vs. Kramer, The Sting and more.

Many such films are classics that continue to endure. Would these films have been better with harsher content to earn an R rating?

And this may surprise you, but in the earliest years of the rating system, from late 1968 through the 1970s, a lot of adult movies were rated G.

No, thats not a typo.

G-rated examples include Planet of the Apes, 2001: A Space Odyssey, True Grit, Whats Up, Doc? and Tora! Tora! Tora! Among others. Even Dracula Has Risen From the Grave was rated G.

And although they were made well before the ratings system came along, both Gone With the Wind and Ben-Hur received G ratings when they came before the ratings board for post-1968 theatrical rereleases.

If you are familiar with any of those movies, you know they all contain what might be described as adult content in one form or another. But each was nonetheless rated G.

Nowadays, even kids films avoid the G rating and they do so aggressively. Watch the trailers for the animated films The Secret Life of Pets and The Angry Birds Movie, which contain extremely vulgar scatological gags.

Last year, out of some 300 movies that came through Salt Lake City, only three were rated G: two documentaries and a cartoon Disneys Monkey Kingdom, A Lego Brickumentary and The Peanuts Movie.

Its only March, but so far, out of some 60 movies that have come through local theaters, not one has been rated G.

And there are no obvious contenders on the 2016 schedule so far (most movies receive ratings just a few weeks before their release).

A possible exception is, maybe, Finding Dory (not yet rated at this writing) since it is a sequel to the G-rated Finding Nemo (2003).

But I wont be holding my breath.