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PG-13 and under Oscars: What the numbers say
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An amazing chorus line of dancers on a stalled freeway opens "La La Land," the new musical a PG-13-rated movie which is nominated for 14 Academy Awards, including best picture. - photo by Jeff Peterson
You might need an R to spell Oscar, but you dont need one to get nominated.

As most movie fans are well aware, the Academy Awards have a reputation for favoring a certain kind of movie serious, mature, artistically ambitious films with limited popular appeal and, frequently, equally limited box-office returns.

All too often, that translates to the kind of content that guarantees an R rating and which leaves some audiences feeling left out come awards night.

Take a quick look at this years best picture nominees (Oscars.org), though, and one thing that stands out is the number of films that made the cut that arent rated R.

A majority, five out of nine nominees, vying for this years top honors are either PG-13 or PG, including the film widely favored by Oscar pundits to sweep the awards, Damien Chazelles Los Angeles-centric musical La La Land.

So how unusual is this years lineup compared to other years? Is this part of a trend, a one-time phenomenon or neither?

Looking at the numbers

On one hand, its really not that unusual, it turns out, even if it might seem like it. Taking a look at all the best picture nominees since 1985 the first Academy Awards following the creation of the PG-13 rating its obvious that R-rated films have never had a monopoly on the category.

Year after year, at minimum, 20 percent of the nominees have been PG-13 or under.

That number fluctuates, though, and frequently, its actually closer to half or even more of each years nominees that arent rated R.

For all the films such as American Beauty and Pulp Fiction in the Academys 89-year history, there are still plenty of films such as Babe and Apollo 13."

In 2005, for instance, four out of the five best picture slots went to PG-13 movies. One of them, Clint Eastwoods boxing drama Million Dollar Baby, eventually walked away with the award.

And in 2012, Michel Hazanavicius ode to silent comedies, the PG-rated The Artist, won the best picture race in which a whopping eight out of nine nominees were rated PG-13 or under.

Considering that that year, according to the MPAAs official ratings website, FilmRatings.com, the number of R-rated movies released (420) dwarfed the combined number of G, PG and PG-13 movies (326), the 2012 best picture categorys ratio is pretty remarkable.

In fact, going by those figures alone, it might seem like non-R-rated movies, if anything, have a disproportionately high representation at the Oscars.

That isnt always the case, though. From 2006 to 2009, the Academy members voting did seem to skew in the opposite direction. Four years in a row, only one out of five nominees each year wasnt rated R. Not too surprisingly, the statuette ended up going to R-rated movies every one of those years.

Throwing a wider net

Looking at the best picture category, 2010 marked a big shift for the Oscars.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, after Christopher Nolans The Dark Knight failed to receive a nomination the previous year, the Academy opted to increase the possible number of best picture nominees from five to 10 in a conscious effort to bring some diversity to the kinds of films featured in the category.

Overall, this change has had arguably mixed results. Despite a good first-year run that featured a wide variety of movies including sci-fi (Avatar, District 9), a sports drama (The Blind Side) and the first animated feature since Beauty and the Beast (Up), more recently, the Academy has been criticized for using the extra nominations to just vote for even more art-house films.

However, the change did manage to open up the category, even if only a little, to non-R-rated movies.

From 1985 to 2009, G, PG and PG-13 best picture nominees account for approximately 41 percent of all nominated films. From 2010 to the present (this years nominees included), that number goes up to just above 47 percent.

Its not a huge increase, but it is an improvement nonetheless, especially considering the way things were tracking prior to the Academy's decision to expand the category (i.e. 20 percent across a four-year period).

That change can be measured in another potentially significant way as well: From 1985 to 2009, non-R-rated films had a majority showing in the best picture category eight times, or just under one-third of those years; from 2010 to now, that percentage has climbed to nearly 38 percent.

Again, it's a small but promising indication that things might be changing.

Go for the gold

While a slightly higher number of PG and PG-13 movies are getting nominated now, ostensibly due to the increased number of slots in the best picture category, the Oscar itself is still being handed out almost exclusively to R-rated titles.

In the last 10 years, The Artist is the only non-R movie to pull off a win.

In other words, it looks like it might take a little more work before the association between serious art and an R rating goes away, but one more win for a PG-13 movie this weekend couldn't hurt.