A motion picture content rating system is designated to classify films with regard to suitability for audiences in terms of issues such as sex, violence, substance abuse, profanity, impudence or other types of mature content. A particular issued rating can be called a certification, classification, certificate or rating. Most countries have some form of rating system, typically carrying age recommendations in an advisory or restrictive capacity ranging up to adulthood, and are often given in lieu of censorship. In some jurisdictions the legal obligation of administering the rating may be imposed on movie theaters.
In countries such as Australia and Singapore, an official government body decides on ratings; in other countries, such as the United States, it is done by industry committees with little if any official government status. In most countries, however, films that are considered morally offensive have been censored, restricted, or banned. Even if the film rating system has no legal consequences, and a film has not explicitly been restricted or banned, there are usually laws forbidding certain films, or forbidding minors to view them.
The influence of specific factors in deciding a rating varies from country to country. In countries such as the United States, films with strong sexual content tend to be restricted to older viewers, though those same films are very often considered suitable for all ages in countries such as France and Germany. In contrast, films with violent content which would be rated leniently in the United States and Australia are often subject to high ratings and sometimes even censorship in countries such as Germany and Finland.
The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) classifies films to be publicly exhibited in the United Kingdom, although statutory powers remain with local councils which can overrule any of the BBFC's decisions. Since 1984, the BBFC also classifies films made commercially available though a home video format. If the BBFC refuses a classification this effectively amounts to a ban (although local councils retain the legal right to overturn it in the case of cinema exhibition). The BBFC's regulatory powers do not extend to the Internet, so a film they have banned on physical media can still be made available via streaming media/video on demand. Videos designed to inform, educate or instruct or concerned with sport, religion or music are exempt from classification; exempt films may be marked as "E", but this is not an official label. 12A - Cinema release suitable for 12 years and over. No one younger than 12 may see a 12A-rated film in a cinema unless accompanied by an adult. 12 – Video release suitable for 12 years and over. Video recordings with this rating are not to be supplied to anyone below that age even if under supervision.
15 - Suitable only for 15 years and older. No-one under 15 is allowed to see a 15-rated film at the cinema or buy/rent a 15-rated video. 18 - Suitable only for adults. No-one under 18 is allowed to see an 18-rated film at the cinema or buy/rent an 18-rated video. R18 (Restricted 18) - Adult works for licensed premises only. The R18 category is a special and legally restricted classification primarily for explicit works of consenting sex or strong fetish material involving adults. Films may only be shown to adults in specially licensed cinemas, and video works may be supplied to adults only in licensed sex shops. R18-rated video works may not be supplied by mail order.
Other factors may or may not influence the classification process, such as being set within a non-fictional historical context, whether the film glorifies violence or drug use, whether said violence or drug use is carried out by the protagonist, with whom the viewer should empathize, or by the antagonist. In Germany, for example, films depicting explicit war violence in a real war context (such as the Second World War) are handled more leniently than films with purely fictional settings.
A film may be produced with a particular rating in mind. It may be re-edited if the desired rating is not obtained, especially to avoid a higher rating than intended. A film may also be re-edited to produce an alternate version for other countries.