Ratings Through the Years -- From "Midnight Cowboy" to "Sixteen Candles", a sample of the most noteworthy ratings controversies

By Beth Pinsker
November 25, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

When Doris Day movies began to give way to honest-to-goodness sex on screen in the ’60s, the rule of local rating boards was replaced by a standardized system. Since then, nothing about it has been standard. Here’s a look at the ratings game and its most news-making players:

May 1966 Jack Valenti takes over the MPAA. One of his first decisions: giving a new designation — ”Suggested for Mature Audiences” — to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? because of playwright Edward Albee’s wryly racy language.

Nov. 1, 1968 The MPAA creates CARA (the Classification and Ratings Administration), which gives films one of four designations: G (general audiences), M (mature audiences), R (under 16 not admitted without a parent or guardian), and X (under 17 not admitted). (Two years later, the M is changed to GP, for general audience, parental guidance suggested, and a year later to PG.)

APRIL 7, 1970 The Dustin Hoffman-Jon Voight urban drama becomes the first — and only — X-rated film ever to win Best Picture. For its 25th anniversary this year, the film was released uncut with an R rating.

1972 The MPAA gives Stanley Kubrick’s ultraviolent futuristic allegory (right) an X — then changes that to an R after Kubrick tones down approximately 30 seconds of sex.

JUNE 21, 1973 In a case involving an Albany, Ga., theater owner who tried to show Carnal Knowledge, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that local judges can ban films based on community standards.

1973 After Bernardo Bertolucci’s erotic tale becomes a box office and critical success, it is cut and the rating changed from X to R. The searing love scenes set a new standard for sexually explicit nonpornographic films.

1974 This bone-crushing, eye-gouging kung-fu movie becomes the first film rated X not over sex but over extreme violence (involving such scenes as a kung-fu castration by hand).

JULY 1, 1984 After an uproar over the violence in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (right), a rating between PG and R is created: PG-13 (parental guidance suggested for children under 13).

JAN. 31, 1986 The traditionally family-oriented Disney releases the Richard Dreyfuss-Bette Midler sex farce Down and Out in Beverly Hills, its first R-rated movie.

APRIL 8, 1986 Two years after the PG-rated high school love story shows teens casually smoking marijuana, the MPAA and National Association of Theater Owners declare that from now on, all movies that refer to illegal drugs will be given at least a PG-13 rating.

MAY 23, 1990 Miramax sues the MPAA in New York Supreme Court over Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!‘s X rating. The judge dismisses the case but chastises the MPAA over its unfair practices.