Abstract: A Study of the Progression of R-Rated Movies and Their Relation to American Culture

In this project, I will look at the progression of R-rated movies in their amount of adult content since the inception of the Motion Picture Association of America’s rating system in 1968.

For this project, I have devised a rigid “coding” system for what qualifies as “adult content.” I call the categories for this data the “Big 5,” which are as follows:

  1. Nudity (whether breasts or genitals)
  2. Sex (whether masturbation or multiple people, the person/people involved must be shown in the scene at least once, covered or not)
  3. Profanity (whether in a sexual context or not)
  4. Drug Use (for the purpose of this study, nicotine products and alcohol will be excluded from this category, as these can be used in a PG-13 movie as well)
  5. Violence with Blood (blood is the operative word in this category, as violence without blood can be shown in any movie, regardless of rating)

By using this system, I will be able to gather concrete data for each film as to how much “adult content” was in the movies in each movie/decade. As to the movies that I will actually be watching, I have selected four movies from each decade since the 1960s to watch and analyze. Because of time restraints, I obviously cannot watch every R-rated movie since the rating system began. To get a reasonable grasp on the movie culture of the time, I have selected a combination of the four highest-rated and top-grossing movies of each decade, with the exception of The Split, which was the first R-rated movie and will act as a good baseline point to compare other movies with. In selecting the movies, I have also attempted to select the four movies from each decade from different parts of their individual decades, in order to reflect changes even within each decade. Finally, I also attempted to diversify the genres analyzed in the films selected, in order to prevent observing only horror or just comedic movies throughout the study. What follows is the list of the movies I will be observing, along with their years of release:


1960s: The Split (1968)

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

The Wild Bunch (1969)


1970s: The Godfather (1972)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Taxi Driver (1976)

Alien (1979)


1980s: The Shining (1980)

Scarface (1983)

The Breakfast Club (1985)

Full Metal Jacket (1987)


1990s: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Pulp Fiction (1994)

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

American Beauty (1999)


2000s: Training Day (2001)

The Departed (2006)

No Country for Old Men (2007)

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)


2010s: Django Unchained (2012)

Whiplash (2014)

The Revenant (2015)

Silence (2016)


I will take the data that I have gathered from each movie and present the data through charts and graphs for each movie and collective decade. I will then analyze the trends in movie ratings over the years and draw conclusions about what the data means for the MPAA ratings board and American culture as a whole. The research can all be done in and around my home in Falls Church, Virginia. I will procure the films from streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, or I already own them on DVD. As a last resort, I can check movies out of my local library to view them.

As for my research timeline, assuming each movie is two hours long (including data gathering and recording), 48 hours will be devoted to movie-watching alone. It is not a stretch to assume that the remaining 32 hours will be devoted to compiling and presenting my data in an understandable way on the blog and later on my formal presentation. Each decade of movies will receive about 5.5 hours of the data analysis time in order to reach the 80 hours of work time. Assuming I do 10 hours of work a week on the research project, it will take me 8 weeks to do the entirety of my research. I plan to work a job this summer, so I will do the research mainly on weekends or when I get off of work. I feel as if 10 hours of research a week is a very achievable amount of work. As of now, I plan to conduct this project from the week of June 4 to the week of July 23. Luckily, this project is flexible to minor changes in schedule, so I feel that I am well suited to manage my time effectively.


  1. albrenner says:

    I have enjoyed following your project, you picked a very intriguing topic. Based on the data you have compiled thus far, it is clear that the trend is showing a massive increase in the amount of adult content in R-rated movies. I think it would be interesting to take your research another step and attempt to analyze the impact this change has had on American lives. Is there a positive correlation between the amount of drugs being used and the amount of drug use portrayed in movies? Is violence more prevalent in society now when it is also more common in movies? These are questions we should ask to find out if movies have a direct impact on our lives today, and it may leave us questioning whether the content of these movies is becoming a danger. There have been many studies to see if violent video games lead to increased violence in young individuals, but movies seem to be less scrutinized.

    Another direction you could take this study is to compare movies in America to movies in other countries around the world. For example, European movies tend to show more nudity, but less violence, than American movies. Then you could compare crime/drug/violence rates in different countries to further analyze the impact of film on society.