Gun Violence in PG-13 Movies Has More Than Tripled Since 1985 (Study)

20th Century Fox
A scene from 2012's PG-13 "Taken 2"

Last year, the amount of weapons use in PG-13 titles was greater than that in R-rated films.

The amount of gun violence in top-grossing PG-13 movies has more than tripled since 1985 and last year exceeded the gun violence in top-grossing R-rated movies, according to a new study.

Researchers at the Annenberg Public Policy Center and Ohio State University also discovered that the overall rate of violence in the highest-grossing movies at the box office has more than doubled since 1950.

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In 1985, the first full year of the PG-13 rating, the amount of gun violence in popular movies with that rating was similar to that in movies rated G and PG. Since then, gun violence in PG-13 movies has grown, rivaling the amount in R-rated movies since 2009.

A PG-13 movie is supposed to have less violence than an R-rated film, according to the MPAA.

"It's disturbing that PG-13 movies are filled with so much gun violence," Dan Romer, director of the Adolescent Communication Institute of the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) and a co-author of the study, said in a statement. "We know that movies teach children how adults behave, and they make gun use appear exciting and attractive."

Researchers said the growth of gun violence in movies aimed at younger viewers is especially troubling because of the "weapons effect," an earlier finding that the sight or depiction of a gun can make people behave more aggressively.

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"Because of the increasing popularity of PG-13 films, youth are exposed to considerable gun violence in movie scripts," the researchers said in the study. "The mere presence of guns in these films may increase the aggressive behavior of youth."

The study was based on the 30 highest-grossing movies at the box office every year from 1950 through 2012. Half of the top 30 films from each year were selected randomly, and trained coders counted sequences of violence.

Of the 420 movies studied since 1985, 396 films (94 percent) had one or more five-minute segment containing violent sequences. Those sequences were coded for the use of guns, focusing on using weapons to harm or kill a living being, excluding violence that was not intended to harm and acts like hunting.

The drive to create a PG-13 rating came from parents' reactions to the violence in PG-rated movies like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

The full study, "Gun Violence Trends in Movies," can be read here and will be published in the December issue of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.