Hollywood Flashback: In 1984, Steven Spielberg's Gory 'Indiana Jones' Led to PG-13 Rating
The director proposed an idea for a new rating — PG with "a little hot sauce on top" — when 'Temple of Doom,' the prequel to 'Raiders of the Lost Ark,' was deemed too action-packed and violent for kids.
This story first appeared in the April 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
When Harrison Ford returned to the screen in 1984's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, a prequel to 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark, what got the media's attention regarding the Steven Spielberg-directed, PG-rated film was the over-the-top action and gore. "[Creator] George [Lucas] says the toughest one of a trilogy is the second because it's the dark one," says Frank Marshall, a producer on the first two Indiana Jones films who will return to produce the series' fifth installment, which is set for release July 19, 2019. "Then you start wrestling with what the dark side of an Indiana Jones adventure is going to be."
For that darkness, the film went for a "Hindus Gone Wild" theme. But conservative columnist George F. Will said a scene where a demonic priest extracts a man's still-beating heart was "shocking extremism in popular entertainment." The Christian Science Monitor decried the film's "triviality and ugliness." (THR didn't seem to notice the gore. The review's headline said the film was "destined for box-office glory" and didn't mention the action except to say "the pace doesn't flag a moment.") But Doom definitely had a problem with parents who thought they were sending their kids to see something on the E.T. side of PG, not closer to an R-rated Scarface with Kali worshippers.
The problem was that the system lacked a rating between the two categories. Then-MPAA chief Jack Valenti opposed creating one, but the push was on for a ratings tweak. Spielberg's idea for a proposed PG-13 category would be PG with "a little hot sauce on top," aimed at older teens.
Spielbergian wishes carried substantial weight: People reported at the time that he'd received $109 million in 1984 (roughly $250 million today) as his share from E.T.; and Doom grossed what was then a record-setting opening weekend of $25 million ($51 million today). The PG-13 category, which now is applied to the vast majority of summer tentpoles, went into effect two months after Doom opened. The first movie to be released with a PG-13 rating was 1984's Red Dawn.