Russia's Ratings System Drives Down Box Office for Foreign Releases, Study Finds

Power Rangers: Legacy Wars Still - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Lionsgate

Analysts say government manipulation of age restrictions is an attempt to boost the performance of domestic releases.

A study by St. Petersburg, Russia-based research company Nevafilm Research suggests that the Russian government has been indirectly restricting Hollywood and foreign films for the last four years by assigning them tight age restrictions.

From 2014 to 2017, the proportion of Hollywood and foreign films that were assigned 16+ and 18+ age restrictions increased from 14 to 37 percent, while for homemade movies, the proportion stayed just about the same, the study, released late September, found.

Over the same period, according to the MPAA, the proportion of restricted movies in the U.S. declined from 58 to 52 percent.

As families and teenagers constitute a large proportion of moviegoers in Russia, industry sources say tighter age restrictions could cost foreign releases a significant share of potential box-office gross, which could reach 15 to 20 percent.

Olga Zinyakova, president of cinema chain Karo, confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that these figures are accurate for certain titles.

However, some movies — especially those targeting younger audiences — could stand to lose even more than that, analysts say.

"I believe that the situation varies from movie to movie," Pavel Kuzmichev, an analyst at Nevafilm Research, told THR. "Some movies could lose even more than [15 to 20 percent], like, for instance, Power Rangers. This was a film adaptation of a TV series, intended basically for a very young audience, and it had PG-13 rating in the U.S. But in Russia, for some reason, it was assigned an 18+ age restriction and grossed only 69 million rubles ($1.4 million). How much did it lose? I don't think it was just 20 percent."

Meanwhile, differences between the U.S. and Russian systems of age restrictions for movies could give free rein to the Russian culture ministry, which is in charge of assigning age restrictions to all movies released theatrically in the country, to arbitrarily restrict access to movies.

Unlike PG-13, R and NC-17 ratings, Russia has 12+, 16+ and 18+ age restrictions, meaning that viewers under 12, 16 and 18 years old, respectively, are not admitted to screenings of movies with those age restrictions.

"The main problem related to assigning age restrictions to films is the discrepancy between the U.S. and Russian systems," Zinyakova said. "Various interpretations are possible when it comes to translating the U.S. PG-13 rating into the Russian ratings 12+ and 16+."

Observers have also pointed out that while the culture ministry has been strict on Hollywood movies, the agency has shown surprising leniency toward homemade movies.

"It is true that Russian movies receive more lenient age restrictions," Alexander Semenov, publisher and editor of trade journal Kinobusiness, told THR. "Admission age for some homemade movies was surprisingly low."

The Russian culture ministry provided only a vague response to THR's request for comment on Nevafilm Research's findings. The agency stressed that it has the right to assign age restrictions at its own discretion as "producers and distributors don't always adequately evaluate the criteria under which a movie should be assigned a certain age restriction."

The Russian office of Fox and the local distributor of Warner movies declined to comment. The local offices of Universal, Disney and Sony and the Russian distributor of Paramount fare did not reply to THR's request for comment.

Since relations between Russia and the United States has soured in 2014 in the wake of annexation of the Crimea peninsular region from Ukraine, Russian officials have increasingly discussed restrictions against Hollywood fare.

Although the most extreme ideas, such as a total ban on Hollywood movies or quotas for homemade films, have been rejected, the culture ministry has taken some steps aimed at restricting foreign films under the guise of protecting the local film industry.

Most notably, three years ago, the agency obtained the right to move release dates of Hollywood and foreign movies to avoid clashes with major local films. The ministry has only used this power on a few occasions, but distributors have been voluntarily scheduling movies to make room for major local releases.