The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) rates both motion pictures and videos (and an increasing number of video games). The rating system was introduced in 1913 and, as of 1985, also rates videos. County authorities are ultimately responsible for film ratings for cinema showings in their area.
County Councils often ignore the BBFC advised rating and rate films with another BBFC certificate in their county only, e.g.: the BBFC rates a film as 15 but the County council gives the film a 12A rating in their county. Rating certificates from the BBFC are not legally binding whereas those for videos are. British cinemas generally stick closely to the policy of ratings and a young person may often be asked for proof of age if deemed younger than the rating.
The current BBFC system is:
U (Universal) Suitable for all. (The board states that while they cannot predict what might upset a particular child, a 'U' film should be suitable for audiences aged 4 and older). Examples include Ferngully and The Incredibles.
PG (Parental Guidance) General viewing but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children. (It is the board's policy that movies rated 'PG' should not disturb a child of about 8 years of age or older; however, parents are advised to consider whether the content may upset young or more sensitive children). Examples include Coraline and The Simpsons Movie.
12A (12 Accompanied/Advisory) Recommended for 12 years and older. People under 12 years must be accompanied by an adult. (Exclusively for cinema, '12A' was first implemented on The Bourne Identity and, contrary to popular belief, not on Spider-Man, which was first released months before, under the previously fully restrictive 12 certificate, and then immediately re-released to take advantage of the new guidelines). Examples include Spider-Man 3 and Yes Man.
12 Recommended for 12 years and older. Nobody younger than 12 may rent or buy a '12' rated video. (Until 31 August 2002, this mandatory certificate used to apply to cinema exhibitions as well).
15 Suitable only for 15 years and older. Nobody younger than 15 may see a '15' film in a cinema. Nobody younger than 15 may rent or buy a '15' rated video (these films may contain offensive or emotionally harrowing scenes or strong language and violence). Examples include The Shawshank Redemption and The Girl Next Door.
18 Suitable only for adults. Nobody younger than 18 may see an '18' film in a cinema. Nobody younger than 18 may rent or buy an '18' rated video (These films may contain extreme gore/violence and/or sexually explicit content). Examples include A Clockwork Orange and Inglourious Basterds.
R18 (Restricted 18) To be shown only in specially licensed cinemas, or supplied only in licensed sex shops, and to adults that are older than 18 years old. (These films contain sexually explicit, pornographic content.)
The 12A, 12, 15, 18 and R18 categories are restricted, and it is against the law for anybody under the age given on the packaging.
Films may receive a different rating when released on DVD/video to that at the cinema. It is not unusual for certain films to be refused classification, effectively banning them from sale or exhibition in the UK. Sometimes compulsory cuts are made to films, such as cuts to sexual violence and animal cruelity. Any media which has been banned receives an 'R' certificate (Rejected).
Videos deemed by their distributors to be exempt under the Video Recordings Act 1984 (typically non-fiction content such as music videos, sporting highlights, fitness videos, nature films, etc.) may bear the mark E (for exempt), though this is not a rating and the BBFC does not maintain a symbol. The BBFC also provides ratings for video games which may be unsuitable for sale to young people or children (such as Grand Theft Auto). However, the majority of games are merely rated by the voluntary PEGI rating system, that replaced the ELSPA rating system. It is very rare for a video game to be banned in the United Kingdom, as many controversial games have been released under more recent and more lenient directorship at the organisation, although it has happened once to Manhunt 2.
British English A to Zed, by Norman Schur