To the best of my recollection, the first R-rated film I saw in a theatre was RoboCop 2, a movie in which a prepubescent crime lord is mercilessly gunned down by a drug-addicted killer whose brain has been removed and inserted into a robotic body with a terrifying human face animated with rudimentary computer graphics. I was nine years old.
The PG-13 movie rating was famously not introduced until the summer of 1984, its creation largely prompted by parental outcry over visceral scenes of human sacrifice in the PG-rated Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. But this doesn’t exactly square with my own memories of growing up in the ‘80s, an era during which most of the parents I encountered seemed to have zero problem letting their kids watch R-rated films, provided they didn’t have boobs in them. (Despite being extremely active in an uptight Baptist church, my dad let me watch The Terminator in grade school, only fast-forwarding through the single mild sex scene.)
The Motion Picture Association has also historically cared a lot more about sex than violence — the reverse of how movies are classified in Europe, where sex is much more likely to get a pass than a scene of a ninja turtle using nunchucks — but that’s not to say kids won’t be impacted by either. Certainly a whole host of research studies have attempted to investigate the effects of violent and sexual content on developing minds.
But I’m not here to debate the merits of letting kids watch stuff we all know they probably shouldn’t (I get enough of that rebuffing my oldest child’s incessant begging to watch Stranger Things). I just want to know about the inadvisable movie viewing experiences that shaped you.
Tell me: What movie did you see in the theatre at way too young an age? How did it affect you? Are you the unfortunate 5-year-old child I sat a few seats away from at my screening of Tarsem’s The Cell, a film in which the villain has implanted hooks in his back so he can hang over the bodies of his victims while masturbating, and in which a horse is vivisected onscreen? (If so, are you OK?) Let me know in the comments and I’ll collect the best responses in a future post.