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PG-13 Movie times

When the first "Die Hard" and "Terminator" movies landed in theaters in the 1980s, both were rated R. But their sequels arrived with PG-13 marks — even though the level of violence had actually escalated.

Critics have blasted Hollywood's movie ratings for years, claiming that the Motion Picture Assn. of America takes a prudish view of sex and foul language but a very liberal one when it comes to mayhem and bloodshed.

A new report provides strong evidence for that critique, concluding that gunplay has tripled within PG-13 films since 1985, the first full year the rating was used. Last year, PG-13 films were actually more violent than films rated R.

"We were absolutely stunned, " said Brad Bushman of Ohio State University, co-author of the report published Monday in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "The MPAA website clearly says that R-rated films contain more violence. But PG-13 films now contain significantly more violence than R-rated films."

The MPAA declined to comment. In the past it has defended its rating system, which is cloaked in secrecy and adjudicated by parents and the clergy, citing surveys that prove its popularity and usefulness.

Researchers found that 94% of the highest-grossing films since 1985 had one or more sequences containing violence. Of those 396 films, gunplay has tripled within the PG-13 rating, while it remained flat or declined in films rated G, PG and R.

In addition to quantifying the accelerating levels of violence in blockbuster movies aimed at children and teens, the report also addressed the effect this kind of cinematic bloodshed can have on young moviegoers, which several other investigations have shown can increase hostile behavior.

"The presence of guns in films also provides youth with scripts on how to use guns, " the report said. "In addition, children no longer need to go to movie theaters to see films; films are readily available on the Internet or cable. Thus, children much younger than 13 years can easily view films that contain ample gun violence."

Some filmmakers are skeptical about whether to endorse any direct link between violence in movies and hostile behavior.

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