A few weeks ago, as I found myself once again mesmerized by Werner Herzog’s contemporary masterpiece, Encounters at the End of the World, a random thought popped into my head: What would a film like this be rated? I soon discovered that Herzog’s documentary about human life on Antarctica is rated G, which, despite some brief interview dialogue about murder, isn’t too much of a surprise.
But it got me to thinking: what other great, non-animated, non-family oriented films are rated G? The following list is not meant to provoke shock reactions (although, yes, it is inconceivable that David Lynch has made a G-rated film, and a great one at that) but rather to entice interest.
Note: While the MPAA rating system was officially created in 1968, the rating system as we know it today wasn’t fully established until 1990. Point being, even if some of the titles below were released before 1968, the MPAA has since officially rated them G.
The Longest Day (1962)
The G-rated war film isn’t as rare as you’d think. Tora! Tora! Tora!, The Green Berets and many more are all considered, by the MPAA anyway, to be fun for the whole family. This D-Day epic, starring pretty much every famous white actor of the 40s and 50s, may not be the most realistic war film ever made (Saving Private Ryan this is not) but it carries enough star power to last through its laborious running time.
A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
The ingenious mockumentary starring The Beatles in the height of Beatlemania, is a real breeze. From its opening chase scene to its plentiful musical performances, there isn’t a single cause why people of all ages can’t enjoy this flick. There’s a reason Roger Ebert said, “After more than three decades, [A Hard Day’s Night] has not aged and is not dated; it stands outside its time, its genre and even rock. It is one of the great life-affirming landmarks of the movies.”
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The best film of Stanley Kubrick’s career (and of the 60s in general), is a G-rated, mind boggling masterpiece. For a film whose most violent scene is an ape beating another ape to death, it’s not very surprising that 2001 is rated G. No matter. Kubrick’s methodic, slow-paced, transformative film is a cerebral movie-watching experience if there ever was one, not to mention the most influential inclusion to the science fiction genre. If you’ve never been privy to Kubrick’s groovy ride, then loosen up, sit down, and, as the tagline suggest, enjoy “The Ultimate Trip.”
True Grit (1969)
Apparently a film with a foul-mouthed, misogynistic, alcoholic main character is suitable for everyone. But a movie containing a scene in which a teenage girl gets whipped repeatedly by a grown man? Not to mention the copious amount of shootings and on-screen deaths? It’s funny, the same MPAA that labeled the original True Grit as fun for the whole family, is the same organization that won’t let the soon to be King of England drop four consecutive F-bombs. I suppose if The Duke were to be said King, everything would’ve been hunky, PG-13 friendly, dory.
Brian's Song (1971)
While it initially premiered as a Movie of the Week on ABC, the MPAA cited Brian’s Song – often dubbed as the film most likely to make grown men cry – with a G rating for its subsequent video release. And while the film version of Brian Piccolo’s friendship with Gale Sayers, and Piccolo’s subsequent fight with terminal cancer, may come off as a little corny, it’s definitely enough to get the water works flowing. Hell, even the line “I love Brian Piccolo,” made Turtle and Johnny Drama shed a few.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Sure, this zany classic is a perfectly fitting G-rated movie. But, seriously, am I the only one who was scared shitless by the tunnel scene as a kid? The shrieking music, the speeding boat, the trippy lights, Gene Wilder’s exacerbated face; it’s as if everyone on set dropped a couple hits of acid before the director yelled action. Come to think of it, the entire film plays out like one extended acid trip. Regardless, I enjoy the ride, everytime.
The Straight Story (1999)
You wouldn’t think that the same warped brain behind Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr. could actually pull off a delightful G-rated flick. But alas, David Lynch never ceases to amaze. The Straight Story, Lynch’s most endearing film since his flawless Elephant Man, is a simple, true tale about an elderly fellow who traveled across the country on his lawnmower to reunite with his estranged brother. The film is indeed simple (hence the title) but no less great. Richard Farnsworth, in his final screen role, delivers a career-best performance, while cinematographer Freddie Francis and musician Angelo Badalamenti lend their exceptional skills to what turns out to be rather brilliant slice of Lynchian life.
The Winslow Boy (1999)
Just as shocking as David Lynch’s addition to the G rating is David Mamet, the contemporary master of profane and demeaning dialogue. Because, let’s be honest, no one says “fuck” like a Mamet character. And watching The Winslow Boy, you can just picture Mamet sitting behind the camera, wearing a sly grin on his face, silently mocking the MPAA with his heartfelt, profanity-free film. But, it must be said, while I thoroughly enjoyed The Winslow Boy as an exercise, it ain’t no fuckin’ Glengarry Glen Ross.
Encounters at the End of the World (2008)
Werner Herzog seems completely immune to most of the trivial aspects of life. This notion rings exponentially true in the making of his films. Documentary or narrative? Fact or fiction? It matters not. Life is all he’s concerned with. He doesn’t fancy himself with large crews and detailed sets; he simply gets an idea, and goes with it. In this case, Herzog traveled to Antarctica with only his cameraman to document the daily lives of people who inhabit the nearly isolated continent. What he captures, incidentally, forms the film that Herzog was born to make. Most of the people he comes across are nearly as eccentric as him, lending itself to some fascinating stories, not to mention breathtaking backdrops. This would be the perfect film to play silently at a dinner party on that brand new HDTV you bought. Undeniably glorious.