The Hays Code and Film Ratings: 5 Modern Films That Would Be Banned

the hays code
| Reviews > Film

In the film industry, sex sells… but 1920s America was torn on how much sex and violence it desired in its films. Thus, the Hays Code and film ratings were born…

So, in the 1920s Hollywood was getting big. It was making money in a MASSIVE way and, as in all things, Hollywood film producers decided that the best way to make the big bucks was to sell what everyone really wanted to buy: sex.

But moralising Americans weren’t so keen on that. They wanted to stop Hollywood making movies that were just sex and gore and replace them with wholesome fare. W.H. Hay, however, didn’t want to be told what to do. If anyone was going to censor Hollywood, it should be Hollywood.

Hays created a code for filmmakers to stick to that meant that the fussiest of filmgoer couldn’t be put off by what they had to offer…

How Well Did The Film Ratings Of The Hays Code Work?

The Hays Code did work, to a degree. It was brought into play in the 1930s and provided a set of regulations that shaped American cinema for the next three decades.

Stipulations like ‘revenge plots are only to be done in a historical context’ made cowboy movies wildly popular, and everyone recognises that creativity works best with a little limitation.

The Hays Code coincided with the Golden Age of Hollywood, so it was good for something. But it later developed into something a bit less overkill shaped. The Hays Code formed the basis of the Film Rating system that America has today, and was also a direct influence on the other ratings systems used around the world like the British Board of Film Classification.

5 Modern Films That Could Never Have Been Made Today If The Hays Code Still Existed

The Hay’s Code contains some things that seem a little… odd to film fans today. Here are some films that wouldn’t have been made, were the Code still in effect.

Annie (2014)

The story this is based on goes back to the twenties, but one of the big no-no’s for Hay’s Code Hollywood is this version’s interracial kiss at the end. The scandal!

The Hunger Games (2012)

It’s a touching story about the love between sisters in a post-apocalyptic Panem… but hey, sorry, the Hays Code says no white slavery. Rue and Thresh’s scenes would still be a-ok though, because – according to the Hays Code – depiction of black slavery was fine.

Chasing Amy (1997)

We wouldn’t be allowed to watch a story of comics and sexual orientation? Can you f£$%^g believe it? Whilst the storyline would struggle to pass in that era, what with all the sex, even a script that solely focused on the shenanigans of two artists would be banned because of the colourful language that accompanies the painted world.

Nativity (2009)

What could possibly be objectionable about the story of a group of children trying to put on the best Christmas show? Well, in the search for accuracy, Mr Poppy does take the children to witness a birth… another big NO for squeaky clean Hollywood.

The Magdalene Sisters (2002)

Whilst this film documents a historical institution and might get a pass, as the notion of ridiculing the clergy was banned, and certain scenes would need editing to make it completely acceptable.

Film ratings now are a solid essential for cinema goers; they help keep our kids away from Deadpool and give shorthand clues about the film’s content without spoilers. Want to see that vampire flick, but not keen on gore? Half-tempted to see that film about a woman lost in the woods, but definitely don’t want to see it if it contains content you know will trigger you? That’s what the ratings are there for – to make sure you see the kind of film you expect to see.

And whilst some people argue that films are becoming too [insert pet problem of choice] and they probably long for the ‘good old days’, the fact is that censorship only works if everyone wants to play the game. If we brought back the Hays Code now we probably wouldn’t have The Human Centipede… or, if you truly hated that film, a lot of the films we do know and love.  

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