When you think of PG-rated movies, you tend to picture pleasant, family-friendly adventures. But some PG movies managed to push the boundaries of good taste, especially in those dark days before the PG-13 rating was a thing. From "Gremlins" to "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," here are 12 PG movies that managed to get away with a surprising amount.
These days, it's hard to imagine any movie about killer sharks squeaking by with a PG rating. And sure, "Jaws" was very much in the "Don't show any more of the shark than necessary" camp, but that still resulted in several very gruesome scenes. This is the only PG movie to scare an entire generation of kids away from swimming in the ocean.
'Watership Down' (1978)
If you want to terrorize young children to the point of insensibility and leave them grappling with years of psychological issues, you show them "Watership Down." As perhaps the most unsettling animated movie about cute woodland critters ever made, we're surprised this one didn't get slapped with a full-blown R-rating.
'Mommie Dearest' (1981)
Here's another example where a PG movie is so unnerving that it probably should have just been given an R-rating. Faye Dunaway delivers one of the ultimate evil, deranged mother performances here as she portrays a fictionalized Joan Crawford, and we're sure she traumatized more than a few younger viewers in the process. Maybe the fact that some have labeled "Mommie Dearest" as an unintentional comedy helped it squeak by with a PG rating.
'Raiders of the Lost Ark' (1981)
The Indiana Jones franchise deserves as much blame as anything for the creation of the PG-13 rating, and it's not hard to see why after rewatching "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Between the snake encounters and the literally face-melting climax, this isn't the most kid-friendly Steven Spielberg movie.
"Poltergeist" demonstrated a growing need for a middle ground between PG and R in the early '80s. It's not just the generally creepy vibe of this film, but that infamous, highly graphic face-peeling scene that set off a lot of concerned parents. That's disturbing to watch at any age.
1984 was the final tipping point in terms of the creation of the PG-13 rating, and "Gremlins" was one of two main culprits. It's a surprisingly dark and violent movie given the relatively goofy premise. That microwave scene in particular is not very kid-friendly.
'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' (1984)
"Temple of Doom" was the other big offender in 1984 that drove the creation of the PG-13 rating. Even darker and more violent than its predecessor, this movie featured all manner of violence, torture, and disgusting animal delicacies. We doubt many kids at the time went to the theater expecting to see a man's beating heart pulled from his chest.
'Back to the Future' (1985)
"Back to the Future" is a pretty lighthearted movie, a fact that helped it squeak by with a PG rating despite some fairly copious profanity sprinkled throughout the movie. Then there's the fact that a major plot point in the movie involves Marty McFly's own mother lusting after him.
Director Tim Burton has a very distinctive vision, one that involves plenty of black humor, twisted supernatural imagery, and generally creepy vibes. He couldn't even make a Pee-Wee Herman movie without including that soul-shattering Large Marge scene. Yet, somehow "Beetlejuice" -- despite being one of Burton's most macabre movies ever -- made it through with a mere PG rating.
"Big" arrived several years after the advent of the PG-13 rating, but somehow managed to land a mild PG instead. Similar to "Back to the Future," there's enough cursing and creepy sexual undertones to make you wonder how that happened. (And let's forget that Josh's mom spends the whole movie off-screen thinking Tom Hanks kidnapped her son and calls her basically to rub it in.) Maybe everyone at the MPAA was just too charmed by the dancing piano scene?
'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" (1988)
We assume this one got a free pass because it features so many animated characters. Never mind the fact that several of those animated characters die a horrific death over the course of the movie, or the fact that one of them is a cleavage-baring lounge singer who quickly became an international sex symbol. Any movie where a talking, cigar-smoking baby lusts after a grown woman probably needs more than a PG rating.
'Dead Poets Society' (1989)
"Dead Poets Society" isn't an overtly dark movie. Its message is pretty uplifting, even. But that doesn't change the fact that it offers a very frank look at the lives of prep school students in the 1950's and features a major character committing suicide. More than you'd expect from a PG movie, in other words.