Film classification in the UK
All feature films, short films and trailers which are shown theatrically in the UK should be classified by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), unless permission has been granted by the local authority in the area where the work is being shown.
How this works
The theatrical distributor of the film should submit it to the BBFC for classification prior to its release. The BBFC then examines the film, referring to its current guidelines and selects what it perceives to be the most appropriate classification rating. Ratings are ‘U’, ‘PG’, ‘12A’, ‘12’, ‘15’, ‘18’ and ‘R18’. All films classified by the BBFC are listed on its searchable website. For more on how the BBFC assesses films, or to read specific criteria for each individual rating, click here.
BBFC examiners may also propose that the work requires cuts. These may be compulsory (to meet statutory or guideline obligations) or voluntary (to obtain a lower rating).
Once the film has been classified it receives a certificate confirming the rating, which is usually displayed at the beginning of cinema screenings. You should also advertise the film’s rating in your cinema listings along with any consumer advice – a short sentence listing the main issues that determined which category the work received.
If you wish to screen a film that has not for whatever reason been classified by the BBFC, contact your local authority for advice. Different local authorities vary on this issue – some may permit you to screen the film without a certificate as long as it is clearly marketed to an age-appropriate audience; others may wish to view the film in advance of your screening (this service may be charged for) and proffer their own suggested rating or guidance.
Films released in cinemas in Ireland are classified by the Irish Film Classification Office (IFCO) instead, with a system run along similar lines to the BBFC’s.
Film and censorship
If you’re interested in film classification more widely, or in film censorship, The Guardian has a specific section on its website collating articles relating to international classification and censorship decisions in cinema.