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Why Streaming Is the Perfect Place to Watch R-rated Teen Movies & TV

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Every movie should get a theatrical release. A film isn’t inherently lesser than if it doesn’t go to the big screen nor is your experience of watching it lesser if you watched it on DVD or any other small-screen format. But every movie should at least have the option, if only for the first month or so of its existence, of getting a big-screen release. There’s something so special about devoting your entire attention to a gigantic screen consuming your field of vision, with surrounding darkness further making it feel like it’s just you and the motion picture. The theatrical experience is sacred…but that doesn’t mean every genre benefits from a traditional theatrical release.


The R-rated teen movie, though just as worthy as any subgenre of being seen in a movie theater, has found a perfect home in the age of streaming movies. Thanks to a multitude of larger harsh realities, these films have found an ideal launchpad in terms of reaching their target demo. Yes, even more ideal than the glories of theatrical exhibition.

Teen Movies Are Not Lesser Movies

To be clear, the R-rated teen movie being such a perfect fit for streaming is not a commentary on these titles being “unworthy” of theatrical releases. Any movie can excel in a big-screen release and classic R-rated teen fare like The Edge of Seventeen are very much apart from that truth. Just because they don’t feature superheroes, slasher villains, or speeches primed and ready for an Oscar telecast doesn’t make the R-rated teen movie any less worthy of a theatrical bow. Instead, the reason R-rated teen films are such a perfect fit for the worlds of Netflix, Amazon, and other streamers boil down to one organization: the Motion Picture Association of America.

What Is the Motion Picture Association of America?

Founded in 1922, the Motion Picture Association has many duties in representing the biggest films studios in the United States, but one of its longest-running responsibilities has been overseeing the kind of content put out in mainstream motion pictures. This oversight has been reflected in the MPAA rating system established in 1968. Monikers like a G, PG-13, or R rating, among others, signified to viewers what kind of content they could expect to see in a given film as well as which age group a given production was aimed at.

What sounds like a nonchalant and even essential service on the surface has a very ugly underbelly thanks to what material the MPAA has deemed especially severe over the years. Language and sexual content are what movies get their R-ratings, while violence is something that’s much less scrutinized by the organization. In other words, material that people encounter in everyday life may end up securing a movie the dreaded NC-17 moniker, but stylized violence divorced from reality is a much lower priority for these people. It’s a strange double standard, but one that impacts countless projects every year, including movies aimed at and about teenagers.

Realistic Teen Stories Don’t Always Fit Within PG-13 Ratings

Many motion pictures strive to paint a realistic portrait of what teens are going through, which isn’t always going to firmly fit into a PG-13 box. Sometimes, teens wear, do drugs, get into criminal activity, or do anything else that might warrant an R-rating. With such a rating, though, the majority of teenagers, the group most movies about teens are aimed at, are unable to see it unless they’re accompanied by a parental guardian. Boyhoodfor example, and its depiction of mundane adolescence is off-limits to unsupervised kiddos, but Glass had no problem securing a PG-13 despite barely obscuring a moment where James McAvoy is chowing down on a guy’s innards.

This is a major problem for R-rated movies about teens like The Edge of Seventeen on the big screen, but it’s a nonexistent issue with something like Netflix. While many Netflix titles do go through the MPA rating process, there aren’t any measures in place on this and other streamers that guarantee people under the age of 17 won’t be exposed to this movie. Teens can now have a comfortable and safe space to watch movies like The Fallout that grapple with problems they experience daily. Art is how we process the reality that surrounds us and, thanks to streamers becoming a go-to home for R-rated movies about teens, a key demographic can now realize that at an impressionable age.

RELATED: Does ‘Do Revenge’ Do Justice to Its Predecessors?

It doesn’t hurt that, even in an age before original streaming movies were ubiquitous, the financial impact of restricting teenagers from seeing R-rated movies about teens was apparent at the box office. Movies with glowing reviews like The Edge of Seventeen failed to catch on financially, while cult classics like Donnie Darko had to wait until home video for appreciation from their target demo. Considering how often these titles struggled at the box office and caught on like wildfire on home video, it only makes sense that many R-rated movies about teens would just cut out the middle man and go straight to streaming in the modern world.

Streaming Opens Exciting New Creative Doors for Teen-centric Storytelling

Plus, ideally, the flexibility of having a streaming home for R-rated movies about teens should open up exciting new creative doors for these titles. Granted, several of these movies may just use a Hulu launchpad as an excuse for slipshod pacing or cutting costs on proper camerawork. But projects like Share (which debuted at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival as a big-screen title before getting bought by HBO) don’t have to worry about getting altered or diminished in an effort to fit in a PG-13 box or appeal to a wide swath of big-screen movies like a theatrical movie would.

The ubiquity of these titles on streamers and why these platforms seem so appealing to modern-day filmmakers like Jennifer KaitlynRobinson could also be useful in terms of providing a much-needed wake-up call to the MPA. The double standards and outdated practices of this rating group have been mocked for decades now, but their shortcomings are downright embarrassing in the modern pop culture world. Doing a one-size fits all approach to R-rated material on the big screen is comical when a youngster of any age can watch an episode of Euphoria with the click of a button on their TV remote. The transition of these movies to streamers should inspire the MPA to finally recalibrate its rating system, a move that could allow these films to return to theaters and line up the coffers of studios and movie theaters alike.

Alas, that final hope is an undeniable pipe dream, but one can dream. Even if that kind of sweeping (and essential) change to the rating board never comes, though, then the realities of who gets to see R-rated cinema on the big screen mean that streamers are a perfect fit for R-rated movies about teens . It sure would be fun to see these features with a crowd again – the first appearance of Sarah Michelle Gellar in Do Revenge would surely have inspired a great audience response. But at least Netflix and other streaming platforms give teens a chance to view movies that can reflect and normalize the hardships of their everyday world. Getting art out there to the people who need it, contrary to what the restrictive mandates of the MPA rating board believes, is unspeakably important…even (or especially) when that art involves chaotic gay Maya Hawke.