Where applicable, the Decent Films Guide provides classifications assigned to films by the Office of Film and Broadcasting of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops. USCCB classifications for films not covered by the Decent Films Guide can be found at the USCCB Office of Film and Broadcasting website, or at Catholic News Service’s movies page.
The USCCB classifications, although less familiar than the MPAA ratings, are much more valuable for assessing a film’s moral and spiritual significance. Instead of merely keeping tabs on the levels of sex, violence, and coarse language in a film, the USCCB Office of Film and Broadcasting “evaluates films for artistic merit and moral suitability” using the following classifications:
According to the USCCB website, this classification designates “films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. L replaces the previous classification, A-IV.”
These classifications come with content advisory information summarizing the rationale for the classification (e.g., “some violence and sexual innuendo…”), as well as full-length and capsule reviews for an extensive library of reviews encompassing thousands of films from all decades of cinema. The sheer breadth of coverage now available at the USCCB website makes it one of the most reliably useful online resources for gauging the potential interest level for unfamiliar films.
The Office for Film and Broadcasting has the distinction of being an authorized agency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Classifications are assigned by lay professionals, not bishops, and individual film ratings have no authoritative or disciplinary status. Still, the Office for Film and Broadcasting represents an exercise of pastoral and social action on the part of the US bishops, and it is appropriate for Catholics to avail themselves of this resource.
Beyond this, the classifications themselves, and the criteria informing them, provide morally and spiritually relevant information that should be of interest to non-Catholic as well as Catholic Christians. In general, the reviews tend to be professional and savvy, and show critical acumen as well as moral insight.
It is worth noting that the USCCB reviews are the work of many different critics writing at different times, and on the USCCB site these reviews are not signed (though reviews at Catholic News Service’s movies page do display bylines with the writer’s name). Thus, these reviews reflect a variety of approaches and standards that are not always self-consistent.
Perhaps the most significant limitation of the USCCB’s age-based classifications system is that it makes no distinction between positively worthwhile content and merely acceptable or permissible content (that is, content that merely avoids giving offense). A film that has little artistic, entertainment, or moral and spiritual value can get the same rating as the best moral drama, provided only that it avoids objectionable content. Of course, the reviews provide information on whatever positive merits a film may have; but there is no index of such merit in the classifications system, and no way to use the rating to seek out more worthwhile films.
For more about the ratings used by the Decent Films Guide, see the main ratings page. Or see the reviews page to browse reviews by any ratings criterion.