The annual BBFC report: all the numbers for 2022

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The most highly-publicised part of the annual BBFC report is usually the complaints – here, we break down the entire thing. 

The publication of the BBFC’s annual report is always a noteworthy moment for the film industry and beyond.

Tales of complaints received always make the biggest headlines – this year it was the reclassification of Watership Down. The animated take on the rabbits moving to a new home was upped from a U to a PG after giving kids more than 40 years worth of trauma – but there’s so much more to it than the headline grabbing stories (there are, in the grand scheme of things, less complaints than ever).

We’ve pored over the report and the facts and figures. Here, then, are the key findings, in bite-sized chunks breaking it down into numbers…

10,000 plus – the number of members of the public the BBFC will consult in 2023 as it begins the process of consulting to update its classification guidelines

1,057 – the number of films classified for cinema release in 2022. It’s up from the 600plus submitted in 2020 and 2021 (659 and 617 respectively in the pandemic-affected years) and back up to pre-Covid numbers of 1,103.

425 – the number of films classified for cinema release in 2022 at 15 certificate, the most popular. Some 352 12As were granted, 133 PGs, 85 at U and 62 at 18. It was the highest number of 18s for 10 years.

5,527 – the number of video releases submitted to the BBFC in 2022. It was the highest figure for five years.

1,968 – the number of those 5527 given a 15 certificate, the most popular at video too. There were 1573 at 12, followed by PG (902), U (784) and 18 (just over 200).

3,649 – the amount of titles submitted under the Watch and Rate scheme used by Netflix, where it gives its own estimated certificate, some of which are randomly checked by the BBFC. It is in discussions with other VOD services to replicate this elsewhere.

Three – the number of different tiers the BBFC now has for theatrical distributors, which responds to concerns from smaller companies about the prohibitive cost of classification. Two tiers were in place in 2022 for releases, in consultation with trade body the Film Distributors’ Association, with that upped to three this year.

29 – the number of video-on-demand (VOD) services that carried BBFC age ratings on their platforms in 2022. Chief among these is Netflix – 100 per cent of its content in the UK is BBFC-rated. Unlike physical home entertainment, where the UK is one of the few countries globally that must, by law, have its film and TV releases classified before release. VOD has yet to be legislated for. The report notes the government’s statement last year following consultation that “although [it] didn’t see a case for mandating their use at the present time, it stated that it is ‘keen to encourage video- on-demand services to consider applying BBFC age ratings to their content.’”

18,600 – more than 18,600 feature films, specials, TV episodes and other media was given a BBFC age rating “eligible for use on VOD or streaming services including Netflix” in 2022. This represented a three per cent on the previous year…

110 – the amount of years the BBFC has been censoring (it was, at first, known as the British Board of Film Censorship) and later classifying films for release.

40 – the number of years the current PG, 15 and 18 ratings have been in existence, an anniversary celebrated in 2022.

20 – the number of years since the 12A certificate was introduced.

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84 – the number of complaints received by the BBFC related directly to its classifications in 2022. It never ceases to amaze that despite historically low figures (149 complaints in 2019, 93 in 2020 and 109 in 2021), the mainstream press invariably reports on the complaints about films in its post-report news stories.

22 – the number of complaints received about the most complained about film of 2022, The Batman. The “majority” came from parents complaining about the film’s 15 certificate, excluding many of the Dark Knight’s younger fans, before the film’s release. The report notes: “The tone is consistently dark, and the film depicts its world as less fantastical than previous big-screen iterations of the Batman character. As such, the film exceeded our guidelines for a 12A classification, but is suitable for audiences of 15 and above.”

1,573 – having noted the above, it must be added that often the BBFC gets complaints about films that don’t relate directly to its decisions, rather they’re objecting to some elements of the film. Thus in 2022, the most complained about film was The Lady Of Heaven, about the daughter of the prophet Muhammad.

Six – there were half a dozen complaints about Minions: The Rise Of Gru, all stating it was too violent for a U certificate. The BBFC noted that the context – animated, comedy, “wholly unrealistic” – meant it could be accepted at the lowest rating.

57 – the number of music videos classified by the BBFC last year. It’s a voluntary arrangement with key record labels (Sony, Universal, Warner) so they can show their videos online with age ratings and content advice. None are submitted if the labels believe they’re suitable for viewers under 12. 330 were classified at 15 and just one at 18. That was the Blessed Madonna’s Serotonin Moonbeams (it featured drug use, but non-judgemental with no consequences).

36 – the number of websites the BBFC adjudicated on in 2022, at the request of either the sites themselves, members of the public or mobile network operators with whom the BBFC has a voluntary agreement. This framework sees the BBFC deciding if they are suitable for under 18s to access on their phones. Four were deemed to be suitable to be behind adult filters (“a site which celebrates the deaths of vaccine sceptics; the website of a Russian state news broadcaster; a gay interest site with an erotica section; and a UK political discussion website that included racist and homophobic comments”) and a further three should be put behind filters (“a pornography site; a dating site; and a website offering classified ads, which included adult services”). Some 15 were taken out from behind filters. A further 36 sites are adjudicated on under an agreement with EE which has a further “strict” setting. A third of those were deemed to be suitable to put behind filters.

One – the number of rude words excised from Tad The Lost Explorer And The Curse Of The Mummy to enable it to receive a U certificate. Paramount cut the “crap” – literally – after the BBFC initially gave it a PG for mild bad language.

Two – the number of older films uprated from U to PG in 2022. One – Watership Down – went up (and received most of the post-report press coverage) for use of the phrase “piss off” as well as its violence. The other, which received less column inches, was Wim Wenders’ Alice In The Cities, for references to sleeping with people and use of the term “negro.” After getting a U on its original 1974 release, and on 1991 and 2007 re-releases, it is now PG. The BBFC report notes: “We have evolved our classification standards over time, in part as a result of our extensive research projects which ensure we best represent the expectations of UK audiences across the different categories. Whenever a distributor resubmits a film with an existing BBFC rating to us, we review it under our current guidelines. This sometimes means we may reclassify the film at either a higher rating or a lower rating than it was under previous guidelines.”

12 – this is still the certificate that the big studios want for their superhero blockbusters. The report lays bare the machinations and negotiations between distributors and the Board to achieve these and outlines some of the to-ing and fro-ing. As the report states: “Distributors frequently submit action blockbusters to us with a 12A category request, which is helpful in indicating the audience that they are hoping to reach.”

Sometimes they go even further, such as in the case of Black Adam. For, as the report notes: “In some cases, distributors choose to submit unfinished versions of films to us for advice on how to achieve a particular classification. Black Adam, a superhero fantasy action adventure in which an ancient superhuman awakes to defend his city against a sinister militia, came in for advice ahead of its formal classification. Violent moments included a superhero tearing a villain in half – revealing a molten core rather than bloody innards – and using his powers to melt a soldier down to skeletal remains. We advised the distributor that we would likely classify the film 12A if the filmmakers maintained the level of detail in the finished version, but that a notable increase in bloody images would require a higher category. When the distributor formally submitted the final version of the film, we found that the finished effects did not require a 15 rating.”

Five – the number of times the word “fuck” features in the film Aftersun. This was not deemed to be too frequent, so the film got a 12A rating.

One – the number of times the word “fuck” appears in Top Gun: Maverick. The “infrequent strong language” was the only issue with the film, which got a 12A. It’s also worth noting that in the 1990s, under the notorious stewardship of James Ferman, the BBFC printed expletives in full. They are now asterisked, so “fuck” becomes “f**k”. (If we were rating the report, we’d probably give it a 12A).

15 – sometimes, however, even the BBFC can’t give a 12A to a film despite distributor requests and they have to go to 15. This was the case with RRR, the breakout Indian film detailing the fight against British colonialists. Cuts to achieve a 12A “were not viable” due to the sheer amount of violence. The BBFC also noted that violence in South Asian films is a “frequent factor” in their being awarded 15 certs.

212 – the number associated with the Azealia Banks song featured in Bodies Bodies Bodies. The BBFC noted that while the public is less bothered about swearing in general, the use of the C word is still problematic. It features no less than 13 times in the song, along with a raft of other expletives in the film, but despite the multiple uses, it still got a 15. The BBFC notes “their inclusion in the song rendered them infrequent enough within the film as a whole that this allowed for their containment at 15.”

Four – the number of people involved in a sex scene in raunch romcom Bros. The foursome features “undetailed oral sex” while the film also includes “verbal references to being urinated on during sex; anal sex; sexting and orgies.” The BBFC says that was challenging within the context of its guidelines and might have got an 18, had it not been for the “comic context,” which mitigated that and earned it a 15.

One – the number of clips of Japanese erotic masterpiece In The Realm Of The Senses featured in Bowie doc Moonage Daydream. The film would have otherwise got a 12A, but a clip from Oshima’s classic featured breasts and implied erotic asphyxiation, upping the film to a 15.

One – the number of titles submitted to the BBFC in 2022 featuring a man having a conversation with his own penis while under the influence of drugs. We are, of course, referring to Pam & Tommy, which had enough sex and sauce to get it an 18.

“A few” – the minutes it took Babylon to get an 18 certificate… The BBFC report states that the opening party, “the first of many hedonistic parties begins, conflating sequences of sex and nudity with drug misuse in a manner that glamorises the lifestyle” was enough to earn it the highest rating, even if the consequences of such behaviour are highlighted later in the film.

Four – the number of Paul Verhoeven films that had already troubled the BBFC enough to award them an 18 certification before 2022’s Benedetta. Robocop, Basic Instinct, Showgirls and Elle were the quartet mentioned (his “filmography is no stranger to the 18 classification” the report notes), and Benedetta, with its “strong sex scenes with sustained nudity… moments of sexualised violence and sexual threat” was added to that list.

Two – the number of films rated as 18 for including themes of child sex abuse. The pair were Italian language Three Floors and Brit crime classic Get Carter. On the latter, the BBFC notes: “Whenever an older film is resubmitted to us, we assess whether an existing rating, if one exists, is still relevant or if we should reclassify the film at a different category. Get Carter still required the 18 for its disturbing content.

Three – the number of previously cut films that were granted uncut 18s in 2022. The trio were all problematic and loosely associated with the 1980s video nasty moral panic – Maniac, Too Beautiful To Die and House On The Edge Of The Park.

12 – the number of minutes originally cut from the aforementioned House On The Edge Of The Park when first given a certificate in 2001 (it had been refused on first submission in 1981), with some of those cut scenes reintroduced. It was put in again in 2022 for a 4K release and the board says: “Although some scenes are still impactful and disturbing, our 2012 research into sexual and sadistic violence and our research into sexual violence as part of the 2019 guidelines research suggested that people in the UK would no longer regard the film as presenting a harm risk to society. The dated nature of the effects has also reduced the impact of some scenes, and the various imitations that House On The Edge Of The Park has inspired have set further precedents. For the first time, we granted the film an 18 uncut classification.”

23 – the percentage increase in adult films submitted for classification in 2022 on the previous year. Of those, 11 per cent were cut, mainly for abusive and harmful activity or potential to encourage underage sexual activity.

97 the number of films submitted for R18 rating in 2022.

Five – the number games submitted to the BBFC in 2022, as part of its work alongside the Video Standards Council, which does most game classification.

1937 – the year the Cinematograph Films (Animals) was passed. It prohibits the exhibition of a film in UK cinemas if the production has “organised or directed” action that cruelly inflicts pain or terror on or goads animals to fury (it only covers vertebrates). This still stands and still informs BBFC decisions for both cinema and home entertainment releases.

Four – the number of titles that raised issues under the above act. Distributors have to prove that there was no cruelty – in the case of Panama, there were no assurances that animals weren’t “goaded to fury: in a cockfight, although for UK period drama Prizefighter, video footage and documentation was provided to show no cruelty was involved. Mad Monkey Kung Fu was cut because there was no proof that the scene involving a monkey being swung round by a chain attached to its neck wasn’t mistreated. The 1975 Turkish historical drama The Sword And The Crow because a battle scene involved cruelty to horses, who had ropes tied to their front legs to pull them to ground.”

0 – no films were refused a certificate in 2022.

4,320,606 – the amount in pounds of turnover generated by the BBFC in 2022.

505,732 – the operating profit in pounds of the BBFC in 2022.

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