Debra Granik’s “Leave No Trace” recently debuted nationwide in theaters. It’s an adult drama that struggles with poignant themes and boasts Grade-A performances. It’s also rated PG.
There is something of a stigma against films for adults only boasting PG ratings. Warner Bros was so terrified of releasing 1998’s “The Avengers” with a PG that they dubbed in the world’s most unintentionally hilarious use of “Oh F*ck” in order to guarantee a higher rating. Most moviegoers automatically assume that a PG rating is tantamount to a kids movie. But every now and then we get a taste of what a gifted filmmaker can do with material that is accessible for the whole family without dampening the themes and message. Those films are out there.
Here are the best PG-rated films for grownups. For the sake of consistency, because there are plenty of good PG animated films, we will be leaving out animated PG movies, as well as films that were PG before the PG-13 rating existed, so no “Indiana Jones” heart-ripping or “Jaws” person-maiming.
“Braveheart” may have run off with the Best Picture Oscar in 1995, but we all know who deserved that Oscar. Director Ron Howard’s strongest film to date, “Apollo 13,” is a white-knuckle tension-filled ride through the miraculous rescue of a near-disastrous real-life space mission. Howard won his first DGA award for his work on the film, while the Best Picture-nominated film walked home with two Oscars for Editing and Sound Mixing. “Apollo 13” can best be compared to an “Argo” or “Gravity” type stress marathon. Which is to say, it is very much not a kids movie. Yet despite having space disaster sequences and multiple uses of s**t, and an implied sex scene, the film still only landed a PG rating. Be sure to check it out for Howard’s assured direction, and a talented ensemble of some of the 90s best and brightest.
15 years before guys like Christopher Nolan and Ridley Scott started bringing hard sci-fi to the mainstream, Robert Zemeckis and Carl Sagan cranked out their own glimpse at what kind of interstellar drama could be delivered while also adhering to the laws of physics. Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey lead this fascinating exploration of just what the philosophical and societal implications of contact with alien life would be. In the process, WETA displayed some of the first glimpses of its VFX talents, while the film’s sound design earned it an Academy Award nomination. Foster is good enough to have earned a Golden Globe nomination as well. The MPAA must have had a soft spot for space movies because the film is again only a PG despite featuring the immediate aftermath of a sex scene, explosions, several uses of s**t and b*tch, and generally featuring weighty themes. If you like your sci-fi with a touch of realism and a side of philosophy, “Contact” is definitely one to check out.
Dead Poets Society
Every angsty high schooler is obsessed with this one. Robin Williams delivers one of his finest performances in Peter Weir’s story of a free-thinking English teacher who revolutionizes the lives of his students in an austere private school. “Dead Poets Society” was not only nominated for Best Picture, Director, and Actor, but also won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Its iconic line, “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary” remains on AFI’s list of 100 Greatest Movie quotes of all time. It’s a memorable heartbreaker than stand as a lingering testament to the importance of poetry. Despite featuring some heavy emotional issues such as suicide, as well as sexual references and multiple uses of ‘s**t,’ the MPAA only gave this one a PG.
Driving Miss Daisy
Winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, “Driving Miss Daisy” is definitely a prolific film on this list and definitely has not aged well over the years. However, watching Jessica Tandy (Best Actress winner) and Morgan Freeman (Best Actor Nominee) verbally spar with one another presents a light-hearted drama with a few lessons to be learned for more mature viewers. Uses of the N-word and other vulgar and racist language make this otherwise heartwarming film one that might be a little difficult to show to younger kids now but that is why “parental guidance” is suggested.
Although commonly brought up as an example of the kind of quintessential stuffy “Oscar bait” period pieces that The Academy loved to nominate for Best Picture in the 1990s and 2000s, “Finding Neverland” is still a legitimately touching portrait of the heart of the man who would go on to create Peter Pan. Johnny Depp gives an uncharacteristically restrained portrayal of JM Barrie (Which earned him an Oscar nomination), while Kate Winslet is as consistent as ever. The costumes and production design are sumptuous, while Marc Forster’s direction is assured. Aside from two uses of s**t, there is nothing even vaguely offensive in the film. It’s a good story executed in as family friendly a fashion as possible.
Being one of the strongest films in Bill Murray’s filmography is no easy achievement, but Harold Raimis’ timeless comedy, “Groundhog Day,” about a man forced to live the same day hundreds of times has enough psychological questions, hilarious moments, and genuine heart to put it right at the top of Murray’s filmography. The film ends up providing far more food for thought than one would expect in a mainstream studio comedy and proves to be absolutely hilarious. What’s crazy is, unlike Murray’s other best films, there isn’t a single swear word harsher than ‘crap,’ there’s little to no sex, and no drug use. It’s a comedy targeted completely at adults, yet there’s nothing even vaguely offensive for kids.
“Hidden Figures” came out of nowhere in the 2016 Oscar season, getting a last-minute Oscar-qualifying release date, and coming from a director who was previously best known for average comedies like “Saint Vincent.” Yet, audiences connected to this portrayal of the unsung heroes of the space race: the African American women who did the math that ensured we could put a man into orbit. The cast is uniformly excellent, as is Hans Zimmer’s score, and Alison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi’s screenplay tackles weighty racial issues but does so in a family-friendly fashion. No one utters a curse word more offensive than ‘damn,’ and the tone remains light even in the face of tremendous odds.
No one ever thought we would see the day where Martin Scorsese, king of gruesome violence and ample profanity, would make a movie for the whole family. But “Hugo” is visually stunning ode to George Melies, an early pioneer of silent film, avoids any of the director’s usual grit, and instead focused on a simple message from the heart, stars two pre-teen leads. Occasionally, Scorsese’s attempts at slapstick fall flat, as it occasionally feels the director is trying too hard to appeal to all audiences, but overall, this family-friendly period piece serves as a testament to Scorsese’s strength as a storyteller. As its five Oscars suggest, it is also a technical masterpiece.
The Hunt For Red October
Chalk this one up to something that if released today, would definitely receive the PG-13 rating. Multiple uses of the words A**, God D**m, Son Of A B***h and more are frequent in this exhilarating espionage thriller. Clever, tense and an Academy Award Nominee for Best Sound Mixing, Best Film Editing, and winner for Best Sound Editing, “The Hunt For Red October” is probably your father’s favorite movie to watch when it comes on during re-runs on TNT but that still does not stop it from being an enjoyable mature action film that the whole family can enjoy.
A League Of Their Own
“There’s no crying in baseball.” Have you heard that one before? We certainly hope so because “A League Of Their Own” is rated PG which means your parents should’ve done right by you and had this playing on the television when you were younger. The story of an all-girls group of baseball players who must take the mound during World War II under the eye of a has-been coach (Played by a younger Tom Hanks) was added to the National Film Registry by the Library Of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and has continued to be a long sports film staple for generations. There are definitely a few profane moments of dialogue, some sexist scenes due to the nature of the story but with a cast that includes Geena Davis, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, David Strathairn, Garry Marshall, Jon Lovitz and more, “A League Of Their Own” is still just as funny and charming as ever.
Leave No Trace
Debra Granik’s latest film (Her first in 9 years since the Academy Award nominated hit independent film “Winter’s Bone”), “Leave No Trace” is a story about the relationship between a father (Ben Foster) and his daughter (Newcomer Thomasin McKenzie) as they do their best to live off of the land in Portland Oregon away from society. Ben Foster is powerful and heartbreaking as a father struggling with PTSD and can’t seem to get himself reacquainted with society and chooses a life of seclusion. McKenzie owns the film as his daughter who may or may not be able to accept their self-inflicted predictament. Without a hint of profanity, extreme violence or sexual content (Although it is suggested in dialogue), “Leave No Trace” is a beautiful story about family and what home truly means, making it perfectly suitable for all ages.
Life Of Pi
Ang Lee’s visually sumptuous adaptation of Yann Martel’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “Life Of Pi,” tackles so many weighty themes is so gripping, and just feels so…important that it’s difficult to remember that the film is only PG. But a few intense action sequences, and some complex emotional themes aside, there’s absolutely no questionable content on display here even if the weighty themes of guilt and complex exploration of the nature of God may go over children’s heads. It is a very, very effective fantasy drama. So good, and so well made that Ang Lee became the first director to win Best Director for a PG film since before the PG-13 was even invented in the 1980s.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
One of the biggest surprise hits of all time, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” spread through word of mouth in the spring-summer of 2002 not only because it was a family film made for families to enjoy but because it was also funny, charming in all of the right ways and thoroughly entertaining. It exposed a lot of people who were unfamiliar with Greek culture to it for the first time and made stars out of writer Nia Vardalos and other members of its cast. An Oscar nominee for Best Original Screenplay, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” spawned a television series, a sequel and continues to be a worthwhile hit worth seeking out.
Remember The Titans
Disney has made dozens of inspirational sports movies, but none have ever been as effective as “Remember The Titans.” The classic story of how the great game of football taught an entire town to overcome its racial prejudices during the civil rights era is always guaranteed to turn on the waterworks. Boaz Yakin’s filmmaking plays it safe, but the story is just so effective, and Washington is just so compelling that it’s difficult not to be affected. A racial slur, and a use of ‘damn’ and ‘crap’ her or there aside there is nothing offensive on display. Those clean-cut tendencies also make the film an effective introduction to the civil rights era for young kids.
Sleepless In Seattle
One of the best romantic films ever written (By the late and great Nora Ephron) and an Oscar nominee for two Academy Awards including Best Original Screenplay and Best Original Song, Tom Hanks, and Meg Ryan star as two people who fall in love with one another without ever having actually met. It’s a light and almost fantasy based romance with pitch-perfect performances from Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan who were both on top of the world at the time. Even though audiences today might consider it too sentimental, those who remember it when it came out have done well to share it with their loved ones and the film has continued to endure 25 years later. There are maybe three instances of foul language and some brief talk about sex, but this now regarded classic about star-crossed lovers still manages to resonate all of these years later.
The Truman Show
One of Jim Carrey’s best-ever performances appears in a film almost entirely lacking in his usual toilet humor antics. Peter Weir shows up on this list again with “The Truman Show,” which is a portrait of a man who gradually realizes that he is the unwitting subject of an elaborate reality TV show. It is so creative and so prescient that it literally led to the creation of an entire psychiatric disorder. In addition to creating some of the best philosophical debates this side of “The Matrix,” the film is also well acted, vibrantly directed by Weir, boasts lovely production design and cinematography, and features a memorable score. It is one that proves delightful on rewatches and packs ample heart. Oh, and it basically predicted all 21st Century entertainment. And again, aside from maybe freaking out the kids a tiny bit, there is nothing offensive aside from two uses of s**t and one use of “godd*mn.”
So what do you think? What are your favorite PG rated films for adults? Have you seen “Leave No Trace” yet? Let us know in the comments section below.