Recently we learnt that Diamonds Are Forever, which was rated 'A', the equivalent of the current PG (parental guidance) rating, will be rated 12 (recommended for viewers 12 years and over) by the British Board of Film Classification for its release in the Bond 50 Blu-Ray box set, reflecting changes in attitudes towards violence and stereotyping. Meanwhile, the rating for Casino Royale, originally 12A, will be raised to 15 (suitable only for viewers 15 years or over), as cuts made for its cinema release are restored.
Ratings for the Bond films have varied between countries as cultural sensibilities, particularly with regard to the depiction of violence and sexual behaviour, have varied. We can see this when we take a look at the classification policies of a few countries.
In Sweden, for example, all Bond films up to (and including) Tomorrow Never Dies have been rated 15 (that is, no one under the age of 15 are permitted to see them), reflecting the general view held by the Swedish Media Council, which classify films, that depictions of violence are more harmful to society than, say, sexual acts or strong language. Curiously, though, all films since Tomorrow Never Dies, with the exception of Casino Royale, which was given a 15 rating, were rated 11, being deemed suitable for viewers of 11 years or over, or between 7 and 11 years if accompanied by an adult.
In Peru, all films, with three exceptions, have been rated 14, being suitable for viewers of 14 years or over, although under 14s are admitted if accompanied by an adult. The exceptions have been The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker and For Your Eyes Only, which were classified as being suitable for general audiences. By comparison, the Australian Classification Board has rated the Bond films either PG (parental guidance recommended) or M (recommended for mature audiences). The films with the slighter higher rating have included Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, A View To A Kill, The Living Daylights, and all films from Tomorrow Never Dies onwards.
The UK and US have taken similar positions on Bond film classification. In the US, with one exception, all films up to The Living Daylights have been rated PG, or its precursor, 'Approved'. On Her Majesty's Secret Service was rated M, or for mature audiences, a short-lived rating equivalent to PG, PG-13, or even R (restricted), depending on the film. Licence to Kill received a PG-13 rating, denoting that some material may be inappropriate for children under 13, and all films since then have received the same classification.
In the UK, films up to The Living Daylights received a PG (or the 'A' equivalent) classification. As in the US, Licence to Kill was problematic owing to its drug theme and depiction of violence, and was rated 15, a higher rating than was usual for a Bond film and despite cuts. However, at that time, the more palatable 12 or 12A rating, which has been given to all Bond films from GoldenEye onwards, did not exist, and it is possible that had it been available, the film would have been so classified, although it is notable that the film has so far not been reclassified for its various video/DVD releases.
This brief, and fairly random, survey of Bond film classification shows that, from a memetic point of view, cultural attitudes evolve along separate trajectories within individual societies, hence the variation in film ratings across different countries, and changes in classifications within them over the course of 50 years. And while the Bond films have generally been regarded as family entertainment, the message from boards of film classification seems to be that the ideal Bond-viewing family is a mature one.