Eighth Grade box office: An unwilling victim to the MPAA?

Elsie Fisher appears in Eighth Grade / Photo Courtesy: A24
Elsie Fisher appears in Eighth Grade / Photo Courtesy: A24 /

Is the MPAA rating for Eighth Grade the reason the movie underperformed at the box office?

As Eighth Grade heads into its second weekend in a wide release, the question of how well Eighth Grade will do at the box office may boil down to who CAN see it without supervision – thanks to a strange move from the MPAA, which may be to blame for the low numbers.

No matter how well or poorly Eighth Grade ends its theater run, it’s difficult to doubt the hard ad campaign A24 is conducting for the Bo Burnham drama-comedy. The film has been blessed to be one of the pre-video videos when you click on a random YouTube video that, more likely than not, you have skipped to get going.

Bo Burnham and the film’s star, Elsie Fisher, have gone on a well-publicized campaign across America to promote the film. A24 has put the same amount of effort into promoting Eighth Grade as they have with the acclaimed commercial success Hereditary. However, Burnham’s film has not received nearly the amount of box office success as the Ari Aster horror film.

In fact, the two are not even close in terms of box office appeal. Hereditary managed to nab an impressive $13 million in its opening weekend and its strong legs at the box office helped carry it past last year’s Lady Bird to officially be crowned the highest grossing A24 film ever at almost $80 million. Quite impressive for an art-house horror film, with a D Cinemascore, of all things. Despite its polarizing reception with the general audiences, people’s fascination with the film helped contribute to the film’s unlikely success. The same cannot be said for Eighth Grade, unfortunately.

Although the premise of Eighth Grade is significantly less macabre than Hereditary, the box office numbers aren’t as kind, seeing as how the film expanded into a wide release last weekend and somehow only came away with just over $2 million. That’s not to say Eighth Grade is a bomb, which it truly isn’t.

The film’s estimated low-budget could be beneficial in not losing money, and though this is the first week of its wide release, it’s far from a brand-new release. The film had a limited release in a few cities at first, which managed to nab it some fairly sizable numbers (Eighth Grade currently holds the record for the best per-theater average gross of the year so far with $63, 071), which may have faded away by the time the wide release came about.

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There are loads of factors that lead to Eighth Grade‘s numbers, but one that I haven’t heard much mention of might have to do with the MPAA themselves.

The MPAA, which are responsible for the age ratings given to art such as films, TV shows, and video games, are notoriously strict with their ratings. They view any potential profanity and language as a legitimate reason for slapping an otherwise tame film with a surprisingly mature rating.

It appears to be the same case for Eighth Grade, which is currently rated R for American audiences. R for restricted implies that the film you are about to see may contain strong language, heavy drug use, sexual content, nudity, bloody and gory violence, etc. This rating is typically reserved for horror films that push the envelope or incredibly violent action films.

Hereditary itself had an R-rating, which could’ve been detrimental to its success, but with the majority of people interested in the film being young adults who are old enough to see the film without supervision, the film became a success nonetheless.

Eighth Grade, Oscars
Eighth Grade, A24. Photo courtesy A24 via EPK.tv /

If that film could experience loads of success, why isn’t it the same for Eighth Grade? For one, let’s look at the premise of the film: a young girl is heading towards the end of her middle school life as she tries to deal with the problems of eighth grade before she officially enters high school. Now I will ask this: who do you think this film will resonate with the most? Burnham may try to spin it by saying that everyone will relate to Eighth Grade, but let’s be real: the film is pretty much a hilarious cautionary tale for pre-teen girls who are currently going through the same thing. The film’s protagonist isn’t even in high school, so it’s pretty obvious that this is the case.

Those pre-teen girls (and boys for that matter) that Eighth Grade is appealing to may very well be interested in seeing the film for themselves. Only one problem: they can’t go in by themselves due to the film’s R rating. If you try to get into an R-rated film by yourself, you WILL be turned away (I know from experience).

Eighth Grade, A24. Photo courtesy A24 via EPK.tv
Eighth Grade, A24. Photo courtesy A24 via EPK.tv /

But the kids’ parents can take them into the movie, right? Well, they can, but that doesn’t mean every parent is going to WANT to. Sometimes parents are busy, not around, and some even follow the MPAA ratings down to a tee. If the film is rated R, parents may simply assume that the film will be a profane mess that’s trying to corrupt their children’s minds.

I mean, the film has the same rating as It, the scary movie about a clown master that eats small children. “That gave my daughter nightmares for weeks. Why would I take her to see Eighth Grade?“, a parent might say to themselves. You may be thinking the comparison is silly and lacking in logic. I’m here to tell you that it absolutely is, but it’s the logic that the MPAA is going by.

Eighth Grade‘s most controversial scene is a sequence in a car that might hit a little too close to home for some people, which is understandable. But by slapping the film with an R rating, the MPAA is preventing an otherwise awkward and heartwarming coming-of-age film from being  easily accessible to children. Without the children to support the film, Eighth Grade could unwillingly be left in the dust. Yeah, the movie business isn’t always fair, but this is just silly.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – JULY 12: Elvis Mitchell, Elsie Fisher and Bo Burnham attend Film Independent at The WGA Theater presents screening and Q&A of “Eighth Grade” at The WGA Theater on July 12, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Araya Diaz/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA – JULY 12: Elvis Mitchell, Elsie Fisher and Bo Burnham attend Film Independent at The WGA Theater presents screening and Q&A of “Eighth Grade” at The WGA Theater on July 12, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Araya Diaz/Getty Images) /

To further illustrate the silliness of the rating, I’d like to bring up another unfairly scrutinized film. The film I’m referring to is the charming holiday buddy comedy known as Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. The film, which stars comedic legend, Steve Martin, and the late, great John Candy, focuses on a father trying to make it back to his home in Chicago for Thanksgiving, all the while dealing with a good-natured, but incredibly talkative and overbearing shower curtain ring salesman, played to perfection by Candy.

The film is memorable for its many quotable lines, the heartwarming performance of John Candy, and the its message of positive karma and the importance of being kind to your neighbors and acquaintances. On personal terms, I even have an old friend from high-school who claims that she STILL considers this a holiday tradition with her family, akin to something like A Christmas Story. In many ways, it is the perfect family film and one that you can introduce your child to.

Except if said child tries to purchase the film at a store, they would be turned away, because this charming and emotional holiday comedy is too profane for them.

Yes, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles remains one of the most perplexing and downright baffling R-rated films in existence. I don’t feel I’m exaggerating at all because for the most part, the film is tame in terms of “profane” content. The language, for the most part, is relegated to a few cheeky lines, the violence, when it appears in the film, is cartoonish and not worth shielding your child’s eyes over it and no sexual content (apart from the bed sequence with Martin and Candy, which is more awkward than disturbing).

But, Steve Martin’s f-bomb tirade in the middle of the film is too much for the MPAA to handle. An R rating it is!

Steve Martin’s now-infamous scene at the car rental place, where he chews out the receptionist for not receiving the car he’d wanted to rent to drive home, is quite literally the only clear reason the film received an R rating. Martin continuously says the f-word time after time in a moment of hilarious anguish, but it’s because of that one scene that the film, much like Eighth Grade, received an unwarranted R rating.

Here is the clip in full to see what I’m talking about, but warning, the f-bomb is thrown out a bit, so you’ve been warned.

Now sure, the scene itself does contain a fair amount of heavy swear words (though understandable, given Martin’s situation and the overall context of the film), realize that this is the film’s ONLY instance of profanity, which was enough to get it slapped with a restricted rating. Films such as Jaws and Airplane!, which contain far more mature and adult-orientated content, still have a measly PG rating to this very day. But to drive the point home, I will show one more scene from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, one which I feel encapsulates the tone and message of the film into a perfect ending for the family to enjoy.

Viewer discretion is not advised, because why would it be?

Next. Eighth Grade: Will the film receive any Oscar nominations?. dark

If you’ve watched the clip, then ask yourself: is this a movie truly deserving of the R rating it received? A movie about a man wanting to reunite with his family and making a friend along the way is less child-friendly than something like a bloody shark film? The MPAA rating system has been flawed way before then, but this is one of the instances where the rating is simply baffling and history is repeating itself with Eighth Grade.

The film’s rating is so baffling that Burnham and A24 took it upon themselves to create a special one-night screening of the film this past Wednesday in theaters across America where the rating was not enforced and tickets were free. Children could get in without supervision and finally see what Eighth Grade is really about. It’s sad that this is potentially the only way for the film to be seen by many kids and it’s not even something the company could profit off of, given that the tickets are free. Makes one wonder what exactly is child-friendly anymore, you know?

Eighth Grade is still available to watch in theaters now.