This year’s Oscars take place on Sunday and Albertans may be surprised to find out that movie ratings vary from province to province and there's actually a dedicated provincial film rating office which rates all movies before they hit theatres in Alberta.

Teenagers in other provinces may have already seen some movies nominated for this weekend’s show, but that’s not the case for Alberta teenagers. That's because of the province’s film rating system.

In fact – this is the 100th year that members of a provincial office have been classifying films in Alberta.

The Alberta Film Classifications office is the reason why movies like Django Unchained is rated 18A in Alberta but only rated 14A in neighbouring provinces.

Sixteen-year-old Vanessa Smith needs to be accompanied by an adult if she wants to see Django Unchained or the recently-released Gangster Squad.

But if Smith heads to Saskatchewan or British Columbia, she’d be able to watch the movie on her own.

“That’s ridiculous, I don’t understand why it’s different,” Smith said.

Paul Pearson with Alberta Film Ratings says each province classifies films differently due to regional dfiferences. 

“Movie viewers in Montreal are very different from movie viewers in Crowsnest Pass or Grande Prairie,” Pearson said.

“They are regional differences. We reflect the community standards of Albertans. The community standards of Albertans differ from perhaps the community standards of Vancouver or Toronto.”

Classification officers view nearly 500 movies a year

There are three people working in the Alberta Film Ratings office – located in a non-descript office in an Edmonton strip mall.

Every movie is viewed and rated before it hits the big screen in Alberta.

The three professional classification officers will view nearly 500 movies each year - or about two movies per day.

They take notes and then discuss the film after it’s viewed.

“They’re looking for the obvious things, coarse language, sexual content, violence, some of the less-obvious things are crude content and other mitigating factors, frightening scenes, mature subject matter, any sort of material that may frighten or confuse children,” Pearson said.

“A lot of our classification officers are parents so they’ve got that firsthand experience with raising a child. If you have a child, you know what it’s like to accidentally scare the you-know-what out of your kid with a film.”

Putting elements into context to determine rating

The officers know they won’t make everyone happy but they look for a general consensus.

There’s no check list used in the Alberta office but other jurisdictions do use that method.

In theory, one swear word could bump a PG film rating up to a 14A.

Local rating officers try to put the elements into context to determine a rating.

Pearson says officers also do a lot of community standards research by talking to Albertans and monitoring the media and social trends.

“Sometimes we have heard from Albertans that they would liked a classification of a movie to be higher. Sometimes we’ll hear from distributors that they’d like a classification to be lower. We really are trying to just provide information to Albertans so they can make an informed viewing choice,” he said.

“That’s our goal.”

In Alberta, it’s against the law to watch a movie if you don’t meet the rating requirement.

The province doesn’t always rate on the older end of the spectrum than our neighbouring provinces.

For the most part, the classification office says ratings are the same coast-to-coast.

“You’ll see some variations in the advisories, the language that follows, 14A violence, mature subject matter, that sort of thing,” Pearson said.

Ratings do not apply to home movies or video games - where a larger rating system has been adopted.

The Alberta Film Ratings office is also trying to gain traction on social media.

Albertans can check out the @ABFilmRatings Twitter feed to see the latest film ratings as they’re determined.

Click here to find out more about Alberta Film Ratings.

With files from Laura Lowe