The ’80s Classic That Was Called Pornography By The Studio

Censorship is a tricky thing, and it was much worse in the 1980s. One of the actors from one of the best 1980s films stated it was almost shelved after being called "pornography."

By James Brizuela | Published

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fast times at ridgemont high

The rating system and the general idea of censorship were quite different back in the 1980s. Outraged parents flooded most studios with hate mail if their kids were watching films they deemed were far too grotesque for their kids to even see. One of those films happens to be the classic, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The coming-of-age comedy was all but about to be scrapped in 1982 when a higher-up figure at Universal called the film, “pornography.” This is certainly not the case at all, as most of the themes that are shown are quite mild. One of the actors from the film, Judge Reinhold, recently revealed what was said about the film. According to Reinhold, “We were really heartsick because somebody high up said, ‘This is pornography, and there’s no way that Universal’s going to release this movie.'”

We can understand if there were loads of sex scenes and nudity in the film, but that is not the case. Fast Times at Ridgemont High is just about kids that go through love, loss, and their lives quickly passing them by. Reinhold added, “We didn’t see it as this horny high school movie at all. We saw it as having the opportunity to do something authentic that was based on the actual experiences of the kids that Cameron chronicled for that whole year.” The script for the film was based on the book Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story, which documented Cameron Crowe’s experiences posing as a high school student for a year. That alone was enough to warrant this story being told. Clearly, it was told, but imagine if the film had not been released?

Fast Time at Ridgemont High launched the careers of several prominent actors that are working today. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Forest Whitaker, Sean Penn, and Nicolas Cage all had their careers skyrocket after this 1980s classic came out, and it’s quite weird to think that none of these people who have been discovered if not for this film. What is even odder about the rating system in the 1980s is another coming-of-age comedy that had nudity in the film, which was released with a PG rating. That film is Sixteen Candles, which shows a moment of full-frontal female nudity. For some reason, that was not enough to warrant an R rating. Again, the rating system in the 1980s was quite odd.

To be fair, the PG-13 rating had not been invented until 1984, which was two years after Fast Times at Ridgemont High debuted. The MPAA or Motion Picture Association of America were likely still trying to record data and determine what ratings were appropriate for certain age groups. These discussions likely led to many arguments. Like the previously discussed fact that Sixteen Candles was rated PG but showed nudity. We are just speculating, but that was likely to be a hot button issue when the ratings for movies and age groups were being cultivated. Fast Times at Ridgemont High was simply about high school life. There was nothing that perverse in the film. However, through these discussions, the Classification & Ratings Administration (CARA) was born. This is how parents were informed of the “morality” of each film.

Despite the censorship issues that were present with Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the film became an instant hit. The film was only released in a few West Coast theaters in the United States to test the markets, but the studio soon found out that people could not get enough of it, even learning to quote the movie in social situations. This led to the film being released countrywide, leading to a massive $27 million box office haul. That would be equivalent to $83 million currently. On a budget of only $5 million, that is some huge money made.

Censorship can get a little tricky, especially when it comes to determining what is seen as “art.” The idea of a film is subjective to those who appreciate it. Not everyone was a fan of Fast Times at Ridgemont High in the same way that not everyone is a fan of more artsy films like Black Swan. Those are vastly different films, but we are just making the point that every film is not going to be everyone’s favorite. Calling a film “pornography” because you don’t agree with the ideologies explained in the film does not make it so. Thankfully, parents and the rating system have calmed down quite a bit, and more adult themes are vastly more welcomed now than they ever have been. If the CARA had its way, we would have been deprived of plenty of classic films.