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How films and other publications are classified

The classification process

The Classification Office doesn't examine and classify everything before it's released to the public. Some publications, such as films, generally have to have a New Zealand classification label before they are supplied to the public; other publications, such as books, are only submitted for classification in certain circumstances.

What the Classification Office classifies

Every publication that the Classification Office classifies, whether it's a film, game, book, magazine, T-shirt, text message or something else, goes through the following three stages to get a New Zealand classification:

  1. The submission process
  2. Assessment against criteria in the Classification Act
  3. A decision is made, issued and registered

Each of these stages of the classification process is explained below. 


Once Were Warriors, Ghost World, Naughty Bear, and South Park - all publications that have been through the classification process in New Zealand

1. The submission process

The submission process varies depending on what is being classified. Some people have the automatic right to submit things for classification, such as filmmakers or the courts. Other people, such as members of the public and libraries, have to apply to the Chief Censor for leave to submit something for classification.

Different kinds of publications

More about the different submission processes for different kinds of publications: 


Most films must be submitted for classification before they are supplied to the public. There are some exceptions - some types of films, like documentaries, are exempt from classification requirements. Find out more about exemptions

While all other films have to get New Zealand classifications, not all are examined by the Classification Office. Some are cross-rated by an organisation called the Film and Video Labelling Body. Find out more about cross-rating

The Film and Video Labelling Body handles all commercially released films and passes on those that might need a restriction to the Classification Office to assess.

This is the submission process: 

Flowchart showing the submission process for a film, DVD or game

Read flowchart description


Games are treated the same as films and must be submitted for classification - with one exception. The exception is for games that have an unrestricted rating in Australia or the UK. Unrestricted games don't have to be submitted for classification before they are supplied to the New Zealand public. For example, games with a classification below MA15+ in Australia can be distributed in New Zealand without a New Zealand classification.

Find out more about the classification of games

Books & magazines

Books and magazines don't automatically have to be submitted for publication. However, if someone is unsure whether a book or magazine has illegal content or content that should be restricted to prevent injury to the public good, then they can ask the Chief Censor to accept it for classification.

Find out more about the classification of books and magazines

Other 'things'

All kinds of things can be submitted for classification. We've classified drink cans, artworks, T-shirts, newspapers and billboards over the years. They were submitted because someone was concerned that their unrestricted availability could do an 'injury to the public good'. 

Find out more about how to get something classified

2. Assessment against criteria in the Classification Act

Classification Officers are experts at applying the classification law. They examine a publication that has been submitted (such as a film or book) against criteria in section 3 of the Classification Act. There's a page on our main website that explains how the classification criteria are applied. Applying the classification criteria

The Resources section of this site includes case studies of how the criteria has been applied to specific films, games and other publications. Case studies

3. A decision is made, issued and registered

Once a publication has been examined and considered against all the criteria in section 3 of the Classification Act, the Classification Officer will recommend a classification and discuss this with other staff - it's never just one person's opinion. The Classification Office can decide to make the publication:

(a) unrestricted; or
(b) objectionable; or
(c) objectionable except in any 1 or more of the following circumstances:

(i) if the availability of the publication is restricted to persons who have attained a specified age not exceeding 18 years:
(ii) if the availability of the publication is restricted to specified persons or classes of persons
(iii) if the publication is used for 1 or more specified purposes.

Section 23 of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993

Once the decision is made, the person who submitted the publication is informed of the decision and of their right of appeal; the Film & Video Labelling Body is asked to issue a label, if one is required; and the decision is entered into the NZ Register of Classification Decisions.

The NZ Register of Classification Decisions is a searchable database attached to our main website. How to search for a classification using this database

Flowchart description

The following is a description of the contents of the flowchart (above):

Flowchart showing the submission process for a film, DVD or game

Director submits film or game to Film and Video Labelling Body. 

Question 1: Has film or game been rated or classified in New Zealand?
Answer: Yes - Labelling Body issues labels.
Answer: No - go to Question 2.

Question 2: Has the film or game been classified as unrestricted in Australia or the UK?
Answer: Yes - Labelling Body assigns equivalent NZ rating (NB: unrestricted games do not need an NZ rating). Labelling Body issues labels.
Answer: No - go to Question 3.

Question 3: Has the film or game been classified as restricted in Australia or the UK?
Answer: No - Labelling Body views the film and either a) Assigns an unrestricted G, PG or M rating. Labelling Body issues labels; or b) Go to Question 3, Answer Yes.
Answer: Yes - Labelling Body forwards film or game to Classification Office for classification. Classification Office directs Labelling Body to issue classification label. Labelling Body issues labels.

Presenter at Censor for a Day
Want to have a go a classifying a film? Find out more about attending our Censor for a Day events.

Related links

These useful links will help you get to know how the classification system works in New Zealand.

Case Study: Into the River

Cover of the book Into the River by Ted Dawe
How a NZ Post Young Adult Book of the Year came to be submitted for classification. Find out more


A legal statement about who can have access to a publication. A classification can make a publication unrestricted (G, PG, M), restricted (RP or R), or objectionable (banned).
Classification Officer
Classification Officers are staff of the Classification Office whose job is to examine publications when they are submitted for classification.
Injury to the Public Good
An injury to the public good would be anything that upset our values or accepted behaviours such as having respect for others, or not endangering physical and mental freedom, safety or health.
A publication is anything that can be reproduced or shown that is made up of images, representations, signs, statements or words, or a combination of any of these things. Therefore, the definition of publication is very wide. It includes things such as films, books, video games, sound recordings and computer files. It also includes texts, T-shirts and artworks.
A book of public records.
Right of Appeal
The right to ask a court or other official body to consider changing a decision that you disagree with.