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Film case study - 127 Hours

Re-classified on appeal

An appeal results in a re-classification from R16 to RP16.

20th Century Fox Film Distribution, the distributor of 127 Hours, disagreed with the 'R16 content that may disturb' classification given to the film by the Classification Office. They applied to the Film and Literature Board of Review to have the Classification Office's decision reviewed. The Board of Review made the film 'RP16 graphic content may disturb'. This classification means that if you are 16 or older you can see the film by yourself, but if you are under 16 you have to have a parent or guardian with you.

The plot

127 Hours tells of one man's survival against enormous odds.

This film is a biographical adventure film co-written, produced and directed by Danny Boyle. The film stars James Franco as mountain climber Aron Ralston, who became trapped by a boulder in Robbers Roost, Utah in April 2003. 127 Hours was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor (James Franco).

Classification Office decision

127 Hours contains horror and violence, offensive language and some sexual activity.

After watching the film, the Classification Office decided to give the film an R16. The written classification decision explains why:

...The unrestricted availability of the publication would be injurious to the public good given the manner in which it deals with matters of horror and violence. The feature's subject matter, of a climber who becomes trapped for five days and is forced to sever his arm to free himself, would be highly disturbing to children and younger teenagers. Older teenagers and adults, on the other hand, will be able to put the graphic and jarring images of a man amputating his arm into the context of a dramatic account of a man's extraordinary real-life personal experience.

Office of Film and Literature Classification, 2011

The written decision also noted that there was highly offensive language in the film and some sexual activity. The decision was issued on 8 January 2011.

Classification Office's R16 classification decision for 127 Hours (PDF, 130KB)

The appeal

20th Century Fox appealed the R16 and said the film should be RP13 or RP16.

Under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, decisions of the Classification Office can be appealed to the Film and Literature Board of Review.

The film's distributor, 20th Century Fox, sought a review of the film from the Film and Literature Board of Review. The Board of Review summarised the submission from 20th Century Fox as saying "...the film carries a strong message that those travelling in a wild natural place must be properly prepared, and must prudently advise others in advance about where they are going. It is in the public interest that the message should be widely and graphically disseminated."

The distributor put to the Board of Review that without the amputation scene the film would be at an M level, and that with the scene it should be classified as RP13 or RP16.

The Board of Review

The Board of Review considered the character of the film and felt it has merit.

Section 3(4)(d) of the Classification Act refers to the "character of the publication, including any merit, value, or importance... in relation to literary, artistic, social, cultural, educational, scientific or other matters ...". These matters were considered by the the Board of Review and noted in the Board's written reasons for the RP16 classification:

...the film's message and its focus on Aron's thoughts and actions when his arm is trapped, is a praiseworthy part of the character of the publication. The Board also holds that the film has high artistic, social and cultural merit.

Film and Literature Board of Review, 2011

They decided the amputation scene could be highly disturbing but the film had an important message to give.

The Board of Review considered that the public safety message of the film was an important and intentional theme of the film. It noted that although the amputation scene was graphic and potentially disturbing, it was also only a small part of the film's duration: 3 minutes of the 93 minute film, and that parents would be able to judge whether their children could deal with the nature of the material. The following excerpt is from the Board's written decision:

In the Board's judgement the amputation scene is necessary to tell the story but is so explicit it could highly disturb some viewers aged 15 or less. The Board does consider that some viewers aged 15 or less are likely to be no more disturbed or in any way psychologically injured than an average adult. The choice as to which young persons should see the film should be made by a parent of guardian.

Film and Literature Board of Review, 2011

Board of Review classification

The Board of Review classified 127 Hours as RP16 'Graphic content may disturb'.

The RP classification is generally used where a film presents ideas or issues that could challenge younger viewers but might still be valuable to them, if they have support in working through the issues in the film.

Board of Review's RP16 classification decision for 127 Hours (PDF, 101KB)

Other film case studies

Film poster: 127 Hours

James Franco is outstanding in this true story that might put you off climbing for life.

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

Useful links

Stills from the film

A still image from the film of Aron Ralston hiking, standing on a boulder in the desert
James Franco as mountain climber Aron Ralston
A still image from the film of the trapped man contemplating using a knife to free himself
Ralston contemplates using his knife to sever his own arm
A still image from the film of camera footage filmed by Ralston
Camera footage filmed by the trapped man


RP16 classification label
RP16: graphic content may disturb