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Film case study - Paul

Classified R13

Offensive language leads to R13 classification.

In March 2011 Paramount Pictures International New Zealand submitted the comedy film Paul for classification. After applying the classification criteria set out in the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, the Office of Film and Literature Classification classifed the film R13 with the descriptive note 'contains violence, offensive language and sexual references'.

The plot

Paul is a road comedy written by and starring the UK comedy duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

Clive and Graham are two English comic book geeks on a tour of famous American UFO sites. They encounter an alien named Paul who crash-landed to Earth in 1947, and since then has been working with the US government. Paul is on the run from the FBI because he has outlived his usefulness and the government wants to harvest his brain for stem-cell research.

Classification considerations

The language in the film contributed to the R13 classification.

Section 3A of the Classification Act says the Classification Office can age restrict something which contains "highly offensive language likely to cause serious harm". The written decision of the Classification Office discussed in detail the type and level of highly offensive language in the film, and noted:

The film deals with matters of sex in terms of s3(1) of the FVPC Act, and highly offensive language under s3A. There are frequent crass verbal references to sexual activity and body parts. ...The language is puerile, and somewhat incongruous with a film that has no other sexual content and might otherwise have had wider appeal.

Office of Film and Literature Classification, 2011

The film has an ongoing theme of jokes about gay people.

There is some drug use and violence in the film but these depictions were not considered to be particularly strong or promoting either drugs or violence. However, in its written decision the Classification Office did discuss the homophobic nature of a lot of the humour in the film:

To some extent the film does represent gay people as inherently inferior (s3(3)(e)), since being gay is the source of so much comedy and natural humiliation for anyone who is "straight". One of the film's ongoing jokes is that Clive and Graham are suspected by the people they meet of being a gay couple. Rather than this being a simple misunderstanding, people's confusion over their relationship is awkwardly stretched out and their actions misinterpreted for juvenile and fundamentally homophobic comic effect.

Office of Film and Literature Classification, 2011


In 2007, the Classification Office did a research project to find out what New Zealanders thought about highly offensive language.

Find out more about the offensive language research

Classification Office decision

The classification decision restricted the film to people aged 13 and over.

Paul was classified R13 with the descriptive note 'contains violence, offensive language and sexual references'.

The dominant effect of the publication as a whole is an uneven alien road movie with a level of crass humour that sits awkwardly with a film that also tries to be endearing... The widespread use of highly offensive language, much of it sexual in nature, would be harmful to children. Its casual and repetitive use may normalise or encourage emulation and would be likely to result in serious harms such as intimidation or alienation from peers. Further injury could result from the film's crassly homophobic sentiments that implicitly promote the notion that gay relationships are less legitimate than straight relationships, or that being gay is intrinsically funny.

Office of Film and Literature Classification, 2011

Classification Office's R13 classification decision for Paul (PDF, 118KB)

The R13 means that it is illegal for anyone to supply this film to anyone aged under 13. This applies at home, in school, in the cinema or at the DVD store.

Cinemas have to be sure that the people they let into restricted movies are legally allowed to see them. Although the Classification Act doesn't state that cinemas have to ask for formal ID, lots of cinemas now require photo ID before they let teenagers into restricted films.

If you are going to any restricted film, it's probably a good idea to ring the cinema and see if they want you to bring ID and what sort they'll accept.

Other film case studies

Paul film poster

...a science-fiction comedy that's strictly for grownups. It's raunchy, rude and raucous.

Linda Cook, KWQC-TV

Useful links

Stills from the film

A still image from the film of Clive and Graeme outdoors at night, wearing head lamps, looking off-screen at something that has shocked them
Clive Gollings (Nick Frost) and Graeme Willy (Simon Pegg)
A still image from the film of Paul the alien sitting on a sofa in an RV (recreational vehicle)
Paul the alien relaxes in Clive and Graeme's RV
A still image from the film of Paul and Graeme sitting in the two front seats of an RV, yelling in fear at something off-screen
Paul and Graeme get freaked out
A still image from the film of a group of people and Paul the alien watching as a helicopter hovers above them in a forest at night, illuminating them with its searchlight
The bad guys arrive by chopper


R13 classification label
R13: contains violence, offensive language and sexual references


Dominant effect
The main impact on the audience, viewer, reader, or player.
Summary of reasons for classification
A summary produced by the Office detailing the reasons for giving a particular classification to a publication. These can be requested from the Office.
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).