The M18 (Mature 18, for persons 18 years and above) film rating in Singapore was introduced in 2004. It is given to movies which may contain full frontal nudity with moderate details in semi-sexual context, strong graphic violence/gore, frequent strong coarse language, frequent drug use with some details, strong sexual activity with some details and may offend religious people.
Film censorship in Singapore has historically been strict. A classification system, which was first introduced in 1991, initially contained only the ratings G, PG and R(A). The gradual introduction of the NC16, M18 and R21 ratings now allow most major Hollywood features to be shown uncut locally.
A new film rating system was introduced in September 2003 and came into effect on March 2004. In addition to the existing categories of G, PG, NC16 and R(A), the new M18 (Mature 18) classification was introduced. The R(A) rating was changed to R21, with the censorship review committee of 2003 proposing to "allow greater leeway to non-exploitative sex and nudity" in content for adults as well to take a "more flexible and contextual approach" to homosexual content in film.
Koh June May, senior manager of corporate and marketing communications at the MDA said, "We are moving towards classification and industry co-regulation. Cinemagoers had more options following the introduction of the revised classification system."
Prior to the introduction of M18, there was rarely a middle ground between PG and R(A). There was NC16, which was introduced in 1992, but it took seven years before the NC16 rating was given to Saving Private Ryan. Even after that, it was not often used. Before the new system was established, film distributors sometimes faced an awkward balancing act - release a film with certain risqué scenes with a PG rating and expect cuts, or release the film uncut and expect it to be rated R(A), which would damage the film's box office potential. So M18 was a significant middle ground to enable a wider audience to see more films in their original form.
The MDA publishes the Board of Film Censors Classification Guidelines, downloadable as a PDF via a link on its website:. Under the latest guidelines dated 15 July 2011, released films submitted to it are classified under six ratings:
- G (General) - Suitable for all ages. Everyone is admitted.
- PG (Parental Guidance) - Suitable for most but parents should guide their young. No age-restriction for admission. May contain moderate violence, rear nudity, mild coarse language and mild sex references/innuendos.
- PG13 (Parental Guidance for children below 13) - Recommended by the Censorship Review Committee in 2009, the PG13 rating is given to films with content deemed unsuitable for young children but for which an NC16 rating is not warranted. May contain moderate violence with some details, some mature themes, intense and realistic horror, moderate sexual imagery, mild sexual activities, partial/side nudity, discreet drug use/references and moderate coarse language including brief strong usage.
- NC16 (No Children below 16 years of age) - May contain brief scenes of frontal nudity with/without semi-sexual context, moderate sexual activity without strong details, graphic violence/gore, drug use with some details, strong coarse language and may offend religious people. (This classification was introduced in 1993).
- M18 (Mature 18, for persons 18 years and above) - May contain full frontal nudity with moderate details in semi-sexual context, strong graphic violence/gore, frequent strong coarse language, frequent drug use with some details, strong sexual activity with some details and may offend religious people. (This classification was introduced in 2004).
- R21 (Restricted to persons 21 years and above) - May contain graphic full frontal nudity with/without sexual context, sequences of explicit and prolonged simulated sexual activities, moderate homosexual sex acts, pervasive strong coarse language, very strong graphic violence/gore and torture, detailed drug taking activities/sequences and may offend religious people. (This classification was introduced in 2004).
- NAR (Not Allowed for all Ratings/Banned) - Contains issues that are likely to cause controversy in Singapore.
Note: Any outright denigration of race or religion, matters that threaten national interest, depictions of hardcore pornographic scenes/unsimulated sex and depiction of explicit homosexual acts are still banned. Royston Tan's award-winning 15, a graphic depiction of Singapore's underbelly, was only allowed after over 20 scenes were cut.