Movies have been an integral part of American culture since the early 1900’s: sometimes reflecting culture, sometimes influencing, and always entertaining.

As popular as movies in America are, the box office at local theaters has suffered in recent years because of advances in technology, which have given rise to the home theater system. Many people choose to avoid the lines at the box office, inflated ticket and food prices, and noisy theater goers for a more private, relaxed movie viewing experience at home.

While theater attendance may be down, movies are as popular as ever. Viewers can choose to rent DVDs from their local video store, rent from an online service, such as Netflix, or even download a movie online and view the film on their computer or mp3 player.

No matter what a typical American’s preference for viewing a film might be, they continue viewing. Movies entertain, educate, challenge, and even offer an escape from the day to day stresses of life. They often influence Americans’ clothing styles, music choices, and even jargon.

American movies are just a snapshot of American culture. However, watching American films will give you a better understanding of American popular culture, both positive and negative.

Admission Prices
Theater admission prices vary by region, city/state, or even by theater. A typical movie ticket will cost between $8 and $16.

If you are in a large city or tourist area, tickets will be on the higher end. They are also usually more expensive on both the east and west coasts, with prices dropping as you move inland.

If you’re interested in a cheaper ticket, you can go to a matinee showing, which is any show before 5 or 6 pm. A matinee ticket ranges from $7 to $9.

There are also discount tickets available for children, senior citizens, and military. Some theaters even offer discount tickets to students who have a valid student identification card.

Movie Ratings
Rating movies has been a practice since 1968. It is a voluntary system in which most theater owners and film producers participate.

The ratings do not determine whether a film is “good" or “bad”. Instead, they are guidelines, specifically for parents, to determine if a movie is suitable for viewing by certain age groups, based on film content.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) operates the system and gives each film one of the following letter ratings (click on rating for more detailed definition*):

G - General Audiences
: This is a film which contains nothing in theme, language, nudity and sex, violence, etc. that would, in the view' of the Rating Board, be offensive to parents whose younger children view the film. The G rating is not a certificate of approval nor does it signify a children’s film.

PG - Parental Guidance Suggested: This is a film which clearly needs to be examined by parents before they let their children attend. The label PG plainly states parents may consider some material unsuitable for their children, but leaves the parent to make the decision. Parents are warned against sending their children, unseen and without inquiry, to PG-rated movies. The theme of a PG-rated film may itself call for parental guidance. There may be some profanity in these films. There may be some violence or brief nudity. However, these elements are not considered so intense as to require that parents be strongly cautioned beyond the suggestion of parental guidance. There is no drug use content in a PG-rated film.

PG-13 - Parents Strongly Cautioned: A sterner warning to parents, particularly when deciding which movies are not suitable for younger children. Parents, by the rating, are alerted to be very careful about the attendance of their under-teenage children. A PG-13 film is one which, in the view of the Rating Board, leaps beyond the boundaries of the PG rating in theme, violence, nudity, sensuality, language, or other contents, but does not quite fit within the restricted R category. Any drug use content will initially require at least a PG-13 rating. In effect, the PG-13 cautions parents with more stringency than usual to give special attention to this film before they allow their 12-year-olds and younger to attend. PG-13 places larger responsibilities on parents for their children and movie-going. The voluntary rating system is not a surrogate parent, nor should it be. It cannot, and should not, insert itself in family decisions that only parents can make. Its purpose is to give pre-screened informational warnings, so that parents can form their own judgments. PG-13 is designed to make parental decisions easier for films between PG and R.

R - Restricted: In the opinion of the Rating Board, this film definitely contains some adult material. Parents are strongly urged to find out more about this film before they allow their children to accompany them. An R-rated film may include strong language, violence, nudity, drug abuse, other elements, or a combination of the above, so parents are counseled in advance to take this advisory rating very seriously.

NC-17 - No One 17 & Under Admitted: This rating declares that the Rating Board believes this is a film that most parents will consider patently too adult for their youngsters under 17. No children will be admitted. NC-17 does not necessarily mean obscene or pornographic; in the oft-accepted or legal meaning of those words. The Board does not and cannot mark films with those words. These are legal terms for courts to decide. The reasons for the application of an NC-17 rating can be excessive violence, sex, aberrational behavior, drug abuse or any other elements which, when present, most parents would consider too strong and therefore off-limits for viewing by their children.

Movie Reviews
Unlike movie ratings, movie reviews determine whether a film is good or bad based on one person’s opinion.

A reviewer/critic will view a film, typically before it is released in theaters, and will write a column that appears in popular magazines, newspapers, or online.

The column will explain what the movie is about, without giving away pivotal plot points. It will also contain the reviewers overall opinion of the film as well as a critique of different elements, such as the screenplay, acting, and directing.

Most columns also have a ratings system, usually stars, based on a scale of 1 to 4, or 1 to 5. For example a reviewer might give a film 3 out of 5 stars or 1 out of 4 stars, etc.

Some people will read reviews to get an idea of whether or not they should see a certain film. However, since taste in movies is purely subjective, many people will read reviews simply to see if they agree with a particular critic.