On July 1, 1984, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) added a new rating to its arsenal: PG-13. At the time, the MPAA ratings included G, PG, R, and X (changed to NC-17 in 1990). PG-13 fit in between PG and R, and according to the MPAA, indicated content that "may be inappropriate for children under 13 years old."
Why add PG-13? In a word, Spielberg. Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom came out in May 1984, and it was decidedly dark, including very intense human sacrifice scenes. But it was caught in an odd place, given the MPAA's rating system at the time. It earned a PG rating (the tamer end of the spectrum), but many parents objected, saying it was simply too intense for young kids. What to do?
Well, Spielberg phoned up Jack Valenti of the MPAA to suggest a middle ground. Spielberg told Vanity Fair:
"The story of that was, I had come under criticism, personal criticism, for both Temple of Doom and, you know, Gremlins, in the same year. I remember calling Jack Valenti [then the president of the Motion Picture Association] and suggesting to him that we need a rating between R and PG, because so many films were falling into a netherworld, you know, of unfairness. Unfair that certain kids were exposed to Jaws, but also unfair that certain films were restricted, that kids who were 13, 14, 15 should be allowed to see. I suggested, 'Let’s call it PG-13 or PG-14, depending on how you want to design the slide rule,' and Jack came back to me and said, 'We’ve determined that PG-13 would be the right age for that temperature of movie.' So I’ve always been very proud that I had something to do with that rating. ..."
Very quickly, the MPAA introduced PG-13 as a middle ground rating. It was a practical compromise, as R-rated movies required an adult chaperone for kids under 17. Slapping an R rating on a movie like Temple of Doom (or Gremlins for that matter) would have been a commercial disaster. By creating PG-13, the MPAA allowed parents to make age-related policy decisions about these middle-ground movies on their own.
The first film released with a PG-13 rating was Red Dawn in August 1984, though The Flamingo Kid was technically the first to receive that rating from the MPAA. (It was finally released in December 1984.)
If you're curious about the history of movie ratings, consult our detailed explainer.