Parent’s guide: How ‘The Black Phone’ earned its R rating

Ethan Hawke is “the Grabber” in Universal/Blumhouse’s “The Black Phone,” rated R, which opens Friday. (Universal Studios)

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

THE BASEMENT — Summer is made for big action movies like “Jurassic Park,” “Independence Day” or “Top Gun: Maverick.” But what about a horror movie? The makers of “The Black Phone” said, “Why not?”

“The Black Phone” is a rare change of pace for the summer movie season and the high critical praise and oddity of its release date has a lot of people curious about the horror/thriller.

The movie has a 7.4 rating on IMDb and a critic’s rating of 86% on Rotten Tomatoes with an audience score of 89%. But what’s in the movie? How did it earn its R rating, and is it something you want to see? That’s what I’m here for.

I’m not here to tell you my thoughts on the movie or if you or your older teens who are begging you to go see it should be allowed. I’m just here to let you know what to expect so you can make that decision.

Here is how “The Black Phone” earned its R rating.


There isn’t any sex or nudity in “The Black Phone,” nor is there really any talk of it. A joke is made at one point, but that’s about it. A possible reference to sexual violence is mentioned, but it’s not clear that’s what the threat is referencing.


There is some language in the movie and that alone would have earned the rating. There are about 15 to 20 F-words, but they come almost all at once in a couple of outbursts through the movie. The harsh language is not constant, but when it comes all at once.

In addition to it being sporadic language, much of it comes from children. Most of the cursing is uttered by a preteen girl.


The threat of violence is present throughout the entire movie and actual violent acts are similar to the language in the film. They don’t happen all the time, but when they do, they came at you hard.

There is a fair amount of blood and some gore. Images include a bloody face from getting continually punched and the bloody knuckles that did the damage. There is also a scene where a person is killed with an ax, and while it’s very brief it’s fairly graphic.

There are multiple of scenes of bullying with kids hurting other kids and blood is present.


“The Black Phone” isn’t scared to go down some dark alleys. It is a horror movie, after all, and it’s hoping to scare you. It’s effective there, but it’s also fairly disturbing.

Main themes in the movie are child abduction and murder, child abuse, bullying and sexism. Not all of this is always directly shown, but there are persistent themes and some images pop up that are certainly disturbing.

Substance use

Alcoholism is a plot point in the film with one of the characters, and there are two scenes where a character snorts cocaine. The latter isn’t overt and is played more as a comedic turn than something incredibly serious.


“The Black Phone” certainly deserved its R rating, but believe it or not, it’s a bit tamer than many horror films and it is certainly toned down in comparison to slasher movies.

The biggest thing in the movie is the central element of a serial killer who focuses in on teenage boys.

“The Black Phone” falls into a category I have dubbed “terror.” There are horror movies, but this is more of a terror movie that attacks your emotions and anxiety, as opposed to assaulting your eyes with blood, gore and jump scares.

“The Black Phone” is officially rated R for violence, bloody images, language and some drug use.

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John has grown up around movies and annoys friends and family with his movie facts and knowledge. He also has a passion for sports and pretty much anything awesome, and it just so happens, that these are the three things he writes about.

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