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It Came From Outer Space

Which Scene in Prometheus Tipped the Movie Into an R-Rating?

There’s a good part of me that wishes that somehow I could watch Prometheus and have it all be like this picture or even this picture and still get the experience of watching Prometheus. Instead, I’m going to wait for the home video release, probably have a drink beforehand, and keep my finger on the pause button. Because I actually do want to watch Prometheus, as it was cut.

There’s an interesting story out from the LA Times, however, that’s about one pretty significant cut that Ridley Scott was asked to make from Prometheus, apparently the only thing in the movie that stood between it and a PG-13 rating instead of the box-office killing R. If you’ve already seen the movie, you’ve probably already guessed which one it is, and if you haven’t… well, HUGE SPOILERS below.

It is, of course, the scene where Noomi Rapace‘s Dr. Elizabeth Shaw gives herself a medical-robot-aided Cesarean section in an attempt to end the alien pregnancy that’s been forced on her by her crewmembers. And though I haven’t seen it, I’m guessing it’s taken the new #1 spot on terrifying robot-assisted cinematic birthing scenes, edging out Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith by a long shot. No, I don’t want to talk about this robot and it’s freaky scoop hands.

From the LA Times:

The scene, according to Scott, is the one that tipped the film’s rating from a PG-13 to an R. The director said the only way to land the more family-friendly rating would have been to remove the scene entirely.

“They didn’t even want the scene,” Scott said. “It wasn’t about just cutting it down, they didn’t want the scene.”

And that was something neither Scott nor studio chief Tom Rothman wanted considering the importance of the sequence and the toll it took on the Rapace.

Needless to say, in addition to being a difficult and emotional shoot for Rapace (see the whole article to hear her talk about her nightmares during the four days it took to get it down), the scene is fundamental to the movie. It’s unclear what the MPAA wanted the makers of Prometheus to replace the scene with.

The questions we are left with are numerous, but among them: would it have been PG-13 safe if Shaw had allowed the pregnancy to end in a classic Alien chestburster scene? Was the scene considered too heavy because it was a person deliberately performing surgery on themselves? Or was it considered t0o heavy because it was a woman performing surgery to remove a growing entity from her body, and the (fully intentional) parallels to pregnancy, birth, and abortion were too strong?

While I can see the merit of both of those last two arguments, I find it hard to believe that an MPAA rating audience completely missed the bodily choice parallels, and even harder to believe that if they noticed them, it wouldn’t heavily influence their ruling.

(via Think Progress.)

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  • Anonymous

    Because I’m always fascinated with how things are rated in Canada vs in the US, Prometheus is rated 14A in Ontario – “Suitable for viewing by persons 14 years of age and older. Persons under 14 must be accompanied by an adult. May contain: violence, coarse language and/or sexually suggestive scenes” (Wikipedia)
    The trend is generally that Canadian standards rate violence higher, and American standards rate sexuality higher. 

  • grog1138

    That is interesting how a political statement might be the cause of the rating.  It was definitely tough to watch and bad ass at the same time.  Like the Prometheus review on MarySue, I feel that Shaw never wanted it, she was violated.  So it to me it was more of a fighting off the body invasion than abortion. Empowering herself and not give into the rape.

  • Christopher LaHaise

    It really bothers me that ‘R’ is considered a movie-killer.  People pushing for 14A are effectively nerfing their scripts to cater to a bunch of people who have no business judging what movie ratings should be.

  • Anonymous

    I LOVED the part where the machine said that it was only calibrated for males and that a caesarean was not a supported procedure. Although now that you point it out, having her type in “foreign body removal” may have been to help distance the procedure from “pregnancy” rather than a commentary on treatment of women in healthcare.

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  • Anonymous

    Good for Ridley refusing to cut it. It was the best scene in the movie without a doubt.

  • Will

    *SPOILERS*  Well it also has plot supported logic.  It would make sense for it to be programmed for Weyland, who was secretly on board, and was the only person (besides maybe Vickers) who could afford such a rare medical device.  Programming it for only dudes is one way to make sure that no one monkeys around with his toys.

  • Daniel Dellinger

    It was most certainly for the abortion parallels.  To the ratings board you can have all the bloody monsters bursting out of people you want, but anything resembling ending a pregnancy is what’s really offensive.

  • Mia R.

    I’m somewhat relieved to hear that the Rapace also had some issues with the scene, because it makes me feel better about being reduced to sobbing in the middle of a movie theatre.
    It needed to be kept in, but OF COURSE it gets an R-rating! That scene, even with the abortion undertones removed, provides enough visceral horror to scar/terrify most people out of their minds, let alone younger viewers.

  • Life Lessons


    I think that the fact I woman was declaring she needed an abortion and was yelling – RIGHTLY SO – “Get that thing out of me!” was too much for some misogynistic ratings &*()_P(*&%$@#. I thought it was FANTASTIC! And also by the medical pod only being made for men, it seemed to show me how sexist medicine can be. :)

    I liked it.

    I’m glad it is in.

    And go Rapace.


    Once that scene was done, no one mentioned it again or even let Rapace’s character confront people on forcing her to carry an alien baby to term. Hmmm… Another example of silencing the female or weird editing? At this point, I don’t know.

  • Life Lessons

    I must whole-heartedly support your statement.

  • Life Lessons

    Huh. I never thought of it that way and yes I like the scene even more. :) Go Shaw.

  • Jessica H

    It’s 14A in Canada, but I just figured it was rated R for the birthing scene itself and nothing else. That being said, I never saw it. I went to see the movie with my friends and left when she discovers she is pregnant, I’m really sensitive to gore and didn’t want to see where it went after that. Hearing buddy’s bone snap made me sick enough.

  • Anonymous

    Exactly. The whole time I was cheering her on through that desperation of regaining control of her body.

    The attack on Milburn freaked me out. I was terrified for him as that parasite squeezed his arm. As soon as Fifield cut off its head and it grew back, I covered my eyes and started sobbing. The idea of watching someone while a foriegn body attacks them, and being helpless to do anything…shook me to my core.

  • grog1138

     I KNOW!  Ever since I started reading Lovecraft, I started notice that there are a lot of body invasions in the Alien series.  Prometheus was very lovecraftian.  Ugh… also it didn’t help that the worm looked like a penis and went into his mouth.  Also, when the acid hit Fifeld’s helmet and it started to melt on him…”shook me to my core” is right!

  • Christopher Haley

    If you want to learn more about how films are rated you should watch the documentary “This Film Is Not Yet Rated”. It’s pretty enlightening, in a I-wanna-punch-someone-in-the-face-now way. The people on the ratings board are pretty much all strongly conservative Christians. It’s no wonder they wanted to take out a scene that shows abortion saving a mother’s life.

  • Christopher Haley

    As do I.

  • R.O.U.S.

    Oh, if only we had a perfect Hollywood where movies were created on the artistic and storytelling merit alone, rated as needed, and moved forward without any consideration of box-office take and how that art should be altered to fit the ledgers…

  • Jen Roberts

    The med pod wasn’t only made for men, it was just set to male patient, and it probably would’ve taken too long to figure out how to reset it. It was set to male patient not because of “how sexist medicine can be” but because the pod was probably intended for Weyland’s use only.

    And I think after she had the thing removed from her she, like everyone else, assumed that it was dead (She did tell the pod to sterilize), and they had more pressing things to deal with.

  • Jen Roberts

     What Will said. Shaw asking for a Caesarean instead of an abortion was almost certainly a way to get around having her say the “a-word”, from a writing standpoint, but the “foreign body removal” was Shaw doing a workaround on the pod’s being programmed for Weyland.

  • Crystal Lynn

    WHY would you want to make a Sci-Fi movie related to the Aliens franchise PG-13?  I realize PG-13 movies overall make more money but it’s frakkin’ Ridley Scott Aliens related stuff for goodness sakes.

    I’m glad it still made it in. Despite Prometheus having many flaws, the scene was one of the most uncomfortable scenes in a film I have ever seen. That is a compliment.

  • Anonymous

     ”Shaw asking for a Caesarean instead of an abortion was almost certainly a
    way to get around having her say the “a-word”, from a writing

    I can’t really agree with that. By the time Shaw got to the pod the alien was clearly too large to remove in an abortion-like procedure: a Caesarian was the only option at that point.  There was no reason to bring abortion into it, because it was clearly too late for such a procedure – that, and this clearly wasn’t a pregnancy as it is generally understood.

  • Anonymous

    “I think that the fact I woman was declaring she needed an abortion and
    was yelling – RIGHTLY SO – “Get that thing out of me!” was too much for
    some misogynistic ratings ”

    It isn’t as if there aren’t feminists who are anti-abortion, you know.  It’s a bigger and more thorny issue than “another way for men to suppress women.”

  • Anonymous

    Abortion is the termination of a pregnancy.  This was the removal of an alien parasite mockingly compared to a pregnancy.  You might as well say removing a particularly large tapeworm is an abortion.

    But let’s say it was an abortion.  Well, if it was, it failed, since the “baby” survived – something that doesn’t tend to happen with real abortions – and, indeed, said baby saved its mother’s life at the end.  So if you’re going to bring abortion subtext into the film, then one could argue that the film is anti-abortion as much as it’s pro-abortion, just like how the atheist themes could be reinterpreted as theistic themes.

    It’s one of those movies, I think.

  • Anonymous

    While I’m fascinated by the themes in Prometheus, I really do just think it’s a case of the scene being too heavy.  This was a hard scene to watch regardless of possible parallels to controversial elements: we see someone slicing their belly open, repeatedly injecting themselves with medicines, and tearing a Lovecraftian horror from their stomach, before the machine staples their stomach back together.  If you can recall a scene remotely as violent and horrific in a recent PG-13 film, I’d like to hear about it.

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  • oaktree

    It was absolutely a political decision. The MPAA is notorious for this: just watch This Film Is Not Yet Rated:

  • Ividia Kt

    I really despise the “sanitizing” as I call it done by the MPAA…it is much like that ridiculous rating they gave the film Bully. 

    Thanks to Ridley Scott AND the studio for sticking by the film on this one.

  • Alexandra Rothschild

    If you’ve already seen the movie, you’ve probably already guessed which one it is, and if you haven’t… well, HUGE SPOILERS below.

  • Cynthia

    I know I walked out wondering why it was rated R & saying this was very tame especially in terms of language for an Alien film. F-bombs litter the rest of them. But also there are a LOT of far more gruesome deaths in them than there were in Prometheus. Just cause you don’t see the face-huggers shove their alien things down a throat doesn’t mean it’s not implied. ;-) Violence/gore-wise this was a tame Alien-related film. I concluded myself that the surgery scene was what tipped it to an R rating. It was gory but in my likely desensitized mind it wasn’t more gory than many things seen in 10pm network procedural shows. Until this article it never crossed my mind that the MPAA was limiting it for an ‘abortion’ message – but now I’m feeling a little Jessey Ventura-minded on it for the mere fact that the entire plot line had to be removed to get a PG-13. They’re an odd bunch of weirdos working there, as seen in the previously noted This Film is Not Yet Rated documentary.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe that’s the logical in-plot explanation. But in terms of the symbolism Scott was constructing, that moment was definitely meant to evoke the theme of gender bias in medicine. There is a difference between plot and theme.

  • Unicorn

    It’s all symptomatic of their respective cultures. Canadians are a neighborly, nice people. Violence is more offensive to them.

    US is controlled by gun loving, religious conservatives. Sexuality is more offensive to them.

  • Megan

    I was on the plane to Japan when I saw this movie. I was trying not to look at the guy next to me and my dad was asleep, having left Prometheus on in his sleep. I started watching it out of boredom and honestly all that I remember was this abortion scene. I technically shouldn’t have been allowed to watch it as I’m 14, but overall, I don’t think it was that weighty. Maybe I just missed it, but I never truly thought of it as an abortion. I thought she was just getting something that was killing her on the inside out. I can see where people draw the parallels, but if I’m not mistaken, the same thing happened to at least one man over the course of the movie? The crew who were inflicted weren’t really impregnated, as far as I can tell. I’m sure if he were the one preforming the C-section on himself, it wouldn’t have been called an abortion. Just like the famous “chest busting” scene in Alien (which featured a male host), the intended course of reproduction by the entity was asexual. In asexual reproduction, there is no “pregnancy” (except for maybe auto-pregnancy, but we’re not going into that sack of beans today), only “host entities.” If there’s no pregnancy, there can be no abortion. If I swallowed a fish live and had it removed from my stomach, that wouldn’t be an abortion, it would be surgery. While she didn’t swallow the reproductive tissues of the alien, she also didn’t ingest them vaginally/they had no contact with her gonads. No intercourse = no pregnancy = no abortion.

  • Mary Shelton

    After seeing misogynist trash like Alex Cross get a PG-13, I wonder what the MPAA is on when they rate movies. It had to be b/c of the parallels with abortion and choice.

  • Mary Shelton


  • Mary Shelton

    I think she was too busy saving Earth from the “gods” who were set on destroying their creation.

  • Mary Shelton

    Alien and Prometheus are both the most sexualized Sci-Fi movies ever. Everything’s either a penis or a va-jay

  • Mary Shelton

    The point of Kane getting impregnated was to freak everyone out that a man could be in a sense raped and used as a means of reproduction by an alien species.

    She conceived squid creature through sex with her boyfriend after his drink was spiked by the evil android to end all evil androids.