Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
Dr. Ted Baehr
LOS ANGELES – At the 19th Annual Movieguide Awards Gala this past weekend, Hollywood executives received a report that implies the more sex, drugs, violence, obscenity and general immorality a film contains, the less the movie will make at the box office.
In fact, the dollars-and-cents breakdown of box office receipts illustrates, the cleaner the movie, the more money it will make.
“This was especially clear in 2010,” said Dr. Ted Baehr, founder and publisher of Movieguide, which has been conducting and reporting on a study of film content every year since 1992. “Movies with no foul language, sex, nudity or drug abuse averaged the most money at the theatrical box office in America and Canada, much more than movies with a lot of such offensive content.”
Movieguide’s report also measured other, “miscellaneous immorality,” such as lying, stealing, blackmail, extortion, greed, envy, jealousy. Movies without these elements, the data shows, made more than four times more money than movies with extensive or extreme amounts of miscellaneous immorality.
“We have found similar results in practically all of our previous studies,” Dr. Baehr noted in a statement.
The report itself gives what, to some, may be surprising facts on what kinds of films Americans pay to see:
2010 films that contained no obscenities or profanities averaged $50.44 million at the box office, while films with a dozen or so averaged only $42.27 million, and those with more than 25 instances of foul language averaged only $23.42 million, less than half their cleaner counterparts.
Movies with no sex averaged $55.44 million at the box office, while even light or implied sex dropped the numbers to $35.72 million, and the average take for films with extreme sexual content plummeted all the way to $15.92 million.
Films that depict no alcohol use averaged $43.84 million, while adding a single drink dropped the average to $38.45 million, including drunkenness dropped the average to $30.45 million, and films that included extreme alcohol abuse only grossed $10.16 million on average.
Films that had no drug references similarly averaged $43.98 million, while those that included “very strong drug references” mustered a mere $15.90 on average.
Those films that featured characters of virtue without glamorizing “miscellaneous” immorality were especially strong, averaging $77.56 million at the box office, while those depicting moderate or heavy immorality averaged $29.19 million and $9.96 million, respectively.
“What we’re giving you,” Baehr told the audience of nearly 500 filmmakers and executives gathered for the annual gala, “is data to help you understand your audience.”
Movieguide has been analyzing the content of movies and comparing box office numbers since 1991. The annual studies since 1996 have been particularly comprehensive. Generally, the top movies making $750,000 or more at the box office in Canada and the U.S. are analyzed, with 270 making the cut in 2010.
For example, Movieguide broke down 2010′s movies using a rating scale on how “family-friendly” the films were and how well they reflected “high, Christian, biblical standards.”
The results showed that while far fewer films were made that fit Movieguide’s “acceptability” standards (+1 to +4 on their scale, as opposed to -1 to -4), they fared far better than those less family-friendly.
The 34 major motion pictures that earned positive marks averaged over $59 million at the box office, while the 236 films earning negative marks averaged only $32 million.
More than just a morality watchdog, however, Movieguide also reviews films for quality of story and production. Among other statistical breakdowns, the report utilizes a four-star rating system for films, based on the criteria of “production values, entertainment quality and artistic merit of a movie or a script.”
The report’s finding found that four-star films far outdistanced their competition:
72 films in 2010 earned four stars, with an average box office take of over $61 million;
112 films earned three stars, but only $35 million on average at the box office;
63 films were given two stars, but only $14 million on average in ticket sales;
23 films were given a one-star rating, earning on average only $12 million.
Even utilizing the Motion Picture Association of America’s rating system, Movieguide reports films made for families far outpaced their competition:
In 2010, only 4 major motion pictures were given a G rating, but those 4 films made an average of over $120 million at the box office;
The 47 PG-rated films averaged $69 million;
The 80 PG-13 films averaged $51 million;
The 121 R-rated films averaged only $18 million;
And no film rated NC-17 – the “hardest” rating, usually for gratuitous sexuality – even qualified above the $750,000 threshold required to be considered a “major motion picture.”
Presenting these numbers again and again to Hollywood over the past 19 years, Movieguide says, has not only opened studio executives’ eyes to what moviegoers want to see, it has changed the kind of films Hollywood makes.
“Since the Annual Movieguide Faith & Values Awards Gala began, the number of movies with at least some positive Christian, biblical, and/or moral content has increased overall from an average of 18.27 percent in 1991 to an average of 71.67 percent in 2010,” the report attests. “This is more than a 260-percent increase! Major Hollywood executives are finally getting the message that movies with positive Christian, moral, biblical, redemptive content are great for business.”