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Poll shows foul language curbs movie revenue


It seems clear that everyday conversation in America has become coarser in recent years, but it doesn’t mean that the typical Hollywood film laced with language your grandmother would have punished with soap reflects reality or even makes good economic sense, contends a prominent film critic.

In fact, a new Harris poll shows that filmmakers who use the f-word and take the name of Jesus Christ in vain risk losing some of their audience.

The poll confirms extensive, in-depth surveys by Ted Baehr’s family-friendly publication Movieguide that examine some 150 different criteria that affect box office receipts.

“One of the things that annoys audiences most is foul language, and one of the largest audiences is the 115 million to 145 million that go to church,” Baehr told WND.

Baehr, chairman of the Christian Film and Television Commission, pointed out that among churchgoers, it’s estimated that only about 25 million go to movies, meaning Hollywood likely is leaving millions of dollars on the table.

The Harris poll, the Hollywood Reporter said, found that using “Jesus Christ” to swear is the biggest offense, with 33 percent of the general public saying they would be less likely to see a movie if they knew it contained that language. “God d—” was second at 32 percent and the f-word was third with 31 percent.

Ted Baehr’s “How to Succeed in Hollywood, featuring the brightest and best people of faith in the entertainment industry, shows people with screenwriting, acting, directing and producing talents can help change the culture of Hollywood. Get it at the WND Superstore.

Not surprisingly, the poll found young people didn’t mind swearing nearly as much as older generations. More than half of those 72 years of age and older will avoid movies with “God d—” and the f-word in the dialogue.

The poll also asked respondents about their political affiliations. The f-word will repel 45 percent of Republicans from attending a movie but only 25 percent of Democrats.

Baehr told WND, however, that those facts don’t seem to sway many filmmakers.

“We talk to studio execs all the time, and they would like to cut down on the foul language, but the filmmaker often thinks, ‘Oh, this is my art,'” Baehr said.

At the box office

Movieguide’s Annual Report to the Entertainment Industry, which in 2016 reviewed about 290 of the major movies released in the U.S. and Canada, showed that while Hollywood is putting more foul language in its blockbuster features, movies with no obscenities made an average of $61.4 million in 2016, while movies with 25 or more made $34 million.

Ted Baehr

The Harris poll was commissioned by the filmmakers behind an upcoming faith-based movie, “Generational Sins,” which has 32 expletives and was recently rated PG-13 by the MPAA.

The makers of the film, which deals with abuse, alcoholism and redemption, want to reach both Christians and non-Christians, they told the Hollywood Reporter.

In an interview with the Reporter in May, the film’s executive producer, Thurman Mason, acknowledged “Generational Sins” is a major departure from recent faith-based successes such as “God’s Not Dead,” which brought in $60 million in 2014 and contained just one objectionable word: “crap.”

The new Harris poll found evangelical Christians have the biggest problem with swearing, with 90 percent saying they might avoid a film using “Jesus Christ” to swear, with 86 percent saying the same about “God d—” and 74 percent objecting to the f-word.

But “Generational Sins” director Spencer Folmar and executive director Thurman Mason insisted their objective is to reflect real life.

“Despite everything that’s been coming out in the press about how profane and decidedly un-Christian the film is, we always knew we were making a PG-13 movie,” said Folmar. “We didn’t set out to be exploitative … it isn’t gratuitous.”

Mason, in May, told the Hollywood Reporter he and his colleagues are “not shying away from anything.”

“We live in an R-rated world, and covering up the darkness won’t bring it into the light,” he said. “There is objective, gospel truth in this movie.

“Hollywood stereotypes Christians as nutty fruitcakes detached from reality, but that’s not the case and, as Christian filmmakers, we’d like to demonstrate that.”

Real life

Reacting to Mason’s comments, Baehr argued “film is not reality.”

“If it was reality, they would show people sitting on a toilet, doing dishes and sleeping for hours,” he said.

Filmmakers Albert and David Maysles in a publicity still for their 1969 documentary “Salesman”

Baehr noted the Maysles brothers tried to do reality filmmaking in the 1960s, dubbed cinema verite, but 20 years later they acknowledged that “anytime you put the camera in the room, it’s not reality any more.”

“So you’re not talking about reality, you’re making decisions,” Baehr said.

“And this filmmaker (Mason), who’s gone through all this trouble to find out what people want – we could have saved him a lot of trouble and a lot of money – does not want to believe the truth: People do not like foul language.”

Baehr acknowledged there’s a lot more swearing in everyday American life than there used to be – and Hollywood itself may have a lot to do with that – but he insisted it’s much less common than is depicted in movies.

He pointed out that the author of a study published in the book “Cursing in America” expected to find that everyone cursed. Instead, he found that out only 7 percent did it on the job and about 12 percent cursed in their leisure time.

Though published in 1993, Baehr said, the study still shows that conventional perception doesn’t necessarily match reality.

“People just don’t curse, in spite of what you hear in Hollywood movies,” he said.

Baehr contended that along with “people and economics,” the makers of “Generational Sins” are ignoring the Bible, which forbids “unwholesome talk” and “obscenity, foolish talk, or coarse joking.”

Chris Stone, founder of Faith Driven Consumer, an advocacy group for Christians, told the Hollywood Reporter he will recommend “Generational Sins,” but to adults and not families.

“It’s more graphic than I’m comfortable with, but it’s not unrealistic,” he said. “It’s an accurate portrayal of brokenness and sin, and some Christians will opt out.”

Costly words

In 2015, Movieguide pointed to the movie “About Time,” by “romantic-comedy master” Richard Curtis, as an example of how even minimal inclusion of offensive language – which some would regard as gratuitous – can affect box office.

Before Hollywood implemented the movie-rating system in 1968, no obscenities worse than d— or h— were allowed, prompting Movieguide to ask why foul language is needed, even on an artistic level.

Movieguide described “About Time” as “touching, beautiful, and relatively innocent.”

But because the movie has the f-word and a brief scene in which sex acts are graphically mentioned, in earned an R rating and bombed at the box office, Movieguide said.

The 2013 movie ended up taking in a little more than $15 million in domestic box office.

“About Time,” Movieguide said, “is an unabashed family movie with a beautiful father-son subplot involving the end of life and how we resolve our relationships, plus some content promoting marriage and children.”

However, “the graphic sex jokes and the ‘f’ words don’t even belong in the context of the movie on an artistic level, and it’s baffling to consider why Curtis even bothered to put them in at all since the offensive dialogue is so limited in the overall movie.”

Movieguide said the movie’s R rating “has no doubt cost them millions of dollars’ worth of business from morally conservative and older audiences who might have loved the movie, if they weren’t scared away by the R rating.”

Ted Baehr’s “How to Succeed in Hollywood, featuring the brightest and best people of faith in the entertainment industry, shows people with screenwriting, acting, directing and producing talents can help change the culture of Hollywood. Get it at the WND Superstore.