It seems the times they are a changing.
One of the study’s co-authors, Dean Keith Simonton, said theirs was the largest sample of its kind used for film research. The results surprised him, he said.
“Sex did not sell, whether in the domestic or international box office, and even after controlling for MPAA rating,” said Simonton, who is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis. “In other words, even among R movies, less graphic sex is better.”
The top-grossing films in the study included movies like “Shrek 2;” “Spider-Man;” “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” all of which contained mostly minor to mild sex and/or nudity.
Simonton said the research went beyond others in that it also examined other forms of “objectionable” material that might earn a film an R rating including violence.
The study was prompted by an experience almost a decade ago of its co-author, Anemone Cerridwen.
Cerridwen had been taking acting classes and increasingly became uncomfortable with some of the sexualized content she was encountering. That led her to consider the work experiences of film actresses and the pursuit of data about the lucrativeness of sex in movies.
“I assumed sex sold, and wanted to know by how much,” Cerridwen said. “I braced myself for the worst, and got quite the surprise.”
Craig Detweiler, director of the Center for Entertainment, Media and Culture at Pepperdine University, said the study’s findings reflect the culture’s post-sexual revolution sensibilities.
“Nothing is as shocking anymore,” Detweiler said. “You can see it in Britney Spears’ kiss with Madonna and Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl performance. Things that were a big controversy among some, the next generation kind of yawned at it.”
Rather, Detweiler said, he has seen among his students that the new form of rebellion against the older generation includes “not doing drugs, not sleeping around and not getting divorced.” That might explain the popularity of some of the Jane Austen films and movies like the “Twilight” series, he said.
Maybe sex used to sell, but not any more. There’s really two groups now.
- People who aren’t fussed either way by sex on screen.
- People who are put off by it and avoid movies that stoop to that level.
Simply put, including it (especially those scenes that are simply added in to bump up the rating) is simply going to reduce viewership in group 2, without increasing it in group 1.
If producers were smart they’d cut back and focus on better plots.