Study Finds Violence in Movies Likely to Increase Profits, While Sex or Nudity Likely to Decrease Profits

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The study, published in 2009, reveals that sex and nudity in movies cannot be used to predict film profits or other measures of success. The study puts the often quoted truism “sex sells” into question – at least in regards to cinema.

The study was published in Volume 3 of the Journal of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts.

The study analyzed 914 films which were released between 2001 and 2005. Using data from ScreenIt! (an independently run website that rates movies for parents), IMDb and other sources, the authors investigated the relationship between fifteen content-related variables and three success-related variables.

The content-related variables included alcohol/drug use, blood/gore, the portrayal of disrespectful/bad attitudes, frightening/tense scenes, guns/weaponry, scary/tense music, inappropriate music, profanity, sex/nudity, smoking, tense family scenes, “topics to talk about,” and violence.

The success-related variables included financial success, critical examinations (movie reviews), and movie awards.

Surprisingly, the authors of this study found that sex and nudity were more likely to decrease profits than increase them. As the authors note, “What makes this negative effect all the more outstanding is the fact that the sex/nudity measure correlates negatively with production costs [...] In other words, although such scenes are relatively inexpensive to film, the loss in audience appeal largely undermines the possible gain.”

Sex and nudity did not fair well with movie reviews either, but it did appear to have some effect on the likelihood of winning a Golden Globe (but not an Oscar.)

Two other content-related measures, violence and frightening/tense scenes, were much more likely to predict financial success.

This study dealt with a large amount of information and, as a result, some of the more particular qualities about movies were no doubt swept aside. As the authors admit, “our study made no effort to gauge the impact of stardom [...] It is not impossible that sex and nudity portrayed by a star, and particularly by a young female ‘starlet’ or ‘sex bomb,’ might recruit more viewers.”

Furthermore, this study should not be taken as suggesting that films which contain sex or nudity cannot be financially successful. Many films, such as Titanic, contain sex scenes or nudity yet are financially successful, have won various awards, and received critical acclaim. Rather, this study suggests that adding sex or nudity to a movie will probably not increase profits, but adding violence probably will.

Reference:

Cerridwen, A. & Simonton, D.K. (2009). Sex doesn’t sell – nor impress! Content, box office, critics, and awards in mainstream cinema. Journal of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, Vol 3, No 4: 200-210.

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