Money Talks, but Will Hollywood Listen?

Who would think that less swearing in movies would lead to bigger box office returns? 

The parents who pay for their kids' movie tickets, that's who.  But this apparently flabbergasts Hollywood

During the March 13 broadcast of CBS Evening News, anchor Harry Smith reported that a new Neilsen Co. study found that PG-rated movies with less swearing earn higher box office returns than similarly rated movies that contain more vulgar language. 

Cheryl Idell, author of the study, told CBS “Consumers and parents are speaking with their dollars according to this data, and the less profanity and the softer the films are, the more money they're able to make because it reaches a broader audience.”

Correspondent Ben Tracy offered blockbusters Enchanted, Alvin and the Chipmunks and National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets as examples of parent-approved movies topping the charts.  Each of these films made over $100 million.

Smith, however, misled viewers when he said “In fact, language is a bigger factor at the box office than sex and violence.”  Researchers controlled for depictions of violence and sex, meaning they solely looked at profanity. 

Either way, a wise person would say that to increase movie profits, studios should stick with family-friendly fare.  But as a March 14 USA Today article indicates, that's not the way Hollywood sees it.  

The article praised director Ang Lee for receiving  the “Freedom of Expression” award at ShoWest, a convention for movie theater owners, for not trimming the erotically charged Lust, Caution  to garner a “more commercially viable R-rating.”

Dan Glickman, Motion Picture Association of America chief, told USA Today that “Lust, Caution was an important movie for us…It showed that an NC-17 rating is not pornography.  We have a more diverse slate of movies than ever, and we need to restore that rating to reflect that diversity.” 

Sandy Schoenborn, co-owner of an Illinois movie theater views NC-17 rated movies differently.  She told USA Today, “families are what come to the movies.  They're what's really keeping our business alive.  I think we need to see more of the movies for them, not the other way around.”

Providing further evidence that Hollywood is out of touch with middle America, the article noted that Sony Picture executives asked Lee to add profanity to his adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility.  The movie, rated PG, originally received a G-rating.   Lee told USA Today that executives “said it would seem like a children's movie…so I had to reshoot it so a character said 'damn' twice.” 

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center