Forbes magazine on April 19 carried an article by Father Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, Mich. In it, he points out that Hollywood needs to take a long look at its bottom line. An excerpt follows.
A recent, extensive study of movie profitability shows that movies without graphic violence and sex make the most money. This bears repeating: Family movies are the biggest moneymakers.
The study was commissioned by The Dove Foundation of Grand Rapids, Mich., a nonprofit group, and was conducted by Paul Kagan & Associates.
It looks at the 2,400 rated feature-length films made from 1988 to 1997 and shown in theaters. In absolute terms, G-rated films yielded the highest gross profit — $94 million on average — while R-rated films earned $11 million on average.
The gross profit I'm talking about is the excess of income from theatrical release and the first two years of video sales over the direct cost of the movie—production, prints, advertising.
Take a look at percentage returns, too. G-rated films' average gross profit was 66%. That is, these inoffensive scripts generate revenues equal to 166% of production and distribution costs. Now start adding violence, sex and profanity and see what happens to profitability: PG-rated films returned an average gross of 52% over costs; PG-13 films, 50%; R-rated films, 37%; and NC-17 films (formerly called X-rated), 27%.
Why does Hollywood turn out violent crud when family films make more money?
So what kinds of films get made—the most profitable kind? No. Only 3% of the decade's films were rated G, 22% were rated PG or PG-13, and 55% were rated R.
In the early 1990s another Kagan study, cited in a book by film critic Michael Medved, showed that a PG-rated film, on average, was three times as likely as an R-rated film to earn at least $100 million in ticket sales.
So the results of the latest study aren't startling. What continues to amaze, though, is Hollywood's persistence in turning out violent, sex-drenched crud even though the record clearly shows that wholesome, family movies are better moneymakers.
The Lion King (1994) and Toy Story (1995) were fabulously profitable. And it doesn't take an R-rated movie to entertain adults. Field of Dreams (1989), The Fugitive (1993), Babe (1995) and As Good as It Gets (1997) each beat the investment return of the average R-rated film….
Last year saw the unprecedented release of five highly profitable Grated films by major studios — A Bug's Life, Antz, Prince of Egypt, Mulan and The Rugrats Movie — although there were very few good nonkiddie PG or PG-13 films along the lines of The Truman Show, Life is Beautiful (from Italy) and Waking Ned Devine (from Ireland).
Walt Disney, which has been making four times as many R-rated films as family films, says it plans to even the ratio. And Sony Pictures is atoning for its Terminator shoot-'em-ups by starting a children's division.
Real artistic integrity and profits need not be at odds; to say otherwise is to insult the public. Maybe most producers and directors just aren't smart or creative enough to make good family films. Others, though, are selling themselves short. Roll up your sleeves, Hollywood. The path of least resistance is costing you money.