Let’s Sanitize Our Movies in The Name of Sales!

Dec 30, 2009 • Culture, Film, News, Research

Sex doesn’t sell–we’re too jaded.

That’s what a recent study titled “Sex Doesn’t Sell — nor Impress! Content, Box Office, Critics, and Awards in Mainstream Cinema” is saying, after analyzing the box office success of movies containing explicit sex scenes between 2001 and 2005.

“Sex did not sell, whether in the domestic or international box office, and even after controlling for MPAA rating,” said co-author Dean Keith Simonton, who is also a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis. “In other words, even among R movies, less graphic sex is better.”

The study was prompted by an experience almost a decade ago of its co-author, Anemone Cerridwen, who, when taking acting classes, increasingly became uncomfortable with the sexual content in films.

“I assumed sex sold, and wanted to know by how much,” Cerridwen said. “I braced myself for the worst, and got quite the surprise.”


“Nothing is as shocking anymore,” says Craig Detweiler, director of the Center for Entertainment, Media and Culture at Pepperdine University. “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.”

Detweiler told CNN he bears witness to a revolution by the new generation against those of time past, whose goals are “not doing drugs, not sleeping around and not getting divorced.” He thinks this is why Jane Austen films and the Twilight series are so popular today.

“Those stories are really about sexual separation,” he said. “They are all about wooing, not winning.”

The authors of the study hope that Hollywood keeps the research in mind.

“I do believe that there are a fair number of people in the film industry who want to make better films, and this study may give them some ammunition,” Cerridwen said. “I know that Hollywood has been trying to make more family-friendly films for a while (since the ’90s) and it seems to be helping ticket sales, so my guess is that this research would complement that.”

When did the presence of sex in a film make that film “bad”? Sex is human. It merits representation in our art, and that includes film.

Information from CNN, via Rita Arens.

  • http://enfranchisedmind.com/blog/ Robert Fischer

    I love Alan Watts, and one of my favorite things he’s said is this: “If you’ve got a prudish father and mother, you should be very grateful to them for having made sex so interesting.”

    You can see it here (quote is at about ~3:45):

    Sex in movies is a victim of its own success, it seems: to use Alan Watts’ categories, the Libertines are winning a bit too much!

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  • Etcetera

    She wants to make better movies and used Twilight as an example? WTF

  • Anaiis

    Ooooh, Etcetera! You kick ’em where it hurts!

  • http://dichotome.net Rachel

    I keep wondering if the skittishness about modern sex scenes is based in the fact that so many of them are just plain AWFUL? In Hollywood flicks, I can almost see exactly where in the plot they think a set of boobs will sell a film (Die Another Day) or a sex scene will make up for the badly written romance/chemistry between two actors (OMG The Watchmen). I feel pandered to and embarrassed for the filmmakers…and I am no prude.

    With that said, many more artful films have had authentic, awkward, hot sex scenes that I thought completely belonged in those films, and I never want those to go away (The Cooler, Junebug, A History of Violence).

    Also, it’s ridiculous to say that Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice isn’t DRIPPING with sex. I read that book as a teenager and exploded when Darcy finally kissed Elizabeth. I think the modern rendition made it about as sexy as you could (tongues and sunsets and nubile bodies and all). I’ll take all kinds of sex in film, even Remains-of-the-Day-style tension.