- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 25, 2004

The audience has spoken: An annual study of the moral content in Hollywood movies has found that films flaunting sex, nudity, violence, foul language and criminal behavior do not resonate in America.

They simply don’t sell.

In an analysis of American box-office receipts for 250 movies released last year, the Christian Film & Television Commission (CFTVC) found that films that stressed “strong moral content” made an average $92,546,413 — six times the revenue of those that focused on “immoral, negative content.”

Those movies brought in an average $14,626,234.

On a broader scope, the study also found that from 2000 to 2003, movies with “no nudity” brought in an average $137.8 million across the nation.

Films that depicted “full male and/or female nudity” in those same years brought in an average of $43 million, however.

“Clearly, sex does not sell as well as the mass media wants us to believe,” said Ted Baehr, chairman of the California-based CFTVC, which offers movie reviews based on a Christian perspective and biblical principles.

“Movies rated G and PG consistently earn two or three times as much money on average as movies rated R,” he added.

So why does Hollywood persist in producing dubious fare at financial risk?

“It’s caused by an entrenched mind-set,” said Andrew Breitbart, co-author of “Hollywood Interrupted: Insanity Chic in Babylon — the Case Against Celebrity,” published this year.

“The concept of affirming the basic and traditional values of flyover country is absolute anathema to these filmmakers. They live in an isolated world, which is nihilist to the core — the more cynical you are, the hipper you seem,” Mr. Breitbart said.

“But this is a company town. Everyone knows what philosophical posturing to adopt to get along in it. So they keep making R-rated movies,” he said.

Others in the industry agree that family fare is simply better business.

“Family product sells, and R-rated product does not,” said John Fithian, president of the District-based National Association of Theatre Owners.

With the release of “The Passion of the Christ,” the American public has taken a particularly keen interest in the financial success of films with a strong moral message. Since opening Feb. 25, “The Passion” has taken in almost $300 million domestically and is ranked 18th on the all-time list of top-grossing films.

In recent weeks, “The Passion” has been called a “box-office miracle” and a “religious blockbuster” by the press and credited with curing a Hollywood financial slump by industry insiders, who speculate that it eventually will return $400 million.

Before the film opened, Hollywood revenue was 7 percent behind 2003 figures. Revenues are now 4 percent ahead of last year’s, according to Paul Dergarabedian of Exhibitor Relations, which tracks box-office receipts.

“‘The Passion’ has single-handedly made what was turning out to be a pretty lousy year into a really good year so far,” he told Associated Press last week.

Meanwhile, the CFTVC praised such 2003 films as “Finding Nemo,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” and “Cheaper by the Dozen” for their “strong moral content.”

Overall, the moral movies triumphed, the group says.

The CFTVC is succinct in its judgment criteria, casting a wide net for off-color language, gratuitous violence and even “miscellaneous immoral acts, such as stealing, kidnapping, lying and blackmail.”

The group’s analysis found that the 78 movies that contained “no-sex” content averaged $37.6 million at the box office in 2003.

Comparatively, the 95 movies with “implied sex” averaged $32.1 million. Another 71 movies with “briefly depicted sex” averaged $25 million; and 35 movies with “extensive, excessive or graphic sex” averaged $17.1 million.

The commission also presented its 12th annual Faith & Values Awards yesterday in Beverly Hills, honoring movies and TV shows that prove “uplifting, inspirational, redemptive, and moral.”

Winners will be announced later today.

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