I was quite surprised to suddenly get comments on a story I posted a year ago, but not surprised at the passion of the commenter. People like to get worked up over pet projects, allowing their passion to blind themselves to any data that don’t fit their preconception. Ted Baehr is no exception.
For years, Ted Baehr has been telling anyone who will listen that R-rated movies are nearly doomed to failure simply by virtue of their R rating, and that movies with a Christian worldview (as defined by Ted Baehr, of course) make more money on average than otherwise. The trick is that Mr. Baehr never actually releases the lists of movies on which he is basing these summaries, which makes his claims impossible to examine.
And in fact, R-rated movies continue to make a lot of money, which is why they continue to be made. In fact, as I thought about 2004, I realized that one R-rated movie that made a lot of money last year was Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ. How would Mr. Baehr respond to this outrage? An R-rated movie broke into the top ten of all time! I visited his site and quickly found my answer as the most recent news link: The new standard isn’t the R rating, it’s “explicit lewd content”.
And here Mr. Baehr slipped up, because he mentioned a few movie titles for a change, provided just enough to get a grip on his argument. Troy, for example, is cited as a movie with no sexual nudity whatsoever, which startled me somewhat, because I distinctly remember nudity and sexual situations in that film, both when I saw it in the theater and on subsequent viewing via DVD. I’m not sure how Mr. Baehr missed the sexual nudity in Troy, but he’s simply wrong on that score.
Here’s how I think it works: To begin with, the case against R-rated movies could be made more or less from U.S. theater grosses alone. Then, the tide began to shift. More R-rated movies did well, and more lower-rated movies tanked. And so the focus shifted to overseas grosses. In the last few years, Mr. Baehr has been able to make his points about films by contrasting worldwide grosses or simply overseas grosses, while analysis of the same films based solely on their U.S. grosses would have gone the other way.
But now you’ve got Troy, a film which did the lion’s share of it’s business overseas, despite the R rating. And there’s The Passion Of The Christ, an admittedly confusing film to analyze. What to do when the 7th and 9th worldwide highest-grossing films of 2004 are rated R? You change the rules again, and now the standard is lewdness. That lets The Passion off the hook, and apparently Troy too, if you close your eyes for a few seconds here and there, but to be fair, I suppose Meet The Fockers should suddenly switch sides, despite the PG-13 rating.
Incidentally, while I don’t have access to the list of movies used to come up with his summary figures (since I don’t want to pay for the annual report), I wonder if perhaps he’s making a mistake common to even people honestly trying to detect statistical patterns and even more common to people trying to make a point. Is he confusing correlation with causation?
Does a movie like The Dreamers flop because of it’s sexual content and subsequent NC-17 rating, or does it flop because it simply sucks, er, I mean, has a very limited audience who will appreciate it? I’m sure that there are at least some viewer who would never have watched a film based on students hanging out around the edges of a revolution had it not been for the explicit sex. In other words, a PG-rated The Dreamers might have made less money, not more. If I had a movie that was a real stinker and I wanted to try to pull in a few extra bucks, I’d certainly see if I could talk a few ladies into taking off their clothes for the camera and aim for the DVD sales. Er, if I was a less-scrupulous man than I am, that is.
The other factor to consider is theater grosses compared to DVD sales. In this case, children’s DVDs will skew things somewhat, since many people (like me) collect children’s DVD more avidly than films for Dad. Still, I suspect that movies like The Dreamers did a much larger percentage of their business on DVD than many of the highest-grossing films. Conversely, I saw stacks and stacks of The Passion sitting unsold everywhere I went shortly after it was released on DVD.
It’s a possibility, is all that I’m suggesting, and one like Mr. Baehr is unlikely to explore unless it will fit with the message he’s trying to promote.
Back to Mr. Baehr’s “analysis,” or as I think of it, advocacy. One of his latest claims is that Christian Movies Earn The Most Money. Really? I thought Luther did disappointingly badly in theaters, despite my own attempts to promote the excellent film. Sure, The Passion did well, but is he basing it all on that? It turns out he counts as “Christian film” not just those two, but also Finding Nemo, Spider-Man, and We Were Soldiers (rated R for “sustained sequences of graphic war violence, and for language”, by the way)! I’d be tempted to give him the Lord of the Rings trilogy despite Peter Jackson’s avowed agnosticism, simply based on Tolkein’s Roman Catholicism, but some of those are more than a stretch — they’re a complete invention out of whole cloth. Is Finding Nemo, put out by Steve Jobs, a noted athiest, a Christian movie? It isn’t obviously anti-Christian, so I guess we can claim it!
And so we end up with charts claiming that movies with a “very strong Christian worldview” make an average of $106,875,816, while movies with “very strong non-Christian worldviews” make an average of $15,129,002. Wouldn’t you like to know what movies he’s counting in each category? So would I, but I’m not paying to find out.
He does break down each category just a little, recognizing that there is more than one “non-Christian worldview.” In fact, it seems that the “Occult” worldview has a pretty impressive average box office draw, which is interesting to me. Without The Passion, would the occult have carried the year? We’ll likely never know.
Clearly studios have seen where the money is, which is primarily with PG-13 films. Not PG, you’ll notice, but PG-13. There is a lot that can be done within the confines of PG-13, as Meet The Fockers demonstrates. If we want to let the world know that you don’t need explicit sex to sell a movie, I think the numbers have spoken for themselves. If you want to convince the world that deliberately eschewing sex is the only way to turn a profit, you’ve got an uphill battle and a struggle against the numbers.
So once again, Ted Baehr is spreading his message, and once again, missing the big point. Yes, the four highest-grossing films of 2004 were each rated PG or PG-13. But so were some of the lowest-grossing films of 2004, like Zhou Yu’s Train, which came in 254 on a list of 261, or I Am David at 256, the worldwide lowest-grossing film of 2004 with an MPAA rating, which happens to be PG.
So since the two lowest-grossing films of 2004 were rated PG and PG-13, should we stop making PG and PG-13 films? Or maybe just films starring Jim Caviezel? Or maybe, just maybe, we watch as people make all different sorts of movies with all different sorts of rating and lewdness for all different sorts of audiences, not every one of which has to set a new record in order to be considered a “success.”
(This article first appeared at W6 Daily: Inciting Riots Since 1995)