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Ted Baehr Is Still Talking

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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)

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About pwinn

  • http://selfaudit.blogspot.com Aaman

    Well-reasoned post, Philip, but, and if you’ll pardon the opinion, not intended personally, it deals with an absolutely irrelevant, culturally insipid, intellectually weak position.

    Pigeonholing films into a particular worldview lessens the worth one derives from them – culturally, visually and morally. Any film, or human effort, is multi-faceted, contradictory, rich.

    The identification of certain films with this world-view are specious, as is the term ‘Christian’, used in this sense. The tent is large, but not that large.

  • http://notesfromnancy.blogspot.com NancyGail

    Stopped watching R rated movies back in college, only because most of the oens shown were junk. Still don’t watch, because the previews tell me the movie is going to suck.

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    Aaman, I agree with you, but I’ve occasionally taken on the issue of so-called “the Christian worldview” on my blog, and I’ll continue to do so, because that view does hold sway with a lot of people near and dear to me.

    I know a family of otherwise-reasonable people who made a rule against watching R-rated films years ago. They almost broke it for Saving Private Ryan, and were actually driving to the theater when they changed their minds and turned around and went home. Then, in 2004, came The Passion. Their church is buying out entire showings. So what do they do? Chuck the rule out the window. Which makes me want to ask, “What was the point of the rule then?”

    If someone wants to avoid most of the dreck involved with movies that advocate or aren’t negative enough about immorality, I hardly think that the entirely-secular MPAA is the best source of info, you know?

    At that same church, a popular visiting preacher (Bishop Joseph Garlington) used an illustration from The Matrix (rated R) and interrupted himself in shock when he realized that the pastor of the church hadn’t seen the film. “Oh brother, you’ve got to go see that one!” he said.

    Amen.

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    Also, I think The Passion illustrates one of my often-repeated statements, that the Bible is R-rated at least, just read from beginning to end, with no effort made to spice it up.

  • D.B. Cooper

    Anyone dumb enough to refuse to watch R-rated films is robbing themselves of the greatest films ever made (Schindler’s List). On the flip side, anyone dumb enough to refuse to watch G-rated films is also missing some of the great films ever made (Wizard of Oz).

    We Were Soldiers had strong family values and was one of the best films of the year it was released. I tend to not like war films as a whole (hated Saving Private Ryan, loved Apocalypse Now), though enjoyed Gibson’s work. I have yet to see The Passion because I don’t play into that trip. Violence disturbs me, whether performed on a bikini-clad babe in Friday the 13th or upon some actor playing someone’s interpretation of this cat called Jesus.

    No one is forced to watch a fucking movie a la Alex in A Clockwork Orange. It’s called choice. It’s called keeping an eye on the kids while they’re growing up and make sure they don’t check out some Italian zombie film. As long as there has been films, there has been controverisal films (remember Birth of a Nation?).

    It’s art baby, and you can’t mix it with fabricated morality, family values or Aryan beliefs.

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    I should point out that it is presumably possible to perform real statistical analysis on the movies released in a given year, taking into account not just the average gross by rating, but also the number of films in each rating, the budgets, etc. That might actually yield some interesting info, unlike Baehr’s screeds.

  • http://www.movieguide.org NOT Dr. Ted Baehr

    I was turned on to this article by a colleague, and am pleased I can post a response.

    It bears mentioning that MOVIEGUIDE is a business, at its heart. Certainly we strive to enlighten and inform parents about making wise an discerning choices for their children’s viewing habits, and adults’ choices as well. But at the end of the day it is all about the bottom line, and in this case it is revenues generated by donations, and by financial incentives provided by production houses.

    You will notice that everything, articles and reviews both, that appears on http://www.movieguide.org solicits for donations. This is an integral part of our income. More so is the money paid to the Kairos Marketing Group, a sister company of MOVIEGUIDE and the Christian Film & Television Commission.

    Production houses submits a monetary fee to Kairos, which in turn rolls the money over to me at movieguide.org, and I then lean the subsequent review of that producer’s movie to be much more favourable in terms of rating for Content and Acceptability.

    Therefore, in the case of a Christian-friendly movie such as THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, we will bend out reviewing standards to extoll the wholesome Biblical worldview while largely ignoring the “torture porn” aspect of that film. By the same token we will take a clean and interesting film like THE DA VINCI CODE and attack it endlessly, because it posits subject material antithetical to our Christian ethos.

    It is a money game we play here, gentlemen. MOVIEGUIDE must play to its conservative Christian base, and to do so we must re-interpret our own rules in order to keep up the bottom line.

    Yours in Christ,

    Dr. Ted Baehr
    Founder, Christian Film & Television Commission

  • http://blogcritics.org/ Phillip Winn

    Of course, I’m reasonably certain that the previous comment is *not* posted by Ted Baehr, for what are probably obvious reasons. I actually don’t question the real Ted Baehr’s sincerity; I just suspect that he is blind to his own inconsistency.

  • http://www.petitiononline.com/e4i13a66/petition.html NOT Dr. Ted Baehr

    Bill Maher’s RELIGULOUS Hits The Nail on the Head!
    Oct 2nd, 2008 Humorous Comedian Bill Maher’s New Movie Is Full of Laughs.

    By Dr. Ted Baehr, Publisher, and Dr. Tom Snyder, Editor

    Religulous, comedian Bill Maher’s insightful look at Christianity and religion, is full of truths, facts, and logic. It’s a tremendous documentary that will win the hearts and minds of the average American. It is also very well researched and argued.

    Mr. Maher visits a small trucker chapel and starts questioning the pastor and a small group of men about their Christian faith. Though one man angrily stalks out, the others do a good job of answering most of Maher’s questions, then pray to God with him that God will answer all his questions. After the prayer, Maher thanks them for being “Christ-like” instead of acting like “Christians.” An important distinction!

    The rest of the documentary is filled with lighter moments.

    Finally, at the end of the movie, Maher launches into a diatribe comparing all religious leaders and believers, including President George Bush, to allegedly Muslim terrorists. After making that accurate statement, Maher rightly denounces people of faith for being too certain and too judgmental. He then tells them that it is actually more “humble” to acknowledge doubts and belief in God and religion, like he does. Amen!

    Maher contends during the movie that the Book of Genesis teaches that a snake talks with Eve, that the Bible never teaches original sin, and that Jesus Christ never promised his followers clothes, shelter and food. All of this is true. I mean, a talking snake? How lame is THAT?

    As Chapter 28 of Ezekiel and Revelation 12:9 and 20:2 make clear, the talking “serpent” in Chapter 3 of Genesis is actually Satan, or the Devil, a fallen angel who tempts all people to rebel against God, including Adam and Eve. We will call this “fucking dumb explanation #1″ Thus, either this fallen angel miraculously took on the form of some kind of serpent. Or, some words in Genesis must be interpreted completely symbolically or figuratively (but still literally)(say fucking WHAT?), as a symbolic or metaphorical comparison of Satan to the deceit and wickedness of a serpent with a forked tongue. “Fucking dumb explanation #2″

    Then, Maher claims that the virgin birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are just legends that Christians borrowed from earlier pagan religions. As examples, he cites the Hindu worship of the god Krishna, the Egyptian god Horus who is the son of Isis and Osiris, and the Greco-Roman worship of the god Mithra. Christianity is busted!

    These truths from Bill Maher are amazing enough. What’s perhaps even more heartwarming is that Maher gets some help from Father George Coyne, Director Emeritus of the Vatican Observatory. At one point in the movie, Coyne tells Maher that some of the documents in the New Testament were written 200 years after Jesus Christ’s death. Absolutely true!

    Throughout Religulous, Maher constantly exposes the warped and ridiculous theology of the Bible and of Christianity by exposing the Bible and Christian theology in the most sensible, logical ways imaginable. For example, according to him, all Bible-believing Evangelical Christians are stupid “fundamentalists” who believe in a completely non-figurative, literal Bible that teaches the Earth is only about 5,000 years old. Unfortunately these fucktard fundamentalists are the same ones ruining America today!

    Finally, Maher ridicules Christians and believers in other religions as being narrow-minded, judgmental, arrogant, irrational, full of stubborn certainty, and hypocritical. ABOUT TIME someone pointed the finger at these kooks!

    It is always telling to MOVIEGUIDE how the best films and the most important documentaries tend to slam Christianity, as did JESUS CAMP and ou personal favorite, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. Lots of slamming happened in that last one.

    The more research the MOVIEGUIDE staff conducts, and the more evidence we dig up, the more we have found that the Bible and Christianity are complete horse-shit, and all other ideologies that contradict them, or that make contrary assertions to undermine them, are right on the money. Jesus Christ is a complete fabrication. And, the Bible is indeed the “inerrant, infallible Word” of a God that doesn’t really exist.

    Of course, don’t take OUR word for it. Go and do the serious research and evidence gathering on your own. Examine the biblical passages we cite and look up our sources. Then, pray to Jesus Christ that God will answer the remaining questions you may have. And see what happens. That’s right, dick-all.

  • http://blogcritics.org/ Phillip Winn

    Again, I’m reasonably certain that the preceding comment is not actually by Dr. Ted Baehr. My opinion of Dr. Baehr isn’t overwhelmingly positive, and was not helped at all by a series of requests to remove all posts even remotely critical of Dr. Baehr, but time has passed, and this article no longer tops the search results, and so I’m pretty sure Dr. Baehr has moved on.

    More to the point, the preceding commenter writes from a perspective antithetical to Dr. Baehr’s — and mine.

  • Joe

    Ted Baehr is NOT a doctor. People should stop giving him undue credit and properly refer to him as Mr. Baehr. He has a Juris Doctor which is a 3 year law degree and requires less education than a Masters in Law let alone an actual Doctorate. In fact, it is illegal in many places, such as San Diego, to refer to yourself as Dr. if you have a J.D., as it is against the Code of Professional Ethics.

  • http://www.movieguide.org NOT Dr. Ted Baehr

    Friends, President-elect Barack Obama has just won the presidency. Our first honest election since 1996.

    I have been a terrible person for many years, a hypocrite and a complete idiot. I vow to change.

    As of November 10th I will resign as president of the Atlanta Log Cabin Republicans. I renounce Christianity and embrace atheism. I fully admit my own homosexuality and apologize for all the lesbians, gays, and transgenders I have offended over the years.

    I am truly sorry.

    Dr. Ted Baehr
    Christian Film & Television Commission

  • http://blogcritics.org/ Phillip Winn

    I’m not sure who has such a grudge against Baehr, to keep posing at him, but it’s uncool. I think Baehr is a blowhard and an idiot, but the insinuations from fake-Baehr are just silly.

  • http://www.librarything.com/author/baehrtheodore NOT Dr. Ted Baehr

    I received your email, Phillip. Why the question of authenticity? It actually is me, though I would be hard pressed to prove my identity in this anonymous online world.

    I would encourage your readers to send their most generous donation possible to MOVIEGUIDE.

    Readers may also contribute by calling 1-800-577-6684 during business hours or 1-800-899-6684 day and night. Our mailing address is 2510-G Las Posas Road, Suite 502, Camarillo, CA 93010.

  • http://www.movieguide.org Dr. Tom Snyder

    Mr. Winn is picking and chooses minor facts. He neglects to mention that MOVIEGUIDE(R)’s annual analysis of the major movies released theatrically examines more than 125 different categories, including MPAA ratings, worldview, philosophy, psychology, religion, morality, biblical content, foul language, sex and nudity, violence, narrative structure, dialogue, implicit and explicit content in context, political ideology, alcohol use and abuse, smoking, illegal drug use and abuse, etc, etc., etc. As such, MG considers box office averages and box office rankings, both in North America and Overseas, and even considers Home Video Sales and Rentals (Rental figures are now harder to come by in the last two years, but statistics show that consumers are more likely to rent top movies with immoral, non-Christian content than buy DVD and Blu-Ray copies). Thus, ON AVERAGE, R-rated movies earn significantly less money than PG, PG-13 and especially G-rated movies, and movies with strong or very strong implied and/or overt Christian content, such as I AM LEGEND, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST and THE INCREDIBLES, seem to do best at the domestic box office, and pretty good at the international box office and in home video sales. Does that mean all R-rated movies fail to get into the Top 10 or 25 movies at the box office or in home video sales? Or that small Christian movies like LUTHER earn a lot of money? No, of course not. BUT, in taking box office AVERAGES, most of the major categories have blockbuster movies in them, movies earning a medium level of money, and limited releases that earn very very little money or that earn $15-40 million domestically. Considering all that, it becomes clear that Mr. Winn’s article here, and many if not most of his replies, is full of FALSEHOODS, HALF-TRUTHS and HOT AIR!!! Please trust very little of anything this guy says. Dr. Tom Snyder, Editor of MOVIEGUIDE(R).

  • http://pwinn.tumblr.com/ Phillip Winn

    Any specific falsehood or half-truths you care to identify?

    I stand by what I have written. I encourage any reader in doubt to rent Troy and observe the scads of sexual nudity for themselves. I supplied supporting links for everything I claimed: R-rated films do make a lot of money, the highest-earning R-rated movie is The Passion of the Christ, and so on.

    While all of the links supporting my factual claims are still active, the links to movieguide have gone stale in the five years since this article was published. Unfortunate, that.

    Now I’ve been accused of things of neglecting things that I either couldn’t know without spending hundreds of dollars, or didn’t neglect at all. I’ve been accused of falsehood with no supporting evidence.

    This is Christian behavior? This isn’t even ethical behavior!

    I have offered opinions and theories that support the freely-available facts as well as or better than the opinions and theories offered by MovieGuide employees. If there are additional facts that would invalidate my theories, please, feel free to provide them. The accusations on this site, and the emails from lawyers making demands, don’t do anything to change my opinion, and they don’t change the facts. Talk of “averages” is easily misleading without actual data.

    If you care to make the entire 2004 report available to me for free, I’ll be happy to analyze it in detail and see if your theories fit the complete data better than mine. If that report contains, as the summary posts did, errors on par with the demonstrably false claim that Troy had no sexual nudity, or the dubious at best claim that The Incredibles has “strong or very strong imploied or overt Christian content,” then I’m not sure it will help.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    I seem to have missed the Christian content in I Am Legend and the Incredibles. Was one of the zombies Jesus?

    Dave

  • http://www.movieguide.org Dr. Tom Snyder

    In I AM LEGEND. the female talks to Will Smith’s character about God and when she saves him, there’s a Cross hanging from her mirror. There is also a lot of symbolism about blood and sacrifice saving the human race, and in the center of the picture at the end is a church, so that’s a very strong Christian worldview.

  • http://www.movieguide.org Dr. Tom Snyder

    To clear up a few facts, our review of TROY does indeed report that there is sexual nudity in that movie, so I don’t know what Mr. Winn is talking about when he mentions TROY. Also, it is false that we never release the lists of movies on which we base our figures. We usually mention examples in our stories about our Annual Report to the Entertainment Industry, and make available the whole report, including our Annual Index of all the movies in our yearly sample, to the press and virtually anyone who wants to check our figures. Furthermore, we have never said that R-rated movies NEVER are successful. We are looking at averages. But, don’t accept our word for it. The Dove Foundation and other outfits have done similar studies showing the same thing as Movieguide. Also, according to The Numbers at http://www.the-numbers.com/market/MPAARatings/, R-rated movies have averaged less than $14.5 million domestically since 1995, PG-13 movies averaged more than $39.8 million, G movies averaged more than $35.5 million, and PG movies averaged more than $34.7 million. Ratings, of course, are unreliable. Furthermore, they sometimes are rated for different things, e.g., graphic violence and/or foul language as opposed to sexual content and nudity, They also don’t take into consideration the CONTEXT of the content. Thus, to call THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST only an R-rated movie does not tell the whole story. So, that is why we try to measure also the context of the content, the dominant worldview of the movie, and the supporting and secondary worldview elements (including the movie’s political content), in addition to doing a general quantitative analysis of the sex, foul language, nudity, violence, alcohol use, illegal drug use, and miscellaneous items such as lying, stealing, blackmail, gossiping, gambling, etc. The fact remains that, ON AVERAGE, major studios are liable to make more money with their wide releases if they hold the content down to a PG-13 rating or less, if they remove explicit sex and nudity and even foul language, and if the movie has a morally uplifting, Christian or redemptive premise and/or worldview that inspires moviegoers. This is even more true if you adjust the box office figures for inflation on the All-Time Box Office lists. Finally, we asked Mr. Winn to remove the clearly false posts that erroneously claim to come from Ted Baehr, not to stop all criticism of him or us. Some people see these and really believe they actually come from him! That said, people should know all the facts and not accept the illogical arguments, informal fallacies and factual errors that many of our critics seem to make. Dr. Tom Snyder, Editor, http://www.movieguide.org.