NASHVILLE, TN -- Contrary to popular belief, sex in movies doesn't sell.
That's the conclusion of a study by two researchers who examined the content of 914 movies made between 2001-05 and found that films containing nudity are less likely to be successful at the box office or to win awards and praise from movie critics. The study was published in the latest issue of the journal of Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, a publication of the American Psychological Association.
"Sex neither sells nor impresses," the authors of the study wrote. "It is manifest that anyone who argues that sex either sells or impresses must be put on notice. At present, no filmmaker should introduce such content under the assumption that it guarantees a big box office, earns critical acclaim, or wins movie awards."
The top 10 films in the study -- led by "Shrek 2" and "Spiderman" -- contained no nudity or significant sexuality. The authors also noted that the Top 10 movies of all time, adjusted for inflation, also contained no nudity or significant amount of sexuality, with the lone exception being "Titanic." Rated PG-13, the 1997 blockbuster Titanic "appears to be an anomaly" to the rule, the study said.
The authors, Cerridwen Anemone of Vancouver and Dean Keith Simonton of the University of California (Davis), examined the movies by using data compiled by ScreenIt.com, a website that gives detailed reports of a film's content. The study looked at a movie's critical reviews by using the website Metacritic.com -- which averages ratings -- and it examined a movie's success at the Oscars and Golden Globes.
The researchers found that movies with nudity not only did worse at the box office in the United States but also did worse worldwide.
"It cannot just be U.S. puritanical values operating if sex sells even less abroad," the study said. "In fact, no matter what the market, sexual content appears to have much the same adverse impact as smoking, alcohol/drugs, and profanity."
The study, though, did have some bad news for concerned parents: violence -- although not the focus of the research -- apparently leads to higher box office totals, on average.
The researchers proposed three theories as to why sex does not sell in movies: 1) it once did sell but no longer does so because sexual material is available on the Internet, 2) it does sell but only does so with famous actresses (something not examined in the study) or 3) it never did sell in the first place and was simply an urban myth. They said, though, it is clear that sex, on average, inhibits box office success.
"[T]he data presented here establish that, on the average, enhanced sexual representations in mainstream film largely fail to justify their presence, whether according to commercial or aesthetic criteria," the study said. "Even worse, whatever justification cinema sex may claim may depend on the implicit exploitation of women. ... In light of these empirical results, we are compelled to ask, 'Why is sex even there?'"
The study, titled "Sex Doesn't Sell Nor Impress!" -- was published in the November edition of the journal.