It followed on from a post I did last month looking at whether Movie Audiences Are Getting Dumber? In that post I looked at the highest grossing movie every year from 1970-2012, and concluded that since there was no obvious trend in the Rotten Tomatoes score for these films, there is not enough evidence to suggest that movie audiences are getting stupider.
In my Box Office Trends posts I widened by pool of films by not just looking at the highest grossing movies each year, but the top five highest grossing film worldwide. With this information in mind, I have now more evidence to try and more conclusively answer the following question:
Are Movie Audiences Are Getting Dumber?
What I’ve done is found the Rotten Tomatoes score for each of the top five grossing films each year, and worked out the average across the ten years of each decade.
The assumption I’ve made here is that the higher the rating on Rotten Tomatoes the ‘smarter’ that movie is. Therefore if the average RT rating for a decade is high, that would indicate movie audiences have opted for smarter movies in that period. Of course smart people can see dumb movies and vice-versa. However, surely one has to question the collective intelligence of movie audiences who continually go and see ‘dumb’ movies?
Here’s the Results:
What you can see is, contrary to my previous conclusions, movie audiences are dumber than in the 1970s.
However, (and this is really important), that statement would have been just as true in the 1980s as it is today.
It would be just as true to say (using the measure of RT scores), between 1980 and 2010, movie audiences’ intelligence has remained broadly the same.
The next question to ask would be “Does this result indicate movies in the 1970s were smarter, or that movie audiences then had more of a taste for smarter films?”
This is the classic chicken and the egg question. At its heart is whether studios respond to audiences’ tastes, or whether audiences respond to the whims of Hollywood producers.
It is my opinion that the movies I have looked at are broadly representative of the decade as a whole, i.e. the 1970s were a golden era for Hollywood and the other decades were not. Why this was the case is harder to answer. Was it the talent of the directors at the time, the willingness of studios to give them a chance, or the political situation at the time making giving film a unique platform to comment on events? Probably a mixture of all three and lots more besides.
All we can conclusively say is that if you want to watch a good American movie with broad appeal then you’re less likely go wrong with one from the 1970s.
Are Movie Audiences Getting More Childish?
The second thing I’d like to look at in this post is ‘childishness’. By ‘childishness’ I am referring to two things.
The first is my hypothesis that less “R-Rated” (or movies for adults) are reaching the Top Five Highest Grossing Movies each year.
The second is that movie audiences are opting for a ‘safe’ choice of a sequel rather than a more challenging original movie. I am perhaps stretching the definition of childishness here a little, but no doubt your four-year old self used to have a favourite movie you watched again and again and again, to the exclusion of all others. So, I infer, it is nowadays, when we watch the latest Shrek, Pirates, or Transformers movie are we not channelling our four-year old self by indulging these same conservative instincts?
Here’s the Results:
What we can see first-off is that the answer to our first question is that there are definitely less popular R-Rated movies than ever before. However, again we must consider the possibility this is down to studios, rather than audience tastes. Inception (like The Matrix) probably would have been an R-Rated movie if it were made fifteen years ago. Likewise the latest in the Terminator or Alien franchises. However, the fact that they’re not tells us that studios are removing adult content in the hope of reaching as wide an audiences as possible, and hence grossing as much money as possible.
It is also very important that markets like China will not let R-Rated movies be shown. So unless a studio wants to lose a significant percentage of its profits, they must self-censor their own work.
In terms of sequels, the evidence is a little less compelling, but still fairly conclusive. We can see that in the 1970s-1990s between 8 and 17 (or 16-34%) of movies were sequels. In the 2000s? 50%. Also, in the past three years, 2010-2012, it stands at 87%. In fairness to Hollywood, I put this more down to audience tastes, rather than studio’s cynicism.
Part of the evidence for this can be seen this summer. Movies like Mosnters University, Fast and Furious 6, Grown Ups 2 and Despicable Me 2 have soared at the box office. Meanwhile original films like Pacific Rim, Another Earth and The Lone Ranger have floundered. If we look at the Top 10 highest grossing films worldwide of 2013 so far, we see only two (The Croods and World War Z) are original. Compare this to just twenty years ago, when 100% of the Top Ten films were original, and you can see how much the box office has changed.
Here concludes the lesson. If you have any more questions or theories about the changes in popular tastes over the past forty years, please get in touch. I’ve managed to collect a good bit of statistical data in my research so far and I’m sure there’s loads more theories I could attempt to prove and disprove in the future.