As I have previously established in my article 'For The Love Of Violence I: Hollywood's Fatal Attraction," countless studies show that the saturation of violent content in PG-13 rated films is not only increasing, but is indiscernible. Because of this, I argue that stricter regulations should be imposed on these ratings.
The greatest obstacle to this being done is the considerable earning power of PG13 films. Out of the 10 highest grossing movies of all time, 9 were rated PG13, and were given that rating due to “intense sequences of violence.” So what makes violent films so profitable?
The Association of International Communication suggests that violence in movies is a universally understood concept that transcends language and cultural barriers. Production companies know this, and hence are more likely to export violent films in both domestic and foreign markets where they know they can yield the most capital. For the 10 highest grossing violent movies, a startling 67% of their gross revenues come from markets overseas.
But If we impose harsher regulations on movie ratings, what happens to the film industry?
Let’s take a movie like the 2014 remake of Robocop, for example. Again, rated PG13 for intense sequences of violence, 36% of people who bought tickets were 16 years old or younger. If, for example, the film had been given the more appropriate R rating, we could predict that revenue would decline from 242 million to a relatively small 154 million against a 130 million budget. For the sake of argument, let's prescribe this percentage to the film industry as a whole. 34% of total ticket sales come from PG13 movies. This would mean that imposing stricter regulations on PG 13 movies would cause the film industry to lose $184 million annually.
Although this seems like a lot, a lax rating doesn’t guarantee more revenue. The highest grossing G-rated movie of all time, the Lion King, is only number 20 on the list of highest grossing films. Two of this year’s highest grossing films, American Sniper and 50 Shades of Grey, are rated R. So although stricter regulations may adversely affect the film industry’s earning power, the fiscal costs are far lower in proportion to overall gross and can be mitigated by films of other ratings with higher earning potential.
These facts and figures are what movie executives care about. What they don’t care about, what they will ignore and what is most important is not the financial cost but the human one.
Psychologist Alfred Bandura affirmed that any visual stimuli could predispose someone to a certain kind of behavior. This is true for violence in film. The most recent and comprehensive study by an expert panel convened by the US Surgeon General provided evidence that media violence increases the likelihood of aggressive and violent behavior in both immediate and long-term contexts.
Some individuals, however, disagree. The National Bureau of Economic Research posits that violent crime is actually reduced in the hours following screenings of violent films. It suggests that the reason behind this is that violent films allow us to reconcile aggressive behaviors by acting as an outlet. Whilst this may be true, the study only looks at violent crimes taking place immediately after movie screenings and does not analyze long-term behavior.
Contradicting this however, is a study by Virginia Tech that illustrates that movie violence doesn’t provoke aggression, but rather instills in the viewer concepts of hostility that can be activated by negative external stimuli to produce aggression.
What can’t be disputed is that movies have the profound ability to influence us to act with hostile intent. The most recent and widely publicized example that comes to mind is the 2012 Aurora shooting, whereby a man dressed as the Joker from the Dark Knight franchise killed 12 during a mass shooting inside a theater. Yes, he did have a history of mental disorder that made him more susceptible to influence (by no means am I justifying his acts or trivializing the tragic event), but was he any more impressionable than the millions of underaged viewers today?
Violence in film isn’t just portrayed. It’s hyped. After spending two years in the armed forces I can tell you this first hand. The day that we were given our assault rifles, my platoon mates immediately began to pretend to kill each other whilst repeating movie quotes like “get to the chopper” and “the name’s Bond”. As entertaining as it was, it wasn’t a movie. It was real life. And those weren’t toys. Those were guns.
It’s unreasonable for me to believe that, considering the bureaucracy of the MPAA, The Motions Picture Association of America, a complete overhaul of the ratings system will occur. This doesn’t mean, however, that parameters for ratings targeting younger audiences can’t be altered.
The MPAA currently relies solely on subjectivity to determine if a film is too violent. What could, and should, occur is a ratings system that considers context. Take, for example, the British Board of Film rating system, which takes into account factors such as who perpetuated the violence, what were the direct consequences, and the extent to which it’s stylized.
Whether the MPAA adopts this system or not, in either scenario a revision is in dire need. They need to forget about the money that could be lost, and think about the people that could.