BY DR. TED BAEHR
It is no secret that most Americans believe Hollywood is out of touch with mainstream America. Some of the films they have produced over the years with their explicit lewd and violent scenes would make anyone's grandmother blush.
Yet, for all the hype of these their prize films, box office receipts have declined a consistent 7 percent over the last three years. Hollywood executives have seemed confounded to understand why Americans are no longer turning out for movies in the same force as they used to.
Until last week when Walt Disney Company's new president of production, Oren Aviv, announced, in a major company-restructuring plan, that Disney plans to cut the production of R-rated movies and change its focus towards more family oriented films.
Why? Year after year, as our research indicates, films containing morally uplifting, redemptive, and even Christian content earn at least three to seven times more than movies with explicit, potentially offensive elements.
Looking at the data in our annual Report to the Entertainment Industry, one can see the dramatic shift.
Of the top 25 box office earners of 1999, 2000, and 2001, 62 percent contained morally uplifting or Christian content. In 2002 and 2003, that number rose 80 percent. In 2004 and 2005, in the wake of such movies as The Passion of the Christ, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Finding Nemo, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, 96 percent of the top 25 movies were morally uplifting.
Meanwhile, the popularity of R-rated films has steadily declined. In 1997, there were 12 R-rated films in the top 25 box office earners. This number fell to three in 2005. In addition, the number of movies in the top 25 containing strong moral or Christian elements has increased from only three in 1996 to 10 in 2005.
These low box office numbers in recent years would seem to show that Americans are not interested in the lewd, explicit films percolating out of Hollywood. Up to 47 percent of Americans attend church weekly. Even non-Christian moviegoers respond to inspiring and redemptive stories with morally outstanding heroes and heroines. This demographic has revealed its influential buying power by turning out to see family-friendly films in increasing numbers.
Christians are influencing Hollywood in other ways than at the box office. Recently, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) announced that a movie, entitled Facing the Giants, will receive a PG rating because of the movies evangelistic Christian elements. The scene that caught the MPAA's attention was an exchange between a coach and a player. The coach assures the player that following Jesus Christ is a decision everyone makes for himself, but, if he accepts Christ, it will change his life.
A controversy ensued. Elected officials, Christian groups, and conservative talk show hosts rallied together. As a result, Christians across the country swamped the MPAA with more than 15,000 emails and strong criticism for religious bigotry in the press and by Congress.
The result was a resounding success. The chairman of the MPAA's ratings board, John Graves, announced the MPAA would no longer consider statements of faith or religious content as "thematic element" that could trigger a rating of PG or higher. These three developments illustrate the significant impact Christians have made in Hollywood.
Disney's recent move illustrates what other studios are also beginning to understand - movies containing explicit material do not sell nearly as well as family friendly films. Moreover, since the bottom line is the main concern to Hollywood executives and their financiers on Wall Street and overseas, they can no longer choose to ignore these facts. They simply cannot afford it.
Dr. Ted Baehr is the chairman of the Christian Film and Television Commission.