Why run away from a 'G'?

Brent Bozell

6/17/2005 12:00:00 AM - Brent Bozell

A new study by the Dove Foundation demonstrated that Hollywood may not love money as much as it loves its "adult" themes of sexual perversion, violent death and ear-bending profanity. The foundation's founder and chairman, Dick Rolfe, reported: "While the movie industry produced nearly 12 times more R-rated films than G-rated films from 1989 to 2003, the average G-rated film produced 11 times greater profit than its R-rated counterpart." Wow.

 Defenders of Tinseltown's antics might argue that there's a lot more R-rated movies around to flop and ruin the averages. The Dove Foundation does note that R-rated films are declining and G-movies are increasing. In recent years, the average number of R-rated films released each year dropped from 105 to 93. G-rated films increased from seven to 10. PG-rated films decreased from 36 to 21, and PG-13-rated films rose from 50 to 75.

 For those who might argue the numbers are stilted, since the pool of G movies is so small -- and whose fault is that? -- consider the foundation's calculations of profit don't include profits from merchandising spin-offs. Those are often a cash cow for family films, while we won't yet expect an R-rated Happy Meal toy.

 Once again, as schools let out for the summer, it's obvious that creative, original and clean films focused on entertaining children are a big moneymaker. Last week's top five included the zippy computer-animated "Madagascar" in second place with a gross of $17 million, and after just three weeks, an accumulated gross of $128 million. (So far, it's the No. 3 highest-grossing film of 2005.) Fresh from his extremely harsh and violent film "Sin City," Robert "Spy Kids" Rodriguez has created another kiddie-action 3-D film called "The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl," which came in fifth with a gross of $12 million. Earlier this year, the computer-animated film "Robots" grossed $127 million, which is the fourth highest-grossing movie so far this year.

 These films are rated PG, which is the rating it seems any studio release seeking the eyeballs of youngsters over 10 wants to receive. When even Nickelodeon cartoon movies like "Rugrats Go Wild" receive a PG, you wonder what on earth gets a G anymore. Too often, in the public mind, the G rating stands for cinematic baby food instead of movies directed for a general, family audience. Take for example "Pooh's Heffalump Movie," which many older children would dismiss as a movie directed at kindergarteners. It grossed only $18 million this spring.

 But some of this new century's biggest commercial blockbusters were rated G. "The Polar Express" from last Christmas is one of the newest ones, with a gross of $162 million. "Finding Nemo," rated G, was the No. 2 film of 2003 with $339 million in revenues. "The Santa Clause 2," rated G, grossed $139 million in 2002. "Monsters Inc." was the G-rated sensation of 2001, the fourth highest-grossing movie of that year with $255 million.

 One thing Dove research points out is how some studios are quite allergic to the G rating. Consider this listing of major studios and precisely how many R movies compared to G movies they have made from 2000 to 2004: Columbia/Tristar/Screen Gems, 40 to 1. Dreamworks SKG, 11 to 2. Fox, 18 to 1. MGM/UA, 16 to zero. Miramax/Dimension, 51 to 4. New Line/Fine Line, 39 to 1. Paramount, 27 to 2. Universal, 19 to zip. And Warner, 50 to 4. Just for comparison, note that Buena Vista/Disney's ratio is 12 to 23.

 This doesn't even consider the problem of "ratings creep," where movies that used to get an R now get a PG-13 as movies get cruder and coarser. Nobody's suggesting the movie studios stop making R-rated films. But it should also seem impossible to argue that Hollywood could do a better, more balanced job for its audience than making nine R-rated movies for every G film. They would claim that R-rated films are needed for intense and creative storytelling from "real life." But are they really so deprived of creativity that they can't also find some winning drama or comedy without heading for the gutter?

 Will we see a change in studio economics, or will they fail to take the hint? Failing to make a change, with this information out there for the public to see, would clearly signal that Hollywood studios are not in the business of making a profit and pleasing stockholders, but they are in the business of polluting and corrupting the culture.