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Does Sex Sell? A Look at the Effects of Sex and Violence on Motion Picture Revenues

David Switzer, St Cloud State University


The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is responsible for assigning all movies one of five movie ratings (G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17). Previous research has found that G and PGrated movies perform better at the box office, yet movie studios continue to make more PG-13 and R-rated movies. Other research has used data on a film’s levels of sex, violence and profanity (SVP), to explore the link between SVP, movie rating, and box office revenues. In this paper, we use a more recent data set and include additional variables to account for movie quality to further explore this relationship. We investigate the issue of how the amount of SVP has changed in the last fifteen years. We also use theater-level data for a major Midwestern theater chain to extend our analysis beyond total box office revenues, examining the effects on revenues in four ticket categories: adult, child, senior citizen, and student. Finally, we explore the difference between foreign and domestic box office responses to SVP levels and suggest that there is a justifiable reason why movie studios continue to produce far more PG-13 and R movies than G and PG movies.