Scene from the PG-rated 'Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted' (DreamWorks Animation )
A quick look at the box-office returns of "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" ($163.4 million domestically since June 8) and "Brave" ($84.2 million since June 22) proves that family-friendly films can return a windfall at the ticket window. But a new study by a Christian foundation dedicated to supporting clean entertainment argues that those profits might be more outsized than even Hollywood assumes.
The Dove Foundation, a Michigan nonprofit that rates movies on a tougher scale than the Motion Picture Assn. of America, says in a new report that the average G-rated film in a recent five-year period was more than eight times more profitable than R-rated movies in the same period, and that the average PG title (the rating for both "Brave" and "Madagascar 3") was about five times more profitable.
"The film community has presumed that a G-rated film represents a kids movie, and that's not necessarily true," said Dick Rolfe, the foundation's chief executive officer. Rather, he said, audiences of all ages are gravitating toward these movies, in part because they find mainstream entertainment to be increasingly off-putting. "There is the audience out there -- called the family -- that is not a genre. It is a market segment that likes all genres."
In an online and telephone poll that Dove said included 8 million respondents, 94% of those surveyed "believe that offensive material in TV, movies and the Internet is on the rise" and that "93% want to see more wholesome family entertainment made." Said Rolfe in announcing the results on June 21: "The average moviegoer is sick of the continuous onslaught of exploding or naked body parts, glorified drug use and foul language."
Dove, which rates movies on a 0-to-5 scale that aims to precisely quantify the sex, language, violence, drugs, nudity and other potentially offensive material such as sorcery and lying, supported its profitability report by data from the research firm Kagan Media and an analysis by the Siedman College of Business at Grand Valley State University.
Rather than simply tallying box-office grosses, the study factored in production budgets, marketing expenses and ancillary income such as merchandise and home video revenues for the 200 most widely distributed films released annually between 2005 and 2009.
According to Dove's analysis, the average G-rated movie in that time period yielded a profit of $108.5 million. The average PG title earned $65.5 million, the average PG-13 release $59.7 million and the average R movie just $12.7 million.
Rolfe acknowledged that the returns for less risque fare can be affected by highly popular releases such as Pixar's animated films, but countered that an R-rated hit like 2009's "The Hangover" tilts the averages for R-rated titles in the other direction.
Dove said that films it rates as acceptable to family audiences -- "Brave" is OK only for kids 12 and over because of violence, nudity and a witch's spell, among other things, while "Madagascar 3" is acceptable for all audiences -- are more than twice as profitable as films it deems inappropriate for families, including titles such as the PG-13 "Rock of Ages" (too much sex and language) and the PG-13 "Snow White and the Huntsman" (too much violence).
Dove and its survey respondents are not impressed by the MPAA ratings. More than three-quarters of those polled, Dove said, "think that movie ratings have gotten too lenient, and they don't trust them." Rolfe said that part of the problem is that MPAA rating standards evolve, whereas Dove's "do not change."
The MPAA said its ratings are more popular than Dove suggests.
“Since its inception, the ratings system has been criticized by some for being too lenient while simultaneously being criticized by others for being too strict," the MPAA said in an e-mailed statement.
"We think that’s a good indication that the reality actually falls right in the middle. Our ratings reflect what we believe a majority of American parents from all corners of the country would rate a film, which means the system evolves and grows along with public attitudes and values. We provide the ratings and film descriptors solely as a tool for parents to make informed movie-going decisions on behalf of their kids, and that’s a responsibility we take very seriously.”