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Family Films Make Money

Sex and violence may sell movies, but so do family values. The box office proves it.

Some of 2001’s biggest financial successes were family films: “Shrek,” “Monsters, Inc.” and—despite the controversy in Christian circles—”Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”
“The Princess Diaries,” a rare G-rated, live-action film, was a hit, raking in over $100 million. “Spy Kids,” a family action movie that starred Antonio Banderas, also made over $100 million.
This year’s family film successes have included “Snow Dogs,” “Ice Age” and “The Rookie,” the latter of which is also a G-rated, live-action film. Budgeted at around $22 million, “The Rookie” has taken in roughly $35 million in its first three weeks.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
The success of family films guarantees that more are on the way.
For example, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” made roughly $316 million in the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />United States (and more than twice that overseas). “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” will arrive in theaters this fall.
Of course, the Harry Potter films are based on the successful novels by J.K. Rowling. So “Harry Potter” is considered not only a family film, but also a franchise which, by Hollywood’s standards, is even better.
Movies based on ideas, characters or stories in other forms “have a track record,” said Jonathan Bock, a freelance film promoter often hired by studios to promote their films to religious America. Movies Bock has helped promote include “The Family Man,” the re-release of “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial” and “The Rookie.”
A track record reduces risk and makes a studio’s investment—in the tens of millions of dollars—more palatable.
“Harry Potter” is far from being the only blip on this radar of recycling culture for family consumption.
The success of “Spy Kids” generated a sequel, “Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams,” slated for an August release.
The classic cartoon “Scooby-Doo” has now been parlayed into a major motion picture scheduled to appear in June. “The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course” will feature the Animal Planet’s wildly popular Steve Irwin. It also appears in June.
July brings the sequels “Men in Black 2” and “Stuart Little 2.” “Spider-Man” premieres in May, as does “Star Wars: Episode II—Attack of the Clones,” the most recent installment in the mother of all franchises.
For all the hype about special effects and franchise marketing, it’s worth noting that the “Star Wars” films have been family friendly, all being rated PG.
Furthermore, the 10 highest-grossing films in U.S. box-office history are all rated PG-13, PG or G. The list is dominated by the films of George “Star Wars” Lucas and Steven “JurassicPark” Spielberg, and those of their protégés like Robert “Forrest Gump” Zemeckis and Chris “Harry Potter” Columbus.
Despite the tale of the box office, some say Hollywood continues to operate on the theory that edgier films will draw bigger audiences and therefore make more money when, in fact, the ledgers don’t support that reasoning.
Film critic Michael Medved has led this critical pack, taking Hollywood to task in his book, Hollywood vs. America, and demonstrating that PG films do roughly three times the business of R films.
Bock corroborated Medved’s claim.
“Study after study by the studios has found that G- and PG-rated films, on average, make more money than R-rated films,” Bock told EthicsDaily.com.
One study was recently conducted by Arthur De Vany and David Walls, colleagues at the University of California–Irvine. “Does Hollywood Make Too Many R-rated Movies?” will appear in the July issue of The Journal of Business.
“Medved is right,” according to a pre-publication version of the paper. “There are too many R-rated movies in Hollywood’s portfolio. An executive seeking to trim the ‘downside’ risk and increase the ‘upside’ possibilities in a studio’s film portfolio could do so by shifting production dollars out of R-rated movies into G, PG, and PG13 movies.”
Family films make money. And now as never before, Hollywood is starting to notice.
Cliff Vaughn is BCE’s associate director.