R's For Right

|

Here's an encouraging piece of cultural news, and another challenge to the many unpersuasive attempts to explain this summer's Hollywood box office slump. Today, for the first time in as long as I can remember, three of the top five box office achievers, including the Number One picture, are rated R by the MPAA. More encouragingly, two of those are restricted for sexual content, not violence. So no sooner did Edward Jay Epstein explain why sex is a liability in contemporary movies than that dynamic may have already started to fall apart. Most encouraging of all, Wedding Crashers is really an old fashioned dirty movie, which could have avoided its R rating but threw in some titty shots just for fun.

Of all the movie genres, none has suffered more in the era of kid dominance and family-friendly hand-holders than the sturdy sex comedy, which was at best struggling along with entries like the American Pie franchiseā€”R-rated pictures with PG-13 sensibilities. (What could be more perverse than a sex picture with no nudity?) While I'd doubt the success of Wedding Crashers and The 40-Year-Old Virgin indicates any new trend, it's encouraging to see movies for adults getting some business. Maybe the lesson for this genre is the lesson for the whole industry: Stop making movies that suck and people might come back to the theaters.

NEXT: Where Have You Gone, Robert Earl Hughes?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. FYI: That girl, whatserface, did in fact show here titties in American Pie. No clam though.

  2. Tim, late August is always the time of year the movies for the over-30 audience get released. It’s not a new trend. By the end of September it’ll be back to the usual fare.

  3. Stop making movies that suck and people might come back to the theaters.

    I like to think that while the suits in Hollywood are frantically doing everything they can to save the film industry (except give us movies that don’t suck) somewhere out there in flyover country, some kid with a legal pad, a camcorder and a total lack of interest in playing the Tinseltown game is dreaming up the next Citizen Kane, or Star Wars, or Pulp Fiction, or…

  4. The problem is not that R rated movies can’t make money. The problem is that bad movies can’t make money. Since the kid flicks can’t rely on violence and sex to overcome a bad writting and acting and have to appeal to adults as well as kids, they have to have intelligent writing and acting. R rated movies in contrast have been completely corrupted by advances in special effects and elimination of standards for sex and violence. Movie makers have stopped writing good scripts and making good movies because its easier to make a big budget cartoon with lots of sex and violence. Watch a movie like Monsters Inc or the Incredibles and compare the smartness of the script to some aweful summer action flick like Fantastic 4 or Mr. and Mrs. Smith. There is no comparassion. The latter two are just bad movies and no amount of violence or sex is going to save them. If Hollywood would ever write some decent adult oriented movies they will make money. As long as the best scripts are used in children’s movies, children’s movies are going to make the most money generally.

  5. Thank god for gratuitive sex and violence! By the way, the dinner table scene from Wedding Crashers had me falling-out-of-my-seat laughing. I haven’t done that at the movie theater in some time. My only problem with that film is that it seemed like it morphed Old School and Meet the Parents into one movie.

  6. …or, what the hell, Porky’s

  7. some kid with a legal pad, a camcorder and a total lack of interest in playing the Tinseltown game is dreaming up the next Citizen Kane, or Star Wars, or Pulp Fiction, or…

    Well, hopefully not Star Wars.

  8. Isn’t it amazing how the entertainment that should be banned because it most deeply offends “community standards” continues to draw bigger than average audiences.

    Recently one of our local nannies actually made the statement, “Nobody wants to see porn available on the Internet.”

    Yeah, I should have said something. But my wife throws a wicked elbow.

  9. John

    It seems as though Hollywood doesn’t know what to do with good movies they make. Exhibit a is The Fountain, which has been wrapped up for some time, but Warner Brothers can’t be bothered to find a spot on it’s calendar to release it (How do I know The Fountain is going to be good? It’s made by the same guy who made Pi and the modern classic Requiem for a Dream). People don’t tend to find the really good movies when they are in the theaters, which is why a movie like Donnie Darko had to wait until the DVD release for people to really discover its brilliance. Probably because those movies are difficult to build ad campaigns around, at least the sort that Mr. Epstein described in his Slate article.

  10. If attendance for mediocre, sexually-themed and violent fare is dwindling, seems unlikely America can keep blaming said fare for our moral decline. Must be something else. Must be…Bill Clinton! Yeah, that’s it!

  11. There have been some pretty good G-rated fare also. I might be a young, single person, but I’m willing to see anything that looks good, regardless of rating.

    March of the Penguins was an excellent, entertaining film. And I don’t just say that because I love penguins (I do, I want to cuddle them), it was a pretty interesting, compelling flick that is totally family-friendly.

    Disney’s new animated venture, Valiant, while not quite living up to the usual Pixar fare, was a pretty great little flick. Cute, entertaining, etc.

    Wedding Crashers, also hillarious, plus it had boobies. So, Cavanaugh is right, less suck please.

  12. Well, who doesn’t want to cuddle penguins?

  13. Oh, and for the record, I stopped going to the movies because of the ass-sucking morons who ruined the whole “experience” for me. Y’know, the dipshits who would take a baby to the 3-hour “Fellowship of the Rings” and then NOT leave the theater when said child became bored, cranky, and/or started FUCKING BAWLING about whatever it is babies bawl about (you know who you are).
    I love movies, but I hate my fellow movie-goer, so it’s DVD’s from here on out. I must assume that if I ever went to see the 5 hour, German-only version of “Das Boot” I would have to deal with some useless dipshit and their 6 howling children, drowning out the film with their ludicrous and useless attempts at keeping quiet by yelling “Ssssshhhhhhh” at the top of their lungs.

  14. A couple of years back, I was listening to the KGO Radio Afternoon News (San Francisco) when I heard that the majorty of Hollywood Screenwriters are likely under age 28/31, and one of the co-anchors brought up the clash of the young management crew of his longtime associated studio, Warner Brothers, and the legendary Clint Eastwood, who has the seasoned, “respect your elders” attitude, whereas these young “Irving Thalberg imitatiors” dare thier best to let Eastwood, to wit, “never eat lunch in this town anymore.

    What Dirty Harry would say, “feeling lucky, punk?” Prove the lion cubs wrong. because “Million Dollar Baby”… Go figure. That’s all I can say.

  15. whose boobies do we get to see in wedding crashers?

  16. The bread and butter of Holywood is simple imitation of formulas that worked in the past. The industry worked westerns and WWII films til they got tiresome. I think the trend will continue to be overworked themes and pundits pointing out that the system is whacked.

    We will probably see the magical kids in a magical school genre overworked in the near future, although we still have a few years left in the any thing involving penguins is good idea.

  17. It is true that the lure of sex and violence can sometimes cheapen a movie, but the lack of it can also hobble a script. It comes down to the story. Weak story = weak movie. Strong stories will attact respectable directors and at least decent actors.

    BTW, I respect the hell out of Clint but was disappointed with Million Dollar Baby for a myriad of reasons too long to list here (not that I could make a better movie…)

    Donnie Darko, however, was one of the best movies of the past ten years.

  18. If Hollywood would ever write some decent adult oriented movies they will make money.

    The flipside of this argument is that the decent adult-oriented movies, which can often contain some . . . challenging sexual material or violence, but don’t have two, often end up having to either go unrated or carry an NC-17, meaning no newspapers will carry ads for them nor will many theaters carry them. If the MPAA would remove the stigma of an adult rating, and the bluenose newspaper and theater owners would open their minds a little, things would improve.

    Case in point: Atom Egoyan, who makes intelligent, deeply themed movies for grownups, is being tagged with an NC-17 for his new movie. Why? It contains an explicit menage a trois scene, which he says he can’t cut because it was filmed in a single master take. Now, I can promise you that Atom Egoyan has not made a “dirty movie,” or porn, but nevertheless he’s getting the revenue-killer rating, guaranteeing that fewer people will see his movie. Thanks, MPAA, for making sure Hollywood knows which way not to go.

  19. I liked Junebug. …quite a bit.

    Has anyone seen 2046?

  20. Phil wrote: “If the MPAA would remove the stigma of an adult rating”

    The problem is that they can’t. Any sort of adults-only rating will automatically get tagged as pornography. As you might recall, the NC-17 rating was created for the exact purpose of creating a new rating free of the “stigma” of the X rating.

  21. I agree that Donnie Darko was a great movie that never made the big screen. Another one I would add, although I think it did make it to New York and LA, was Boondock Saints .

    I’m not sure if Hollywood is making worse movies however. Its easy to look back and see all the great movies produced and forget about the crappy movies unless you’re a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 fan. I think people are just finding better things to do with their time. Good movies will still manage to survive, especially in today’s society where the internet helps with word of mouth spread of good small budget movies.

    I don’t think things will get progressively worse for Hollywood because the formula for good movies is not a science, its an art and therefore cannot be predictably repeatable.

  22. I was under the impression that the overall trend over the past several years is increasing profits, although maybe that’s because ticket prices keep going up rather than due to increased attendance. I’m sure this info is readily available somewhere on the web, but I’m feeling pretty lazy and a bit drunk.

    And I’ll second L_O_T’s statement about movies not getting worse overall. It seems like there have always been excellent movies (I recently forced my girlfriend to watch my all-time fave, The Philadelphia Story, made in 1940; what a well-written movie), and there’s always been no shortage of big-budget stinkers.

    If anything, I think maybe there are more good movies made today than ever, if only because there are probably more movies made today than ever. Maybe the proportion of gold to shit is about the same…? I know someone had a “rule” that 90% of everything is crap, but I can’t remember his name; again, I suppose I could look it up….

  23. I know someone had a “rule” that 90% of everything is crap, but I can’t remember his name; again, I suppose I could look it up….

    Theodore Sturgeon, SF writer. Sturgeon’s Law.

  24. Stevo,

    Thanks. Is he any good?

  25. Well, Sturgeon is considered one of the great writers of classic SF. There’s even an award named after him, for SF short stories.

    That’s his reputation. I personally haven’t read much of his stuff, though. I just now glanced through a list of his writings, and I remember reading “The Hurkle Is a Happy Beast” and “Microcosmic God” in short story collections, but remember nothing about the short stories themselves.

    I do remember reading the short story “Killdozer!” in and old “best of SF” collection and enjoying it. A meteor lands on an isolated island where a construction project is going on. An electromagnetic alien lifeform of some sort jumps from the meteor into a bulldozer and kind of “possesses” it, then starts hunting down and killing the men on the island. That probably sounds dopey, but it was a pretty cool, suspenseful old-time SF story in the tradition of the original “The Thing” (a.k.a. “Who Goes There?”) and, sort of, the movie “Alien.”

    “Killdozer!” was also made into a made-for-TV movie back in the 1970s that I thought was pretty awesome back when I was a kid.

    Sturgeon also wrote a story called “Minority Report” that is unrelated to the Tom Cruise movie; that was based on a story by Philip K. Dick.

    The kind of SF I like best right now includes:

    1) Larry Niven’s classic old “Known Space” series.

    2) The Mote in God’s Eye by Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

    3) David Drake’s “The Reaches” series.

    4) Snow Crash and The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson.

    5) Most of Ken MacLeod’s books so far, especially The Star Fraction and The Stone Canal.

    6) Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep, A Deepness in the Sky, The Peace War, Marooned in Realtime and “The Ungoverned.”

    7) Neuromancer by William Gibson.

    8) My favorite Robert Heinlein novels are The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Starship Troopers, and Friday.

    9) I like some of the old-time fiction by Poul Anderson.

    10) I’m just starting to get into the “Honor Harrington” series by David Weber.

  26. I just have to say that Donnie Darko was a pointless, terrible movie. Anyone who thinks it was great is just trying to appeal to the avant-garde crowd. Seriously, what was good about that movie? Someone tell me, because I must have missed it.

  27. Anyone who thinks it was great is just trying to appeal to the avant-garde crowd.

    All generalizations are false. Including this one.

  28. You guys are wrong. Violence is okay as long as their is no sex or f-bombs.

    Take a look at the recent round of horror movies. Most have been rated PG-13.

    My favorite example of a PG-13 movie is “The Ring”. If you’ve seen it, it ain’t a movie for 13-year-olds. But no boobs, only a few swears, and not too much gore, and you can have all the violence you want.

  29. The kind of SF I like best right now includes…

    Given your list here’s a book you really ought to get. Best I’ve read in quite a while, and I started reading SF back in the mid-sixties.

    On a more related topic, I’ve often wondered why Hollywood does not tap into classic SF for more ideas. I think Hollywood’s slump has a lot to do with the fact that about half their fare this year has been derivative trash (Bewitched, Willie Wonka, Amityville Horror, Dukes of Hazard, Longest Yard, Fantastic Four, Pink Panther, War of the Worlds… heck I hear they’re even going to remake Porky’s and King Kong – again.)

    I think Mote in God’s Eye would make a fantastic movie, and we now have the CGI to make convincing moties. Moon is a Harsh Mistress has a strong action/drama theme that would translate well to the screen (whereas Stranger in a Strange Land would not). Or Ringworld. Heck, if the leftists there just have to make something critical of war, get something like The Forever War, which at least has something interesting to say.

  30. A film version of “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” is in development currently, with Tim Minear writing the screenplay.

  31. IMHO, the best short story SF is Greg Egan’s Axiomatic. Check ‘Learning to be Me’ and the ‘Infinite Assassin.’ Neo-classic stuff.

  32. It’s similar types of plots used over and over again, similar types of scenes… and if you’re a member of the demographic group that has summer vacation, your parents won’t let you see it if it’s rated R.

  33. sex has become completely worthless in r-rated movies because of the widespread availibility of PORN in our HOMES.

    were all those r rated movies with their gay-ass, slo-mo’ always covered with a sheet sex scenes really “great”? no, they were as close to porn as most men could legitimately get

    now that we can see real actual sex whenever we want there is no reason to see an uncomfortable and phony sex scene in the theater with strangers

    case in point–enemy at the gates, not the best movie i ever saw, but was fairly engaging in the theater–UNTIL the movie ground to a halt for an egregious and overlong “sex scene” between the main characters. you could feel the unbearable discomfort of the crowd in the theater, i wanted to puke

  34. Stevo,

    Wow, thanks for all the info; I should look into him. As you can tell I don’t know much about SF, since it sounds like any self-respecting fan would know his name. I did recently start Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe on the very strong recommendation of a friend, but I gave up somewhere in the second volume. I understand it’s also considered a classic, so maybe SF just isn’t my thing.

  35. I just have to say that Donnie Darko was a pointless, terrible movie. Anyone who thinks it was great is just trying to appeal to the avant-garde crowd. Seriously, what was good about that movie? Someone tell me, because I must have missed it.

    Hmm, I mistakenly thought that this board would be a safe haven to mention Donnie Darko without hearing the standard IMDB.com message board putdowns. Hate the movie if you do, but don’t assume that everyone that loves it is merely being a poseur.

    And Stevo, I’m going to make use of your SF list the next time I hit the library. It’s been a while since my last SF read (Asimov’s Foundation trilogy about 6 months ago).

  36. Another one I would add, although I think it did make it to New York and LA, was Boondock Saints.

    I make a point of watching The Boondock Saints and Fight Club back-to-back about once a year. The films make for a great cinematic yin and yang.

  37. “case in point–enemy at the gates, not the best movie i ever saw, but was fairly engaging in the theater–UNTIL the movie ground to a halt for an egregious and overlong “sex scene” between the main characters.”

    I enjoyed Enemy at the Gates. …I don’t remember the sex scene being egregious or long.

    Nothing slows a film down like asking the audience to suspend their disbelief so, to assume that everything is happening in a strange world where people don’t have sex.

  38. I’m having to agree with Ken about the Enemy at the Gates scene; indeed, I remember thinking that the roughly 10 seconds it took Rachel Weisz’ character to orgasm was a tad unrealistic.

  39. It’s ironic that you bring up the sex scene in Enemy at the Gates – that’s the one movie that I wasn’t able to pay to see in the theaters on account of its rating. I was 19 at the time, but one of the guys with us was a month away from turning 17, so after the by-the-book bitch at the ticket stand refused to let him see it, we wound up watching the vastly inferior Finding Forrester (i.e. the poor man’s Good Will Hunting).

    FWIW, I don’t think the scene was that terrible, given how the movie was trying to give a realistic depiction of life in the Red Army. But I did end up having the same thought as crimethink.

  40. People keep talking about “all the sex and violence in movies today”. What I want to know is, where’s the sex?

    I mean seriously, back in the 70s and 80s actors and (especially) actresses were getting naked all over the place. Today you go to see a sex comedy and there’s like 3 seconds of boobs in it. Sure, movies today are a lot more violent — no argument there. But they’re a lot less sexually explicit. Which is a shame, because personally I’d rather look at naked women than splattered brains.

  41. Dana wrote: “case in point–enemy at the gates, not the best movie i ever saw, but was fairly engaging in the theater–UNTIL the movie ground to a halt for an egregious and overlong “sex scene” between the main characters. you could feel the unbearable discomfort of the crowd in the theater, i wanted to puke”

    I haven’t seen “Enemy at the Gates”, so I cannot comment on that specific scene, but I do agree that the disappearance of sex scenes from mainstream films is an improvement. They rarely contribute to the plot and, precisely as you say, the audience generates some sort of psychic wave of revulsion in reaction to them. Even if the scene is actually sexy, the audience response makes me nauseous.

  42. Bad movies and strong opinions can make me nauseous, but, generally speaking, poorly directed sex scenes, like the cheese they use on those nachos, only makes me nauseated.

  43. Ken Shultz wrote: “poorly directed sex scenes, like the cheese they use on those nachos, only makes me nauseated.”

    Although the American Heritage Usage Panel agrees with you, Merriam-Webster and Princeton consider my usage correct, albeit not preferred:
    http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=nauseous

  44. Stevo: Have you tried any Charles Stross yet. I though Singularity Sky was very good.

  45. A film version of “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” is in development currently, with Tim Minear writing the screenplay.

    Tim Minear co-wrote “Serenity” which is comes out at the end of September. This is the big-screen adaptation of “Firefly”, which is the best scifi series that I have ever seen. I have hope that he can do justice to Heinlein’s work.

  46. “Ken Shultz wrote: “poorly directed sex scenes, like the cheese they use on those nachos, only makes me nauseated.”

    Although the American Heritage Usage Panel agrees with you, Merriam-Webster and Princeton consider my usage correct, albeit not preferred:
    http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=nauseous

    If you’re going to nit-pick, the subject-verb agreement between “sex scenes” and “makes” is a much easier target. šŸ˜‰

    I watched The Aristocrats (a really excellent movie) last night. It continues to surprise me how often a movie’s budget seems to be inversely proportional to my enjoyment of the end product.

  47. Stevo — you might want to check out some of S.M. Stirling’s stuff. It’s mainly Alternate History, with a good bit of a military twist. His books published later that 1997 are probably best, starting with “Island in the Sea of Time”.

  48. Billy Hollis — thanks for the book recommendation (Old Man’s War by John Scalzi). The amazon.com entry has me very intrigued; I’m going to get it sooner or later. I also think that The Mote in God’s Eye would make a great movie now that we have the CGI technology, although I wonder if a hard-SF story could get made in Hollywood. I think maybe it will someday be a miniseries on the Sci-Fi Channel, as special effects become less expensive.

    J – There are many flavors of SF. I don’t know if I’d like Gene Wolfe either. The liberary is a good place to start exploring your tastes without spending a lot of money.

    Syd – I think I did read Singularity Sky and it was intriguing. I’ll probably read some more by Strauss.

    Madog – I have read a little bit of Stirling’s stuff. I read The Peshawar Lancers and started to read Conquistador but got interrupted. I’ll probably get around to the Draka or other series eventually.

  49. Strauss = Stross

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.