While broad audience movies propelled the year-end box office in 1995, R-rated movies dragged down the total gross.
In Ted Baehr's "Report to the Entertainment Industry," he said throughout 1995 Hollywood seemed shocked some of its prized, big-budget movies flopped at the box office.
"For example, 'Jade,' 'Strange Days' and 'The Scarlet Letter' were dead on arrival and resulted in as much as $150 million in losses that left many people in the industry shaken," said Baehr, chairman of the Christian Film and Television Commission, with offices in Norcross, Ga., and North Hollywood, Calif.
Baehr, one of the first recipients of a "Covenant" award from the Southern Baptist Radio and Television Commission for promoting values in media, said a top studio executive expressed his concern by saying, "I don't know what the lessons are here, except we're making a lot of movies that people don't want to see."
For Baehr, the lessons are more easily understood. In 1995, the average gross receipts of G-rated movies were 250 percent more than those of R-rated movies. Gross receipts of PG-rated movies were 168 percent more than R-rated films, and PG-13 rated movies were 213 percent more than those with an R-rating.
Other 1995 big-budget flops mentioned by Baehr were "Judge Dredd," "Vampire in Brooklyn," "The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers," "Fair Game," "Showgirls," and "Assassins."
"Famous directors' film noirs such as Oliver Stone's 'Nixon' and Martin Scorsese's 'Casino' failed to find many people who were interested in revisionist history and Mafia violence," Baehr said. "The failure of 'Assassins' and 'Showgirls' raised questions about the salaries of some studio executives and the appeal of several stars. The American people no longer want to be fed an entertainment diet of perverse sex, porno-violence, and revisionist history."
Baehr said in 1995 only an end-of-the-year surge in entertaining films like "Toy Story," "Jumanji," "Sense and Sensibility," "Sabrina," and "Father of the Bride II" brought a broad audience of moral Americans back to the local multiplex and saved the yearly box office gross from being a total disaster.
The Hollywood Reporter reported 1.26 billion tickets sold for a gross of $5.51 billion, whereas Variety reported 1.22 billion tickets sold for a gross of $5.35 billion.
"Only seven pictures broke through the $100 million level, as measured in combined U.S.-Canadian grosses," Baehr said. "The year's biggest hit was 'Batman Forever' at near $184 million, which is a morality tale written by two Christians actively involved in Christian ministry in Hollywood.
"In 1994, ten films reached $100 million, including two that soared to $300 million. Those two, 'Forrest Gump' and 'The Lion King,' were both morality tales.
"The top ten of 1995 grossed $1.23 billion, which was $352 million, or 22 percent below, the $1.58 billion for the top ten of 1994."
Baehr said while only 35 percent of movies produced in 1995 reflected biblical principles, 40 percent of the top ten grossing films reflected such principles.
He said films that had clear biblical principles, such as ontological realism, were "Dead Man Walking," "Sense and Sensibility," "Toy Story," "Father of the Bride II," "Braveheart" and "First Knight."
"It is impressive that 40 percent of the top ten box office grossing feature films for the United States and Canada for 1995 featured Christian and biblical principles, themes and/or worldviews," Baehr said. "There were 14 percent more movies with biblical themes, worldviews and elements in the top twenty-five hits in 1995 than there were in 1994.
"There were 209 percent more movies with Christian themes, characters and worldviews in the top twenty-five hits in 1995 than there were in 1994. And, movies that featured a strong Christian worldview earned an average of 269 percent more than movies that had anti-Christian elements and 113 percent more than movies with strong New Age or occult elements."
Baehr said there were a number of movies in 1995 that included the gospel, lifted up Jesus Christ, and put Christians or the church in a good light.
Baehr said he found it interesting that a USA Today survey found going to church was a favorite activity of Americans, surpassing going out to eat, sports, and movies.
"Church attendance in 1995 was 5.3 billion," he said. "Movie attendance was 1.2 billion. In 1995 Americans gave $105.1 billion to churches and charities. They spent $13.8 billion on videos and $5.3 billion at the box office.
"According to a 1993 Gallup Poll, attendance at religious functions totaled 5.6 billion, which was fifty-four times greater than the 103 million people who attended professional football, baseball, and basketball games."
Despite all this, in the 1993 television season the Media Research Center found that negative references to clergy outnumbered positive ones four-to-one in a study of 1,000 hours of television programming. The same study found that portrayals of lay believers was even worse, with 68 percent of churchgoers on TV depicted negatively and only 18 percent presented positively.
"Although the portrayal of clergy and churchgoers improved in 1994," Baehr said, "the amount of anti-Christian bigotry in prime-time fiction television continued to be shocking with 31 percent of clergy and 35 percent of Christian laity portrayed negatively."
Baehr quoted Gallup and Barna Research surveys showing 60 to 70 percent of all Americans are saying religion is "very important" to them, and only 8 to 14 percent of the population is saying religion is "not important" to them.
He also mentioned a broad 1994 Times Mirror study that found eight out of ten adults describing themselves as God-fearing churchgoers who pray, and a U.S. News & World Report poll that found 62 percent of Americans saying the influence of religion in their own lives is increasing.
"It should come as no surprise that during a period in which there has been the beginnings of revival in the church, attitudes in America have changed considerably," Baehr said. "Ten years ago less than 50 percent of the people in America were concerned about the breakdown of morality in society. In 1995, New York Times and Gallup polls showed that 80 percent of the American people were concerned."
Baehr made reference to a 1995 USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll dealing with broader entertainment industry issues. This survey of 65,142 viewers found:
• 96 percent are very concerned or somewhat concerned about sex on television and;
• 97 percent are very or somewhat concerned about violence on TV.
• 83 percent of those polled said that the entertainment industry should make a serious effort to reduce sex and violence in movies, music and TV, and
• 68 percent believe that reducing the amount of sex and violence in movies, music and TV would significantly improve the moral climate in the USA.
• 65 percent of those polled felt the entertainment industry is seriously out of touch with the values of the American people.
• 63 percent of those polled felt that the federal government should become involved in restricting the sex and violence presented by the entertainment industry.
Baehr called the last statistic "startling," and said, "This figure shows the degree of concern about the influence of movies and entertainment."
Baehr said he does not favor government interference in setting entertainment standards because the values of those in government often do not reflect the values of the American people. He called instead for the entertainment industry to adopt standards and regulate itself, and work with the Christian Film and Television Commission, the SBC Radio and Television Commission and other concerned groups to appeal to the broadest possible audience.