CreativityMedia Production

Sex Doesn’t Sell or Impress Critics or Awards in Mainstream Cinema

According to a study released in November by the journal “Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts,” movies with sexual content perform worse at the box office than films with little or none of that type of content.  Analyzing 914 films released between 2001 and 2005 researchers discovered that explicit sex and nudity actually hurt a film’s performance – on average, gross sales were 31% less.  As the article abstract indicates:  “Although it is commonly assumed that “sex sells” in mainstream cinema, recent research indicates a far more ambiguous relation between strong sexual content and financial performance.

Moreover, such content may not be justified by either critical evaluations or movie awards. The literature even suggests that cinematic sex may reflect long-term gender biases in the film industry. The current study investigates these issues by addressing two questions. First, what is the impact of sex and other graphic content on the central criteria of cinematic success?

Second, to what extent is such content contingent on the proportion of women engaged in filmmaking, whether as producers, directors, writers, or actors? Analyses of 914 films released between 2001 and 2005 indicated that sex and nudity do not, on the average, boost box office performance, earn critical acclaim, or win major awards. Although female involvement does influence a film’s content, the only impact on the presence of sex and nudity is the proportion of women who make up the cast. Notwithstanding statistical complications, the best conclusion is that graphic sex neither sells nor impresses.”


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  1. Some scenes are gratuitous and become a distraction.
    Is there a difference between comedy or drama?
    A coming of age comedy like the American Pie movies is built around sex where I have seen dramas where love/sex/nude scenes are like a speed bump.
    How does sex sell when it comes to commercials.

  2. I have only seen one movie where a sex scene was not only justified, but actually was a needed plot device, rather than just an accoutrement.  Pay It Forward, when Helen Hunt’s character embraces and accepts Kevin Spacey’s severely burned character, despite his physical and mental issues.  The scene (which was in no way explicit) truly had a purpose in the film other than titillation.

  3. Critics are not supposed to be impressed, they are supposed to share a valuable opinion about the productions. Still, sex scenes make the difference for the public audience, sex and wow nude scenes sell and they’ll be part of video productions for a long time.

  4. Of course there are deep fundamentally destructive processes at play in that industry that they’d overlook in their accounting and not all value is economic. Many studio executives recognize this and know that family/general audience rated films open up more sponsorship and licensing options as well as tell meaningful stories which treat people with dignity and sexuality with modesty.

  5. I hate sex scenes and nudity in films, even though a lot of people seem to like them. If for some reason you want to see naked people, or people having sex, which seems kinda weird to me, watch porn or something. It makes me feel really annoyed and uncomfortable when I’m watching an otherwise good film or TV show, and suddenly there’s some completely unnecessary sex or someone walking around naked or barely clothed.
    And don’t even get me started on how inadequate it can make people feel… we don’t all look like those men and women on screen, so seeing that can demoralise us and give people impossible expectations.
    I just don’t understand why people think it’s okay. How can you like something like that?!

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