National Edition

Where have all the PG movies gone?

Published: Thursday, June 16 2011 6:00 p.m. MDT

Robin Wright and Cary Elwes starred in "The Princess Bride."

Deseret News Photo

T.C. Christensen might be onto something.

Christensen’s new PG-rated movie, “17 Miracles,” earned double the money (more than $3,200) per location than “X-Men: First Class” made (less than $1,600) over the first weekend of June.

While filmmakers continue to produce more PG-13 and R-rated films, family audiences still relish a heart-warming PG-rated movie.

“For a niche film, it’s gratifying to see,” Christensen said. “I stopped in a couple of theaters and there was a lot of white hair in there. I think there are people in those theaters that don’t go to movies because they’ve been offended too much. ‘17 Miracles’ is getting a lot of the 60- to 80-year-olds that have given up on movies.”

Theaters are being dominated by R and PG-13-rated films.

From 1995 to 2011 more than 3,400 R-rated movies have been released and earned an average gross income of $15.5 million, according to www.the-numbers.com and Nash Information Services. More than 1,900 PG-13 movies have been made with an average gross of $42.6 million.

Contrast that with 930 PG and 258 G-rated films in that same 16-year span, both with an average gross income of more than $38 million per show.

Combined, that’s more than 4,300 PG-13 and R-rated movies making an average of $29 million compared with almost 1,200 PG and G flicks that make an average of $38.4 million per show.

So if audiences are willing to pay to see PG and G films, why not produce more? Why make fewer PG and G films?

Chris Hicks, a longtime movie critic and newspaper columnist, says there are some factors to consider.

The Motion Picture Association of America created the PG-13 rating in 1984 in reaction to three films: “Poltergeist,” “Gremlins,” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (Steven Spielberg produced the first two and directed the third).

“They were more violent than the average PG film,” Hicks said. “Spielberg said there should be a middle ground rating and they reacted by making PG-13.”

The first PG-13 rating came in 1984 with, “Red Dawn.” From that time forward, Hicks said, PGs shifted up to PG-13 and distorted the numbers.

Another factor to consider is the MPAA ratings are based on the values of 10-11 people who are not associated with the film community and who are parents.

“It might be conservative for a few years, then more liberal,” Hicks said. “The ratings board is a fickle thing. These ratings have a way of stretching.”

Some of the R-rated movies are never seen in theaters and go straight to DVD.

In general, the R-rated films have always dominated, and dominated large, Hicks said. Most PG and G-rated movies are animated and targeted toward children.

“I think that just reflects the ideals of filmmakers and the liberal attitude of Hollywood,” Hicks said. “Obviously, they should be trying to reach the biggest audience and that’s what the studios would like them to do, but when you get right down to it, I think the filmmakers themselves just want to do what they want to do.”

Christensen agrees.

“Films reflect the ideology and beliefs of the filmmaker,” the movie director said. “There is a sad state of affairs in Hollywood. To really be looked at as a serious filmmaker, you have to make films that are a little more edgy. Most filmmakers want to make films that their peers will respect them for and it’s harder in that climate to get respect for a PG film.”

Christensen added: “R’s make less money, so you wonder who is driving that? It really is an anomaly for a business wrapped up in money.”

Christensen’s “17 Miracles,” a pioneer movie depicting the story of the Willie and Martin handcart companies, originally received a PG-13 rating from the MPAA. He challenged it under the reasoning that the film is a true story, the violence is out of kilter, and nothing in the show was too graphic. The MPAA reassembled, considered his argument and changed the rating to PG for depiction of hardships and suffering, an accurate description, Christensen says.

“I did not want the stigma of a PG-13 on the film,” he said. “No one has challenged the PG rating (since the movie was released).

Kieth Merrill is an academy award-winning filmmaker and author of the new book, “The Evolution of Thomas Hall,” and Merrill can’t understand why many R-rated movies are made these days.

“Every study ever done confirms that R-rated movies are less than half as likely as PG releases to get their money back and earn a profit,” he said via email. “So why are they made? There are big egos, ‘I can do anything I want and I’ve a responsibility to impose my values on society,’ and there are frail egos, ‘Gosh, what will my peers in the movie business think of me if my film is not dark and edgy?’ Both are directly responsible for the rash of R-rated movies.”

Betsy Bozdech, the director of reviews and ratings at Common Sense Media, says filmmakers only produce what sells.

“They wouldn’t do it if they didn’t make money, therefore they are going to keep making the movies that make money,” she said. “If those happen to be R or PG-13, then that is what they are going to do.”

She illustrated her point with a few examples. For a long time directors didn’t make female comedies because audiences weren’t interested. Then “Bridesmaids” was released and earned three times its budget in the first three weeks.

“I predict we are going to see more female-driven comedies coming out,” she said.

There was an explosion of kids’ fantasy movies after “Harry Potter” became a series. Then “Percy Jackson” and “The Golden Compass” were released and no one went to see those movies, so the trend changed directions, Bozdech said.

Will PG movies ever make a comeback?

“As soon as some of them start to make a bunch of money, then yes,” Bozdech said.

Email: ttoone@desnews.com Twitter: tbtoone

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