R-Rated Movies Aren’t The Problem. They’re The Solution.

By Eddie Wright

At the recent CinemaCon event in Las Vegas, president and chief executive of the National Association of Theater Owners, John Fithian claimed — while speaking to movie theater owners and pros — that movie attendance is down in 2013 due to “the weight of too many R-rated movies.”

Fithian then told the crowd that studios need to “Make more family-friendly films and fewer R-rated titles,” because “Americans have stated their choice.” But have they?

According to the NY Times, North American ticket sales are down by 12 percent compared to the first quater of 2012. But last year, the first “Hunger Games” film was released in March, which was a massive hit, and certainly bumped up the box office numbers for the beginning of that year. This year’s March tentpole release was “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” a big movie that opened with more than $79 million and has done over $219 million so far, but it won’t hit the “Hunger Games'” $408 million domestic take by the time it exits theaters.

Of last year’s top 10 grossing Springtime movies, two were rated R, “21 Jump Street,” and “American Reunion.” So far, in Spring 2013, “Olympus Has Fallen,” “The Call” and “Evil Dead” were all R-rated films released, and have done respectable numbers.

Traditionally, the months of January to April are the dumping grounds for either straight up bad movies, or movies that studios don’t think are Summer blockbuster-worthy (“G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” “The Croods,” “Jack the Giant Slayer“). Late-Winter/Spring is a time when studios release the stuff that would get lost in the Summer/Holiday shuffle. Low-budget fare like “Evil Dead” (budget: $17 million) are the perfect films to pop into theaters around this mellow time and net tens of millions of dollars ($42 million so far). “Evil Dead” is a modest hit, and one of the reasons it is, is because it’s an R-rated horror movie marketed to older teens and adults. R-rated movies are essential. Studios need to give grown-ups reasons to go to the movies. Some adults want violence, gore, nudity, cursing, and un-family-friendly behavior in their entertainment. If the studios only churn out “The Croods” and “Oz,” they might get adults who bring their children to movies, but they won’t get adults who actually want to see the films. Don’t theater owners want happy customers, not subservient child chaperones?

Fithian is under the impression that theater-goers are frightened of the R rating. That “American’s have stated their choice” by not buying tickets. But they haven’t. Not by a long shot. Yes, ticket sales are down. Yes, they’re down for a number of reasons. But one of those reasons is not the adultness of movie choices.

Is it possible that adults are staying home and mainlining the very adult “Breaking Bad,” “Game of Thrones,” and “Mad Men” on Netflix and HBO Go? Is it possible that if adults had choices that told sophisticated, adult stories that didn’t shy away from violence, sex, and intensity with the quality of many cable television shows, they would happily plunk down $5,000 for tickets and popcorn at their local multiplex? Is it possible that if studios didn’t cram post-converted 3-D scam-fests down the throats of potential ticket-buyers, those folks might actually want to leave the comfort of their own homes for a night at the movies? Is it possible that if theater-owners cracked down on phone-addicted morons who feel the need to text, talk, and instagram about every second of their in-theater experience, that those potential ticket buyers might close their laptops and give Walter White a break for some quality time with the silver screen?

I know what my answers are to these questions. But I don’t know if Fithian considers me one of the “Americans that have stated their choices.” I don’t know who he does. All I know is three things: One, I’m American. Two, I’m adult. And three, if I don’t start getting more, original films, I’ll happily watch McNulty take on Avon Barksdale for the 10th time from my own couch in my own living room.

Movies are for everybody. Make some for kids, make some for adults, make some for both. But please, studios, I implore you, make them good.